Great start to this whole daily blogging routine – my host has been down since mid-afternoon and has only just resurfaced, minutes before the day is out. Fantastic start, really. You can’t help but love a good omen.
But anyway, the first post. For a week or so I’ve been trying to come up with a topic worth blogging about, somewhere in the happy medium between easy reading and not-insignificant thought. It wasn’t until yesterday – irony of ironies, the last day of 2008 – that I happened upon something I thought I’d share.
Being the time of year that it is, the world is awash with new hope and ideals, of people outlining hopes and dreams for what they want of 2009. Tickled as I was by writing a blog on the idea, I was at a total loss as to what to specifically focus on. Yesterday, though, I got my idea.
One of my other all too ill-defined resolutions for this year is to immerse myself in media again, as I did before I went abroad on exchange two years ago. I lost my ability to keep up with new music and books, and rarely made the time since to recreationally listen to music or read a new book. I really missed that contemporary aspect of my life and this year I’m trying to get it back. Hence, I’ve had a reading list of five or six books, stacked on my bedside table, waiting to be dug into as time now allows. I started with Breaking the Mould, Stephen Collins’ account of the foundation and success of the Progressive Democrats (along with the world economy, a victim of a savage 2008).
Now, I won’t try to pretend for even a moment that I’ve gotten to read very much of it just yet – it’s Christmas, people, there’s MarioKart Wii to be played – but something inside the story of how Des O’Malley tried to fight the good fight against Charlie Haughey, and ultimately managed to pull his own party together based on purer modern ideals, struck a serious chord within me.
One particular bit of the foundation speech, in particular, resonated. Bear in mind, these words were solemnly uttered as long ago as 1985:
Two generations have passed since the present shape of Irish politics emerged. In those sixth years such democracy has borne the marks of division, hostility and suspicion, based less on our vision of the future than our view of the past. Whatever logic there was in these divisons, there is none today.
It is clear that in the eyes of ordinary people much of what passes for politics is a futile confrontation between power blocs which differ little on many major issues. Where there is a difference the choice posed sometimes seems unfair. There is no choice on the real issues that face our society, such as taxation, unemployment, public spending, rebuilding of local government and difficult social and personal problems. These issues call for a different political response. Parties aligned on issues of history offer no such response. There is a danger for democracy itself in the failure of the party political system.
Anyone who’s ever seen Michael Collins (as you may have in its inevitable Christmas airing on the 28th) will surely have been struck by this. Essentially, Ireland’s two main parties, which between them earned 69% of the nation’s first preferences in 2007, differ only on historical interpretation of a treaty negotiated by the Government they were both part of in 1921. This might seem like a slight overstatement, but I challenge you to think: in what aspects of policy can you point out differences in the opinions of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael? There is an excellent case to be made for a grand coalition, and its one that I’ll get back to at some other point.
But I digress – what I want from 2009. Well, as you may have guessed, I’m the type of person who wishes that politics was something that happened on a constant, everyday, everyman level. I wish that the English speakers of the world hadn’t made the mistake that the Germans avoided, in divorcing the word ‘politics’ from the word ‘policy’. I wish that every single home in the country had a copy of the Constitution; that everyone could pick a proper hole that they’d read in the Lisbon Treaty and disagree with, or could point to a single institutional change they wanted to see… basically I wish people could see that politics is really just the art of policy-making, and that they felt they could be a part of it. So what do I want? I want people to feel more involved, and for our elected leaders to help them feel like that. I don’t want to elect people so that I can abdicate my voice to them, I want them to relay what I think, in tandem with what everyone else does too.
First things first, though – it saddens me that of the five political parties now represented in our national parliament, two are basically the same thing, a third is an antiquated form of the same bloody idea, one are hopeless idealists who are naively bullied without even knowing it, and one lot who are great diehards, who genuinely care in their policy, but know so little about public image and presenting an eye of public professionalism. It saddens me that a country like Ireland, still one of the richest in the world (even still!), a country with the great history of writing, speech and music that we have, doesn’t have a liberal party any more. That‘s what I want from 2009: for Ireland to have the parties that truly reflect the peoples’ ideals. I want a new party. I want ten, a hundred. I want an infinite number: I want four million parties, catering for the four million different sets of political ideals that Ireland has.
It might be a long year…