Which government best reflects the ‘will of the people’?

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By Rory Costello, University of Limerick

Government formation is not just a numbers game. Political parties campaign to a large part on policy, and we must assume that people who vote for a party do so as an endorsement of those policies. If we view the new Dáil as representative of the spread of views in society, then the government that forms should be positioned near the ideological centre of the Dáil. Anything else would not be a fair reflection of the will of the people as expressed in the election.

So where is this centre point? Much of the discussion in the media has been about the similarity of the two biggest parties, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. This is certainly true, but it is also the case that Fianna Fáil positioned itself to the left of Fine Gael in this election on the key issues. This is evident both in the respective focus of the two parties campaigns (Fine Gael emphasised tax cuts while Fianna Fáil prioritised spending on public services) and in their positions on the key issues (e.g. Fine Gael promised to abolish USC for everyone, while Fianna Fáil promised to scrap the tax only for low and middle income earners).

It is therefore clear that Fianna Fáil is positioned at the centre of the new Dáil in policy or ideological terms. Around one third of the seats will be to the right of Fianna Fáil (i.e. Fine Gael), and around one third to the left of Fianna Fáil (including the AAA-PBP, Sinn Féin, Greens, Social Democrats, Labour and some of the independents).

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If all parties honoured their commitment to voters to seek to implement their policies, then the natural outcome of the negotiations would be a government in which Fianna Fáil played a central role. All parties would look to Fianna Fáil as the party to do a deal with. Fine Gael would view Fianna Fáil as their most natural partner; and so too would parties on the left. If AAA-PBP and Sinn Féin genuinely wanted to achieve something on water charges or housing, for example, then they would make an offer to support a Fianna Fáil-led government on the condition that it suspended water charges (which after all is the Fianna Fáil position) or committed to a social housing programme.

Under these conditions, it would be ultimately up to Fianna Fáil to decide the shape of the next government. They could come to a formal arrangement with either parties on the left or the right, or they could seek to form a minority government that would rely on the support of Fine Gael on some issues and left-wing parties on other issues. Either way, government policy would be close to what is sometimes called the ‘median voter’, which for many democratic theorists is the most democratically justifiable policy outcome.

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So why is a Fine Gael-led government (either as a minority government or in coalition with Fianna Fáil) the only option being discussed in the media and by politicians? A clear majority of people voted for parties to the left of Fine Gael, so it should not be a foregone conclusion that Fine Gael will lead the next government. The reason why this appears likely is that several parties have washed their hands of the whole thing. Both Sinn Féin and the AAA-PBP have ruled out negotiating with the ‘civil war parties’, and have suggested that Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil should form a government.

Of course, this may be in the long-term strategic interests of those parties. But it is a clear abandonment of their voters, who elected them based on their policies. Once in opposition, these parties will have little or no influence over government policy, yet this is exactly where they seem to want to be. The implication is that the parties do not actually care about the policies they campaigned on, but are more focused on their own long term interests. By standing aside from government formation negotiations, they will guarantee that government policy will be to the right of the median voter.

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10 thoughts on “Which government best reflects the ‘will of the people’?

  1. “It is therefore clear that Fianna Fáil is positioned at the centre of the new Dáil in policy or ideological terms.”

    That is highly questionable to say the least. On 80% of its socio-economic policies FF is closer to FG than any other party in An Dáil. They are both centre-right Christian Democrat parties, albeit the latter further to the conservative right than the former. Despite its past history the contemporary FF is not some Gaullist or Social-Democratic movement.

    Aside from its position on abortion what places Labour on the Left? It has overseen the implementation of mainstream centre-right policies for the last five years, notably on the basis of “austerity”. The “labour” name is a mere historical hangover of no relevance to the present party and its core beliefs.

    • I agree they are both centre-right. But if you accept that FF positioned itself slightly to the left of FG (at least on fiscal policy), then given the numbers for each party FF are at the mid-point in the Dail – roughly equal number of TDs to its left and its right.

      As for Labour, their manifesto was more left-leaning than FF and FG. I don’t agree with judging them just based on the policies of the outgoing government, of which they were a junior member.

    • I agree – Labour in opposition as a centre left party needs to rediscover its identity – it needs to or the centre left will be powerless with a a disparate range of independents ans Sinn Fein.
      If Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael go into government together it will be on a joint programme for government where Fine Gael acknowledge Fianna Fáil’s success in coming up with policies that reflect centre left discontent due to austirity issues. If they do not it will be an entirely cynical attempt to preserve their parties self interest – the public will not thank them. Ifvtheybdo agree a del and enter government, the consequence in the long term is that the two parties would have to fight the next election on the same platform of having realised their program for government.As both parties would have gotten over their historical and out dated civil war tribal divide there is no reason why they would not merge into one. Only party hardliners on both sides think this is a bad idea – everyone else wishes they would just get on with it and come into the 21st century. The hard liners might leave and form continuity Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil and so be it. The new party probably needs a new name – suggestions? Republicans ? Democrats ?

  2. “This is evident both in the respective focus of the two parties campaigns (Fine Gael emphasised tax cuts while Fianna Fáil prioritised spending on public services) and in their positions on the key issues (e.g. Fine Gael promised to abolish USC for everyone, while Fianna Fáil promised to scrap the tax only for low and middle income earners).”

    You seem to be deliberately omitting the fact that FG proposed a 5% claw back for those over 100k on the abolition of the USC. FG also spoke in terms of investing heavily in more public service spending, not as much as Labour but there wasn’t much difference with the spending details outlined by FF. And since when is 70K a middle income earner? Both FF and FG

    FG has members who are to the right of FF but the party also has members who are to the left of FF, especially on social issues. (what was it FF did during the #marref again? Or on the abortion debate? or even divorce for both referenda?)

