Thursday 27 November 2014

John Drennan: Paddy pays price for Rainbow's bitter defeat

The Grumpy Old Men need to forgive the voters' sin in 1997 if they don't want another 'bit of a shock',

Published 13/01/2013 | 05:00

It is always pleasant when political elites engage in ongoing extravagant displays of unhappiness about the failure of the voters to love them in the manner they believe is deserved.

Recently, be it Pat Rabbitte on Frontline, or Pat Rabbitte in the Irish Times or, gosh, is that yourself again, Pat, in the Examiner, the cri de coeur of this administration has consisted of "why will you not love us?"

Sadly, the mood is unlikely to be improved by last week's Red C poll which indicated that with 42 per cent of the vote, the current Grumpy Old Men are no longer, in the eyes of the voters at least, a genuinely national government.

In fairness to Pat, he is not unique, for when it comes to the Grumpy Old Men, Alan Shatter is even more cantankerous while the Taoiseach's definition of a 'fair shake from the media' means a daily standing ovation from the political correspondents.

It is truly wondrous that a government yet to celebrate its second year in office has put together a list of media wrongdoers that is almost as lengthy as that compiled by their detested Fianna Fail predecessors over many years of arrogance.

But, such is the extent of their list of enemies our Grumpy Old Men have even followed China and exist in a state of undeclared war with the internet, Twitter and other social media.

However, could it be the case that the escalating war between our Grumpy Old Men and the media is merely a symptom of a greater unresolved conflict between the Government and the voters?

One of the more intriguing features of the current administration is the sensitivity over their own reputations and the contrasting chilliness displayed towards the difficulties being experienced by the voters in the ongoing embrace of La Belle Dame of austerity.

The Grumpy Old Men do sympathise, in theory, with the "plight" of the citizens but, even the formulaic nature of the language they use, only serves to reveal the absence of a genuine sense of sympathy with the electorate.

In fairness, unlike sophisticated political practitioners such as Barack Obama, who has warned the "empathy deficit" in American society was far more serious than the fiscal deficit, the natural tendency of the Grumpy Old Men is to denigrate "empathy" as a feminine sort of thing.

It is also understandable that a Cabinet of mostly privately educated millionaires (or soon-to-be millionaires when the pension kicks in) would struggle to empathise with the forelock-tipping classes.

But could it be the case that the real truth behind the similarity of this Government to Nurse Ratched who takes far too much pleasure in dosing the children with castor oil, is that it has never fully forgiven the electorate for the great defenestration of 1997 where the Rainbow of Fine Gael, Labour and Democratic Left, was cast out by an ungrateful electorate?

They, of course, do not openly say it, but the hurt emerges in subtle asides such as the observation last week by Mr Rabbitte that when it comes to allocating responsibility for our woes, people should remember that back in 1997 the government was creating 1,000 jobs a week.

Inevitably, our loose-lipped former Taoiseach, John Bruton, has most clearly articulated the absence of any sympathy amongst our elites for the citizens via his recent claims that austerity was not so bad.

The multi-pensioned Mr Bruton, would, at the best of times, make for an unconvincing advocate for the need to get a "sense of proportion" and realise that we are wealthier now than we were in 1997.

But, his references to 1997 indicate how deeply the loss of that election bit into the FG and Labour psyche.

In fairness, the great obsession of the Grumpy Old Men is understandable for 1997 was their perfect moment where the Rainbow would reshape the future of the nation for at least a decade.

And then suddenly this Eden was lost when Bertie, the snake, corrupted the all too susceptible Eves of the Irish electorate.

The decision appeared to be so wrong the Rainbow warriors genuinely believed this would merely be a temporary little embarrassment.

Sadly, by the time Mary Harney crowed in 2002 that, on leaving his Department in 1997 Ruairi Quinn told the then secretary general he would be back in six months, the Rainbow castaways were not even half-way through their exile.

Of course the Rainbow secured some belated form of justice in 2011 when they finally managed to put their collective heels on the neck of the still slithery FF snake.

But that alas is not recompense enough for the hurt feelings of the Grumpy Old Men.

Instead, increasingly it appears to be the case that, in their secret souls, they believe Paddy should pay a price for his indulgence in the 'sin' of falling for Bertie the seducer.

You might think of course that by now the ancient Rainbow warriors would have forgotten about 1997.

But one of the more intriguing features of the not-so-new government of the Grumpy Old Men was the apparent determination to reconstruct the best government of Rainbow warriors we so casually cast aside in 1997.

John Bruton, Dick Spring, Michael Lowry and Alan Dukes are understandably absent but the rest of the old gang are back in with a couple of youthful decorations such as Leo Varadkar and Simon (the son of former minister Hugh Coveney) and some women to take the bare look off.

At the beginning the hope was that the restoration of Brendan Howlin, Ruairi Quinn, Michael Noonan and the rest of the Grumpy ones would, given that they were close to retirement, infuse the new government with the desire to act "in great haste" in creating a radical new state.

Instead, what we appear to have got is an administration that is characterised by a nostalgic anger over those lost ministerial careers.

The problem with this subterranean bitterness is that, rather like the Bourbons who forgot and learnt nothing, the Grumpy Old Men secretly believe that when it comes to Ireland's "sin" in 1997 "reparations" have to be extracted.

This tariff even includes the media for when it comes to the famous "payback time" editorial our Cabinet is itching to secure some 'payback' of its own, courtesy of Mr Shatter's uncouth Privacy Bill.

When it comes to the voters, rather like those sad tales of unmarried mothers in the Fifties, the Grumpy Old Men are playing the role of the scolding parents, who tell the fallen daughter she must pay the price for "enjoying herself" as she is packed off to the convent.

In our case, the nuns in the Magdalene laundry, who are imposing the fiscal politics of "you've made your bed, now lie on it" are the troika.

But, as our new episcopal fiscal gods in Europe look on approvingly while Enda, Michael (and Eamon too, we mustn't forget Mr Gilmore!) bravely teach the feckless electorate important lessons in frugality, the Grumpy Old Men might be wise to not take too much pleasure out of the travails being experienced by the "guilty" Irish electorate.

One of the key drivers of our increasingly bitter public discourse, which politicians complain so pathetically about, is Paddy's growing suspicion that the Grumpy Old Men have no real empathy for their plight.

Paddy, being an intuitive, mercurial creature, instead believes that this Government is an emotionally cold administration that has not forgiven or forgotten the trauma it experienced in 1997.

The Government's anger, meanwhile, with its media coverage is symptomatic of its hidden belief that it has still not secured a proper apology for the great "sin" of 1997.

If they are wiser than the Bourbons, now might be a good time for this administration to adopt the virtues of forgiveness, for the only place the current ill-disguised desire to punish Paddy has got this administration is a collective poll rating of 42 per cent.

And should that go lower, the Grumpy Old Men may yet find to their horror in election 2016 that history might repeat itself for Paddy is, if aggravated, more than capable of throwing out the best government we ever had... a second time.

Sunday Independent

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