Monday, February 18, 2013
FOR those stricken with disbelief at Fianna Fáil’s resurgence in the opinion polls, here are eight factors that party currently has going for it.
The Post-Divorce Syndrome: People in the course of gruesome divorces accuse each other of unspeakable evils, unrevealed before the wedding, but now proven to be threaded through every fibre of their being.
Sharing the same country as the former partner is a trial. They would chop each other into little pieces and deliver those pieces to a meat-processing plant, given half a chance.
Then, just a few years later, the name of the former partner occasionally gets dropped into conversations and in no time at all, they’re explaining to pals that friendship can continue when s marriage ends.
And that’s after they spent, say, 10 years together. Many Irish families spent the guts of a century with Fianna Fáil. The DNA runs through them like a message through a stick of rock. The habits and assumptions of a political marriage die hard. Of course they’re going to revert.
Gerry Adams: One must be sorry for any man who has eye problems, and one is. But it’s the problems Gerry Adams has with the rest of his person that make him so useful to Fianna Fáil. He has a tin ear and two left feet and keeps the feet, most of the time, in his mouth.
Enda Kenny: The Taoiseach is the ultimate role model for the Fianna Fáil leader. Taking Fine Gael over after its meltdown, he demonstrated even the most damaged political party can be pulled back together if the leader can demonstrate: A) he personifies the best threads of the history of his party; B) that he can delegate; C) he has the emotional buoyancy to create irrational optimism among the faithful; and D) he’ll visit every townland in the country and has the physical stamina of a yak.
True, Fine Gael, although it was seen as finished, didn’t have the added challenge of being seen as having destroyed an economy and lost our economic sovereignty. True, Enda hadn’t been a member of the leadership team when rotten decisions were made. He did, however, have other disadvantages, most notably the intellectual condescension of those who had no idea how smart and persistent he could be. But he created a methodology for unprecedented organisational recovery, and Micheál Martin would be dumber than he looks if he didn’t follow that methodology. Thus far, the similarities in approach are marked.
The Unexpected: Or, to put it another way, Gubu. Quick explanation for younger readers: Then taoiseach Charles J Haughey attributed the incremental meltdown of his administration to events that were Grotesque, Unbelievable, Bizarre, and Unprecedented. The best-laid government plans fall under a bus labelled "The Unexpected". Sometimes, according to another previous FF taoiseach, it can be a quite small bus. The unexpected always favours the opposition, never the ruling party or parties. It can’t be prevented. It can be a consequence of something as major as climate change or something as chronic as the capacity of human beings to be creatively fraudulent in the pursuit of ill-gotten gains.
IT tends to come out of left field, although in the case of the horsemeat scandal, it came out of left abattoir. And it spreads like a bloodstain or a conspiracy theory. The horsemeat scandal may be unique, in that its spread has been right across Europe, thus preventing the settling of blame here at home. The bloodstain is wider, thinner, and less Ireland-specific. But nobody can imagine where the next unexpected stinker’s going to come from.
The Programme for Government Dogma: This develops in Coalition governments of all kinds. Because hammering out an agreed programme for government is so central to the creation of the government, and because most politicians actually try to do the best by the country, each administration measures itself by progress on its programme and, as time goes on, may develop tunnel vision and miss major changes in public mood and need. The parties in a coalition always believe that "if we do what we said we’d do, the voters will love us". Nope. That’s what you’re paid for. If you do what you said you’d do, the best you can hope for is that a few box-ticking commentators will acknowledge that you did what you said you’d do. Voters will go: "So? Big deal."
Fianna Fáil, in sharp contrast, can move goalposts opportunistically. This may lead the box-ticking commentators to describe them as "cynical". To which voters will again go: "So? Big deal."
The Technical Group: Household names, most of them. Instantly recognisable. Technically, they’re a bag of mixed allsorts. Functionally, they’re the best entertainment around. And the best cover for Fianna Fáil to regroup and be seen as a coherent opposition party.
The Confusion: Fine Gael, particularly, cannot understand how any opinion poll taken after the ECB deal could fail to register it as a fundamental and stupendous achievement. But here’s the reality. All politics is personal, and nobody under financial pressure can see what beneficial difference the ECB deal is going to make to them, personally. The ECB deal was a huge media issue, not a personal issue.
Both Coalition parties are also mystified that they’re not getting more credit at home for dragging Ireland up off its knees. It’s getting plenty of credit overseas, which is flattering, but being approved of by major EU figures and institutions hasn’t quite the immediacy of payoff being approved of by voters at home tends to deliver. Which, in turn, leads to the statement: "We must communicate better." In fact, the Government is made up of very good communicators and has more access to mass media than it could ever want. The problem is the static. The static is made up of internecine warfare between dozens of prominent economists, united only in their view that the Government shouldn’t be doing any of what it’s doing. Add the activists — think David Hall — and the international studies like last week’s one saying austerity doesn’t work, and the voter doesn’t know whether they’re coming or going.
Selective Voter Memory: We Irish are the most nuanced deciders in the world. Take the Catholic Church. The nation holds it responsible for child abuse, institutional abusem and the Magdalene Laundries. But when it comes to educating their offspring, the nation puts all that bad stuff in a box with a locked lid and fights for the continuance of the Catholic school in their particular area. Same thing with Fianna Fáil. The nation turfed them out on their collectives on the basis that they caused the meltdown. Then they got a bit more nuanced: Sure bankers, developers and maybe a few people we know got above themselves. Now, they’re saying: "That’s history and we’re bored with the Government moaning on about it." The Government can sit in its nappy and moan about the unfairness of this — or get a new narrative going. Quickly.