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The wonder of democracy

by Frank Schnittger Sat Feb 22nd, 2020 at 12:08:26 AM EST

There has been a lot of hot and heavy commentary in the Irish media as to who has and has not got the "right" or "responsibility" to form a government following the inconclusive Irish general election result where three parties, Sinn Fein, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, got between 25 and 21% of the vote.

Most of this has been legitimate banter between partisan supporters trying to portray their party in the most favourable light and place it in the best position to either lead a government or force the other two parties to break their electoral pledges and form a most uncomfortable coalition government.

The received wisdom is that whichever party ends up leading the opposition will be able to exploit the discomfiture of the coalition parties and clean up at the next election. Few believe Ireland's public health care and housing problems will be solved in the next few years, but that won't prevent the next government from copping the blame when they fail to do so.

But lest the naive be disillusioned by the whole process, I have provided some context in a letter published as their lead letter by the Irish Independent:

Democracy can be slow and painful - but still a wonder

Various commentators, here and elsewhere, have been opining as to who has and has not got the right to form the next government following the inconclusive result to the General Election.

In a parliamentary democracy such as ours, there is only one constitutional criterion as to who has that right: whoever can win a majority in the Dáil for their chosen nominee for Taoiseach. Barring abstentions, that means getting a minimum of 80 votes in the 159-seat chamber (plus Ceann Comhairle).

Everything else is just so much hot air.

Given that no party got even half that total, only various combinations of parties can hope to reach a majority, and they must negotiate with each other in order to achieve an agreed position on a programme.

Agreement is not mandatory and no one can be forced to take part in a government against their will or better judgment - no matter how much Michael McDowell might think otherwise.

Indeed, the electorate has a tradition of dealing harshly with any party which accepts a junior position in a coalition or supports a government formed by another party through "confidence and supply".

Of course the electorate may also take a dim view of any party seen as responsible for a failure to form a government and vote accordingly if a second general election has to be called, but there is no guarantee that will result in any more decisive an outcome.

The splintering of party political systems seen throughout Europe makes the formation of stable governments ever more problematic. But this in turn only reflects a splintering of society, where the broad consensus underpinning the traditional centre left and centre right parties has been breaking down.

Blame globalisation, the financial crash, climate change, poor public services, social exclusion or growing inequality if you like, but the fact is no widespread consensus exists as to how these issues should best be tackled.

So we should not be surprised if it takes another election and lengthy negotiations before another stable government is formed.

The wonder is our system survived a civil war, the Emergency, the Northern Troubles, the financial crash, and numerous crises and recessions and yet managed to come up with a government every time to the satisfaction of some and the chagrin of others.

That's democracy, and it can be a slow and painful process!

As Ireland was not a direct participant in the Second World War, its impact was mostly indirect. The government of the time declared a state of emergency and that is how the Second World War is still sometimes referred to in Ireland, mostly in jest, as if to emphasise the extremely insular view we took of that conflict.

In summary, the Fianna Fail government of the time, led by Eamonn De Valera, couldn't countenance siding with the British in the war so soon after the war of independence and as the British still occupied 6 north eastern counties of Ireland aka N. Ireland, against the wished of the Irish people as a whole.

In practice many thousands of Irish men and women enlisted in the British armed forces and the government gave some semi-covert assistance to the allied cause. Irish "neutrality" in the war remained a source of great bitterness to some British and to Churchill in particular. Most recognised that formal Irish participation would have made little difference as Ireland had virtually no armed forces at the time and was still impoverished by the Anglo-Irish economic war of 1932-38.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Feb 22nd, 2020 at 12:30:58 AM EST
by das monde on Sun Feb 23rd, 2020 at 06:56:44 PM EST
If you loved reading Republic and Politics, if you enjoy ethical exercises, you'll love reading this ... material united by liberal liberal and conservative liberal lovers of European intellectual history.
ROBERT B. TALISSE: The question of how we should live as human beings, of what makes a human life good, goes back at least to Plato. This is because as human creatures, we face a peculiar predicament. We need one another to live well. We cannot live well in isolation.
Given the complexities of these various relationships, politics is inevitable. Since we cannot live well without the company of fellow human beings, we also cannot live well outside of a political system of processes, institutions, and rules that helps us to manage our disputes over how to live together.

