Posted tagged ‘political parties’

Party time

July 26, 2010

On Saturday I was a guest on Newstalk radio’s Saturday morning show with Brendan O’Brien. One of my fellow guests was someone I had never heard of before until the middle of last week, Leo Armstrong. His claim to fame, and the reason for his presence on air, was that he had organised a meeting (attended by 50, we’re told) to discuss the setting up of a new political party. The news report on the meeting said that several speakers had complained about the political system’s ‘corruption’, ‘cronyism’ and other failings.

I thought that Mr Armstrong, who is 70 years old, was a totally affable man, a somewhat old-fashioned gentleman if that term still means anything. But I absolutely could not fathom why we were discussing his plan, or indeed why his meeting had merited the attendance of an Irish Times journalist and an article the next day. Don’t get me wrong, he is absolutely entitled to explore the potential for a new party, and he is welcome to lead it. But before the rest of us get excited about his chats over a pint in a Kilkenny pub, we would need to see more of his credentials. So far all we know is that he was a serial member of Fine Gael and the Greens, neither of whom he now likes, though maybe he dislikes them less (or possibly more) than Fianna Fail; and that he failed to get elected at the last local government elections, coming last of eleven candidates. On the air I asked him to set out his stall politically and say what his proposed party would stand for. Good question, he agreed; but he had no answers other than his dislike of the others, and his belief that many other people shared his disaffection.

In the end, politics is a mixture of personalities and ideas, and you need to have the right mixture of both to connect with the electorate. I thought Leo Armstrong was a charming man, but he didn’t have the political stature or presence that he would need, and he clearly hadn’t applied his mind to the ideas thing at all at all. So why in heaven’s name was he news? That we were discussing him and talking with him probably tells us something about the state of the political system right now. In particular, it tells us something about the alarming inability of some of the political leaders to communicate their message and through that keep the country focused. If a small meeting in a pub with an ill-defined political agenda makes it into the news, someone should be worried. Pat Cox and Michael McDowell’s teasing the MacGill summer school may be one thing, but getting all excited about the chat over a pint somewhere or other is quite another.

All the political parties need to re-tune their message and engage the wider public. Democracy depends on it.