David Quinn: FF trying to be socially liberal but ends up as Father Trendy
Fianna Fail these days resembles nothing so much as a ship becalmed at sea. The great German writer and poet Goethe had some verse which perfectly describes its present plight: "Deepest silence rules the waters,/ Not a motion stirs the sea,/ And the sailor views the glassy/ Surface so uneasily./ Not a breeze from any quarter,/ Dreadful silence, still as death./ In the vast, appalling distance/ Not a ripple shows itself."
Nor is there likely to be a breeze or ripple for months or even years to come. The best Fianna Fail can hope for is that, as sections of the public begin to turn against this Government because of the unpopular decisions it must inevitably make, it will begin to capture some of its former support.
Meanwhile, the ship's captain, Micheal Martin, and his much-diminished crew are doing their best to tack this way and that in the hope of catching a fair wind.
Will they catch such a wind by presenting themselves as the party of fiscal probity? Short answer: no. Fianna Fail lost whatever chance it had of being the party of fiscal probity when it bought Election '07 by engaging in the most obscene auction politics with the other main parties.
The fact that Fine Gael and Labour also engaged in auction politics at the time is not held against them because they didn't suffer the vast misfortune of winning that election.
So given the almost infinitesimal chance of it successfully presenting itself as the party of fiscal probity for the foreseeable future, what else might it do to attract the attention of voters? For the time being, Fianna Fail appears to have settled on a strategy of presenting itself as a socially 'progressive' party. This fits with Micheal Martin's slightly prissy image. After all, this is the man who never stops boasting about how he introduced the ban on smoking.
A few weeks ago, for example, when Phil Hogan announced he would reduce State funding to any political party that didn't ensure at least 30pc of its candidates in future elections were women, all Martin could do was announce he'd have done the same thing given a chance.
It never occurred to him to criticise the principle of a government using state funds to blackmail the other parties into adopting a particular policy. What policy might be forced on them in the future now that the main parties are so heavily dependent on state funding and the principle of using state funding for blackmail purposes has been conceded? But 'The Irish Times' likes gender quotas, so why should Micheal Martin care?
Meanwhile, in its submission to the forum on the future of Catholic and other denominational primary schools, Fianna Fail could have come down strongly in favour of parental choice, but opted to be a sort of INTO-lite.
Instead of endorsing denominational schools for those who want them, like the INTO it wants so-called 'community' schools where all children are taught together. Apparently this would foster social cohesion, but at the expense of genuine parental choice.
Well, France and the US have 'community' schools to beat the band but no one would call either of those countries models of social cohesion. France, for example, has ever-deepening racial divisions.
Then, just this week, Charlie McConalogue tabled a private member's bill aimed at making it easier to adopt the children of married couples in certain circumstances.
The bill is worthy enough in itself, but is chiefly aimed at making Fianna Fail, rather than the Government, look like the party of 'children's rights'.
Again, it wouldn't occur to Fianna Fail to table a genuinely imaginative bill that would secure the right of children produced by egg and/or sperm donation to know their biological parents.
Permitting anonymous sperm or egg donation is at least as bad as the past practice of changing the birth certs of adopted children to erase the identity of their biological mothers.
Fianna Fail must know its attempt to rebrand itself as a 'socially progressive' party won't succeed. Even if it does succeed, it won't attract any voters because that sort of voter already has the Labour Party, among others, to vote for.
Also, further inflation by Fianna Fail of an already enormous socially liberal bubble is about the last thing this country needs.
What should it do instead? It would be nice to think it might become an intelligently conservative party, roughly along the lines of David Cameron's Conservative Party, but with an Irish flavour, and which would seek to deflate that bubble. Martin said when he was elected that he would challenge the consensus. But under him there is no chance whatever of Fianna Fail challenging the current liberal consensus.
The result is that Michael Martin's Fianna Fail is becoming the political equivalent of Fr Trendy frantically strumming his guitar in the hope of attracting the 'youth'.
It won't work. It is a strategy doomed to total failure.