Sunday 26 January 2020

Why Kenny and Burton must let loose those 'animal spirits'

There are signs of voter optimism in our latest poll.

Tanaiste Joan Burton and Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Photo: Damien Eagers
Tanaiste Joan Burton and Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Photo: Damien Eagers
Tanaiste and Labour leader Joan Burton
Jody Corcoran

Jody Corcoran

There has been lightness in the air for several weeks, and with it a sense of madness has returned. The animal spirits as Keynes called it - the Irish spirit - is crying out to be released again.

Maybe it is the weather, which has been mostly good, although there were hailstones in north Dublin last week; or that the banks have returned to better than expected profit; or that the girls at the Galway Races have a swing in their skirts again, or maybe it is that Ivor Callely has gone to jail.

The new mood can be found in our latest opinion poll too, not a return of the feel-good but a feel-better factor which the Government, and Labour in particular, have a desperate need of right now.

The popularity of the Government is still in the toilet: almost three-quarters remain dissatisfied.

Enter Joan Burton, whose huge task it is to restore the fortunes of Labour to something like a fighting chance.

At first sight, her "conversation" with Labour, and in passing interest with the country, and her election, has done nothing to sprinkle the feel-better factor on her party, still mired in single-digit territory.

But she is already double-digits more popular than was Eamon Gilmore; almost a third instinctively feel less inclinded to be dissatisfied towards her and twice the margin of error is prepared to withhold judgement for the moment - not a bad start.

The voters seem prepared to allow her a fair chance to shield us from the hailstones which keep on raining down - and to also release those animal spirits.

Last week, water charge tariffs were announced, and no matter how you look at it, you know you are going to be screwed sooner or later; a judge told the Anglo boys to "enjoy" their community service; and there remains a load of debt piled high upon hundreds of thousands in middle age.

At least property prices are going up again - which is what a large proportion of the so-called disillusioned are also thinking.

Last week, it was disclosed that AIB is in talks with the developers - they're on the way back, baby! - to build 5,000 houses in the greater Dublin area, which is also not a bad start.

"I don't care as to their provenance," AIB's Chief Executive David Duffy said of the developers, "as long as they are credible, have resources, and are able to deliver on the promises they are making."

They may not be back at the races just yet, but such a development is also a cause for modest celebration.

Like the Garth Brooks concerts could have been - concerts which had sold out many times over, many times faster than did Electric Picnic in record time last week.

Yet they could not even sort out that mess. But what's this? Only 5pc blame the Government.

If the first signs of madness are in the air then with it too is a sense of proportion -and they say we have learned nothing…

The voters have decided, in ascending order, that the Croke Park residents, Garth Brooks himself and (joint first) Aiken Promotions and Dublin City Manager Owen Keegan are to blame.

So that is how it has panned out - no more than a margin of error between the lot of them.

The poll also contains straws in the wind as to how the next election will pan out, which voters seem to think will not be for another year, maybe not until its due date.

Only a third believe Joan Burton "should" pull out of Government if Labour fails to achieve a change of current government policy - down from half since her election.

Which means the Government must be doing something right. But if it thinks the love-in has resumed, it should think again.

Support for Fine Gael, at 25pc, is down, as if to say, reshuffle, what reshuffle?

And that man again, Alan Shatter has not gone away, and is still confused as to the cause of his forced resignation: it was a personality thing, Alan.

So much for the bright new start: half believe Enda Kenny should have promoted more women - but we all know they will not get too hung up on that one, either.

Nothing matters more than the 'art of living' - and therein lies the key to the next election.

Since the last poll, support for Fianna Fail has dropped a little, but is largely unchanged, still without momentum, with the backing of a fifth of voters. Ho Hum.

The buzz is still with Sinn Fein, which has taken the public sector vote from Labour and is taking the green vote from Fianna Fail.

At least public servants were - eventually - paid this bank holiday weekend.

In another life, the rate of unemployment continues to fall, as confirmed last week, but at too slow a rate facing into the next election.

The ESRI last week also predicted good growth next year, but that still feels a little too intangible, like another promise about to be broken.

In the first quarter of this year, there was over €1bn less sloshing around the economy, with so many hailstones falling from the sky.

The unremitting grimness of politics is also at play throughout a weakened Europe, from the Middle East to the Ukraine, from the false dawn of debt write-down to the circling of our corporation tax rate.

In such a febrile atmosphere, the "populists", as Angela Merkel calls them, continue to thrive.

Having shown their hand in the recent elections, the don't knows, undecided, those who sit and wait or have never bothered in the first place - at 31pc - are almost as high as ever.

The art of living is not to change the world, then - it is more difficult than that: you have to understand the world first, and there is comfort in a world that does not change.

In other words, too much talk of revolution is the best way to kill a revolution.

There is a sense the revolution is dying: 13pc feel better off than this time last year, up five points; 41pc worse off, down 23 points.

And this time next year, 18pc believe they will be better off, up seven points, and 33pc worse off, down 21pc.

That is the key. Both Enda Kenny and Joan Burton know what has to happen, more in hope than expectation - let loose those animal spirits or pay the price for a revolution that never was.

Sunday Independent

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