Sinn Fein and Sardines

Sinn Fein and Sardines

By David Runciman and Catherine Carr

We talk about two countries going through dramatic democratic change: Ireland, where Sinn Féin came top of the vote in last weekend's general election, and Italy, where the Sardines are the latest movement trying to shake up the system. What does the Irish vote tell us about the collapse of two party politics? Does Sinn Féin's success suggest that the party has changed or that the electorate has changed? And in Italy, who or what now stands between Salvini and power? Plus we discuss whether the age of 'grand coalition' politics is now over. With Niamh Gallagher, Lucia Rubinelli and Chris Bickerton.

Talking Points: 

In 1997 Sinn Féin got only 2% of the vote, in the recent Irish general election they got almost 25%. What explains this shift?

In the 90s, the party was still connected to the IRA and the politics of Northern Ireland. Sinn Féin voters today skew young (under 45). Their major concerns are issues such as the cost of living, rent, and healthcare. The party ran and won on a leftist platform.The leadership has also changed. Gerry Adams stepped down in 2018. The new leader, Mary Lou McDonald is less connected to the past.The electoral system also makes a difference. Sinn Féin ‘won’ with 25% of the vote; Labour lost with 40%.Brexit did not feature heavily in this election, even though Leo Varadkar had a ‘good’ Brexit by most accounts.  

Meanwhile, in Italy, movements and parties are again in turmoil. Is Five Star done?

A movement has less institutional heft than a traditional political party. This is both their strength and their weakness. What about the Sardines? They started as a flash mob in Bologna and call themselves a ‘phenomenon,’ rather than a movement or a party. Their objective is to counter images in the media put forward by Salvini.Meanwhile, Salvini is still inching closer to power on his own. 

Are we seeing the end of grand coalition politics?

Coalitions today tend to destroy one of the partners (for example, the Lib Dems).Sinn Féin certainly doesn’t want to be a junior partner, but it might want to prove that it can be a party of government. 

Mentioned in this Episode:

The David McWilliams PodcastNiamh’s book, Ireland and the Great War

Further Learning: 

A profile of the Irish political partiesMore on the SardinesDavid’s lecture, Democracy for Young People

And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:

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