In the general election in the south which is now entering its second week Sinn Féin is standing 50 candidates in all 40 constituencies. It is a great honour to represent Sinn Féin in any capacity and a huge privilege to seek a mandate from your peers for our historic republican mission.
Of course not every Sinn Féin candidate will get elected. That is the nature of elections but every Sinn Féin candidate has the ability to get elected.
Opinion polls have become an integral part of every election campaign. Every newspaper and every broadcast outlet tries to second guess the electorate by commissioning polls. And then their columnists or pundits spend a huge amount of time analysing the poll they just commissioned.
If the pollsters and the pundits had their way you could just do without the election and let them decide what the people want.
We should not get carried away by opinion polls. Last week one poll had Sinn Féin down a point while another had us up a point and it was all within the three per cent margin of error! So either poll could be right – or wrong.
Every candidate and everyone else should be mindful of the particular and peculiar stresses and strains that comes with being a candidate. It’s a form of ailment called Candidatitis. It begins with the candidate coming to believe – with a certainty known only to the prophets of old – that they are going to win.
This syndrome is capable of moving even the most rational aspirant or shy wallflower into a state of extreme self belief. It strikes without warning, is no respecter of gender, and can infect the lowly municipal hopeful, the aspiring Parliamentarian, as well as the lofty presidential wannabe.
The late Screaming Lord Sutch, or his Irish equivalent, who stand just for the craic, can fall victim of candidatitis as much as the most committed and earnest political activist. I believe this is due to two factors. First of all most people standing for election see little point in telling the 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 Joan Burton the Labour leader. Does she admit that Labour is going to lose seats. Not a chance. Or does Micheál Martin admit that his refusal to consider going into coalition with Fine Gael or Sinn Féin (not that there’s much chance of that) means that Fianna Fáil will not be in government after this election? Not on your nelly. He spent five minutes vainly trying to convince listeners to RTE that Fianna Fáil can be in government. Even though they are clearly not running enough candidates.
That's when Candidatitis starts. As the '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 factor. Most people encourage Candidatitis. Unintentionally. Not even the candidates best friend will say hold on, you haven't a chance. Except for the media. 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.
So 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 some cases, despite everything, our reluctant hero, or heroine, actually gets elected. A friend of mine was condemned to years on Belfast City council years ago 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. Such ambition 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 make the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement look easy.
It means only placing posters and distributing leaflets in specific areas with clear instructions to the electorate on how we would like them to vote. In Louth I have already noticed that some candidates from different ends of the constituency are putting up posters in their colleagues territory. Not a good sign.
It requires an inordinate amount of discipline on the candidates' behalf not to fall into this trap. Many do. 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 readers 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.
So the next time you look at a poster or get a leaflet through the letterbox or are confronted at your door by a wild eyed candidate – occasionally accompanied by a posse of cameras – then take a more tolerant and benign view of the sometimes strange behaviour of those citizens who contest elections .
Love us or hate us you usually get the politicians you deserve. Granted this might not always extend to governments, given the coalitions which come together in blatant contradiction of all election promises or commitments. The lust for power causes this. This condition 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.
Before they get to that point, if they ever do, candidates suffer many torments. Space restrictions prevent me from documenting them all.
So, don’t ignore the visages on the multitudes of posters which defile lamp posts and telegraph poles during election times, and in some cases for years afterwards. Think of the torment that poor soul is 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 or are minding your own business as you walk down the main street, try to see beyond the brash exterior. It's not really our fault you see. Big boys and girls make us do it. And your votes encourage us.