Thursday, February 09, 2006

The Irish Politics of Fear

I was watching the documentary "The power of nightmares"(you can watch it here) the other day. Basically what it tells is an interesting but very biased story about how the Neo conservatives in America and Al-Qaeda used fear to get people to vote for them. Very basically it is a Orwellian concept based on the teachings of Leo Strauss. In the book 1984 the government use the idea that the country is at war to keep the people under control. This is what the documentary said the Neo-Cons were doing by making people believe not in ideals but in nightmares (i.e soviet Union under Regan and Al-Qaeda under Bush) they could make people believe that they alone can save them from the treat.

But it is not just in America that the politics of fear is being used to gain support from people here too in Ireland all the parties use fear to garner votes. Some more blatantly then others

Fianna Fail has always been the most powerful party in the country. Other then Cumann na nGheadheal no other party has ever been in a single party government. Yet they have a fear and they are using this fear to gain votes. One of the big fears a lot of people have in this country is to have Sinn Fein in government. The prospect of having murders who are not repentant at the cabinet table is not something that many people relish. So afraid that Fianna Fail will lose their Republican base they are trying to reclaim that ground with such things as 1916 Commeration parades. Fianna Fail make people believe that they alone can hold off Sinn Fein taking all the republican votes. They say vote for us as we are the only ones that can halt the rise of Sinn Fein.

Fine Gael are trying to appeal the people who are afraid of rip-off Ireland. The people that feel they are being robbed blind by stealth taxes. That the tax man is behind lurking every corner just waiting to take all your cash and siphon it off to some rich property developer. They gave birth to the website and wished had gave birth to Eddie Hobbs. On the rip off website Fine Gael say

For over two years we have been lifting the lid on Rip Off Ireland. On everything from soft drinks to mobile phones, houses to funeral costs we have been highlighting the high cost of living in Ireland and coming up with radical, workable solutions that will shut the door on Rip Off Ireland once and for all.
They say vote for us as we are the only ones that can save you from the stealth taxman.

Labour’s exploit the greatest fear of many now in Ireland have. Xenophobia. Anecdotal evidence is portrayed as facts and the country is made believe foreigners are coming here to take Irish peoples jobs. They are starting a race to the bottom. And there is more waiting to come, to invade. Pat Rabbitte articulated this in saying “There are 40 million poles you know” and few in the party have disagreed publicly. They try to defend their liberal morality flank with talk of labour inspectors but really they are taping into the fear of foreigners to increase their vote. They say vote for us as we are the only ones that can save you from foreigners taking your job.

The PDs participation in government was secured by a picture of Michael McDowell putting up a poster saying Single party government No thanks. They used peoples fear of a majority Fianna Fail government by portraying the PDs as the only party that can stop a single party government and “keep an eye on Fianna Fail”. However this time round with the possibility of another single party government is remote. So they are changing their tactic. They claim that they are available for both coalitions and that the people of Ireland would want them in to keep an eye on things. They claim that economic progress is not guaranteed and is solely due to their vision and policies. The fact that Charlie McCreevy was from Fianna Fail does not stop them as they eagerly point out that he greatly influenced the parties policies when they formed and thus their policies is what and will continue to keep the country booming. They say vote for us as we are the only ones that can save the economy from ruin.

The Greens operate on fears. Few people know where they stand any issue that are not environmental which is probably a fault of their own. They say vote for us as we are the only ones that can save you from global warming/nuclear power/incinerators/peak oil/GM crops/Russian gas/landfill sites/Kyoto fines.

Sinn Fein has always been one of the smoothest political operators in the business. What other party with a terrorist group can gain as much support. What parties terrorist wing can commit the largest bank robbery in the history of the Irish isles (I ain’t calling it the British Isles) and get a bump in the opinion polls. What parties terrorist group can kill one of their own and cover it up and not suffer for it. This is all due to the political genius of Gerry Adams. So their political strategy is going to be as brilliant as it is subtle. Basically Sinn Fein exploit the fear of themselves. As Pastor of Muppets said about the North.

