Wednesday, 16 December 2009
It’s odd what we think of as alternatives in government and as extremes in politics. For example, we’re told that the DUP and Sinn Fein represent the extremist view, that having failed to succeed with an alliance of the middle ground (the Ulster Unionists and the SDLP) the British government has in recent decades turned to the ‘extremists’ to deliver peace and progress in the North of Ireland. Now that Martin McGuinness and Peter Robinson have fallen out in public, much is being made of what divides them. But when you think of it, the fact that they’ve been able to co-operate in government for as long as they have and find broad areas of agreement suggests that, the constitutional question aside, they’re not all that different in their thinking. The same applies to the south's coalition of the Greens and Fianna Fail. What could be further apart than the earth-saving Greens and the property-pumping FFers? Yet they’ve managed to snuggle up and work together pretty successfully for some years now.
The sad truth is that the voting public has been persuaded to think of centre and left and right in very limited terms. There was a time, for example, when Sinn Fein’s core belief was the establishment of a 32-county socialist republic. You didn’t have to agree to it to see that it offered a different way of looking at human beings and how they might best work together. The claim wasn’t that the economy would be run more successfully by them, or that corruption of different kinds would be rooted out (although these were part of it), but that the state would be organized in a way that would put emphasis on people working for each other rather than simply for themselves and their families. You don’t hear much of that now from Sinn Fein. The claim is that duplicate systems North and South are wasteful and that the economy could be managed more effectively as one unit. The same kind of thinking is on offer in Britain. The Tories don’t offer some radically new vision of what that country could look like; they simply argue that they would be less wasteful of resources, smarter in their management than their Labour opponents.
Since (despite popular rumour) there are quite a few very intelligent people in Irish politics, it seems hard to believe at least some of them haven’t thought how much better things might be if they were able to establish a truly different form of government. Not just an Orange and Green one, but one which offered fulfilment in a range of ways beyond the purely financial. Why don't they preach them, then? That's easy. Because of the great, dark, overwhelming fear that haunts every politician and political party: failure to be re-elected.