I was in Dublin yesterday morning and as I walked along Stephen’s Green, a cluster of United Left Alliance people were being interviewed by the media – notably Joe Higgins and Richard Boyd-Barrett. Last night I watched the Leaders’ Debate on RTÉ and there was no sign of either man. Or of the leader of the Greens or of Sinn Féin. In fact, watching the debate you might have concluded that there were just three parties running in this general election. Why were the smaller parties air-brushed out?
Two reasons – the polls and programme logistics. The polls tell us that the parties which voters like most are Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fáil respectively. (Yes I know, it seems daft to use the word ‘popularity’ and ‘Fianna Fáil’ in the same sentence but that’s what the polls say.) So on the basis that FG, Labour and FF are the top three, they get to go on TV. Programme logistics say that five leaders debating on TV (adding the Greens and Sinn Féin to the list) doesn’t work because there are too many for developed answers.
Logistics, eh? Five politicians are too many? Odd then how every day, thousands of teachers conduct discussions in classrooms of twenty or more hormonally hyped-up teenagers. Nor do teachers get paid anything like the kind of money Pat Kenny or Miriam O’Callaghan make. It’s simple: if they need more time in a five-way debate, then make the programmes longer. Or sharpen the questioning. There’s no logic to the notion of whittling back to three leaders. Why not four? Or Two? Showing just three suggests that these are the only three which matter, which could impact on the United Left/ Sinn Féin/ Green vote. Democracy my arse.
But as poor old Brian Cowen used to remind us, we are where we are. Last night’s debate did make one thing clear: the three leaders featured are a third-rate lot. Ninety minutes of relentless finger-pointing and yet party plans remain as obscure and leaky as ever. As to leadership qualities – a yapping Micheal Martin, a plank-like Enda Kenny and an impossibly pompous Eamon Gilmore – the heart sinks. The ECB/IMF boys will do a Tiger-Woods-on-the-twelfth-green when they meet up with Enda and Eamon after the election : they'll chew ‘em up and spit ‘em out.