By Gerry Adams, the president of Sinn Féin and MP for Belfast West (THE GUARDIAN, 27/03/07):
At some point in every election campaign every candidate forms a view that they are going to win. This syndrome, known as candidatitis, is capable of moving even the most rational aspirant into a state of extreme self-belief. It strikes without warning, is no respecter of gender, and can infect the lowly municipal hopeful as well as lofty presidential wannabes.Screaming Lord Sutch, or his Irish equivalents who stand just for the craic, could be prone to fall victim to candidatitis as much as the most committed and earnest political activist. I believe this is due to two things. First of all, most people standing for election see little point in telling voters that they are not going to win. That just wouldn’t make sense. Of course not. So they say they are going to win.
Listen to Michael Howard, the former British Tory leader. He had no chance of beating Tony Blair. Did he admit that? Not on your nelly. Howard sounded as confident as George Bush addressing a rally in his native Texas in the run-up to the last US presidential election.
That’s when candidatitis starts. As «we are going to win» is repeated time and time again it starts to have a hypnotic effect on the person intoning the mantra. By this time it’s too late. Which brings me to the second point. The electorate, and others, encourage candidatitis. Unintentionally. Not even the candidate’s best friend will say, «Hold on, you haven’t a chance.» The media might, but no candidate believes the media. And most candidates are never interviewed by the media anyway.
So a victim of candidatitis will take succour from any friendly word from any punter. Even a «good luck» takes on new meaning and «I won’t forget ye» is akin to a full-blooded endorsement. Are we to pity sufferers of this ailment? Probably not. They are mostly consenting adults, though in most elections many parties occasionally run conscripts. In the main these are staunch party people who are persuaded to run by more sinister elements who play on their loyalty and commitment.
In some cases these reluctant candidates run on the understanding that they are not going to get elected. Their intervention, they are told, is to stop the vote going elsewhere or to maintain the party’s representative share of the vote. In some cases this works. But in other cases, despite everything, our reluctant hero, or heroine, actually gets elected. A friend of mine was condemned to years on Belfast city council when his election campaign went horribly wrong. He topped the poll.
That’s another problem in elections based on proportional representation. Topping the poll is a must for some candidates. But such ambition in a PR election creates a headache for party managers. If the aim is to get a panel of party representatives elected they all have to come in fairly evenly. This requires meticulous negotiations to carve up constituencies. Implementing such arrangements makes the implementation of the Good Friday agreement look easy – and it’s taken us nine years to get our first meeting with Ian Paisley. It requires an inordinate amount of discipline on the candidates’ behalf. Most have this. Some don’t.
Some get really sneaky. Particularly as the day of reckoning comes closer. Hot flushes and an allergy to losing can lead to some sufferers poaching a colleague’s votes. This is a very painful condition leading to serious outbreaks of nastiness and reprisals and recriminations if detected before polling day. It usually cannot be treated and can have long-term effects.
So, dear friends, all of this is by way of lifting the veil on these usually unreported problems which infect our election contests. Politicians are a much maligned species. In some cases not without cause.
But love us or hate us, you usually get the politicians you deserve. This might not always extend to governments, given the abandonment by most governments of the election promises that persuaded voters to elect them in the first instance. The lust for power causes this condition, which is probably the most serious ailment affecting our political system and those who live there. It is sometimes terminal. But this comes after elections and is worthy of a separate study.
So, don’t ignore the visages on the multitudes of posters that defile lampposts and telegraph poles during election times, and in some cases for years afterwards. Think of the torment that the poor souls are suffering. When you are accosted by a pamphlet-waving besuited male – and they mostly are besuited males – as you shop in the supermarket or collect the children at school, try to see beyond the brash exterior. Inside every Ian Paisley is a little boy aiming to please. The rest of us are the same. It’s not really our fault you see. Big boys make us do it. And your votes encourage us.