Yesterday morning before I had my wits about me, that is, before I got my first coffee of the day, I had a hand thrust in front of me, which I shook, and a leaflet thrust into my other hand. It was for a candidate in the local elections, who was advertising himself as ‘non-party’. On the train I read his leaflet, an utterly bland and pointless list of smalltown proposals that gave the distinct impression he was well in with the local chamber of commerce. Then I did a search for him online, and it turned out he had been a longtime member of Fine Gael, and previously elected several times for that party.
Then there is another candidate, an ‘independent’ and jewellery owner, who managed to erect a banner across the street at the point of entry to the train station, making it look like he owned the train station and people were flocking to his domain. His banner read, with quotation marks, “I know I can make a difference”, a personal conviction shared with Hitler, Genghis Khan and Al-Qaeda. Turns out, according to him, that he had been asked to stand for Fine Gael but had turned it down out of… I can’t remember the reason. I saw the same individual at a public meeting not so long ago speaking in a way that suggested, to me at least, an appeal to the local folk, the people who have been living in the town for at least six hundred years, to stop holding their tongue about the infestation of newcomers. He has also claimed that the town has had its ‘fair share’ of social housing and more four bedroom houses need to be built privately for private purposes.
Then there is a candidate who has an ad poster up in the train station that reads ‘Your local independent candidate’, as if to say, don’t be going voting for any of these blow-in candidates. She inherited her current council seat from her mother, who I think abandoned the sinking Fianna Fáil ship early on.
The worrying thing about all this particular kind of ‘independent’ – I also saw a Christian Solidarity Party ‘independent’ poster in Meath- is the way they place themselves in opposition to the party system whilst determined to become the exception that upholds the rule: these are people who will not be swayed by party influence or loyalty, but this is because they haven’t the slightest intention of deviating in any way from neoliberal orthodoxy in its smalltown expressions. If anything they are out to enforce it. They are as much creatures of the party system as Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael.
This is not a criticism of decent candidates who choose to use the ‘Independent’ label for perfectly sensible purposes. But I get the feeling that if there is a surge in support for ‘Independent’ candidates on the whole it will be presented, and even celebrated by the press, including, of course, Independent News and Media, as a surge in support for a snake that is gradually shedding its skin.