So much talk but oh so few ideas

FOR Sale. Going cheap. Soul of a political party. High mileage but runs like new. A few dents but structurally intact. Driver thrown in. Good for another five years. No tyre-kickers.

With all the bickering and bartering of the past couple of weeks, a tiny little detail may have escaped your attention. The election is still about four months away.

But they’re all acting like the race is run, that they have slung their hooks. The finality of Pat Rabbitte’s indecision. Michael McDowell taking the ball home in a huff because nobody wants to play with him.

And so the state of the parties BEFORE the election.

Everybody has ruled out Sinn Féin.

Fine Gael has ruled out the PDs.

Fine Gael has obviously also ruled out Fianna Fáil.

Fianna Fáil has obviously also ruled out Fine Gael.

The PDs have ruled out Fine Gael.

Labour has ruled out the PDs.

The Greens have ruled out the PDs.

The PDs have ruled out the Greens.

The PDs have ruled out Labour.

Labour ruled out/not ruled out Fianna Fáil (delete where applicable).

Sinn Féin says its TDs will be the “king-makers”.

Ditto independents.

Months before a single citizen has cast a single ballot, the game of musical chairs is nearly over. Only three or four spots are still available for political backsides to plonk onto. Not ruled out are: the current coalition with possible support from independents; the Mullingar Accord with the Greens and possible independents; FF and Labour; or FF and the Greens.

All of that is based on the nostrum of the opinion poll. It’s all based on a misconception that somehow the election is going to pan out magically just as the opinion polls predict.

Lonely Hearts. SWM. Dynamic leader. Mid-50s. Recently split from partner. Looking for a long-term link up with view to political marriage. Will pass on photo if requested (have hundreds of billboard-size portraits to spare). Genuine suitors only. No beards need apply.

Five years ago, the polls told us a couple of things that were right and a lot of things that were wrong. They told us Fianna Fáil would do well. But the party didn’t win the overall majority predicted. They told us the PDs would be obliterated; Fine Gael would flatline or lose a little and the Greens and Sinn Féin would stay static.

To assess all five propositions: Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

Trawling through the cuttings from 2002, I came across the confident prediction of an esteemed political pundit who said FF would win 74 seats, the Greens would win three seats, Sinn Féin would come back with only two, Labour would be as you were, and that hell would freeze over before Fine Gael fell below 40 seats.

And when the real poll takes place and we realise just how off kilter the other polls were, we all say we have learned a lesson. And indeed we have. Until the next election comes five years later. And we proceed to make the same mistaken assumptions. And we learn the lesson all over again.

Missing. Since May 17, 2002. 20 Dáil seats, formerly property of Fine Gael. Anyone with any information on how they can be returned, write in confidence to Enda Kenny, Leinster House, Dublin 2. Reward offered.

What we have had are lots of posters, billboards, hot air, furies, speculation and twaddle about coalition partners. Along with the usual scare tactics about rivals jumping into bed with scary Shinners, the barmy Greens and the Labour pinkoes.

What we have not had are any really decent ideas. From any of them. Fine Gael’s major contributions on the Irish language, on Padraig Nally and on immigration have smacked of populism. In fact, one FF backroom person told me this week that his “Christian and Celtic” reference was the classic use of the dog whistle tactic — a message lost on most of the population but pricks up the ears of a key sector of the electorate not too enamoured at having too many foreigners here. In fairness, Fine Gael has hotly denied that it had any such intention.

Labour have unveiled two of its five commitments — commendable as they are, neither childcare nor community policing will be election-clinchers.

And Fianna Fáil and the PDs? As John Lennon slagged off Paul McCartney for writing only one good song, Yesterday, the coalition have been living off the royalties of its one hit wonder — the low taxes it introduced in 1997. No new ideas since then. Nothing radical. Nothing.

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