Yesterday I was talking to a Meath East resident. She was working in a shop and there was a TV on in the background. It was showing a programme on handy hints around the home. A woman was explaining how you could clean and freshen up the inside of your microwave by putting a bowl of water and lemon juice inside and turning it on.
Both of us looked up at the screen. She said to me, where in under God would you get the time to act on any of these tips? I’ve a hard enough time as it is preventing the house from falling apart. I replied that it was the same story with cookery programmes. When would you ever get a big enough and empty enough kitchen to cook any of the recipes? And how come they always seem to show the programmes after you’ve had your evening meal? Are they trying to make you feel miserable about what you’ve just eaten?
Then conversation turned to the matter of buying things on line. Sure you would need to pay someone to do it for you, we agreed.
We were chatting for a good five minutes, and conversation did not turn to the by-election. I doubt very much she was planning on voting on it. In fact, I doubt very much that she had any time to even think about it.
I took a run through Stamullen this morning. The first poster I happened across was one of the Labour candidate. It was lying on the ground at the side of the road in front of another sign that read Potatoes for Sale.
There were election posters all along the route. Fianna Fáil candidate Thomas Byrne looked as though he had eaten Mary O’Rourke. The Sinn Féin candidate Darren O’Rourke looked like a consultant from McKinsey. The Fine Gael candidate and apparent winner, Helen McEntee, was standing in front of a blue sky background. I imagine some political correspondent will suggest this was one of the factors in her win. There were a couple of Ben Gilroy posters. When you get up close to them you see his hair is slicked back, giving him the air of a sly, prematurely ageing otter or stoat. His was the only poster that contained text other than the names of the party and candidate. He stood for giving ‘Power to You’. The rest were standing for how well their heads matched the typeface and colours of their party posters.
All of them bar Gilroy had a technocratic sheen to their posters. It was obvious that they wanted to project an air of managerial competence. Expertise. Power. No slogans and no buzzwords, but also: no politics.
I have no idea where Gilroy was getting his money from. But it seems to me that for someone without a great deal of time on their hands to talk or read or think about politics, and there are many such people in Meath commuter towns, just the name of the party had a certain appeal (though let’s not get carried away about 1600 odd votes). ‘Direct’ as in straight, no messing around: not as in direct democratic assemblies (standing for direct democracy in an election is like having sex for chastity). ‘Democracy’ because it is plain to see that a country under the control of unelected institutions is not democratic, despite the claims it makes for itself, and because elected politicians made all sorts of promises about banks and suchlike that they have not fulfilled. ‘Ireland’ because, well, because of many things, but not least because of the right-wing nationalism espoused by Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, and Labour in recent years: the implementation of austerity policies, internal devaluation, and campaigning for constitutionalised neo-liberalism under the Fiscal Treaty, all in the ‘national interest’ (which, by the way, is never taken by anyone to mean ‘in the interest of immigrants’).
There is also the fact that Gilroy has created a certain public presence for himself by turning up at evictions and appearing to bore the authorities into submission. The system is rigged, and someone who appears prepared to throw a spanner in the works will always get a certain amount of respect, however unorthodox their methods.
Yes, Direct Democracy Ireland is a shady right-wing outfit with a syncretic political approach that could be the start of something nasty. Or it could merely prove a monumental pain in the hole, as anyone familiar with Freemen types might have experienced. But it’s also a symptom of how the established political parties -the Troika Party – have ceased to stand for anything, apart from neoliberal economic and social policy, right-wing nationalism, managerialism, and enabling robbery. The humiliation of the Labour Party in this context is richly deserved.
The poor showing for Seamus McDonagh, the Workers Party candidate, whose platform was by far the most politically coherent, advocating debt repudiation and abortion rights, serves to illustrate the severe difficulties left wing parties will have in making any further inroads toward electoral power, absent any kind of widespread social rebellion with democracy (against capitalism) at its primary concern. In fact, for the lefts to get enthralled by elections, by the matter of what a vote for such and such a candidate means, by where the trends are leading, by what kind of electoral appeal would be most effective, is to run the risk of ignoring the fact that vast swathes of Irish society are deprived of any chance of democratic participation, any kind of experience of democracy in action at all.
In his famous essay from 1949, Why Socialism? Albert Einstein wrote that ‘under existing conditions, private capitalists inevitably control, directly or indirectly, the main sources of information (press, radio, education). It is thus extremely difficult, and indeed in most cases quite impossible, for the individual citizen to come to objective conclusions and to make intelligent use of his political rights’.Living somewhere like Meath East, there is a pretty good chance you won’t have a much time to sift those information sources critically, or to take part in political activity of any sort, especially if you live in a household where commuting to Dublin is part of daily existence. There is a word for this sort of thing: expropriation. That is why I am wary of the idea that the massive non-turnout, of nearly 65%, is necessarily an indicator of anything potentially positive. It does indicate a glaring lack of democratic legitimacy for the establishment political parties. But the Troika Party doesn’t care: they’ll bank the win, thank you very much. The media doesn’t care: they’ll proceed with the parliamentary spectacle and their weekly polls for as long as they are required to, and will ignore the deep discredit of political institutions that a 65% non-turnout indicates. Nor does the Troika care, nor do the markets.
So, where do we go from here?