A very interesting article in today’s Irish Times discusses whether Europe should focus on education in its engagement with Africa. The article argues that political education is vitally important for all sorts of social and political outputs:
‘Individual Africans need to become more politically sophisticated. It is hard to think of a political party in Africa which genuinely professes, let alone practises, a coherent political philosophy. Whereas parties in Europe espouse socialist, liberal or Christian democratic values, there is no indigenous African ideology beyond tribalism. Political parties are more often than not built around a commanding personality who offers tribal leadership and is rewarded with uncritical tribal loyalty’ .
The description of African politics rings some surprising bells for students of Irish politics.
In the Irish party system, scholars have been trying to pick apart the policy stances of parties for some years now – with varying degrees of success and insight. Most analyses have concluded that the parties in Ireland offer a far less coherent, integrated ideological choice to voters than parties elsewhere in Europe – and many conclude that FF and FG are practically impossible to seperate in terms of political ideology.
A sentiment analysis I performed with Dr Laura Sudulich of Irish party candidates in the 2007 election looked at how they felt about the terms ‘ Right’ and ‘ Left’. It revealed that FF and FG have no sentiment either way (overall) while Labour and SF members tend to have significantly positive sentiments towards the ‘ Left’ and negative sentiments towards the ‘ Right’ .
Labour’s focus on its leader during the campaign, and FF and FG’s ‘party of government’ approach to political ideology meant that only a few independents and PBP members were focusing on matters of political ideology. Thus the election took place in an ideological vacuum, just as ideological decisions to do with taxation and public spending had to be made. The result was a rather opaque fudge – the implementation of existing policy with cosmetic changes, by new management personnel.
Other problems, such as Dublin’s near epidemic homelessness and drugs crises, go undiscussed. I was shocked when home to be approached by several street people, clearly in need of help, many of them also clearly drug addicts. For whatever reason, this is an item that is given far too little political priority in Ireland.
One wonders whether political education may have some role to play in our current plight, as Clerkin argues is the case in Africa. Perhaps we should look to our own political education as we also look to Africa’s.