Art Credit to Jacky Sheridan
During the Irish election, two hashtags, “#voteleft” and “#transferleft” organically started trending with no set campaign or any society or organisation putting it forward. For those who don’t know (and those who need a quick reminder), the way the Irish electoral system works is on a system of preferences. If you give your number one vote to someone that doesn’t get a large number of votes, then your vote is transferred out to your second preference.
Many Irish people on social media figured that by voting for candidates who were in parties that they wouldn’t traditionally vote for before but shared similar ideologies of parties they supported would be the best way to get the government they feel represented their views.
For example people who wouldn’t vote for Sinn Fein would give their first votes to The Green Party, People Before Profit, or Social Democrats and give their number two to candidates who have similar plans on issues like housing and the environment and things they find most important. Regardless of your political views, this movement is very interesting in how it naturally emerged and took advantage of our transferable voting system. I spoke to Hugh Carr who was one of the many voices supporting this movement on social media to ask him his thoughts about the movement post election.
Why do think that this movement was so appealing to students in particular?
I think that the impact of what the government has been doing has been strongly felt by students in terms of housing and education fees. I think as well we’ve only really known two forms of government in Ireland with either Fine Gael and Fianna Fail as the head. People are looking for a change and for other options. I also think that the views of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail don’t really align with the majority of students today. The #voteleft movement tried to show that there was an alternative and there was a way to make that alternative a reality. I think that really stuck with students in particular
Do you think that the #voteleft/#transferleft was a campaign of young voters or do you think it was perhaps more cross-generational?
I think that it definitely a mixture, that it wasn’t exclusively young people, there were probably people that were voting left and transferring left without any knowledge that the campaign was going on purely as a way to . When you look at some of the people that were most active in promoting that mindset like Luke Ming Flanagan, he wouldn’t exactly be the voice of the youth (no harm to him). It definitely was a cross generational campaign but I also think that in terms of the vote overall, plenty of voters were probably not really thinking about the campaign or hashtag around it. While it was definitely a factor in some people’s voting, I think a lot of the vote was people who were thinking of voting that way anyway or not being swayed to vote exclusively for one left leaning party.
Would you consider the #VoteLeft a success looking at the election results? With the gift of hindsight could there have been more done to make it more successful?
I think in terms of numbers and popular vote I would consider it a success because parties like the Green Party, The Social Democrats, PBP, and certain Independants like Thomas Pringle saw an increase in votes and more seats were given to left leaning parties. In terms of reality it’s kind of a mixed bag because although there was an increase in the numbers of left leaning parties, it still seems impossible to form a rainbow coalition government based solely off these parties shared ideals. There’s still a chance that it will still be Fine Gael or Fianna Fail to be in a position of power.
I think the biggest ‘what if’ in this general election is what if parties like Sinn Fein ran more candidates and would that have pushed them over the line. Obviously running candidates is quite expensive, especially in areas where certain parties haven’t been successful before. Michael White ran for the Green Party up in Donegal where they never really had a presence and got knocked out fairly early on even though his party was a beneficiary of the VoteLeft movement. It’s hard to tell for sure if Sinn Fein ran more candidates what sort of difference that would make and where those candidates would have been best placed before the results came. It’s come out in an interesting way because there’s no clear majority and that is a change but it’s not quite the result that the movement wanted. The idea of the result is there but the idea of the result isn’t the same as getting the result.
What would you say to people that look at the #VoteLeft as something done by naive students with no real-world experience?
If you’re dismissing a student who have an interest in politics because they don’t have world experience, then why would they stick with it? That’s where interest in politics starts for most people and that should be encouraged. You don’t suddenly turn fifty and become a Councillor. Student politics might be small scale in some cases and only affect a certain percentage of the population but I think it’s still affecting a population and I think it’s a good test for how students would feel if they entered Irish or global politics. As well as that it’s a great place for developing contacts and the skill set that would be needed to represent your constituency if you decided to go down the route of becoming a TD.
It’s also fair to say that students are directly affected by the decisions of the government because we feel it directly whenever our rents go up by 12%, or when it’s impossible to find textbooks for courses, or the sad fact that many of us will have to emigrate after we graduate. I think that it’s hard to say that we don’t have any experience when we are so directly affected by what the government is doing.