So, I had been asked by some people to consider this, in the upcoming election. Run for the university seats, they suggested. These were people I respected, from non-party backgrounds. Some were active in elected politics, others not. They made a persuasive case (but then, some are in the political world). I thought about it, took soundings and explored some ideas. I have made a decision about running.
I’m not. It’s not because of fear of rejection – you don’t do twenty-five years of active academic research without having become intimate friends with rejection. It’s not because I don’t wish to be part of the debate – the most facile statement on politics is that it is only elected officials who matter, a profoundly undemocratic notion that negates all public intellectual and mass movement politics. And no, it’s not because I am running for the Dail…
While it is flattering to be asked, and fun to imagine both a candidacy and a campaign, not to mind what one could do if elected, there are several reasons why I wouldn’t go forward. It would be nice to be able to say things under absolute privilege but that’s really the only things that even half temps me.
I respect the Seanad. Sometimes its hard to do that, given the number of people there, of whom, honest to god several I thought were dead, who are mute and sessile. But the idea of a second house, that I can go with. I have even blogged on how it might be reformed and why we should keep it- see here, here, here and here. But to respect something means one has, if involved in it, be involved. While some Senators do take the position as a close to fulltime job, they are few. I would, in all honesty, have some moral difficulty in taking tens of thousands of taxpayers money for a parttime position. I probably could get over my scruples, but… So, first reason is I have a fulltime, well paid, busy job, (and its in a listed building with a car park in D2) and wouldn’t have space to do a fulltime or nearly full time parliamentary job. One or other will suffer.
A further and more compelling reason exists. Politics is perhaps one of the most family unfriendly activities one can think of. I have a young family, and given a choice of spending time with a four-year old or in late night parliamentary sessions, there is none. Family comes first. A childhood is fleeting and it cannot be rerun. If we are serious about politics as a job and we should be, then we must make it amenable to normal everyday folk. Of course there are crises and tense times in a nation’s polity when the sittings go on but as it is now it is not fit for humans. Too often this debate is about making politics women-friendly. It should be about being family friendly, and that means dads also. So the second reason is family, I like them and want to spend time with them.
Even if this were overcome, a third reason presents itself. Referring back to the top, while the idea of a second chamber is a good one, how we have gone about electing and more problematically using it, that has rendered it a cipher. It is absolutely routine for senators to present ideas, even entire bills, and to have the government de jure say “great idea, but not ours, and so even though we agree with it we wont implement it, but will reintroduce it later from ourselves“. This is a joke. If an idea or an amendment is good, accept it regardless. Senators, more so independent ones, have very little parliamentary power. they may have power of persuasion or influence from position, but that is not their primary role. They are simply not taken seriously by the lower house, which is why so many yearn to get a demotion back there. Senators cannot lay parliamentary questions and are generally not given senior committee posts. This goes for independent ones in spades. So the third reason is the powerlessness of the individual senator – why do something which is borderline futile?
I hope we get a good crop of Senators. In aggregate the monies paid to independent senators is small, and in so far as there are any who speak out fearlessly they tend to be the ones. Independent, and university, senators have spoken up and spoken out. But it’s not for me , this election coming at least.