Once the violence was switched off, Irish nationalism was greatly attracted to Sinn Féin. Many long-term SDLP supporters freely gave their votes to the republican movement, if only to encourage them along a peaceful route.
This is part of what Sinn Fein do down south. They say vote for us as we are the only ones that can save Ireland from us.

Then we have the independents, Sinn Fein and the SWP working at a local level. They zone in to an issue that people have in the area. They make people fear that they are being left behind by the Celtic tiger, fear someone is doing better then you by employing unfair means. They say vote for us as we are the only ones that can make you heard.

Now many of the parties are exploiting real fears others are phantom fears. Some parties exploit the same fears such as fear of Sinn Fein. Some exploit peoples fear more then others. The program suggested that the people with the darkest fear will have the most power. Now this is probably not true in Ireland but maybe the people with the greatest fear will gain the most in the next election.


Richard Waghorne said...

Interesting piece. I think you're right about Labour tapping into a xenophobia, or perhaps a general vague fearfulness anyway.

Would call you, or rather the program, on the depiction of Leo Strauss. Strauss is a far more complex and profound thinker than the charicature put out and I doubt he would recognise himself in the representation. I touched on this a few days ago actually:

Simon said...

ya i haven't read anything on leo. really. So i'll will take it that their is a lot more to it. but orwell did talk about using fear. Did strauss meantion a bit about fear.

Anyway i would say labour are tapping into xenophobia all be it perphaps with a small x

Richard Waghorne said...

Strauss did talk about fear, or rather, persecution, but only in a historical sense. The idea is that most of the big names in political philosophy were writing at times when they were likely to be persecuted for expressing their views openly, so you have (he says) to read their words with this in mind, trying to word out if there is a concealed subtext that the author had to hide if he was to get it across at all. The use of irony, for example.

Naturally, this is all highly controversial.

Chris Gaskin said...

You fail to understand the appeal that Sinn Féin have for many people.

Sinn Féin will continue to advance in all parts of Ireland.

Ahern tried to criminalise Sinn Féin at the last election and it failed. He will try to out republicanise Sinn Féin at this coming election and he will also fail.

Simon said...

Ahern tried to criminalise Sinn Féin at the last election and it failed.
Well I think the IRA killing Robert McCartney and Robbing the Northern Bank pretty much acomplished that. But anyway.

You fail to understand the appeal that Sinn Féin have for many people.
What is the appeal then.

Anonymous said...

Sinn Fein's appeal is that they are anti political and that is why you see there support grow among young and people living below middle class( I refuse to say poor as There are very few poor people left in Ireland(Homeless apart))because Sinn fein can say look at us we have never done anything croupot in Government because we have not been there. Their popularity will start falling when people start examining their policies and start to realise that they are every bit politically motivated and go as far as continually attacking the one party ( SDLP) that helped bring them in from the cold.

Anonymous said...

I think it's a bit of a stretch to fit the strategies of all the Irish political parties into this fear theory. Some of what you describe is just politics in action i.e. attempting to appeal to the needs and desires of the electorate. Much of it is driven by a genuine belief in a philosophy or ideology.To say that every political pary is creating giant bogeymen to manipulate the people into voting for them is a bit simplistic.

The big use of fear in the Irish political sphere is one that you haven't explicitly mentioned. It is the fear of an economic downturn. The government constantly drive home the point that only they can guarantee continued economic prosperity and if the other crowd get in then they'll blow the whole lot.

This, of course, is nonsense. The ability of any of the political parties to control the economy is limited. Yet we are constantly told that this government has created and maintained to the conditions for the economic boom (but note they give very little specifics as to how they have done this) and only by voting for them can the the boom be maintained.

There's your use of fear right there.

Simon said...

Economic down turn is the fear i attributed to the pds

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I missed that. That's what I get for scanning. My impression is that Fianna Fail play the economy card the most. They always wheel it out as an excuse to do or not do something.

The PDs play the "Fianna Fail watchdog" card more in terms of corruption than the economy.

Simon said...

i think the pds used to play the watch dog card but are moving now towards the economy.

I think also mentioned that :)

but each to his own. some play the fears more then others i will grant