Friday, June 13, 2008

Lisbon:Lisboa - the aftermath Part 1

It’s likely we're going to be picking over the consequences and causes of the treaty defeat for weeks perhaps even months. I’m going to have a quick start here but no doubt I’ll revisit it in more detail and with better grammar over the coming weeks. I voted YES in the end and not with any great enthusiasm. I suspect that now that while the remaining EU member states will continue with their own ratification processes that the reforms in Lisbon are dead. If the EU tries to press on without us then I think we should look to establish a new relationship with the Union I suspect other members states may in time wish to take this new Irish option.

I believe there are a number of questions to be asked from the outset.

Was the Lisbon Treaty lost from Day One? Or perhaps even before Day One?

Decisions on important matters such as voting for treaties, international agreements or sending out for food seem to happen in a particular order in the minds of most people. We have a need to answer certain questions in our heads before embarking on any process or journey and while we don’t have to commit to any one single answer before proceeding to the next question we do need something to build on.

Why are we doing this is the most basic question of all in my view. In the absence of a why we can’t proceed. Once we’ve a working idea of why we’re doing something we can move on to the more specific, almost mechanistic problems, of what and how are we going to do this, and then finally there are the more mundane matters of where and when are we going to be doing this.

Take getting married - you want to marry someone because you love them (there’s the why) and you have to ask them and convince them it’s a good idea (what and how) and the where and when of the marriage itself you should probably seek to work out together or just go along with their ideas for the sake of a quiet life.

Coming back to Lisbon, the government never explained ‘Why’ of we were inviting this treaty in for tea at all. They skipped that step and my belief is that the core lesson of Nice II was that if people were participating in the process they would support complex compromises involved but if they are presented with them as fait accompli then they will refuse to own them. To my mind, the seeds of the loss were sown even before the Treaty was signed. In the lead up to summit there was no significant advance trailing that. Sure the politically involved knew there was something afoot but the regular joe schmoe in the pub didn’t know about it and when the government came home with the legalistic version of Jack’s Magic Beans the public were suitably unimpressed. “You brought home wha now?”

I think the real seeds of defeat lie in the manner of the negotiation and signing of the treaty itself and these factors subsequently fostered the growth of the No argument more than the Yes side. In essence the Yes side lacked a convincing enough narrative as to why we had the treaty at all, not to mind being able to argue about or explain the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ of the content the document. In some sense, there wasn't a good enough origin myth to the Lisbon Treaty.

I've used Jack and the beanstalk comparison already but it stands repeating. The government never outlined in advance the WHY before it signed up to Lisbon which thereafter made the WHAT and HOW that much more difficult to convince people of. The vast majority of people don't spent their time wrapped up in political matters, they have jobs to do, children to put to bed, shopping to get, cars to drive and so on. So from the moment the Treaty was signed they were wondering ‘why are we doing this?’ And in the vacuum that existed the No side were able to decide the ground on which the battle would be fought and because it took so long to get going the YES side turned up like a bedraggled and uncoordinated army to be picked off piece by piece by the various No factions.

As for the campaign itself did the Yes side lose it or did the No side win it?

Let's be honest here all the protocols in the world don't convince the voting public when we've got a government addicted to taking a mandate to do X and going off and doing Y instead. They stated quite baldly that we wouldn’t be joining the Battle groups arrangement without a referendum, whether you agree with the decision or not that seems like bad faith. And since the general election we’ve been repeated told that the result really being a referendum on believing Bertie’s account of his financial accounts. I’m 100% certain that option of believing him or not simply wasn’t on the ballot and the general the population are equally certain of that too. People are just plumb tired of voting for one thing and getting another. So all the promises in the world that article such and such will protect concern A or B didn't wash. Working from the premise that this was just another great thing brought to you by the people they couldn’t explain their finances and told you that the economy was just dandy stretched people's credibility.

The wrong tone overall- The fact is the government used tactics that were suitable if the mood music was inclined to dance with the Yes side when in fact they were wary to start with and instead of those concerns being treated as genuine (even if not necessarily always based on fact or reality) they decided to mark everyone inclined toward No as being crazy and hope that the sensible people would be scared off from associating with the No side. There is a thin enough line between persistence and harassment.

The wrong pitch on specific issues - The discussion on the commission was a classic of the type, the argument about why the commission needed to be reduced was taken as read by the body politic, and the win for Ireland and smaller states that all being treated equally wasn't highlighted from the start. Other alternatives proposals such as a permanent commissioner for the large states with rotation for the smaller ones were never teased out in public.

The absence of the personal touch - I wonder to what extent the campaigning on the ground (or the apparent lack of it in many areas) by various party representatives had an impact. And the extent to which all political parties have become dependent on the personal armies of the local representative of the political pyramid to do the footwork. And many reps may have decided there was nothing directly in it for them, and so they didn't have their feet on the gas to the same extent. They were happy to have few posters but they tested the temperature of the water and decided they didn’t want to leave themselves on the losing side. I'm aware of a strong local campaign in a few areas and I can see that swung the vote in what was not fantastically fertile territory. However in other areas there was no local campaign.

Parties do not talk only to their own supporters or just to their own members. If the defeat is 55/45 as seems likely and with a turnout around 50% then I can't see how FF can claim that their supporters voted YES but that it was all down to the fault of others.

I voiced my concerns a good while ago about the mood of the electorate, and the likelihood that many people wanted to give the government a slap. I was sadly proved right in that regard.


Anonymous said...

so did you read and understand the treaty ?

or was it an ill informed yes ?

Dan Sullivan said...

I read some and understood the jist of the treaty. Did I read it cover to cover? Nope. You can read in some tedious detail why I voted a reluctant Yes elsewhere in the blog.