So – whaddya think of the latest opinion polls from down south – exciting, eh? I mean the recent ones that show Fianna Fail clambering out of the coffin and stuffing cotton wool into the hole in its chest where everybody thought the stake had been planted. Mind you, I’m biased. I love polls.
The main thing I love about them is the snapshot quality they have. My father wouldn’t have liked them. He was a cattle dealer, and before he’d buy a beast he’d get up close and personal with it. Prod it in places that I didn’t always want to look, check the mouth, feel the belly – thorough scrutiny before reaching his decision whether to buy or not. Polls aren’t a bit like that. They give NO information about the political parties or what they have to offer the public. Instead they say ‘Say cheese!’ and flash-bang-wallop, you’ve got your public opinion snapshot.
So here’s my Lenten resolution: I’m going off polls. Sexy though they are, I suggest they be banned for the next six months, say. Or better still, a year. And instead of pollsters spending all that time and money trudging around asking members of the public to say which party they like most right now, get the parties to discuss – maybe live on television – an agreed set of issues that are of actual importance to people. Like, how much of the budget should go on public health. Or how much on education, or how much on the armed forces. (In Britain, you may have noticed, they’re thinking of cutting a chunk off the social services and sticking it onto the armed forces. Wouldn’t it be interesting to hear what each party thinks of this?). And yes, what’s your thinking on a united/partitioned Ireland.
In the end, like so much else, it comes down to what a party thinks of the public. If they think the public are generally thick, then popularity contests, opinion polls, and making sure your hair is nicely combed will be the focus of the politicians’ energies. If on the other hand they think the public are their adult masters, they’ll be willing to explain clearly to these adults what they’re up to and why. Guess what? The’ll find the public have a real appetite for real politics.
So ditch the grin for the camera, guys. Give the pollsters their P45. Instead, explain yourselves, particularly regarding past record and future plans. Because believe me, some of you have an awful lot of explaining to do.