Irish Times made a bold prediction about a change in direction of Irish politics:
Political leaders such as Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair, Jeremy Corbyn and Donald Trump not only redefined what their party stood for but redrew the lines of political competition in their countries.
A Leo Varadkar leadership of Fine Gael potentially presents a similar realignment of the Irish political system in a way that none of the other declared or potential candidates at this point appears to offer.
There is an elephant in the room here, tapping its foot impatiently.
The elephant is the fact that there is no evidence to suggest that leadership or ideology matters a hill of beans in an Irish general election. There are no general elections in Ireland; there are forty-something local elections, depending on the constituency count, with a government being formed as an afterthought to those individual local wars.
Two things matter in Irish elections – tribes and chieftains. Anything else is either a bell or a whistle.
Discussing the presence of Jim O’Callaghan and Stephen Donnelly on the current Fianna Fáil front bench, the author makes a point based on “my experience in the UK.” Experience in the UK is as much in Irish politics as experience on Mars, the Red Planet. Irish elections are utterly different from British elections.
The British House of Commons has 650 seats. There are four Independents among those 650 MPs, three of whom were elected on party tickets and either resigned or lost their party whips. The only Independent elected as an Independent in the 650 constituencies is Lady Sylvia Hermon, MP for South Down.
Dáil Éireann has 158 seats currently. Fourteen of those seats were won by Independent Candidates, possibly more depending on how exactly you count them (are the Independent Alliance or Independents 4 Change “Independent”?). This is a situation unthinkable in the British system, but it is par for the course in Ireland. Ireland has a completely different way of doing things. Completely different.
Those fourteen Independents got two hundred and fifty thousand votes in the last election. The Labour Party, worried about the “face on the poster,” changed leader after the 2014 local elections and ended up with 140,000 votes, slightly better than half that of the Independents, and with less than a third of the Independents’ seats.
So the crystal clear lesson here is that it doesn’t matter if it’s Leo Varadkar’s, Simon Coveney’s or JoJo the Dog-Faced Boy’s face on the poster. Irish elections are local elections for local people. Irish governments are formed by backroom deals on “issues” like Waterford Hospital, Stepaside Garda Station and flood barriers in Athlone, and have nothing on God’s green earth to do with “liberalism, globalism, equality of opportunity, enterprise and greater personal liberty and responsibility.”
And this is exactly the way the people like it. The system is set up to reward our lesser angels, and the current crises in the HSE, the Guards and the absence of any sort of contingency planning for Brexit is the result. The boys at home get sorted no matter what, and let the country take her chances with what’s left.