My wife was elected to Sligo County Council 5 years ago and is standing for re-election tomorrow.
I never had anything more than a passing interest in politics until she got involved but have seen and heard lots about how it works and what goes on since.
Like you, I would have heard all the cliches. “Politics is a blood sport”, “You must be mad to go into it”, “It’s a thankless job”, “You couldn’t believe a word that comes out of their mouths”.
All true, from what I have seen, bar the last one, which is not always the case but still applies much of the time.
So why do people do it? Well as far as I can see, most people enter it for one of 3 reasons.
1 – They genuinely want to serve and represent their community.
2 – They want to retain a seat that a family member previously held.
3 – They are attracted to the idea of power in and of itself.
Some motivations more admirable than others, but whatever way you look at it, there’s no denying that it does take a certain type of madness to enter this game. The pay isn’t huge at local level. It takes away a certain amount of privacy from you and your family. It means that unless you are outside your constituency, you are never really ‘off’. The culture is not one of collaboration but competition. You open yourself up to a world of deceit, two-facedness and pettiness, because those qualities are ones that are rewarded by our political system. There are certainly easier ways to live your life.
On the night of the election 5 years ago, a man with much experience who had also been elected that night told my wife – “this is as good as it gets”.
I wouldn’t disagree with that statement.
Yet I support Sinéad’s decision to enter it, and put her name forward.
Why? Because even though it affects me, my children, my family, I believe that the impact she can have on our community and country trumps that. We need more good people in politics.
Of course my good is different to your good. My priorities are different to your priorities. And that’s why we won’t all vote for the same person tomorrow.
But wouldn’t it be nice if the group of people elected this time could start to change the culture? They won’t change the world, but they can change our community. And that means something.
And that starts with us – the electorate – and the type of behaviour for which we reward politicians.
So what if we voted for politicians who don’t do what’s best for each of us as individuals, but what’s best for the greater good of our community. For politicians who commit to projects not because they know it will get them individual praise, but because they know it’s the right thing to do. For politicians who collaborate with each other to bring about positive change, not ones who seek solo acclaim for their actions.
And maybe as a result the reputation of politics and the trust people have in their politicians would improve, and then more good people might be encouraged to put their name forward.
Pipe dreams perhaps. But every positive change in our culture started with the dreams of somebody. And all change starts with people.
And tomorrow we get to choose who those people are.