Monday 24 October 2016

Lucinda changes the game to suit herself

Leaving Fine Gael was wrong, even if the frustrations of Creighton are understandable

Published 10/01/2016 | 02:30

Lucinda Creighton pictured at the launch of the new Renua parrty in Trinity College. Picture; GERRY MOONEY. 13/3/15
Lucinda Creighton pictured at the launch of the new Renua parrty in Trinity College. Picture; GERRY MOONEY. 13/3/15

Lucinda Creighton displayed her gift for attracting publicity this week in a well-timed launch of Renua's election manifesto. Alas, the document was exposed as an amateur affair.

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Apart from hilarious typos and bizarre special pleadings (tax breaks for dressage horses?), there were discredited populist policies like three-strikes mandatory sentencing, and an unwise attempt to infer support for the 23pc flat tax from economists Karl Whelan and Brian Lucey. It ended up with Lucey tweeting: "Dear Renua. Advocating a flat tax as a principle is NOT advocating your batshit crazy low-rate flat tax". Ouch. Enda can sleep easy with this reaction.

But I don't like having to criticise Lucinda because I've a lot of sympathy with her. Call it my weakness for over-identification, but rage and frustration are not strangers to me.

She's dedicated herself to politics and Fine Gael from her student days. She's bursting with energy, ideas and ambition. But her peer Leo Varadkar got the big job at Cabinet, while she had to make do with a junior ministry. Instead of being entitled to some authentic anger, she's supposed to feel grateful for a second-class deal. Sometimes, batshit crazy is the only valid response.

Why should he get the job ahead of her? Leo voted against Enda in the famous heave, too. He's brilliant at ingratiating himself with the media by telling them what they want to hear, but not much else. In fact, opening his big mouth about the "distinguished" garda whistleblowers on March 20 last year started a chain of events that resulted in Commissioner Martin Callinan's resignation/retirement just five days later. Thanks, Leo! In his ministries, he's good at conveying an air of competency, but I haven't detected any special talent for achievement.

Meanwhile, Lucinda gets patronised and sidelined as a troublesome bint. "Just play the game, Lucinda". Aaaaargh! I get it! Honestly! The urge to just howl at the moon at the unfairness of it all! Because it's their game, not our game. So she stormed off and started a new game.

In Lucinda's game, five or six seats - or even just three or four - might be enough to get her the cabinet seat. How sweet that victory will be. If it works, I'll be the first to congratulate her.

And yet, as much as I sympathise; I think she was wrong. She was wrong to leave over abortion and she was wrong to leave at all.

Now, I don't share my media colleagues' enthusiasm for leaping on the abortion bandwagon. I take a very dim view of the pro-choice campaign tactics. We've had the infantile tweeting of menstrual cycles; the shameless leveraging of Savita Halappanavar's death; the outrageous claims from celebrities like Graham Linehan that Ireland is a dangerous place to be pregnant (it's safer than England where Graham lived) and if I hear the puerile Handmaiden's Tale metaphor once more, I'll probably have to join the Iona Institute.

But despite my disdain for what constitutes a debate, nothing changes the fact that it's the obligation of the Dail to legislate in line with the Constitution. The Irish people were asked twice - in 1992 and 2002 - to exclude suicide as a threat to a mother's life for the purposes of an abortion. Each time, a majority said "no".

So it doesn't matter if you disagree; it's in the Constitution and if you're a legislator, you have a constitutional obligation to do your job. Lucinda and the others should have done their jobs.

Secondly, she should have understood why the whip had to be imposed. Fair enough; Enda took the attitude that if he had to vote for it, the rest of them could, too. But the pressure TDs and senators were put under by pro-life campaigners was extraordinary.

One parliamentary assistant told me that pro-life families were getting children to ring deputies asking them to vote against the bill. It was insane. Pro-lifers are voters and highly organised. On a tight margin, they can cost you a seat.

The TDs and senators needed the protection of the whip. It wasn't a case of group think and mind control. There was no other way the bill could get through, and 20 years after X, it had to go through. She should have been big enough to see that.

In any event, I never bought into the line about matters of conscience. Economic decisions, cuts to the health service and rendition flights landing at Shannon are matters of conscience. And to be perfectly honest, and presumably she'd deny this, I suspect that what she really couldn't get over was being told what to do. That was the real point of principle - not abortion.

But if you can't stand being told what to do, how do you intend to take part in Cabinet decisions, which are constitutionally collective and confidential? So in the end, you can dress it up in principles all day, but ultimately, Lucinda is just another splitter.

And so, the following applies, not just to Lucinda, but the rest of them: from Lord Ross to the proles in the PBP.

Compromise can be framed as the means by which ideals are undone, one vote at a time. You can sacrifice your soul on the altar of loyalty, but nothing changes the fact that politics is a collective business.

No one achieves anything on their own and the first job of any idealist is to persuade.

Persuasion takes time and if you fail, you need to start again. If you want to lead, you have to wait. So yes, there's a game to be played. But it's a long game.

Because, despite what the populists will tell you, change comes by increment, not revolution. If you want people to work with you to achieve your goals, you have to work with them. And if you want people to stick by you in tough times, you need to stick by them.

All the splitters show is that they can't be counted on. Independence may define the independents, but that is precisely what renders them unsuitable for office.

Perhaps it will pay off for her, but Lucinda can't ride high by claiming she's no game player. The thin manifesto shows that Renua is part of the same old game called power.

Sunday Independent

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