The Irish people can no longer be bought with their own money. That’s a “take-away” from last Friday’s poll.
If that lasts, auld decency is dead. Fine Gael succumbed to the guile of the serpent and spent our money to buy our votes. In return, it got only incremental gain on a disastrous local election result in 2014. That’s a Faustian pact. It simply means some people can never be satisfied.
Lest there be any misunderstanding about first, fundamental consequences — namely an imminent general election — the Taoiseach says he can’t rule one out. He’ll have to put up or shut up on that. There won’t be any leisurely mulling-over allowed. Micheál Martin will likely bluntly tell him to deliver a fourth budget as agreed, or it’s game over.
Crossing the Rubicon worked for a little while for Julius Caesar. It didn’t work when last attempted here by Charles Haughey in 1989 and it didn’t work for Theresa May in 2017. On last Friday’s figures, Fine Gael would be brave to put the bow of their boat into that water. But if they don’t quickly tie it up, they will find themselves drifting from the shore. Fianna Fáil won’t spend its summer waiting on Leo to decide if he fancies his chances in September. This is senior hurling.
The bigger event last weekend was the Europeans elections in Britain. The swirling chasms of British politics only got deeper and darker. Having taken Brexit as his battle standard, the Taoiseach can hardly walk off the field at the moment of imminent engagement.
It remains his prerogative to jump over the electoral cliff at any time. In the movies, some land safely. But he has lost control of the essential prerogative of political timing.
It’s all very well for Richard Bruton to say that Fine Gael are permanently like the scouts. It’s another matter to be electorally woke 24/7 and continue to run the country in your spare time. Political options and margins tightened for Fine Gael last weekend. That’s not to speak of the little things that trip you up — like Maria Bailey and John Paul Phelan.
As Fianna Fáil edges closer to Fine Gael, and Martin’s strategy of waiting on events pays dividends, its own weakness is also exposed. It has personnel and policy problems.
Fine Gael, regardless of seats eventually won or lost, had a much better European vote because it has a far deeper bench. It is a reverse of the wilderness years for Fine Gael in the noughties. A Fianna Fáil government after 2002 which was usually unpopular, and sometimes stinkingly so, couldn’t be cornered by a weakened Fine Gael.
Now, Fianna Fáil in Midlands-North-West ran inadequate candidates. In hindsight, it didn’t have better either. In Dublin Barry Andrews was adequate but lacklustre. It is clear what his party did for him, but unclear what he delivered in return.
The rejection by Fianna Fáil members of equality campaigner Tiernan Brady continued dynasty politics, and demonstrated the lack of imagination required to move the dial on the Fianna Fáil identity. Malcolm Byrne’s candidacy in Ireland South demonstrated that value exactly.
As Fianna Fáil incrementally close in on Fine Gael, it itself paradoxically becomes Fine Gael’s last best chance. Enda Kenny couldn’t close the deal in 2007, because there wasn’t an alternative government in waiting. Tactically edging in on Fine Gael is an achievement.
Strategically it is still a successful general election short of being in government. But back to people who are so arsey they can’t be bought now with their own money, it remains to be seen how they react when asked to pay up.
A contrast of the policies and posture of the Greens and Sinn Féin is interesting. Carbon tax was one clear dividing line. The Greens are for it, and so am I. Sinn Féin was robustly against. The reason we need to sharply increase our minimal carbon taxes is to ensure everyone is incentivised.
If no individual or company bears consequences for their emissions, the cost is socialised in existing taxes, it squeezes the middle more and bears down on the poorest in forgone expenditure on social services.
No carbon charge increase, is a no-win. Pricing carbon correctly is the most cost-effective way to deal with climate change. It changes behaviour — and for now, the electorate has taken the principled view. Remember that a majority of us paid our water charges, before being betrayed by Fianna Fáil and abandoned by Fine Gael. The political crunch has yet to come, however.
What has happened so far is that Fine Gael gained nothing, except reputational loss, for hosing us, our nurses and other public servants with our own money. Sinn Féin, and others actually on the left, tried to incentivise us with free carbon emissions to continue poisoning the planet.
At one juncture, in a second order election, and before the consequences have to be borne, Ireland said no. Whether that juncture is a comma or a full stop remains to be seen.
Apart from substantial differences, Sinn Féin can’t have a conversation with people when its default decibel level is to shout about issues. And deeper than that is its culture. In an open society, it is a closed organisation. In an age that professes to value transparency, it is secretive and controlling.
Mounting evidence from increasing numbers who left them attest to that. Its lack of introspection, publically at least, is disturbing. Posturing about EU armies, but being absolutely unwilling to tackle the abusive legacy of the armed militia it was associated with in nationalist communities, leaves it as a political force among us, but not of us.
Its candidates are flag wavers, not engagers. The tricolour is a constant ornament, but its border poll is about the annexation of unionism, not a united Ireland. It majored on boycotting Israel during Eurovision, but won’t engage at all with the complexities of a country that left Gaza twice, and now increasingly regrets it. Its flag-waving, pseudo-revolutionary, bogus leftism celebrates regimes in Cuba and Venezuela but won’t agree to the wider tax base that could sustainably deliver better services here.
The stated purpose of its proposed advance last Friday, was to go into government with either Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil. That advance collapsed because it strained all credibility.
So what for the Greens now, or indeed the Soc Dems? These are largely young bourgeoisie with values but no demonstrable commitment to a real redistributive model. Generationally it is a first flowering of the elitism of the gaelscoil and Educate Together. They have the cultural accoutrements of the left, but apart from a shared desire to spend other people’s money on themselves, what is it they want? On climate, the Greens have an answer. But beyond that, not much is clear yet.