Thursday 18 December 2014

McDowell lacks ‘X-Factor’ of likeability but compensates with huge brain

Published 20/08/2013 | 05:00

McDowell would be the first to admit that he lacks the X factor of likeability

With the Dail and courts in recess, it can mean thin pickings for opinion writers. Much of what dominates our current affairs is related to the goings-on in Leinster House or the Four Courts, so when the lawyers and legislators take their holidays, the news organisations must hunt for scraps in the remains.

Of course, there are the annual summer schools to fill a void. These can provide an alternative opinion factory for those who suffer withdrawal symptoms if deprived of the oxygen of publicity for too long.

But, rarely is anything of any significance said at such gatherings. It tends to be the same old blather but in casual clothes. An example is a continuation of the alleged plans to form a new party, the latest version of which suggests an alliance between the homeless Michael McDowell and the rudderless Fine Gael rump comprised of Lucinda Creighton and co.

A sighting of my former colleague Michael and Lucinda having lunch in the Four Courts not surprisingly set tongues wagging. In fairness, such an indiscreet venue as the Four Courts – the biggest hotbed for gossip in the country – would suggest a bit of attention-seeking on somebody's behalf.

If Michael is minded to launch a new party – and there is certainly an opening for something fresh to add to the limited choice facing the voters at the next election – I wish he would just 'hit the ball'.

Since the orderly wind-up of the Progressive Democrats, following the calamitous 2007 election which left it with a mere two TDs, there has been sporadic talk of Michael's return to the national stage.

Rumours of him rejoining his original mother ship of Fine Gael abounded at the 2011 election but appeared to run out of steam due to lack of enthusiasm for, or wariness towards, him by the party's top brass.

Indeed, at local level in Dublin South East, there would have been equal resistance from party incumbent TDs Lucinda and Eoin Murphy.

Dublin South East is Michael's base, where he retains loyal supporters, ready to hit the streets on his behalf in whatever guise or flag he decides to embrace. The challenge for any potential collaborators, however, is that he would want to be their boss, whether in name or substance.

He is a leader not a follower; nothing wrong with that. At a time when the country lacks direction ambition and ideas, strong leaders are as rare as a unicorn and sorely needed.

Michael would be the first to admit that he lacks mass popular appeal, that X factor of likeability, which propels candidates to the top of the poll in elections. But he makes up for that deficit with huge brain power, drive and patriotism.

His faults are well known: intellectually ascendant and prone to exaggeration, such as his recent description of the proposal to abolish the Seanad as a "power grab" by the executive. Indeed most people are baffled by his new-found devotion to the Upper House, given that support for its abolition was the PD party position.

But Michael, like all good barristers, can argue one thing in the morning and its polar opposite by dinner time. It is a genuine skill, essential in the adversarial business of law, but it does tend to leave the ordinary person slightly befuddled and even suspicious.

The truth is the fate of the Seanad is so peripheral to most people that to mount such a vehement and passionate campaign for its retention seems over the top.

Michael's admirers – and there are many – would, I think, prefer to see that righteous anger thrown into a real issue of critical importance to our country at this time, such as a campaign against youth unemployment.

I remember Michael when he was finance spokesman for our party, ears flaming red with indignation as he spoke of the injustice of mass joblessness in the late 1980s and early 1990s, combined with tax injustice, which brought thousands of people onto the streets.

We have now returned to those unconscionable levels of youth unemployment, fuelling mass emigration and a mental health epidemic. This single issue needs progressive radical thought and policy formulation – beyond all other issues – to inspire a new generation to believe in the power of politics to change things.

Des O'Malley led such a political movement in the 1980s. I was proud to be part of it, and although controversial at the time, the PDs offered solutions to the problems faced back then.

Any new party which offers radical measures to address that waste of human capital – as represented by hundreds of thousands of our young people – gets my vote.

Irish Independent

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