Saturday 1 October 2016

It's every man for himself as our embattled parties pivot on those pre-election pin heads

Published 17/08/2015 | 02:30

What happens when love breaks down?
What happens when love breaks down?

Coalition Governments are difficult enough when you are in them, but getting out of them requires delicate dexterity. Like a marriage, they are an entanglement of interests which do not make separation easy. Fine Gael and Labour are married, for now. But what happens when love breaks down?

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Recent shenanigans, where both Government partners are reluctant to commit to a longer-term relationship, are the political equivalent of a bored couple creating profiles on Tinder to see what else is out there. And it's not just the Government parties, everyone is at it.

It is timely that we have a political stock take to see just where everyone is at in terms of political options. If the current miasma of options continues until election day, then the electorate is facing a kaleidoscope of possibilities without any real idea of what the final post-election political picture might be.

Some in Fine Gael want a pre-election pact with Labour in advance of the general election to promote the continuation of "competence over chaos". Others in Fine Gael want to go it alone to see what the post-election scenario throws up.

Enda Kenny has said he has no intention of "staying on beyond the next Government", and Leo Varadkar thinks he should "serve a full second term". Last but not least, Brian Hayes wants to deliver a five-point plan for both parties to put to the electorate.

There is no unanimity in Labour either. Alex White wants a 'Mullingar Accord'-type pact with Fine Gael. However, sources close to the Tánaiste were quick to slap the prospect down, with Ged Nash, Willie Penrose and others dispelling the notion, citing "differing ideologies". Ruairi Quinn (who is on his way out anyway) also wants to have a pre-electoral pact, but not right now.

Yesterday, it was reported that Fianna Fáil would support a minority Fine Gael government on a vote-by-vote basis. However, many in the party privately believe that Micheál Martin seems to favour returning Fianna Fáil to the opposition benches after the next election.

A wise choice, perhaps, because it would allow the party to continue to rebuild, renew and recycle itself.

Michael McGrath and others want to allow the electorate to make the choice before deciding. This tactic would create space for developing pre-election political policies, with room to manoeuvre after the general election. McGrath has not ruled out a tryst with Sinn Féin.

Others in the party, like Niall Collins, would rather lose their seats it seems, before contemplating any alliance with Sinn Féin, especially if Sinn Féin stick to their guns on refusing to be in government with anyone unless they are top dog.

Lucinda and Renua say they will consider going into coalition with Fine Gael, the very party that she left in the first place. Then we have the Social Democrats, who seem open to anything. The Anti-Austerity Alliance, with Paul Murphy and Joe Higgins, are against everything.

People Before Profit, consisting of Richard Boyd Barrett, want to abolish water charges and property taxes. The Workers and Unemployed Action Group want to revisit the bank bailout and seem to be doing the job of the Labour Party by calling for fair taxes for poor- and middle-income earners. The Independent Alliance will continue a policy of "whatever you are having yourself". And finally, the Greens, who are, well, 'green' and as history has shown, are as open to any political options as an empty wheelie bin.

In the latter days of election 2002, Michael McDowell staged a photo shoot in Ranelagh, south Dublin. It involved a large ladder and larger posters which read 'Single Party Government, No Thanks'. Michael McDowell was up the ladder and on the news.

As news trickled in to the Fianna Fáil election centre (where I was head of communications), I grabbed the phone to ring my counterpart in the Progressive Democrats. What ensued was an onslaught of hysterical, coursing invective (delivered by me) at decibel levels which I am certain only dogs could hear. Why, why, why? How could you do this to us? Surely we are friends!

Once my tirade had dissipated somewhat, my counterpart began laughing so hard that had he been the one holding the ladder, I am sure that McDowell would have fallen off it. In hindsight, had that happened, we may have saved McDowell from the ignominy of his subsequent dramatic political exit at the RDS in 2007. Anyway, my counterpart explained to me that of course this was nothing personal, it was just business and that I should have expected it.

The Progressive Democrats were simply maximising their own political potential to the best of their ability. He was right, I was simply politically naïve. When it comes to elections, it's every man for himself. Lesson learned.

This coalition Government has done well in relation to turning our economic fortunes around. Fine Gael and Labour have not got on as well behind the scenes, and there seems to be no love lost. Mostly, Fine Gael do not want to be dragged into the mire by their current partners, by being forced into promoting policies which would not necessarily appeal to a middle-class core Fine Gael vote.

By guiding us through the EU/IMF programme and by delivering our exit, this Fine Gael/Labour coalition have fulfilled a large part of their mandate. But so far they have failed to come up with a credible way of claiming credit for that management. Consistently getting the tone wrong, they come across as condescending, uncaring, and with differing agendas.

If Fine Gael and Labour are to form some pre-election Faustian pact, it could possibly take the creative genius of Don Draper to devise a slogan which will allow the current Government to take the credit for our economic rehabilitation, while at the same time crafting a message which essentially espouses more of the same. Mad men at the ready expect more of this type of thing; it's every man for himself.

Irish Independent

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