Sunday 17 November 2019

Let the bidding war begin - but we must not forget fallout from past horse-trading

Lucinda Creighton
Lucinda Creighton
John Downing

John Downing

Now here is a reminder straight from the bloody obvious department: Enda Kenny still has one big advantage facing into his expected fightback campaign - he still has the wherewithal to bribe the voters.

His arch-rival, Lucinda Creighton, upped the ante considerably yesterday with an extraordinary pledge to actually abolish the hated Universal Social Charge (USC). Ms Creighton's yet-to-be-named party joins the large band of groups and individuals wooing voters disenchanted with the established parties.

It signalled the opening of the general election bidding war. Expect the others to crank up their political auction machines soon now.

How many of us will remember the calamities which followed reckless election auctions in the five decades since the first modern one of 1977? If we have any sense, that reflection should form part of our ultimate political choice.

But, in what is likely to be the most interesting political year in a generation, it would be most unwise to assume that this Fine Gael-Labour Coalition is as yet a beaten docket. Both government parties are very much down in the popularity stakes - but do not assume that they are yet out.

So, the Taoiseach kicks off his political year of 2015 today by telling us he will have a quarter of the workforce out of the USC net by January 2016.

He follows on with a clear signal that he will also have increased the minimum wage from the current rate of €8.65 per hour - a move which should also help to ease tensions on the Labour side of the house.

The Taoiseach was heavily criticised at the end of 2014 for failing to push his message on job creation. Today he reminds us that when the Coalition first took office in March 2011 it fixed a target of 100,000 jobs - and the economy has by now delivered 80,000 of these.

Job-creation targets are always far easier to announce than to achieve.

However, the slow but steady drop in unemployment from a high of 15pc in 2012 does give the Taoiseach more credibility when he pledges 40,000 new jobs in the coming 12 months.

And in all fairness to this Government, nobody can quibble with the holding of a special Cabinet meeting on job creation fixed for Wednesday of next week.

They have been damned in the past for failing to do such things and are entitled to see the corollary of that applied here.

Decent jobs with a decent income are the answer to many of our problems - both individually and collectively. If this Coalition can prove that it helped deliver them, the two parties might be able to claw their way back.

Rash election promises from rivals could even help. But Enda Kenny, Joan Burton and their colleagues know they must also fix their other major problem: that propensity to make unforced errors.

Senior government figures privately concede that a new year is just a change of calendar numbers. More sure-footed handling of basic issues and avoiding clangers will not come automatically.

In essence, the Government will be playing for the middle-of-the-road voters whose confidence they have lost. They will be trying to convince people that they are the most reliable prospects in a still uncertain world. As the Taoiseach writes in today's Irish Independent, the recovery is fragile and progress easily lost.

Some intriguing twists and turns await before the next general election.

Irish Independent

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