Some, including Aristotle, have claimed that the aim of politics, and of our political institutions, is to make us flourish. I reject that strong view, because I don't think the government should take on the project of cultivating a particular comprehensive morality. After all, we disagree about what makes a life good! I do think, however, that we need politics if we hope to live worthwhile lives -- because cultivating relationships of shared ambition, love, care, support, and creativity does require a relatively stable and just social and political order. Although it's not the state's job to make us good, it is the state's job to sustain the social conditions under which we can live according to our own vision of what makes life worthwhile. And the political arrangement that most reliably supplies those conditions is ...

"the whole question of the constitution of the State, in order to complete as far as possible our philosophy of human affairs."
Now there are three forms of constitution, and also an equal number of perversions or corruptions of those forms. The constitutions are Kingship, Aristocracy, and thirdly, a constitution based on a property [!] classification, which it seems appropriate to describe as timocratic, although most people are accustomed to speak of it merely as a constitutional government or Republic. [2] The best of these constitutions is Kingship, and the worst Timocracy.
Timocracy passes into Democracy, there being an affinity between them, inasmuch as the ideal of Timocracy also is government by the mass of the citizens, and within the property qualification all are equal. Democracy is the least bad of the perversions, for it is only a very small deviation from the constitutional form of government.3 These are the commonest ways in which revolutions occur in states, since they involve the smallest change, and come about most easily. [...]
overdoing democracy
Democracy appears most fully in households without a master, for in them all the members are equal; but it also prevails where the ruler of the house is weak, and everyone is allowed to do what he likes.
quid pro quo
by Cat on Mon Feb 24th, 2020 at 01:51:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
My view is that the purpose of democracy is to keep the working class from revolting. It is a balance between giving them a say, or an apparent say, in governing policy, and then having a governing class that actually makes the decisions. Various ways to do this have been tried, none particularly successful.
by asdf on Mon Feb 24th, 2020 at 02:52:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
semblance of democracy
certainly in USA--a republic of republics-- where there is a rhetorical tradition to that effect in free speech, equality, mobility, liberty, friendship and empathy, growths, &tc.
by Cat on Mon Feb 24th, 2020 at 03:18:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
by Cat on Mon Feb 24th, 2020 at 03:22:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The working class isn't going to revolt any time soon.

The people you want to appease are the middle class transferiat - the people who live very well off the tax payer. University staff, quangos, administrators of any benefits systems, the cultural elite who sit on various boards and give each other grants.

There are millions of Sir Humphreys around.

sapere aude

by Number 6 on Tue Feb 25th, 2020 at 06:25:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Trump and Brexit supporters demonstrate demand for... hmm, undemocratic... democracy, that is, for a clear gap between denizens and deciders. And I have to say, left-side images of democracy may seem to boil down to everyone conforming to an institutional alpha provider. Where is fun? Everyone is now entitled to dissatisfaction of an irate customer, including the president of the USA. Everyone has to be stressed, non-privileged, and dabble in all societal, family roles. Do we have to be so seriously equal?
by das monde on Mon Feb 24th, 2020 at 10:45:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Martin wrestles with his conscience

Leader of Fianna Fáil declares Sinn Fein untouchable

"Most politicians would recognise that the Sinn Féin option probably is the best option for the party and the country. But he appears to resist that," said Eoin O'Malley, associate professor of politics at Dublin City University. "I suspect he's a very moral person."

The irony, it drips...

"It is a problem for Fianna Fáil that they have a leader that is wrestling with his conscience," said O'Malley. Politicians usually win such bouts, but perhaps not this time, he added. "The conscience may win."

His moral scruples are about forming a government with Sinn Fein, who have, you know, history... His own party has its origins in a split with Sinn Fein in 1936 -- they were the Mensheviks who were prepared to make deals with the English.

