The 360° Revolution

360 CartoonIt is finally, officially, over. And no more damning political verdict has ever been rendered in the history of this or many another country. Even the pro-union vote in 1918 was larger. It’s shocking that they got seventeen percent, that thousands were still ready to put their party before their country. This kind of unthinking loyalty is like a set of shackles on Irish politics. But perhaps it is broken now.

So I am torn between expressing relief at having thrown off the worse government we have ever had, and lamenting the fact that we have given a mandate to a party whose ideology and economic approach are so similar that it takes at least an hour to explain to interested foreigners why they are separate parties at all. It is a hell of an anticlimax, and frankly I am a little depressed. (Though the fact that I got about one night’s worth of sleep during the whole count probably isn’t helping there.) Was all that anger just for this, all that upheaval to deliver no change? Have we had a 360 degree revolution?

There is only one real advantage. The new administration will not have been busy sharing the good times with the rich and the powerful – well, not for fourteen years anyway. This will make them somewhat more disinterested and honest. But it’s not as if they’re chosen from a whole other class of innocent outsiders. Their interests are not the interests of the average person, and certainly not the interests of the poorer person. For Christ’s sake, the chairman of Anglo Irish is a former leader of Fine Gael. Didn’t anybody think that might be a bit of a bad sign?

But Kenny must get his one hundred days or whatever is the suitably polite interval, his chance to come up with a brilliant solution to escape the chains the last government left us in. Can he?

No. Sure he’s going to renegotiate the bailout deal. But by that he means begging for a slightly lower interest rate. That is not a negotiating position. A slightly lower interest rate on a debt we will never be able to pay back anyway, that is going to crush our economy back to 1940s levels? That is not an improvement of the situation. It’s an avoidance of reality.

What would I say to a meeting of Eurozone heads of state? What would you say?

“We cannot afford to borrow money to pay debts unjustly created for us by a previous, corrupt government. Indeed we cannot afford to borrow enough money for even the minimum necessary level of public expenditure, at this or any interest rate. Therefore we will pay ourselves in our own currency. In other words, we’re leaving the euro. This will be painful for us, what with soaring import prices, but the euro will almost certainly collapse so it will be even more painful for you. Sorry, but it’s that or we sacrifice the health, future, lives of our people in order to reward the selfish and greedy actions of a ludicrously wealthy banking industry.”

That is a negotiating position.


As I guess anyone reading this already knows, Election 2011 is finally over. Seán Kyne of FG won the seat by, oddly enough, the same margin of 17 as before the recount. Though if anyone thinks that that is evidence of accuracy I can assure you quite categorically it was not. As I said late last night, while there are many merits to our system, the introduction of an element of chance means that when it comes to such small margins of difference they might as well be playing roulette.

There will be plenty congrats for 5 new TDs. Mine go to communications student Jackie Fox (@Foxkehs) for ‘citizen’ results coverage via Twitter that beat the professional media, to Rónán Mistéil for aggregating those results into charts at amazing speed, and to Andrew Gallagher for fast and fascinating volunteer psephology.

Now, how would you like your new government this morning?

Our Voting System Failed Tonight

I had to cry off there and head home. I’ve a big day tomorrow, and the late election nights have worn me down to an interesting frazzle shape. It’s all right for the politicians, they’re stoked to the eyeballs with purest triple-distilled adrenalin. I can only barely bring myself to care who is in the next government.

Now it isn’t Fianna Fáil.

So I’m missing some serious election fun… Guess what’s happened? They found errors in the errors they found before, so this recount has actually changed the quota slightly. That of course means every transfer, every surplus, has to be recomputed.

Healy Eames may yet be in with a chance.

On the sidelines, under the aegis of the Galway West Twitter hashtag (#gyw), we naturally fell to discussing the pros and cons of the Single Transferable Vote model of PR.

It was a good night for the cons.

One of the most interesting points though, made here by blogger andrewgdotcom, was not about STV in general but rather the method we use to do it. You remember a couple of days ago I said that there was an element of random sampling involved in the counting system we use, but “it’s precise enough with large numbers“? Well he demonstrates that when we get down to tiny differences in the total vote like they’re currently fighting over, it is not precise enough. Such small numbers are well within the margin of error. In other words, they’re random.

In other other words, instead of holding a recount they might as well toss a coin.

Every Thirteenth Counts

“Look at the Guard,” a mother says to her child in Irish, perhaps to impress upon him the importance of good behaviour. For we are at the crucial thirteenth count in the Galway West Dáil constituency, and this time…

They’re starting over from scratch. Again.

I have not the words to describe how boring this is. A few people are counting things. A lot more people are watching them count. That. Is. It. As if life had grown more serious in all the years since Sesame Street, but no more complicated.

