Last Friday, Brian Lenihan came into the Seanad to process the Finance Bill, reached for his notes, found he had forgotten them, and went on to speak fluently for 10 minutes, covering every major aspect of the bill. The notes were not needed.
Later in the lobby, Fianna Fail senators discussed his performance with rueful admiration. And then added hastily that Micheal Martin had made a good start. So he has, but not by saying sorry or calling for three-way debates and other media distractions.
Before I go further I can hear you say: who cares? The answer is all who abhor anarchy. Without a coalition of centrist parties we are at the mercy of political mobs -- including media mobs -- shouting simplistic slogans and peddling stupid socialist solutions.
Just as Jesuits who leave have a special feel for deformities in Catholicism, so former Marxists like myself are more sceptical of the soft seductions of socialism, particularly its addiction to the belief that society can be perfected -- provided you spend enough public money.
Socialism in Ireland is called benchmarking. And no matter how it's disguised it means taking money from the majority productive private sector class (which is at the mercy of market forces) and spending it on a minority public sector class (which is protected from market forces) and which enjoys permanent and pensionable employment.
Judging by the rhetoric of his leadership bid -- in which he specifically singled out the public sector for praise -- Martin has not yet copped on that this situation cannot continue. This truth is underlined by public scepticism in our poll about the Croke Park deal. Add the fact that his chief supporter is Chris 'Gaza' Andrews, and Martin looks like a leader trying to position FF left of centre.
But there are three reasons why Fianna Fail has no future in that position. First, the public sector vote has long gone to the Labour Party. Second, praising a third of the workforce while ignoring the million plus workers of the private sector -- who are conservative -- is lunacy for a leader who needs the support of Moby Dick, the majority Irish coping class.
So is having Chris Andrews as your chief supporter. Because Andrews suffers from the same political skin problem as socialists: a deep desire to scratch the itch of those they comically believe to be progressive figures abroad, ranging from anti-semites like Hugo Chavez in Venezuela to the hardline leadership of Hamas.
Andrews' activities reminds me of one of the reasons I rejected the Workers Party -- the relentless rise of radical chic college boys more interested in promoting the Palestinians than fighting the Provos. In my parting shot, a pamphlet called the Necessity of Social Democracy, I warned that one of the most deluded socialist dogmas, was "the mission to save the world".
In Ireland this mission has shrunk to one shrill campaign against one state: the democratic state of Israel. Indignation against Israel is one of the few issues on which the Irish left can agree. So Andrews' main achievement is to create a climate of leftist agitation that can only benefit Labour and Sinn Fein in the long run.
Let me add the Garry Keegan affair back in 2005. Councillor Garry Keegan, a bright young businessman, tipped to be the next Fianna Fail TD in Dublin South East, courageously took on the Provisional IRA when an IRA thug murdered an innocent local man called Joe Rafferty.
In 2006 Garry Keegan resigned as a Fianna Fail councillor and in 2007 Fianna Fail gave the nomination to Chris Andrews. Google Garry Keegan and you get reams of material on Joe Rafferty. Google Chris Andrews and you get the gormless captain of Flotilla Fail calling for the expulsion of the Israeli Ambassador.
Andrews and his radical chic habit of being absent at home and active abroad sums up the problem with Fianna Fail's pathetic desire to be a left-of-centre party. Pathetic because Labour and Sinn Fein already fill that small space on the shelf. Andrews may squeeze himself in, but only by alienating Moby Dick, the big whale, which although currently angry, will return to the centre in the cold silence of the voting booth.
Next March, Andrews is setting off on another adventurist flotilla to Gaza. His shipmates will include
Sinn Fein's Aengus O Snodaigh. Like the last flotilla it is likely to end in tears and tear gas and maybe worse if the voyagers are joined by the kind of Islamist "martyrs" who turn up in the Turkel Report -- militants who make their wills before they go.
The adventurism of Andrews & Co sends out a subconscious signal to Moby Dick that Martin and his pals are Recliner Republicans, a radical chic crowd of shapers, supported by those in the public sector class who have far too much Hamas time hanging heavy on their hands.
Like most, I would like to see a Palestinian state. But I do not want a state dominated by dictatorial groups like Hamas. And I certainly do not want a Hamas state that threatens the security of Israel.
As Holocaust Memorial Day fell last week, I have a question. Why, in a world of struggling peoples, are Andrews and his supporters in Flotilla Fail so focused on one people, and so aggressive toward the state of Israel -- a state set up by Jews who escaped Hitler's mass murder?
Andrews and Flotilla Fianna Fail sum up Martin's primary problem. In a country crying out for a centrist coalition, pledged to keep taxes and public spending down, Flotilla Fail presents itself as yet another populist version of the Labour Party and Sinn Fein, both in fiscal and foreign policy.
That way lies political oblivion. How do I know? Because our polls clearly show that Moby Dick is fearful of radical parties like Sinn Fein and cynical about the Croke Park deal, which it correctly sees as a code for continuing the cosseting of the public sector.
In 2007, against the grain, I correctly predicted that Moby Dick marginally preferred Fianna Fail. This time I predict that the public marginally prefers a single-party government of the centre, supported by some independents, rather than a rainbow where Labour might cut and run, or run from cuts.
The reason Moby Dick is turning to Fine Gael is because, to quote senator Paschal Donohoe, the people don't want just a change of government but a change in the system of government. And only a Fine Gael government, backed by Fianna Fail, can carry through the reform of the Dail and public sector that Moby Dick demands.
But it is here, and against all the odds, that Martin can honestly claim to be a new broom. Last Friday, listening to Today FM, I heard him make an offer, the import of which was ignored by David McCullough on RTE News, still pursuing the debates.
Canvassing in Cork, Martin said he would support Fine Gael and vote for Enda Kenny for Taoiseach. It was a breathtakingly brilliant act of good authority. If he follows through, rejects Flotilla Fail and sets off in a new composite centrist craft which might be called 'Fine Fail', Martin will have Moby Dick with him all the way. And I will be happy to wish him bon voyage.