Politics is not a horserace. And politicians, contrary to the misleading impressions given by some political correspondents, are not the primary deciders of their own fate. For months we’ve been treated to articles detailing poll results and trying to find a correspondence with the doings and transpirings of our elected representatives. Support goes up? It must be because we liked your new hair. Support goes down? We didn’t like your last press release on cross-breeding King Charles Spaniels with sea sponges. (Result: average IQ marginally increased)
This is an illusion. Worse, its a sickness. People are exposed to vast numbers of influencers in a day. Other people they talk to, things they see, things they hear about and things that they think. And the combination of all these things gives them a fleeting feeling that they prefer one party/politician over another. That’s what a poll measures.
But if you’re a political correspondent, you only meet politicians. All your influencers are the elected representatives and their friends, advisers and adversaries. Is it any wonder that they write articles where the world revolves around our TDs twitches and thoughts? Because that’s what their world revolves around.
But so far this election campaign (only three days old!) has shown how narrow a view this is. Daragh O’Brien outlines the unexpected occurrences to date, but here’s a short selection;
A 17 year old has been threatened by her guardian, a state agency, with the Gardai if she tries to leave the country to avoid carrying to full term a baby who will die after its birth.
A challenge to the constitutionality of the constituencies.
The questions of why the Taoiseach’s girlfriend was given 30k in cash to refurbish a 3 year old house, and what he meant when he said that it was to do with stamp duty, when he was only renting it.
And my absolute favourite- an all-time take the biscuit, brillo-pad story from yesterday. A single day after the Minister for Transport, Martin Cullen, turned the sod on the M3 though the Tara valley the project is halted by the Minister for the Environment, Dick Roche as it turns out that the road runs through an archaeological site the size of 3 football pitches.
As there is no chance that this was known about before yesterday, and that they let Martin Cullen have his publicity shots in the knowledge that the road itself wasn’t actually starting, I can only presume that the Minister’s own excavations were those which unearthed the remains.
Politicians are subject to the whims of the electorate, not vice versa. If political correspondents lose sight of that because they meet a lot of politicians and not much of the electorate, they have stopped serving the interests of their readers.