The time to go is gone. If it were ever a plan in the Government to cut and run for a general election the moment has passed.
That is not to say it won’t happen — that’s a different matter, to which I’ll come back. Today is a watershed. A holy day, when once those days were also de facto holidays, it marks the end of the first two weeks of August when the building trade and allied businesses closed.
The peak holiday season would be concluding this weekend. For those who see holidays as largely for other people, it’s a day for funfairs or maybe a special outing. The tight window for a set two-weeks holiday is now largely passed.
However, in terms of planning for the coming political year, a lot is already set by events. The introduction of budgets on a calendar-year basis means that holidays in the Department of Finance are well over, and the machine is working towards a likely budget day of Tuesday, October 9 (as reported in today’s Irish Examiner).
A lot hinges on that deadline, not least the possibility of a general election. Also, the housing and a health situation will certainly be worse this winter than what went before. I purposely don’t use the word “crisis”.
That’s a political judgement and not a moral one. It is a too-little-noticed fact that a crisis must nearly always be an event that affects you before you are prepared to take action.
The politics of housing and health is that a sizable majority are not affected, and consequently are not moved to any sort of meaningful action.
Indeed the so-called crisis, which is certainly that for many, actively benefits at least half and probably a good many more in our society.
The brutal facts are that unequal access, which is the basis of our health system, actively benefits the nearly half with private health insurance. This is especially so for those who have better plans.
For a relatively small premium they — I should say we — get fast-track access to consultants in outpatients and quicker access to the same or associated consultants in public hospitals where beds are ring-fenced for them.
That is not to mention the softer beds and better menus in private hospitals. Reform, without an expansion in capacity, which is unlikely, would be a disaster for the better half in society, and they know it.
Lest they forget, hospital consultants and health insurers are quick to remind them.
Housing is a more egregious example of privilege. If you have a house, bought at any price, the value of your property is enhanced by scarcity. It’s likely to be your main asset, and your sense of how this country is faring is closely tied to how much your house is likely to fetch.
You won’t be slow to protest about building on local green spaces or object to greater height or density locally. You will find friends among unlikely politicians who are otherwise busy raking through the immorality of our crises.
Almost inevitably they will find time to abet your selfish concerns as well. There is no contradiction, you see, only a continuum of connected opportunities.
Because it’s unacceptable to say, our crises are largely othered to those who bear the immediate burden.
The property-owning and privately insured are on a different trajectory, and their political decisions will be made in their own interests — not out of any hand-wringing sense of angst about others.
That doesn’t mean they don’t care. It is just that they don’t care enough to fundamentally change a system that disproportionately benefits them.
It’s a Darwinian survival of the fittest. Occasionally major dysfunction, such as CervicalCheck, alters the fundamentals of things briefly. But it usually rebalances quickly enough.
We should remember that the dysfunction on CervicalCheck sprang as much from political panic in the Government as the facts themselves.
On those facts, since the departure of Alan Shatter, this Government, which comprises the higher professions in office, has no intention of fencing off public funds from the overgrazing of either hospital consultants or lawyers.
The origin of the issue was the sense of entitlement among some medics to withhold information from patients. Some new rules aside, the underlying sense of entitlement is likely to remain.
Having to burst the confidence and supply arrangement is one very good reason why Leo Varadkar will shy away from calling an election. The closing in of events and the dulling of the shine on some very brassy ministers may be another.
But here is something else: The underlying calculation for Fine Gael is that with a range of uncertainties looming, this autumn may, politically, be peak Fine Gael. The unspoken assumption behind that calculation is that housing and health are not crises in their own hinterland.
On that they are absolutely right. The RTÉ exit poll after the last election said that of the middle-class vote, 30% went to Fine Gael and 22% to its nearest rival, Fianna Fáil. Fine Gael also got 41% of farming votes. A plethora of middle-class votes, fully 31%, went to others at the end of a very bad Fine Gael campaign.
A housing crisis and a health crisis isn’t necessarily a political crisis for the Government if they escape in time.
It’s the getaway car that’s essential. I believe it would be reckless if Varadkar were caught driving it. He must know that, which is why he has apparently backed off from Micheál Martin and Fianna Fáil for now.
Watch for the budget day thought. If the underlying political calculation is to go, a way out might still be found then.
Apparently, abide by confidence and supply, but simply differ on what it means and over what timeframe. Orchestrate a budget that crosses a Fianna Fáil red line. Swear blind it is the decent thing. Keywords might include ‘opportunity’ and ‘working people’ in an economy close to full employment again.
Put it up to Fianna Fáil, back them into a corner, or get them to back off over the cliff of a general election. Critically, and at all costs, pivot events on Fianna Fáil’s vote on the budget, not Fine Gael’s political strategies.
This level of brinkmanship requires skill, nerve, and deep secrecy among very few in government.
Perhaps the Fianna Fáil leader has the nerves of steel required to keep Varadkar in office until the last possible moment.
It is his best chance, in my opinion. How then could the Government engineer a budget that Fianna Fáil couldn’t support?
That is where tactics will be required, to enable strategy, which itself is based on unspoken
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