It’s a cynical view, I admit, but amongst those close to me we often use the ‘politician’s promise’ defense when we want to say no to something. It’s the verbal equivalent of making a promise while crossing your fingers behind your back. In other words you are fibbing outrageously and once you add “And that’s a politician’s promise!” at the end of a sentence everyone knows that the exact opposite is true.

This was perceived as pretty harmless banter until I absentmindedly used it one day in the company of an actual politician. Needless to remark I was lectured on the creeping, insidious undertones in my choice of humour. Indeed I was told sharply that my humour was in fact just a loosely veiled and vile type of sarcasm and that, as we all knew, was the lowest form of wit. I was also sowing the seeds of anarchy in my nephew as it was his request for a particularly expensive Lego set that elicited the use of the phrase in the first place as I had jokingly replied, “I’ll buy it for you on Friday and that’s a politician’s promise.”

I was suitably rebuked and quickly apologised and promised to banish the phrase from my mind, although I was sorely tempted to add, “And that’s a……”, but I resisted just to save the embarrassed blushes of the other people who had witnessed my telling off. Now I’m a calm person who is not easily offended or risen. I tend to choose my battles carefully and this was one that I deemed silly to engage in on a beautiful summer’s afternoon. Maybe this person was right and my subconscious disrespect for these high offices of democracy was indeed a sign of my own rebellion and contempt. I certainly don’t wish to be such a person.

Moments of reflection

However since the unpleasantness there have been moments of reflection and it is in these quiet times that little things spring to mind. I remember a recent political slogan for one of the European issues we were being encouraged to vote ‘Yes’ to claimed, “The change is in your pocket”. There was definitely change in our pockets but it wasn’t of the jingling kind. The change was that the money left our pockets and now they are irrevocably changed. I remember another slogan that suggested that we were voting ‘Yes’ to “more jobs”. Isn’t it interesting that since then the numbers signing on have dramatically increased and not decreased. (Of course we’ll be told it’s due to the unforeseen global downturn.) Other lines that stick in my head, “A lot done, more to do”. In fairness this was rather ambiguous as it could have been a relatively honest statement that just neglected the end of the sentence, “A lot done, more to do to completely wreck the country”. (Whoops, that too is the fault of the unforeseen global downturn and not the government.)

In the 2007 general elections Fianna Fail begged us from the lamp posts to “Take the next steps”. Again, they never really told us where the next steps would take us. It was just left hanging there, rather like a mystery tour and we certainly got more than we bargained for. In hindsight they were steps up to a roller coaster into hell rather than a ticket for a peaceful, easy glide down a lazy river.

Perhaps if you really want to delve into some fiction then you should go back and look at the promises made by all the political parties in their manifestos at election time, including the opposition. It makes fantastic, fictional reading. I was particularly interested to read the following in the Green Party manifesto from 2007. The heading read, ‘The Cost of Living and Consumer Rights’ and the body of the piece stated, “We will seek to bring down and maintain the rate of inflation to the euro zone average. We will reform the remit and constitution of the National Consumer Agency so that it is more representative of consumer and retail interests. Specifically, we will: • reform the current funding mechanism, so that the Agency operates fully independently of government; • accord the Agency similar status as the Ombudsman so that it can act freely and fairly as a watchdog and defender of consumer rights; • empower the Agency to focus not just on the private sector but also State and State commercial enterprises; • redistribute the appointments to the Agency’s governing board so that it is more representative of consumers and retailers.”

Electricity hike

How do they justify a 5% levy on the electricity supply this October; the most expensive in the Euro zone, by the way. I know the money is earmarked for investment into alternative energy development, a noble cause, but is it totally necessary straight away. Couldn’t we have gone through one more winter without the extra expense? Would six or eight months have put the progress back that much? Meanwhile there are vulnerable groups worried about this increase. It also puts a strain on everything else. While we will pay 5% extra on our home bills there is also a possible price increase on the goods and services we buy. Electricity affects everything and it is one of those costs that can be hard to reduce if you are already watching the units carefully. Maybe we should all complain to the Consumer Rights people and see if they can actually do anything. I’ve only listened to Liveline on RTE Radio 1 twice in the past two months because I find the concentration of gloom quite hard to take. On a recent show a man admitted to having stolen a pint of milk that morning because he couldn’t afford to buy one and last week an elderly woman said she couldn’t afford to buy teabags. God knows what a 5% electricity hike means to people like that.

Empty and broken promises are only part of the problem; there’s also the gross misuse and abuse of office that we have witnessed. Trust is earned and, unlike love, can never be unconditional. Our trust has been severely trampled on recently and the good ones, and I have no doubt that good politicians do exist, need to stand up and start reclaiming the territory proving that a politician’s promise can actually be depended upon.