Thursday 27 October 2016

Paddy is warier about election gifts than Enda and Joan think

Coalition may find itself caught in unexpected trouble on spending and tax if they are not careful

Published 12/04/2015 | 02:30

TOUGH TASK: For Enda Kenny it’s a question of knowing what the public really wants
TOUGH TASK: For Enda Kenny it’s a question of knowing what the public really wants

In theory, success in Irish politics is quite simple. If you want to be in government, the party that can best find out what on earth it is that Paddy wants is on the road to El Dorado.

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That, of course, is where the simplicity ends.

Finding out what Paddy wants, given that Paddy himself is often quite unsure, can be quite the moveable feast... or 14-year famine if you get it wrong as the Rainbow Coalition did in 1997.

When it comes to election 2016 (or 2015 depending on who you speak to), for the Coalition, it appears simple.

Paddy wants cash, and preferably by the wheelbarrow-load. Like any good biblical scholar, after the seven years of famine, he wants to start feasting again.

One can hardly blame Paddy either for, last year, at the height of the reign of austerity, a phenomenon emerged in rural Ireland.

Traders at our various fairs noted the people were so cash- poor they had no money to give their children when they visited the festivals.

As children and parents wandered around without the money to spend on even a fairground ride, the nadir of austerity had been reached.

To date, when it comes to the cash-in-hand issue, Paddy has been quite open in his intentions. Sometimes the deceitful Irish electorate, when it comes to the polls, puts on a pious face and talk about the need for responsible government, the health services and the need to build a democratic revolution.

However, so far this year the voters have clearly said their priority is not ethics or global warming.

Their simple demands are money in pockets and more jobs.

It goes without saying that for all their current 'careful now' talk about 'modest prosperity' the Coalition cartel is up for meeting Paddy's needs.

After all, for most of the cartel the greatest nightmare of their political careers occurred in 1997 when they fatally misread the public mood.

When it came to that election, the Rainbow were more than up for the sort of tax-cutting party that would be the equivalent of a fiscal lock-in.

It was just Fianna Fail was a bit more honest about its intention to let us have what we wanted as often as we wanted it and in whatever position we would like.

The context set by 1997 goes a long way towards explaining the Coalition's current position.

The last thing they need to be haunted by is the old Marxist dialect about history repeating itself as farce or tragedy.

Some difficult creatures will ask if the plans of the cartel do not contradict the regular criticisms by Fine Gael and Labour of Charlie McCreevy's economic philosophy of 'when I have it I'll spend it'.

This, however, fails to recognise one new salient economic issue. The Coalition has it (cash) and the electorate want it.

They'll spend it all right.

After all, even the puritans of the Irish Fiscal Council are in on the game.

Last week's language about how an overly-rigid application of EU rules on Government expenditure could undermine public support for the EU regime was mighty posh. But as the man in the bar in Monty Python said "a nod is as good as a wink to a blind dog".

The Coalition was being given the OK to let her rip.

But, it never is as simple as that. One of the most intriguing features of the Sunday Independent /Millward Brown poll was the vast caution Paddy displayed on the issue of wage increases for the public and private sector.

When it came to whether it was time for wage increases for the private sector, 45pc said no with 43pc of party- goers saying yes.

The margin was even wider when it came to the designs of the public sector where half said no and a humble 37pc Yes.

So what is going on here then? Part of it may of course be the simple covetousness of two dogs in a yard fighting over a bone that neither wants terribly much.

Each dog is determined that he is damned if the other dog is going to have the pleasure of the bone.

However, the polling may also suggest the desires of Paddy are somewhat more complex than merely wanting wheelbarrows of cash.

When it comes to 'partying on', the greedy innocence of 1997 and all that is gone.

A bruised and deeply conservative Paddy is, instead, now gun-shy when it comes to allowing politicians let the throttle go on Government spending to massage their own interests.

It all suggests that if the Coalition adopts a simple 'spend, spend, spend' approach to election 2016 (or 2015) it may be hoist by its own expenditure petard where excessive spending will turn into a vast strategic mistake.

It is as we noted earlier wise to learn from history.

But one of the most important things one can learn from the past is that the greatest error you can make in war is to use the tactics which were successful in the previous campaign.

The bad news for the Coalition there is that Fine Gael and Labour may be about to engage in a 1997 style tax and spending cavalry charge at a time where Paddy will utterly mistrust such a strategy.

The even worse news is if this is the case, Paddy won't tell them this until the election is over.

Mind you, for the avoidance of confusion, it should be noted that even if he is uneasy, that won't stop Paddy from taking any cash that's on offer.

Sunday Independent

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