Wednesday 26 October 2016

Ministers, not voters, toast their successes

Citizens just want jobs, growth and an end to grinding austerity, writes John Drennan

Published 03/03/2013 | 05:00

It is a measure of the air of uncertainty surrounding the Coalition that, as we approach the second anniversary of this Government, Fine Gael has decided to hire a political director.

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Apparently the task of the latest "special one" will be to educate the backbench serfs about the achievements of the current Cabinet. It is tempting to observe that they should also let the public in on the secret, but we are perhaps being too cynical.

Certainly the Government thinks so – and may have a case, for up to a year ago had we experienced a month where a deal would be concluded on the "prom notes", a replacement found for Croke Park and a date set for the ending of the infamous bank guarantee the streets would have been strewn with lotus flowers.

Instead, just before the second anniversary of the Coalition's birth, for the second Sunday Independent/Millward Brown survey in a row, the voters have slapped the Government around its face with the polling equivalent of a wet fish.

The electorate's initial "bit of a turn" against the Government has solidified to such an extent that the Coalition's mandate is at the gates of a debtors jail, whilst Fianna Fail, like a thieving dog, is back slinking around, tail and ears flattened, promising this time to be good.

Taken with the ongoing strength of our Independent (chimpanzees) Tea Party and the rise of Gerry Adams and 'Ted' – apparently 'Ted' is Adams's teddy bear who has been immortalised on Twitter – such a scenario makes the Italian electorate look logical.

While the darkening mood of the citizens is clear, when it comes to the critical question as to what Kenny really has done in his two years in office, is their analysis fair?

The first thing to be noted when it comes to the fall of the Coalition is that its initial pledge that a "democratic revolution" would be implemented by one of the most conservative cabinets since the 1950s sowed the political future with many landmines.

In fairness, the citizens were desperately seeking signs that some element of hope might enter our political discourse. This was epitomised by the claim by some young Fine Gael TD that after the never-ending night of Cowen the "period of mourning is over" for "today we hang out our brightest colours".

Kenny did not stint on the aspiration front either, as he promised there would be "renewal" of political leadership that would be "real and true to tell the truth of Ireland today''.

Rather like John Bruton's infamous governing through "a pane of glass" line, Kenny also promised in March 2011 to "enter into a covenant" where "honesty is not alone our best policy but our only policy'' that could remedy a style of politics that had "damaged us emotionally, psychologically and spiritually".

During the initial weeks when Kenny went to Washington the mood continued to be elated for, even amidst the marbled splendour of Capitol Hill, he resembled a leader. The psychological savaging of the nation's spirit by Biffo meant Kenny's surprising capacity to simultaneously walk and talk was enough to lift our morale.

That, however, is no longer the case and the current ailing condition of the Coalition is entirely its own creation. Its first error was to ignore the mood of the country that wanted reform to be imposed with the sort of elan displayed by the charge of the Light Brigade.

Instead, from the start our cautious reformists have moved with the care of a man travelling in the dark of the night across a bog that is unknown to him.

This crab-like caution was entirely understandable for tactical reasons, but it was the catalyst for a gathering psychic split between the Coalition and its electorate that has brought the Government to today's polling equivalent of "we are where we are".

As the electorate cast an increasingly wintry eye over the anxious speed with which the Coalition sought the mantle of being the troika's good servants, the government's status has not at all been enhanced by the performance of Kenny.

It is not by accident that he is the second-worst performing member of the Government in today's poll, for increasingly he comes across as a bit of a fair-weather Taoiseach who is around for the cheers but who tends to snarl when his perfect world is confronted by the real pain of the citizens.

Nothing epitomised the dimming of Kenny's star more than the contrast between his acceptance speech, the subsequent filibustering response to Moriarty and the furore that followed when a smiling Enda, just one year later, stood on that dais with Denis O'Brien. In less than a year we had moved from "covenants" and "renewal" back to the ageless Irish politics of Animal Farm where it is impossible to differentiate between the Fianna Fail pigs and the Fine Gael pigs or the Labour and the Green animals.

The increasing association of his political boon companions – James Reilly and the not-so-Cute Old Phil Hogan – with a toxic combination of arrogance and incompetence has, as today's poll proves, also distracted the electorate from real achievements.

The Irish recovery may be as timorous as a new year's snow-drop, but for the first time since 2008 the numbers at work have risen. Slowly and with often agonising caution, what Vanity Fair cruelly but accurately termed "the Irish freak show" has been brought to an end.

The spectre of the "prom notes" will even frighten our grandchildren but Michael Noonan has treated Anglo Irish Bank in the way Rome destroyed and then sowed salt over Carthage.

And while the ending of the infamous bank guarantee barely merited a hurrah, there were at least cheers for Brendan Howlin's Croke Park II deal. Mind you, he might have preferred it if they were issuing from the trade union bearded brothers rather than his Fine Gael "partners".

Still, it should be noted that any reform of the "pleasure dome" of public sector pay with its "caverns measureless to man" is no easy task, for one of the more intriguing features of Croke Park II is that all the gains the mandarins secured under benchmarking have been reversed. Of course, in typically Irish style, just as no one said benchmarking was an exercise in educated bribery, this reality is not openly stated – but that is the realpolitik of the matter.

The political problem for the Coalition, however, is that whilst its deleveraged ambition of "normalisation" is at least achievable, it is failing to enchant we little people.

Like Robinson Crusoe, they live on a deserted island of endless austerity where successes in areas such as the "prom notes" are totally irrelevant to the experiences of the citizens. And the more the Coalition celebrates them, the more irritated the citizens will be by "triumphs" that often appear to be as esoteric as the discussions the Irish church used to have over how many angels would fit on a pin.

Our Government can woo the cardinals of the ECB all it likes, but unlike the church, which maintains the support of its flock by promising good times in the after-life, politicians must deliver in the here and now.

Of course, it should be noted that the jig is not up, for support for Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein is soft and when those who are honest about their uncertainty are included, the largest group within this electorate is the floating 40 per cent who, like the woman shopping in Marks and Spencer, don't know what they want.

The floating forties will have to wait, however, before they get to the electoral till and decide, for today's poll will accelerate the intent of this administration to engage in a long-term war of attrition, in the hope that the arrival of the elusive growth fairy will tip the balance in 2016.

Irish Independent

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