    • FG’s position on fiscal policy was to prioritise tax cuts, and once this created economic growth to put money back into services.
      The differences in terms of tax policy were not huge, but FG’s policies were on balance slightly more beneficial to higher earners than FF’s.
      You are right that on social/ethical issues FF is not more liberal than FG, but in my view taxing and spending were more important issues to most voters.

  3. Assumption, spelled put in second sentence, is that voters decide based on policy. But is that so? There is a case, and evidence, for arguing they vote for people as much as policy. That being so, the analysis In this commentary doesn’t get us very far – or help explain the behaviour of the politicians in the new Dail

    • The point is a normative one, not an attempt to explain behaviour. If some parties do not seek to achieve their policy goals by engaging in negotiations over government formation, then we end up with government policy that is skewed away from the median voter.

  4. A FG led minority government supported by L/SD/G/IA and about 14 of the Ind is as valid as any other grouping. If the others all claim FG lost the fact FG is still the largest party even in defeat means it has first dibs on forming a government.

    The prize of being the first FG government returned should focus the mind of FG to be open and generous in the offers it makes. It will go against every fibre of Enda Kenny to agree to meaningful reform but he’ll just have to suck it up. Hopefully this clever Mrs Kenny we keep hearing did so much to get him elected in 2011 steps in and has a word to the wise with him.

    I don’t care that he isn’t an intellectual – I just care that he gets done and on that he has failed. He was given a mandate for reform on a scale that would make someone like him feel ill – he knew that but he baulked every single time he had to face down a vested interest.

    His big talk to the church stopped at talking. They still haven’t paid up and they still have a controlling stake in schools and hospitals.

    We should have an NHS but because the well padded consultants get their calls returned by FG ministers that went no where. Ditto the long over due legal reforms.

    Having just come through the probate process in Ireland – it beggars belief this still goes on in 2016. He could appoint Alan Shatter a Senator and make him Minister for Legal Reform, with zero extra pay or pension or expenses – just a desk in the department or anywhere Shatter wants it and let him reform everything. Literally every reform will be implemented.

    I wouldn’t waste too much time on the women – they have proven they are no different to the men – no better or worse. The left took as much in expenses, without published a single receipt, as the right so they are no different either.

    Pick the best from the wide range of talent and if anyone in FG moans point out the alternative is opposition for years with the potential people like the alternative rainbow.

    There is something within FG that people do not like. It’s personal. They need to work on that.

  5. Fine Gael are even more corrupt than Fianna Fail, if such is possible.
    Ireland is THE most corrupt country in Europe. RTE is the propaganda mouthpiece for corrupt government.

    What of the criminality of dispossessing thousands of people from their homes in Ireland ?
    Why is Europe not speaking about this ?
    Because Kenny & Co are hiding the facts.

    IRELAND IS NOT IN RECOVERY AND NEVER HAS BEEN.

    THE ONLY BASTARDS CLEANING UP ARE KENNY & HIS CRONIES, THE CORRUPT LAWYERS, CONSULTANTS, POLITICIANS, BANKERS, AND IRISH PROPERTY LANDLORDS SCREWING THE COUNTRY.

    ONE BEDROOM APARTMENTS IN DUBLIN BEING RENTED FOR UP TO 4,000 EURO per MONTH ????

    AIRBNB IN IRELAND – RENTING ONE ROOM – FOR UP TO 4,000 per MONTH ????

    PEOPLE ARE LIVING IN ABJECT POVERTY.

    PEOPLE ARE DYING ON TROLLEYS IN IRISH CRAP HOSPITALS WHERE NURSES TREAT THE ELDERLY IN AN APPALLING FASHION.

    THE SO-CALLED “ALZHEIMER’S ORGANISATION” STAFFED BY A GANG OF WASTERS WHO HAVEN’T A CLUE ABOUT ALZHEIMER’S AND WHO ARE ONLY INTERESTED IN BEING PAID.
    THEY EVEN TRY TO SWEET TALK THE ELDERLY INTO HANDING OVER THEIR CASH.
    I HAVE SEEN IT. I HAVE BEEN DISGUSTED BY THE TREATMENT OF ALZHEIMER’S PATIENTS IN IRELAND. THE WHOLE AREA IS A SCAM BY THE HSE TO TRY TO GET THEIR HANDS ON THE MONEY OF THE ELDERLY.

    WHEN ARE THE IRISH GOING TO UNDERSTAND THAT YOU ARE BEING UTTERLY SCREWED BY CORRUPT GOVERNMENT AND A SYSTEM THAT IS MORE CORRUPT THAN ANY OTHER IN EUROPE ?

    YOUR AMERICANISATION HAS LED TO A HORRIBLY RUDE, CRASS, IGNORANT, CAPITALIST-WHORE COUNTRY WHICH HAS SOLD OUT TO AMERICAN VALUES OF WAR, TERROR, VIOLENCE.

    TRULY IRELAND IS A DUMP AND SHOULD BE DISCARDED BY EUROPE – UNTIL THE IRISH PEOPLE HAVE THE BALLS TO STAND UP TO THE BASTARDS SCREWING YOU ALL, YOU ARE NOT WORTH CONSIDERING.

    YOU MOAN ALL DAY – BUT YOU DARE NOT UPSET THE MORONS WHO SPEAK SHIT ALL DAY LONG ON RTE PROPAGANDA SITE.

    A TRULY, TRULY APPALLING COUNTRY IS IRELAND.

    AND YES – THE LEGAL APPARATUS IS WHOLLY CORRUPT – SOMEBODY ABOVE MENTIONED PROBATE : IT’S A FUCKING JOKE ! THESE LAWYERS ARE ON THE MAKE AND SHOULD BE JAILED FOR THEIR ACTIVITY !

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