The Patch

February 22, 2009

Back on the chain gang

Filed under: Economics,hoist the black flag,Politics — freshlysqueezedcynic @ 3:01 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Contrition aside, this is rather remarkable.

For those not in the know about Irish politics (for shame, for shame), Fianna Fáil, formed in the wake of the Irish Civil War, is the dominant party in the Irish Dáil, the lower chamber of the Irish Parliament, or Oireachtas. It’s been the largest party in the Dáil since 1932, and has been the major party in government, usually in coalition because of the STV electoral system in Ireland, for most of that time. Due to the origins of the Irish political party system, with the two major parties, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, representing the pro- and anti- Anglo-Irish Treaty factions in the Irish Civil War respectively, some of the coalitions with minor parties necessary to form a majority in the Oireachtas have been decidedly odd, and ideology, especially for the two major parties, has been tenuous at best. But they’ve both managed to keep their positions as the two major parties since more or less the founding of the Irish Republic.

So to see Fianna Fáil polling behind the centre-left Labour Party for the first time ever in the Irish Times/TNS mrbi poll seems to suggest something major is happening in Irish politics at the moment.

Now, of course, this is subject to all kinds of hedging and betting, as befits polling analysis. Since the TNS mrbi site is just a corporate puff piece, and doesn’t contain the results of any polls, as far as I can tell, unlike polling outfits in the UK like Ipsos-Mori or YouGov, I can’t really compare numbers, or more importantly look at TNS mrbi’s accuracy in political polling. And you just can’t look at one poll alone and divine answers from it, an Irish election doesn’t have to be called until 2012, and in any case Labour’s lead over Fianna Fáil in this poll is well within the margin of error. But nontheless, the Irish Times seems to be a reputable paper and the TNS mrbi poll seems fairly venerable, so I’m fine with taking it at face value for now. And it suggests significant trouble for Fianna Fáil, who garnered 41.5% of 1st preference votes in the last general election, which is almost 20 percentage points up on the result in this poll. That’s some hole to dig out of, even with Fianna Fáil’s remarkable political survival skills.

So is this just a reaction to the current economic crisis? In part; Ireland has been hit pretty hard by the current economic crisis, due to the kinds of deregulation which previously got it called the “Celtic Tiger”. Turns out relying on the construction industry for economic prosperity is a bit of a problem when house prices crash. But Fianna Fáil, having presided over most of the boom, is intimately linked with the construction industry in the worst possible way. Numerous scandals have continually rocked the current Fianna Fáil Government, with one in 2008 putting paid to Bertie Ahern, no stranger to financial irregularities. Now, the Irish have normally been curiously blasé when it comes to political and financial corruption on the part of the governing classes, continuing to not punish Fianna Fáil electorally even in the midst of numerous tales of corruption and financial misdeeds. But there might be a qualitative difference between putting up with people feeding at the trough when the going’s good for everyone (after all, wouldn’t you do it in the same position?) and putting up with obvious corruption when it seems to have directly contributed to your current poorly economic situation.

To make it even worse, what is the current government’s proposals for dealing with the financial crisis? Massive cuts in public spending, including a levy on public-sector pensions that could cost public-sector workers as much as £2,500 a year. No wonder Fianna Fáil’s support has cratered spectacularly, with 120,000 people marching in Dublin in protest. At a time when even America is spending huge amounts on public works to try to provide a stimulus to a nosediving economy, this belt-tightening seems spectacularly wrongheaded, from both a political and an economic perspective. But the Irish response to this suggests that even in crisis, the old neoliberal responses of belt-tightening and financial cuts, even in the midst of guaranteeing toxic financial assets, can still hold a pretty powerful sway.

UPDATE: Both the Soldiers‘ representation organisation PDforra and the police organisations ASGI and GRA are taking part in the protests. This is obviously huge; you’d normally find soldiers and police on the other side of mass rallies.

As a primer for why the Irish economy is going the way is going, I highly recommend this guy, who has also been blogroll’d.

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