There is drama here, but so deeply encoded that it’s a closed book to outsiders. Like a poem in Braille, or the heated debate dogs carry on via lamp post. There’s the Fine Gael candidate, looking tired, talking to the man who used to (almost completely fail to) teach me history in school. His brother used to be a Fine Gael TD back in the 80s. Insiders. Connolly’s cadre are the more numerous and the younger. (Unless you  count children; I think the Fine Gael people have brought more.) FG coterie generally looks better off and better dressed. Though if the guy with the huge bunch of keys dangling beneath his huger beer gut is one of theirs, he’s really letting the side down. At one corner a veritable flock of men in dark pinstripe suits. Though they are without their gowns, I’d swear in court that they’re barristers. (Not baristas thank you, spell check.) Connolly crowd not exactly badly dressed, but somehow visibly socialist. This really is the ties versus the jeans.

Glad I came in combats.

How The Hell Did We Get Here?

So the leaders of Fine Gael and Labour have begun the slow waltz that will lead, almost inevitably, to the closest thing to national government I believe the constitution allows. But is that what we need, or would an independent-supported Fine Gael minority administration be the best outcome for Ireland?

It is a faintly scary proposition. I argued earlier that Fine Gael was a more right-wing party even than Fianna Fáil, but I didn’t justify it. As German public radio’s correspondent said on Radio 1 yesterday, from abroad it’s hard to see any difference between [what until yesterday were] the two major parties. In what way is FG the further right?

It is very hard to nail these two parties to traditional axes. FF has – or rather, had – more of a working class vote, and seemed to be (or managed to cultivate the image of being) more generous with welfare. But many would call that populism rather than socialism, buying off the poorest so as to preserve privileges.

In some senses – certainly, in the American liberal sense – Fine Gael are on the left. They were far clearer about separating church and state, more keen to push for contraception, divorce and women’s rights. But then again, they are seen as the party of law and order, the favoured party of the Gardaí (police), by instinct ready – even eager – to introduce draconian measures.

Fine Gael were traditionally the party of business, the professions, farming. But in recent years Fianna Fáil have become closely identified with the finance industry and the property development and construction sectors. Who is the more lefty there?

It’s a conundrum, but an easily explained one. They don’t easily fit into a left-right mould because neither ever set out to. Unlike the Labour party, they weren’t founded to represent a segment of society. They were national movements. They wanted all of society. Or at least, that majority of society that did not identify with British administration.

Originally of course, the same national movement. To cut a very long story very short, it split over whether to compromise with the British and form a government, or to keep fighting. Almost inevitably therefore one faction would be characterised as more conservative and authoritarian, while the other managed to cling on to the mantle of national popular movement.

The seed of a left-right orientation can be seen there. However that very quickly became more a matter of image than ideology, as Fianna Fáil slipped into the dangerous role of ‘natural party of government’, and Fine Gael that of ‘only realistic alternative’. Though you – or an ancestor – may once have been on one side of a deep ideological divide, and though of course the rhetoric was still occasionally used, the predominant reason for voting for one over the other was that one was your crowd and the other was the other crowd.

Now that is a mould that this election seems to have broken. Traditional FF voters turned their back on their crowd’s politicos in unprecedented numbers. People are calling it the ‘end of Civil War politics’. But where are we now? Replacing a heavily pro-capitalist party that many will argue was actually too generous to the poor and influenced by the unions, with a heavily pro-capitalist party in partnership with a moderate socialist one. There seems to have been roughly zero change ideologically.

But what’s even worse is that we’re swapping a Fianna Fáil Taoiseach for a Fine Gael one, just as we have done every single time that we have changed administrations since these parties came into being, getting on for a century ago. Even in the direst of circumstances,. the election has changed nothing except the faces.

Will we ever change the “Your side is worse no your side is” political zero-sum game? Maybe the only way is for Labour to stay in opposition, until they are given the mandate to change it.

*          *          *

I’ll get back to this soon. Now though it’s time for the latest Galway West recount – the one we all hope will be the last count of the election.

Yeah, right.

We Win Race To Be Last!

Just a quick update before I jump in the shower. Why do people say jump in the shower, anyway? It’s a foolishly dangerous idea. I prefer to lie down and gently roll into the shower. Anyway, here in Galway West everyone’s a winner. We’ve outlasted every team in the whole country to become the last still counting.

When Fidelma Healy Eames was (finally) eliminated in the middle of the night, her redistributed vote elected Brian Walsh. His surplus made no big difference, and as this left three candidates and two seats the lowest – Catherine Connolly (XLAB) – was eliminated and the other two – Noel Grealish (XPD) and Seán Kyne (FG) – deemed elected. However as Catherine Connolly was only last by 17 votes, she called for a recount.

That’s how tight it is; they’re rechecking the valid poll of well over 50,000 to make sure 17 haven’t gone missing somewhere. It’s possible.

