Wednesday, 19 October 2011
All right, all right - let's broaden the debate
I had a complaint from a correspondent on yesterday's blog, essentially saying would I give over about the bloody election and talk about something else? S/he (correspondent remains, as most do, under the intriguing veil of anonymity) has a point but let me briefly give my reasons for the presidency emphasis. It's simple: were McGuinness to be elected to the Áras, for the first time the people of the twenty-six counties would have sent a signal that, among other things, they felt empathy with northern nationalists/republicans and saw them as their fellow-countrymen. Not that much to ask, is it?
OK, so let's broaden it a bit today (I missed TG4 last night anyway) and consider if our way of deciding who will be president a good one? Without a moment's hesitation I would so No, the way presidential elections operate is very bad and we should change it.
1. We could have a hereditary head of state, as have the neighbours across the water. The argument they give is that it makes for continuity. Unfortunately it also makes for Prince Charles and Prince Wills and similar ghastly surprises. And did I mention it's anti-women (only use one when we run out of men, chaps) and anti-Catholic (no taigs need apply). I think we can safely give that one a miss.
2. Establish a dictatorship. Vote in a strong man - or woman - and take off the safety-catch. Full powers for life, go to it, sunshine. It eliminates all tedious discussions and debates, it saves money on elections, and it gives us all someone to look up to. Alas, it also makes for imprisonment without trial, torture and insufferable levels of sycophancy. Scrap that one too.
3. Voting with a twist. I think it was the writer Ray Bradbury came up with this one: vote in your president, but part of the deal is that s/he will then have an explosive chip implanted in his/her brain. When enough people - a majority of the population - dislike how the president is behaving they press the Detonate button on their mobile, the president's head blows apart and there's a new election. It'd mean all candidates were serious about running and it'd make sure the president always made popular decisions. But there's something about it I don't quite like, although I can't put my finger on it.
In fact, when you think about it, you might reasonably claim there's not a lot wrong with the presidential system we have, except that we may well vote in a turkey (no offence, Dustin). In fact, according to the Red C poll, we're well on our way to doing so later in the month. That's not the turkey's fault: who wouldn't want that kind of money in that kind of house for seven years, in exchange for a few inspect-the-parade showings? The problem is with the electorate - you. (I nearly said 'us', but as you know I live north of the border and so don't deserve to have a say in who is Irish president.) On 27 October, will it be 30%? 40% of the voters turning out on the day? That's ridiculous. Australians have made voting compulsory. They shouldn't need to and we shouldn't need to - sorry, you shouldn't need to - but it's a situation that shouldn't be let continue by any self-respecting people.
The other thing that should change is telling people the Big Lie: that is, if they do vote, they've done their democratic duty. God, I get mad when I hear that kind of twaddle. What about the seven years in between? Or if it's politicians we're electing, the four or five years? Schools, the media, everyone should make it clear that involvement in politics is part of being a citizen. Caring about your society and how it's governed has to mean more than an X once every few years. "But everybody knows politics is a dirty business - I want nothing to do with it"? In that case, get in there and change it, would you, and stop whingeing on the sidelines. Yes I know that such active involvement in politics by everyone has little or no public support - that most people are happy the way things are. But then there was a time when most of us were happy with drink-driving, smoking, refusing women the vote and sending small boys up chimneys. We changed all those; isn't it time we changed the X-marks-the-spot political culture?
Because if we don't, in seven years' time we could well end up yet again voting in a man whose hand shakes when he speaks or a man who feels no shame about being up to his oxters in the Fianna Fail party all his adult life. Oh, and being a money-owing property developer . If you think neither of those prospects calls for a more involved and knowledgeable electorate as soon as absolutely possible, you'll probably want to start promoting options 1, 2 or even 3. But going on in this sheep-like (or do I mean Gadarene swine-like?) way is stupid and dangerous.