Leo says it like it is. Leo does not speak with forked tongue. Leo lays it on the line. We all agreed on this? Course we are, writes Terry Prone.
And the line he laid it on, at the Fine Gael think-in in Adare before the weekend, was about when the next general election would be. Not before the end of the year, he said. Since the shelf life of the Government ends early in 2015, the inevitable next question was which month, next year? He didn’t know. He genuinely didn’t know, he shrugged ruefully. He’d love to know, he laughed lightly. But what he DID know was that we’re not going to have an autumn election.
As soon as he uttered this, the speculation collapsed like a bad souffle. In addition, the Minister for Health may have prevented violence, because, not joking you, I was lining up to thump the next person who asked me if we were going to have an autumn election.
Sometimes the question would be phrased as “Are we going to have a snap election?” But the drift was the same: We’re really, truly going to have an election in the autumn, aren’t we? Behind the general drift was just the kind of irrational conviction that allows people to move from guesswork to uninformed certainty without pausing for a doubt on the way and then to engage in a kind of crazy “Ah, g’wan, g’wan g’wan” persuasion of others.
I was getting sorry for the poor divils on all sides of the Oireachtas, watching that unfounded certainty come at them like a tsunami. God love them, an early election would have involved many of them ploughing up muddy boreens in the middle of November with the rain coming sideways at them. A former Minister for Justice named Maire Geoghegan-Quinn once told a man who seemed likely to collapse a Government of which she was part that if he did bring down that Government, she would hold him personally responsible for her misery. Except that she didn’t call it misery. More vivid, was the phraseology. Indeed, rumour has it that the language deployed demonstrated that MGQ was trilingual: Irish, English and Profane like a Sailor. She knew what she liked, did Maire Geoghegan-Quinn, and she didn’t like the thought of a winter election.
But then, a winter election is almost everybody’s idea of hell, whether you’re the canvasser or the canvassed. If you’re the canvassed, you are an inoffensive member of the public who, having done a hard day’s work and wrestled the offspring into their beds, needs like a hole in the head a knock on the door leading to an encounter with a leaflet-wagging bunch of worthies talking political policy.
November is worse than February, because February carries a bit of hope with it, whereas November drags its sorry ass to the end of the year like a death sentence. Never was a poem so nonexistentially accurate as that one by Thomas Hood some of us had driven into us in school like a lament:
“No sun, no moon,
No morn, no noon, no dawn,
No dusk, no proper time of day,
No sky, no earthly view,
No distance looking blue, no road no street...
No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member,
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds,
Got that, have you? Now, even those who irrationally and irresponsibly hate all politicians of all party hues couldn’t wish on any of them that they should have to don their anoraks and their high-tops and their infinity scarves and head out to knock on doors in that month.
It’s bad enough to have to do hundreds of interviews every few years for the job you want, which in some cases is the job you already have. Nobody in any profession other than politics gets this wished on them.
The curious reality is that — despite knowing what they’re going to meet on the canvass — men and women right around this country are currently at each other’s throats, or at the throats of their party strategists or at the throats of their party leaders, in order to get the chance to engage in this horror.
Some of them, including frontbenchers who are clearly slow learners, actually enjoy it, but even those mad yokes don’t want to have to do it during November. They’d much prefer to put on their little bonnets and hit the roads in Springtime.
Until Leo did his straight-from-the-shoulder denial, a daft consensus was emerging around the prospect of an autumn general election. One of the pieces of evidence media commentators adduced to support this, was that “the Government back-benchers are very nervous”. This indicates nothing more than a sensible worry, particularly those in marginal seats, that an early election would mean them getting their P45s and starting the slog of getting a job in the real world. Note that I didn’t say “a real job”. Being a TD is a real job. It is the real job from hell. It’s just conducted in a weirdly unreal bubble which leads to some of our elected representatives drinking alcohol at an unhealthily early hour while others spend money they don’t have on telephone betting. The paradox is that those most destroyed by the political life find it difficult if not impossible to envisage a life outside Leinster House. Politics is often casually described as an addiction by people who don’t really mean it. In fact, for some, it can be the quintessential addiction. They know it’s killing them and killing their relationships with family and friends.
They know it diminishes them and that they’re wasting their time at it. But they cannot kick the adrenalin rush of never-ending crises, the false sense of community, the high-end gossip, the sense of importance delivered by being recognised and the sneaky possibility of seeing in print a story which owes at least part of its genesis to them. Above all, political addicts cannot go cold turkey on their belief that they are on the inside — and real addicts are never genuinely on the inside.
Understandably, then, the addicts on the edge were, pre-Leo, very nervy, and conveying that nervousness to journalists, albeit dressed up in nose-tapping trust-me-isms. Hence the daft consensus. At the more senior levels of the Government parties, the Taoiseach and Tánaiste have a dozen good reasons to hang on in power until the last possible moment. In addition, ministers tend not to want to flag down a passing tumbril, crying: “Take me to the guillotine and make it fast.” Only neophytes believe that going now would prevent things from getting worse and this would save their endangered seat.
The irrational consensus was well on its way to creating a situation where words like “untenable” and “unviable” come into play and where a general election looks as inevitable as tomorrow being Tuesday.
In culinary terms, it could be described as lemming meringue pie. Leo’s now taken it off the menu.
A daft consensus was emerging around the prospect of an autumn general election
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