Of course if they do find it for her, Seán Kyne would be perfectly entitled to call another recount… We may be here for a while yet.

But assuming they don’t, the last recount begins at 4:00 this afternoon. Seventeen votes, to make the difference between a Fine Gaeler and a left-wing independent in the Dáil. Seventeen votes to overturn my pessimistic prediction, and make me happy to be wrong.

I do believe I’m getting excited again.


Oh Christ, they’re electing the mayor of Gobblers Knob. Just doing it all over again and again. The recount is producing precisely the same figures as the original count.

No no, I speak too soon. There is a difference.

This time, it’s even closer.


New Day, New World *pokes*

Oh God this is tense. I have to get away from this damnable count before I do harm. When we went to the shop a short while ago I was swearing at every car on the road. And I wasn’t even driving.

But it’s just getting more and more amazing. Now the rumour is that Fidelma Healy Eames is disputing the result, even though Fine Gael has instructed her to stop. I don’t think that will exactly improve her chances of staying in the Senate. So she’s fighting now for the existence of her political career.

Fighting against her own party.

Dammit, how can I let go? This is so much damn fun! The latest rumours also suggest that the Healy Eames camp managed to get a load of Connolly’s votes excluded on the technicality that they were not embossed sufficiently clearly. (Ballot papers are embossed by a polling station worker before they are given to the voter.) It is quite literally a hanging chad situation. Lawyers have been seen.

Perhaps another reason for the lawyers is disputation over the ballot paper. In Galway West (as in Wicklow, another zombie count) it was printed in two columns. A “depressing number” (to quote one source) of voters filled it out as two separate ballots, as if there were a local or a European election going on at the same time. There may be ructions now about whether you can interpret some sort of valid vote out of that, but I think if someone doesn’t understand which or quite how many elections they’re voting in, they have disqualified their vote. For Christ’s sake.

Stop press! Word is Healy Eames demanded that her party give her a place in the Senate if they want her to stop disputing the count. Can she not be arrested for that?

It’s So Tight It Hurts

How national revolution becomes local news. Hard even to find any information on the Galway West count now. Last night I had to turn on local radio, hoping that updates would break into a show featuring covers by showbands of hits by other, better showbands. And that bizarre dancing-on-the-radio céili music with a piano. You remember? Where they put extra emphasis on the end so that everyone knew when to stop. I swear I had no idea anyone broadcast stuff like that anymore. It’s a grotesque little treasure.

But all I found was that the recount was ongoing. It’s still ongoing this morning. Rumours fly. Some say there will be another recount, though how they can make a rumour of that while there is a recount actually in progress is beyond me. Some say people are taking down their posters so that they’ll still be good for another election in a few months. Some are saying that Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin are going to reunite and stage a coup. OK, I basically just started that one.

At the moment the only reliable source of updates is one communications student called Foxkehs on Twitter. It appears though that Healy Eames will be eliminated, and after that it’ll be between Kyne (FG) and Connolly, Kyne tipped by the tightest of margins.

If there isn’t another recount… This one really is going all the way, isn’t it?

So How About We Ditch This System?

STV CartoonIt’s all right for you lot. Through most of the country it’s all over bar the shouting. Here in Galway though – East and West – we’re recounting, recounting, recounting.

Recounting. The word falls like the rain. Grey cloudstreamers bring down votes, one, two. One, two. One. Testing. *Blink* I should have got more sleep last night. Oh wait, rumour coming through that Galway East’s last seat will go to Labour. Hooray! Here in West, we may not know who our TDs are until tomorrow. Even the seats we thought were won, Ó Cuív and Nolan, are up for grabs again.

It was Fine Gael Senator Fidelma Healy Eames who called for the recount. Understandably, when she was on the point of being eliminated. With only 56 votes between her and the next nearest candidate, she desperately hopes that a recheck of the vote will show that it’s him who should be eliminated, not her.

The fact that this other candidate is also Fine Gael will tell you a lot of what you need to know about the Irish electoral system. We don’t have parties, we have truces.

Uneasy ones. As I was saying, TDs are in perpetual competition. The question is always asked, can they ever actually pay attention to their real job of legislating if they are constantly trying to claw votes away from one another?

Then the question has to be asked, is that actually their job? Officially they may be legislators, but once they’ve elected a Taoiseach all they ever really do is rubber-stamp the bills that the executive creates. Perhaps the TD’s real job is to be at the beck and call of the electorate, acting as go-between with the civil service.

But then you must ask, doesn’t that make the TD a sort of useless secular priest, interceding for the citizen with government in order to get them nothing more than they were entitled to anyway? And hasn’t TDs competing as professional insiders only helped create a culture of endemic corruption?

Then again… other political cultures with very different electoral systems are full of corruption too. Perhaps we have more than most, but in return for it don’t we receive a fantastic level of personal service? I invite your comment.

OK, what the ****’s happening with that count?