Tuesday 20 February 2018

SF lead for now, but Coalition is a likelier long-term bet

Coalition's embrace of caution and competence is setting a new agenda to challenge Sinn Fein, Fianna Fail, Independent non- alternative

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams Photo: Tony Gavin
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams Photo: Tony Gavin
John Drennan

John Drennan

All eyes will after today's Millward Brown poll be on the apparent evolution of the next election into a two-horse race between Sinn Fein and Fine Gael.

Intriguingly, this is a development which will attract mixed emotions within a Sinn Fein party whose higher echelons are acutely aware of its unreadiness for government.

However, the importance of the small but still significant shift in support towards the government should not be underestimated.

Sinn Fein may be the short-term leaders, but though the swing is only 4pc at least the Coalition has woken from its political coma.

The political castaways of Fine Gael and Labour are a long way from shore and poor Labour, in particular, is still residing in the half-embalmed misery of Green meltdown country.

However, the swing to the uncivil Coalition partners may be indicative of a new trend.

Intriguingly, the swing has occurred during a period of real media fret over the current sea of political tranquillity.

During 2014 when it came to drama and crises the happy media were like seals in a fish farm.

But, since the return of the Dail, whilst there has been the odd attempted break-out over abortion or the Ceann Comhairle's unfortunate bout of 'infamy, infamy, they've all got it in for me' none have stayed the course.

The long-term nature of the ceasefire has now led some to believe this is not entirely accidental.

The government has, instead possibly more by chance than design, adopted the political equivalent of tiki-taka.

For those who do not follow Barcelona, tiki-taka is a cautious style of football where few risks are taken.

Instead the team in possession retains the ball with a series of short passes in the hope that their opponents will become frustrated, tire themselves out chasing after the ball and make a fatal error.

For those who are used to the old kick-and-rush style of English football (or Irish politics) it can be a somewhat lifeless spectacle where almost nothing appears to happen for long spells.

But it is marvellously effective.

This political version of tiki-taka where Ireland would be governed in a modest, normal controlled way was supposed to have happened in 2014.

Instead we got a spring, summer, autumn and winter of discontent as the Coalition simply kept on dropping the political ball.

The electoral consequences of this has been the source of much angst to a Coalition who believe that in seeking to render them extinct the public are being unfairly irascible.

However the epidemic of incompetence, graft and cronyism we were subjected to meant the voter's anger at the slide into old dysfunctional ways was entirely understandable.

Over-confidence crossed with exhaustion may have been the key factor in how it fluffed the opportunity provided by the Troika exit.

By the end of 2014 they weren't suffering from over-confidence but one key accidental factor may have changed the narrative decisively.

Over-2014-confidence in the Coalition had been eroded by the politically toxic quintet of Messrs Shatter, Reilly, Hogan, Gilmore, and Rabbitte.

Ironically, given that this was what he desired least, the major cabinet reshuffle occasioned by their many misadventures, offered Mr Kenny an opportunity to re-invent the Coalition.

The graft has taken some time but in all cases it appears to have worked.

Leo Varadkar has put a bullet in the head of his predecessor's facility for building fancy castles in the sky that always toppled over.

Though he has gone to the same charm school as Phil Hogan, the new Environment Minister Alan Kelly has brought a bullish can-do approach to his brief.

Opposition Justice spokespeople visibly bewail the capacity of Frances to defuse crises with the ease of a boa constrictor.

Critically Mr Kenny has reined in his own imperious 'King Enda' impulses that did such damage to the party.

Someone must over Christmas in Castlebar have told King Enda he is actually mortal.

Intriguingly this new competence has exposed a serious fault line in the Opposition.

Their hopes of progress have been predicated on the hope that the Coalition would continue to score enough own goals to win them the match.

The absence of such happy events means the liabilities of FF and the inchoate Independent option has been fatally exposed.

After all the political avalanches of last year the Coalition remains gun-shy to the extent that should they step on the slightest twig like losing a TD over abortion, they glance anxiously towards the mountains lest some new avalanche come hurtling down.

But, for the first time in 15 months the advantage has swung to the Coalition.

As the budget benefits begin to leach into the voter's consciousness the Coalition have possession of the political football.

All they have to do now is retain it and suck all the air out of politics by replacing last year's dramas with reasoned competence.

As a plan it might even work so long as they don't have to pass the ball to Enda.

Sunday Independent

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