Just as likely, his scruples are a beat-up to allow delay and instill doubt in the minds of the electorate... if he refuses to deal, the result is probably new élections, and a moral stance might be a vote winner, I suppose.

(I have scruples about linking to the Guardian, who identifies Fianna Fail as "centre left", a classification I haven't seen elsewhere)

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Mon Feb 24th, 2020 at 11:48:47 AM EST
"Centre left" is a bit of an exaggeration, unless we're applying US standards. They're mostly ideologically in favour of being in power, and they're a bit happier to borrow left-wing economic policy in pursuit of that than FG are, but I would describe them as centre-centre-right.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Mon Feb 24th, 2020 at 11:55:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
These left right descriptors are, of course, relative. You could probably fit 98% of the Irish political spectrum to the left of the Tory Party, for example, not to mention the UKIP or Brexit Parities, if they still exist.

Fianna Fail started a whole raft of semi-state companies to fulfill unmet infratructural and economic needs in electricity generation, public transport, fuel, communications and telecommunications, air travel, shipping - almost every sector of the economy you can think of - state socialism by any other name.

The problem is that most of those companies became, in time, sclerotic and run more in the interests of their management and workers than they were to serve their customers, and so the only solution identified was to break most of their monompolies and allow the private setor to compete or to privatise them fully.

That too was a managerial disaster, as some privatised companies, like telecommunications giant Eir, were simply passed from one vulture fund to the next which gutted their capabilities, stripped their assets, loaded them with debt, and moved on. So we still don't have nationwide broadband.

Now, parties like Fine Gael (and the Progressive Democrats before them) have an allergic aversion to the government taking direct responsibility for any economic activity whatsoever creating loads of quangos to buffer themselves from direct responsibility for delivering on public healthcare, childcare, housing, transport or planning.

But these quangos have neither the autonomy, resources, nor ambition to meet unmet public needs, being composed mainly of bureaucratic place holders adept at passing responsibility onto others and finding reasons to justify their owh lack of dynamism.

But politics in Ireland used not to be dominated by these ideoplogical concerns - except for obsequiesce submission to the Church in education, health and child care. With the fall of the Church, the field has become much more open for public or private provision. The argument is about where that balance should be struck.

But privatisation per se is now beyond the pale and socilaisation the growing trend. Sanders would probably be a fairly centrist politician in Ireland.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Feb 24th, 2020 at 02:16:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Whether Commissar or MBA, putting a bureaucrat lacking all practical skills and lacking interest in obtaining practical skills in charge of 'Things Practical' is a bad idea.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Mon Feb 24th, 2020 at 06:46:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What makes them identify with the loony nationalist right in the EU, then ?

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II
by eurogreen on Tue Feb 25th, 2020 at 11:49:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Three parties of roughly equal size and also being traditional opponents should make for interesting negotiations.

In Sweden we had interesting negotiations on the nation al level, but much faster negotiations on the local and regional level where parties more or less did the math, found the possible coalitions and - sometimes with gritted teeth - got down to creating coalition agreements.

Is it the same in Ireland or does negotiations there also drag out? Or has the combinations not been tried because SF lacks local support?

by fjallstrom on Tue Feb 25th, 2020 at 11:06:17 AM EST

Barnier pours scorn on Johnson's spokesman ahead of trade talks | The Guardian |

UK Gov't will not have a border in the Irish Sea -- Lewis | RTE |

Mr. Lewis had previously served as Minister of State for Security and Deputy for EU exit and No Deal preparation

That last task fitted him well ...

In all this acrimonious war talk, where is Ireland's Leo Varadkar?

by Oui on Tue Feb 25th, 2020 at 07:31:18 PM EST
"Fine Gael continues to prepare for Opposition."

Incidentally, I drilled down from McDonneld's Taoiseach nomination talk you dropped a while back, because I wasn't finding feedback from the usual press.ie suspects. So now SF's in my URL history.

by Cat on Tue Feb 25th, 2020 at 08:21:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
As leader of the third largest party, Leo is in no position to lead anything right now. His best option is Leader of the opposition and hope FF and SF destroy each other in government followed by FG becoming the largest party after the next election.

