Sunday 28 August 2016

John Drennan: Why Lucinda threatens to upset Enda's equilibrium

The Taoiseach is not quite as sanguine about the Reform Alliance as he might appear to be, writes John Drennan

Published 12/01/2014 | 02:30

Enda Kenny pictured with Lucinda Creighton in 2012
Enda Kenny pictured with Lucinda Creighton in 2012

When Enda Kenny and his side-kick, Government Chief Whip Paul Kehoe, recently warned Lucinda Creighton and the Reform Alliance about the difficulties involved in setting up a new party, they were in the best of company.

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Renaissance political scientist Machiavelli wrote that in politics "there is nothing more difficult to plan, more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to manage than a new system'' of governance.

Whatever about Machiavelli, the Taoiseach's comments had the opposite impact to what he intended.

Kenny was undoubtedly trying to establish a chill factor that might deter the somewhat sedentary philosophes of the Alliance who prefer abstruse musings in Leinster House to the chicken 'n' chips' campaign trail from following through on the logic of their far too subtle positioning. However, the decision of the normally closed Kenny to comment publicly on the Reform Alliance actually suggested the Taoiseach is not as sanguine about this development as he would like to appear to be.

When it comes to most of the Irish political scene, the Taoiseach's mood is understandably serene for despite the outwardly gentle nature of his use of the Whip, Kenny's control of his fractious party is as complete as any Fine Gael leader could wish for.

The Taoiseach has not merely secured a level of internal party dominance that would impress a Haughey, he has also tamed even the normally querulous Coalition domestiques of Labour.

When it comes to the political marshlands that exist beyond the boundaries of the well-kept Fine Gael and Labour farm, Kenny sees a Fianna Fail party which is where he wants it to be, a Sinn Fein party which, by keeping Gerry Adams, is definitely doing what he wants it to do and a gaggle of Independents who are as directionless as a pack of cats.

However, the Reform Alliance is what scientists call a rogue variable which will either fizzle like a cheap firework or turn into the sort of Frankenstein that devours its creator.

There are many scars hidden across the Taoiseach's well preserved political body, but, few events have left deeper lesions that the two-decade long spectacle of the Progressive Democrats using the votes of those who condemned FG for failing to implement its policies to keep Fianna Fail and their good selves in power.

It is an irony Enda is not at all keen to see repeated, for history, particularly when viewed through a blue-shirted prism, indicates that Fine Gael could arguably have won the 1992, the 1997 and the 2007 elections were it not for the blocking role of the PDs.

Lucinda, Billy Timmins and the rest of the lost FG tribe are containable, but were Shane Ross and Stephen Donnelly and others to join the Reform Alliance, Enda's current serenity would be assailed by a few nightmares from history.

In fairness, it should be noted that whilst Kenny was engaging in the equivalent of a shoulder before the game starts, some degree of reality also informed his analysis.

Few know better the scale of the task facing any new movement of ideas. It took Kenny six years of scorn, mockery, endless travel, late night meetings and an economic collapse to rescue an already extant political party. How much more difficult the task of reinventing the political wheel facing the genteel theoreticians of the Reform Alliance is hard to measure.

But despite all the rolled eyes about funding and competing egos, the Reform Alliance may actually face a more promising scenario than its PD ancestors.

Even by Ireland's admittedly low standards, an unprecedented vacuum exists when it comes to the Opposition. Unlike the Haughey or Ahern eras, there is no real alternative government for, when it comes to FF, the electorate might be prepared to allow it live but they have no intention of risking the possibility that the party might thrive.

The political Scientologists of Sinn Fein are still keelhauled to the quagmire of their past whilst the fissiparous Independent ranks leave the American Tea Party looking like a collection of logicians. This


means that within the weed-infested territories of the Opposition, there is a vast gap where the space and desire (of a modest sort) exists for a new party of reform.

The Reform Alliance's status as a non-political party that has registered as a third party with the Standards in Public Offices Commission and which is attempting to convince a number of Independent TDs and former Fianna Fail politicians to join the non-party means they are a curious political collection even by Irish standards.

However, the amoebic state of the Alliance may provide it with some critical advantages. In particular, its evident anxiety not to become branded as a PD sequel means the potential reach is far broader if it can define itself as a reform party rather than a McDowell manque party.

The intent of Kenny not to rub the abortion genie which was the divine spark of its formation -- and its greatest point of weakness -- will also do no harm to any attempt by the RA to broaden its appeal.

Kenny may also be concerned about the Reform Alliance's potential for one other critical reason for it is not by accident that Lucinda became Enda's special project. The Taoiseach is a sufficiently fine connoisseur of political horseflesh to realise when it comes to attracting the empathy of the voters, Lucinda is one of the rare thoroughbreds in Irish politics.

Outside of Lucinda's strange charisma, Machiavelli's claim that he had written The Prince in the hope that since 'the old order of things was not good', some-one had to try to 'find a new one' provides us with a clue as to the second threat the Reform Alliance might pose.

It is a measure of how little the world changes that the dilemmas of 16th Century Italy and today's Ireland are remarkably similar. The Rainbow was catapulted into power with a record majority on the basis that 'the old order' of doing things had not worked and that a new way of governance was required.

No-one can gainsay that the Coalition has tried to improve the old ways of doing things but too many habits have survived and, if anything, the initial weeks of this year suggest the reform process has gone into reverse.

Whether the Reform Alliance non-party that might yet become a party likes it or not, this has created the space for a new party to reinvent itself as the watchdog of the democratic revolution.

And whilst some cynics dismiss the Alliance on the grounds that 'if something walks and quacks like a PD duck then ...', there might be a further twist in the tale.

Ironically, the reason why the PDs failed is that it became more like FF than FF itself. Far from fearing the PD brand, the Reform Alliance might fare a lot better by doing what the PDs did not have the courage to do -- remaining faithful to its conservative principles.

Irish Independent

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