I don’t know about you but my weekend was spent glued to the television watching the results of the southern election.
I had friends running in the election and who had worked hard for candidates. Some won handsomely, some lost and one of my best friends came so close it hurt that he didn’t get over the line.
Watching the parade of humanity in the count centres, it really drove home that people who choose to enter electoral politics are a particular breed. Whatever their politics. I remember once hearing erstwhile deputy leader of Fianna Fáil Mary O’Rourke say on the day an election was called that there are few jobs where you have to go back every five years for another job interview. She lost her seat that year.
She was right to a point but in fact it is a crueller process than a job interview. It’s not every time the best person for the job gets elected. There is no equality legislation seeking equal representation. Sometimes the hardest worker is shaded by someone who only seems to turn up when it suits them. Sometimes ignorance and nastiness gets rewarded and good manners and respectful engagement left behind.
To wilfully put yourself into the fray is tough. And it is rarely a lone venture. While of course if they are running for a political party there is a full network of support employed, it is always a candidate’s family that is the hidden source of clean socks, warm meals, support, criticism and holding them up on the day of the count, win lose or draw. And even though families make no choice to run they can be considered fair game for public scrutiny.
A particular breed requires the type of person who puts their face on the poster. Doesn’t gloat when selected, but remembers that people have entrusted them with huge responsibility. The ability to take the blow of not getting elected, not taking it personally and getting back out to work for the people you ask to trust you. Not everyone fits the bill.
So why do it? No matter what the candidate’s politics they put themselves through all of that agony in the hope of making a difference. In the hope that they make the streets, towns and country they love a better place. Of course that can be hard to remember if you vehemently disagree with the type of country they want to turn it into. Or if some of their actions served anything other than the public good. But entering public service deserves respect. It should not be a spectator sport where unfair cruelty is fair.
I myself have been guilty of being less than generous when candidates whose policies I disagree with lose their seat. But gloating misses the point and diminishes the politics at stake. In an age of political cynicism respect and constructive engagement rather than the lazy “yah boo” should be encouraged. Then standards in public life can be expected and upheld by all.