With elections looming, the Green Party should be looking to capitalise on the progress they’ve made since entering government with Fianna Fáil. Many of the objectives set out in their programme for government have been implemented, in considerably more difficult circumstances than anticipated.
Instead, the exigencies of politics have forced them to reconsider their new partners. The Irish Times explains why the exit strategy is rational from their perspective, as the current government’s unpopularity has become a liability in election season. It is a harsh reminder of the immaturity still present in Irish politics and voters.
It should be simple enough for small political parties to explain themselves. Their allegiance with the majority coalition party may not always be ideal, but that must be balanced against the benefits of enacting legislation and policies that wouldn’t get off the ground if they were in opposition.
However, it’s looking likely now despite their progress that the Green Party will suffer at the ballot box through association with Fianna Fáil. Of course, it might be that the Green Party have not adequately communicated their achievements in government, but this is unlikely given the scope of their position.
The Greens have acquitted themselves very well in government by their own standards. Now they are being forced to distance themselves from Fianna Fáil or suffer the consequences (loss of transfers from opposition parties, collateral damage from the backlash to government, etc.). If they can successfully distinguish themselves in the minds of the voters, there’s no harm done.
More likely, they will be punished by voters to some extent at least. This is completely irrational. After the fate of the Progressive Democrats in the last general election, one has to wonder what the implications of these events will be for smaller political parties.
It should create incentives for disunity and bickering in coalition governments. Although the Greens knew that no good could come of complaining about any manner of petty minor issues, voters are now disappointed that they weren’t more vocal. In the future, expect minority coalition partners to be more belligerent in an effort to distinguish themselves from the majority party. This means more politicking and less government, shifting debate away from important issues.
We can expect bargaining amongst coalition partners to become more confrontational, as it becomes apparent that the price of forming political alliance seems to be paying for your partners’ mistakes. Emphasis will be placed on big, public issues that leaders can point to as victories – rather than balancing the relative merits of policies in accordance with the party’s philosophy and the greater good.
If the public continue to punish smaller coalition partners for all the mistakes of their government, the future is not good for Irish politics. Supporters of the smaller parties will suffer most, as voters are creating a disincentive for their politicians to have any influence.
The politicians cannot be blamed if they are more inclined now to place public relations over good governance. They’re just playing by the rules of the game. Let’s hope that voters remember why the Green Party went into government in the first place, and whether they might want them there in the future.
Full disclosure: The author’s sister, Adrianne Wyse, is the Green Party candidate standing in Glencullen for the upcoming Local Elections.
© The Free Marketeer 2009