An email I received yesterday morning from a US radio show interested in speaking to me about an article I wrote (Cork Independent, 3 June 2010), called ‘Turning corners in a maze’, only served to highlight that there is more debate on the state of this country outside it than there is inside.
In recent weeks, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and the Economist have all written about Ireland’s financial woes and the measures the Government is taking to counteract the recession.
So, to be fair, have a lot of Irish commentators, but the fact remains that there is no real debate here; inside the mire, it can be hard to have perspective on an issue that affects all of us. We all have an axe to grind, and most of us are finished grinding, because nobody is listening. And when they do, our centrist politics mean that real alternatives are very thin on the ground.
While Fine Gael and Labour oppose the spending cuts, they have no alternative. They are both so busy lining up for Government that policy positions are a sideshow, and the fact that they’ll more than likely be in coalition after a General Election means they can’t commit to anything. These two parties, anywhere else in the world, would be the least likely bedfellows – can you picture Labour and the Conservatives in the UK going into coalition?
Fine Gael have spent a lot of time working on policy documents like their NewERA programme, but they are well aware that they won’t be in Government for a little while yet; they may as well watch Fianna Fáil hang themselves through unpopular spending cuts, rather than commit Alan Dukes-style hara kiri by repeating the Tallaght Strategy, for something as nebulous as ‘the common good’.
Labour, meanwhile, have taken the road most travelled; oppose everything, suggest nothing, and keep your powder dry until you actually have to do something. In the current situation, we have no idea how Labour would cope, or what proposals they would come up with to save our skins from the IMF, the EU and all the other bogeymen out there.
Perhaps it is the collective lack of ideology among our politicians (never forget that Labour were the first to promise tax cuts before the last General Election), and among the people who vote them in (yes, that’s us) that is to blame for this consensus.
Yes, consensus-building is good, but that usually means compromise, changing position slightly, making a few tweaks. In this situation, there has been very little questioning of the policy of reducing the deficit.
US commentators have pointed out that recessions become depressions when spending cuts are introduced and the budget is balanced. They point out that governments should spend when private companies don’t. Maybe they’re right; I’m not an economist, I don’t know.
But in the week when we’ve learned that we are officially out of recession, and also, that 5,800 were added to the Live Register in June, it’s worth reopening the debate on whether the cuts being made are really working, and, this time, making it a real debate.
Listen to me on KCRW: http://www.kcrw.com/media-player/mediaPlayer2.html?type=audio&id=tp100630stimulus_or_austerit