Thursday, September 5, 2013

Fewer Politicians?

I never thought I would agree with a member of The Green Party. But today I do. Eamon Ryan, in today's Irish Times, complains about Fine Gael's campaign posters that urge a "Yes" vote in the referendum to abolish the Seanad. One of the benefits the posters promise is "fewer politians".

Mr. Ryan says: "What populist illness has overcome Fine Gael and Labour whereby the only campaign argument they can muster is that politics is in itself a bad thing? Their only line is that having 30 per cent fewer politicians is by definition good. Where does that argument end? Should we all just bow out and let the Civil Service, judiciary or media take control? Having abolished a whole layer of local democracy and having centralised Government decision-making in a subcommittee of four, they now want rid of the Seanad. I am afraid I don’t trust them with yet more power. I think we should take some back and give the people the power to elect the Seanad."

I think many Irish people would agree that, if they want something done, contacting their local TD or councillor is probably a much better approach than actually trying to deal with the bureacracy of the civil service.

But, even aside from that, this "fewer politicians" business really bothers me. Presumably every minister, TD and councillor in Fine Gael wanted to become a politician-- they weren't press-ganged into it. It was their ambition, perhaps their burning ambition. Now they want to shut the door to other people who want to get into politics-- or, at least, to narrow it. It seems mean-spirited.

Although there are some industries I don't have much tenderness for-- bookmakers, for instance-- I don't understand why anyone would want there to be fewer career options out there. Such a person may claim that Senators, and other professions who are paid from the public purse, are being paid out of our pockets, and that if we didn't have such a burden of public spending, then we would spend our money on other things and that would create more jobs and thus more career choices. This seems suspiciously simplistic to me. I think there are many jobs and careers that simply wouldn't be there at all if it was left to the play of market forces. We might have any amount of computer programmers and management consultants, but next to no museum curators or philosophy lecturers. So even if the only thing the Senate achieved was to employ a few dozen politicians I would be all in favour of retaining it for that reason.

(Reading Anthony Trollope's Barchester novels makes me think the same thing about religion. Of course, I am a Catholic and I believe Catholicism to be true. But I can't help thinking that, if I was an atheist or an agnostic, I would think that having an established church, religious services and a clerical class was a good in itself, well worth the money put into the collection on Sundays, or the support of an occasional raffle. Organized religion fulfils a social role that nothing else can really fill. A society without seems curiously denuded. Clergy are nearly always a cultured and serious-minded class of people. If the same people had to become solicitors or company directors or engineers, they would inevitably become, in general, narrower-minded and duller people.)

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