Tuesday, February 13, 2007

INSIDE POLITICS: If you're happy and you know it...

Fresh from their national conference last weekend, Labour has its gander up. It launched a new webside makeachange.ie today, along with a poster campaign.

A lot of it is based on the non-tax and non-health aspects of Rabbitte's speech on Saturday night, where he referred to the "gilded treadmill", where people are earning far more but feel that the lives they lead are less happy. Or they sense they are less fulfilled than their parents, or that their lives do not match the poorer but happier world they remember from their childhood.

The Bert has championed this theme as well, with a task force and campaign on citizenship. But the language tused for that campaign was so technical, so full of gobblygedook, so darned ugly that it has had next to zero impact. Active citizenship and volunteering are unwieldy terms that have little purchase with people.

The slogan being pushed by Labour to grapple with this complex but nonetheless crucial theme is much more effective. 'But Are You Happy?' it asks. You can see it emblazoned across this new website.

But while the Labour message is more direct,I am one of those fatalists who believe that little can be done to reverse the downside of the massive changes that have taken place in Ireland in the past ten years. Society has become more urbanised, fragmented, individual, materialistic and ultimately dissociated. To encourage/compel/cajole people into caring a little more for those around them will require a colossal change... the kind that's only brought out by catastrophic or calamitous events. By the way, it's not half as bad as some portray it. But telling people they can't have a second car, or their own house as opposed to an apartment, or can't automatically have a holiday home in Wexford is like telling a brand-conscious child that they can't have that pair of sneakers that all their friends have.

Elsewhere this morning, I was flicking through the list of legislation to be published in this Spring term. The Government says it will publish 25 new Bills. Not a snowball's hope in hell. They'll publish the Finance Bill and the Social Wefare Bill, both necessary to give effect to changes announced in the Budget. They'll pass and publish a couple of other Bills. And that's about.

We're into election mode. After the St Patrick's Day break next month, all the big guys will be on the road. I will sing Danny Boy in falsetto in a public place in the Election isn't called by Easter. So legislatively, it's all over. And there's a whole pile of promised stuff (some very important) that will never see the light of day.

Labour's new website is interesting. It has embraced technology more than any of the other parties (including blogs, though Ciaran Cuffe and John Gormley of the Greens are still the best there). And the website even includes a little video of Pateen a la Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton. Hell, there's a couple of politicians who have even got their own bebo sites (to get down with the kids!)

But sadly, technology isn't really going to be a factor in this election. We are usually a little behind the curve. It's big already in the US but it will be 2012 before it is fully embraced by all the parties. By the way, the Fianna Fail site is the worst of the lot, never worth looking at for anything.

The other big looming worry is flagrant auction politics by all the parties during the pre-election conference season. Within the space of two days, we have had tax cuts and a promise of a whopping 50% increase in pensions. Where is it going to end? Free holidays for everybody?

As I write, Brian Cowen is on The News at One vipering into Labour's tax-cut promise. He's denouncing it as irresponsible while defending the PDs equally grandiose promise of a huge rise in pensions as "not outside the bounds of possibility".

Good man, like a pint of you know what, consistency in a world gone mad!

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