Politicians take note: Don’t lose the cool just because it’s silly season

One of the reasons we have a silly season is because media decides we’re going to have it. They send the angry brigade on vacation. If Joe Duffy and Eamon Dunphy go on holiday, what are you left with? Complaints about the weather and a safety zone for Steve Staunton.

The Christian Brothers kicked off the angry season this year. They’re angry at the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin. According to reports, they’re incandescent over him publishing a report written several decades ago about how they managed the Artane Industrial School .

Now, being angry at the Archbishop of Dublin is not a fruitful activity. The Archbishop was born with CD plates on him and is loved by media. The chances of a good chunk of public opinion lining up with the Brothers against him are somewhere between slim and none.

Giving out to him is like trying to disable a tank by throwing cotton wool at it. But the Christian Brothers’ indication of rattiness did lay down a marker, nonetheless: the silly season is over. The angry season has begun.

One of the reasons we have a silly season is because media decides we’re going to have it. They send the angry brigade on vacation. If Joe Duffy and Eamon Dunphy go on holiday, what are you left with? Complaints about the weather — of which this holiday period generated a record number — and a safety zone for Steve Staunton. (The latter’s team can actually win something without being told they would have done it sooner and more stylishly if they had a different manager.)

In Britain, the media silly season was extraordinary. At least one major newspaper abandoned all other stories and devoted its front page, for several weeks, to the repetition of one name and the running of a series of photographs of the one person: Madeleine. Now, since the McCann child disappeared, hundreds of other children have been abused, mistreated, murdered, drowned in the floods afflicting countries all over the world or abducted. But the saga of the McCann family ran throughout August as if the missing toddler was the only child in the universe. It was as if real news ceased to happen.

A contributory factor to the silly season, of course, is the merciful absence of normal politics during July and August. The absence of normal politics, however, does not preclude a few politicians, like Willie O’Dea, from staying at home and admirably continuing to work every day.

Others may come and others may go, but Willie O’Dea, like the poor, we always have with us. Not only does he never go on holiday, rumour has it the man never sleeps. He brings a new meaning to the three Rs. His are Reacting, (w)Riting and Raging. He and Michael Ring are sustained and refreshed by that day’s outburst and the following day’s coverage, and as a result, both live committed, stress-free lives.

When have you heard either of them complain about the pressure politics puts them under and announce that they need to go to a spa and have a seaweed bath to relax them? Political pressure is experienced by wimps and wimping is not for either of them.

Apart from those two, during the summer months most politicians stick a sock in it. They belt up and go swimming. (Or, in Micheal Martin’s case, they belt up and go cycling into the windows of pubs.) They go on holidays, get reacquainted with their family, read a few books, drink good or bad wine and build up a bit of a tan.

Then they come back, ready for the angry season. That’s the time when, to prove they care, to fend off the tabloids yelling about them getting three month holidays, and to work off a bit of the muscle-power built up during the summer, they give out about everything. The government gives out about pathetic partisan newspaper columnists who wouldn’t know fairness if it bit them. The opposition gets outraged about the Government, the state of the economy, the downturn in the construction industry, Aer Lingus, the M3 and MRSA.

In fact, the role of the opposition, in recent years, is reminiscent of John Mortimer’s description of the father figures in upper class British families, as “permanently in the most filthy temper”. That has become almost the job spec for opposition leaders, in particular. They have to be constantly livid. Lip curled like it was permed that way.

Freed of the need to be permanently in the most filthy temper by his resignation as Leader of the Labour Party, Pat Rabbitte must feel like he’s got out of gaol. From now on, the angry season doesn’t apply to him. He can be funny. He can be happy. He can be invisible. He can speak when he wants to, write when he wants to, be witty when he feels the urge. Best of all, he can be angry when he feels like it, rather than having to do anger-on-demand.

Permanently furious politicians have their uses. Mainly to media, and particularly if the politician is young, backbench and terminally lacking in judgment. In which case they’ll always be good for an inflammatory quote, usually about their own leader.

Much more useful, though, are politicians who can do temporary fury. John Gormley’s Ranelagh Rage is a good instance. A member of the Green Party getting into a leaflet-flailing temper is as surprising as finding out that Mother Teresa had doubts about God.

It gets a lot of media coverage. It’s intriguing. And ultimately, it doesn’t damage the way the majority of people feel about either Mother Teresa or John Gormley. If anything, it enhances their public perception: Gosh, who’d have thought they had THAT string to their bow?

Even temporary anger doesn’t suit all politicians. The pressure to prove strength and durability during the last Dáil forced Enda Kenny into a monochrome version of himself. Instead of the buoyant, optimistic and good-humoured individual who emerged during the General Election, we got a permanent punitive whinger. Fine Gael should learn from his success on the stump that freeing Kenny to be more than a licensed complainer is the way to go for the next few years.

The one person who is not suited to anger of any kind is Bertie Ahern. When Bertie gets into his “You’re only a waffler” mode, it’s as unexpected and discomfiting as when Hillary Clinton does cleavage.

While acknowledging their basic human rights to such self-revelation, we wish they wouldn’t exercise them.

The problem the Taoiseach faces this autumn, is that he is deeply enraged by the way the Tribunal is handling his affairs. He may be right. He may be wrong. But allowing his anger to inform any aspect of his performance would be disastrous.

Whatever about the occasional value of untypical anger, it’s the permanence of anger that’s ultimately disabling, in political terms. Ralph Nader, in the United States thirty years ago, was a charismatic leader who converted a generation of young idealists into followers. By the time he more recently put his oar into a Presidential election, his permanent righteous anger had turned him into an irritating waste of time.

The new leader of the Labour Party might take note.

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