His second best option is coalition with FF where Martin gets first go at being Taoiseach for 2 years, followed by Leo for another two: Following which either or both FF and FG will implode and SF becomes the largest party by far.

This is a battle for survival between FF and FG as to who becomes the dominant conservative party in opposition to SF. Three roughly equal large parties is fundamentally unstable and will resolve itself into two big and one small party in due course.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Feb 25th, 2020 at 10:39:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
< wipes tears >
by Cat on Tue Feb 25th, 2020 at 11:03:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In Finland three large parties for some thirthy years (roughly 1980-2010) dominated the scene - the Soc-dems, the Centre (rural) and the Conservatives, with a gradually developing formula of the two largest forming the coalition (with a smattering of smaller parties) and the third leading the opposition.

So a three party system can be done, though it seems likely that one of FG or FF will decline.

by fjallstrom on Sat Feb 29th, 2020 at 11:31:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Possible but unlikely in the Irish situation because of the Irish electorate's habit of punishing whatever party accepts a junior role in a coalition. The Labour party has been all but destroyed, the Progressive Democrats have disappeared, and the Greens are only now recovering 10 years after propping up a disastrous Fianna Fail government.

What is different this time is how closely grouped the three parties are. If Fianna Fail and Fine Gael form a joint coalition and rotate the office of Taoiseach, then the ultimate outcome is still in doubt. But the suspicion is that whoever loses ground is set for a precipitous decline the next time around.

The Labour party and the Social democrats - 6 seats each - have both said they won't enter into a FF/FG government arrangement- fearful of being seen to prop up a conservative government at a time when the electorate voted for change. The Greens, being a policy driven party, might just about get away with it, if they are seen to have a significant and positive impact on policy.

But most likely is probably a FF/FG government propped up by a mixed bag of independents cutting local deals on hospitals, roads, and targetted expenditure in their constituencies - to the annoyance of everybody else, particularly government back-benchers in constituencies not so favoured. But another election is also possible if FF/FG can't get their act together, and then I would expect Sinn Fein to do even better.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Feb 29th, 2020 at 12:27:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Mr. Lewis had previously served as Minister of State for Security and Deputy for EU exit and No Deal preparation

It all depends how you parse it... He was previously doing no-deal preparation... Now he is doing no deal preparation at all.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Wed Feb 26th, 2020 at 09:56:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
As I expected, Sinn Fein has surged in post election polling. That should concentrate Fianna Fail and Fine Gael minds wonderfully. They had better form a government, or else they will be faced with a Sinn Fein led Government after another election.

Sinn Féin surges ahead of Fianna Fáil in first post-election opinion poll

SINN Féin has surged 15 points clear of Fianna Fáil in the first opinion poll published since the general election.

The party has recorded a poll rating of 35pc, well ahead of Fianna Fáil on 20pc in a Behaviour and Attitudes (B&A) poll for the Sunday Times published on Saturday night.

Based on the outcome of the general election on February 8, Sinn Féin has surged 10 points while Fianna Fáil is down two points on its election result.

The poll, which was taken between February 17 and 25, shows that support for Fine Gael has also declined since the general election with the party on 18pc, down three points on its election result.

Support for the Green Party since the election has fallen one point to 6pc while Labour is at 3pc, down one point.

Solidarity-People Before Profit is unchanged from its election result on 3pc, while Aontu is on 1pc.

Independents and other parties record a rating of 10pc, down three points on the election result.

The poll also shows that Sinn Féin's Mary Lou McDonald is now the most popular party leader in the country with a satisfaction rating of 53pc - up 13 points on the last opinion poll in January.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has a satisifaction rating of 31pc (-15), Fine Gael leader and caretaker Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is on 27pc (-8), while outgoing Labour leader Brendan Howlin is on 29pc (-9).

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Feb 29th, 2020 at 11:01:53 PM EST

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