The Efficacy/Electability Trade-Off

RecycleWith 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



4 Responses to The Efficacy/Electability Trade-Off

  1. GQ12 says:

    Green-tinted glasses if ever I’ve seen them. Beyond a few marquee policies (buying carbon permits for government jet trips, directly elected mayor), the Greens have failed to implement most of their policies and have sold themselves out to FF. Beyond a some generic political praise, you fail to highlight any actual achievements in office. Considering the influence of previous minority parties on their larger coalition partners, The Green Party have had a relatively small influence on the first 2 years of this government term. Whether this Friday, or at the next general election, voters will realise that Green parties, by their very nature, are not suited to ruling unless they’re big enough to throw some political weight around (such as in Germany). They are party more suited to opposition and it is on the opposition benches that they will find themselves before too long.

    You should probably also mention that your sister is running for the Greens. Lazy and somewhat dishonest to omit that information.

  2. thefreemarketeers says:

    First of all, I’d note that earlier this week I wrote a piece that was critical of a policy introduced by the Green Party (regulation of rental accommodation).

    I’m loathe to defend the Green Party’s achievements in government, because it would only compound your accusation of bias. Given however that the piece already refers vaguely to their achievements, I will defend them using some undisputable evidence:

    – Even though the Green Party obtained less than 5% of the popular vote, John Gormley is Minister for the Environment and Eamonn Ryan is Minister for Energy. These are two key areas in which the Green Party campaigns.
    – Their position in government was an element that allowed linking motor taxes and vehicle registration tax to the level of greenhouse gas emissions produced by a car’s engine.
    – State subsidies for efficient energy-saving insulation, etc.
    – “Improved” regulation governing rental accommodation (if you think that’s a good thing).
    – More investment and state support for renewable energy than would otherwise have been the case.
    – Targets for state carbon consumption have been set. The carbon tax is currently with the Tax Commission (although I’m disappointed this hasn’t been introduced).
    – Money earmarked for investment in Green technology (another program, the benefits of which I am personally skeptical).
    – Directly elected Mayor in Dublin.

    I’m sure there are more things they could have done, and others that I’ve forgotten. I wouldn’t describe myself as a Green or affiliated to any particular party, although I am delighted to say that I have campaigned on behalf of my sister and her policies. However, I think it is completely true to say that the Greens have achieved more in government than they would have in opposition. That is just factually accurate.

    I would be very obliged if you could qualify the following remarks that you made:
    – “The Greens have failed to implement most of their policies”.
    – “They have sold themselves out to FF”.
    – “Green parties, by their very nature, are not suited to ruling unless they’re big enough to throw some political weight around”.

    I think your last remark betrays the fact that you’re judging the Green Party by the standard of any other party. They only have 5% of the popular vote. In fact, I think minority parties and independent supporters of the government in Ireland gain from government in an entirely unrepresentative and unfair manner (because we have such a limited political spectrum). The PDs were in an entirely different situation and environment, so it’s facetious to say they had more influence.

    The point of this piece was not to praise the Green Party, and I didn’t mention specific policies for that very reason. I did say that they have done well by their own standards (always referring to their program for government). That’s true, although you can challenge it with facts. The objective was to highlight the incentives that are there for smaller parties in government in Ireland. I think that’s worthy of analysis.

  3. GQ12 says:

    The people have spoken.

  4. […] Unfortunately, they are getting fed up with Fianna Fáil just like everyone else. They made this quite clear in the most recent local elections, in which the Green candidates were nationally decimated (in spite of, in many respects, the fine record of the Green Party in government by their own standards, as discussed here). […]

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