Thursday 21 February 2019

Fionnan Sheahan: 'Naked emperor' exposed as Gilmore's bluff is called

'A child, however, who had no important job and could only see things as his eyes showed them to him, went up to the carriage.

'The Emperor is naked,' he said."

-- Hans Christian Andersen's 'The Emperor's New Suit'

EAMON Gilmore's lack of a credible cabinet of policies is the modern day political equivalent of the vain emperor's folly.

The attraction of the Labour Party leader has been his ability to tap into the mood of anger among the electorate with a Government that is well past its sell-by date.

He talks about the need to focus on jobs and growth as the means to restore the economy and how the coalition's approach has been all wrong from the start.

He frequently calls for a General Election and talks about becoming Taoiseach, thereby breaking the hold of the Civil War parties on that office.

He offered hope when the present Taoiseach provoked only dismay and the performance of the alternative was uninspiring.

He managed to paint a picture of a road to recovery from the malaise of 13 years of Fianna Fail in power -- but without prescribing the hard medicine.

He singularly avoided getting his hands dirty by putting forward areas where hard spending cuts hitting public services and middle-income tax hikes would be necessary.

His lack of policy was pointed to frequently in certain quarters.

But his inexorable rise in popularity continued unabated.

And then 'Black Thursday' happened and the full extent of the €50bn banking bailout became apparent. With it, came the knock-on effects of over €3bn in cuts and taxes being required in December's Budget and the need to outline a four-year plan to reduce the deficit.

The European Commission and the international markets needed to be convinced of the veracity of the claims being put forward both by the Government and the opposition parties.

Woolly figures about savings to be made from "efficiencies" and vague numbers around "abolishing tax exemptions" would no longer cut the mustard.

Where previously a disaffected public was the only audience that needed to be persuaded, there were now altogether more critical analysts.

Genuine plans would have to be presented for appraisal with sums involved far in excess than the previous experience.

The Labour leader ought to have realised that, once his party had reached such unheard of heights in the polls, his platform would come under ever greater scrutiny.

Buoyed by his standing in the polls, Gilmore fails to recognise the political climate has changed. He still thinks he can get away with ruling out a range of high-spending areas for cuts, while claiming his party is taking the responsible approach.

Gilmore's bluff has been called and it's not going to get any easier for him over the next six weeks.

Of course there will still be a following for somebody proposing there's an easy way out of the present difficulties. When you've already been hit hard by the recession, through job loss, mounting bills and threats to your home, the last thing you want to hear is that there's more pain to come.

It's easier just to block it all out and go for whoever is offering the effortless option.

But it's just not that simple.

The run-in to the four-year plan and the Budget will separate the chaff from the wheat when it comes to those willing to stand up to face the economic crisis with honesty.

In contrast to Labour, Fine Gael appears to be getting its act together.

The attacks on Enda Kenny's leadership will never cease, particularly from within his own party, but the heave against him failed and the grassroots revolution hasn't materialised.

Kenny is poised to be the Fine Gael leader going in to the next General Election and those seeking to serve as ministers in his government recognise that.

Over the course of the weekend, the party's brightest and best came out in order, singing from the same hymn-sheet and making it clear Fine Gael won't be found wanting when it comes to setting out a package of measures.

The line-up of the Fine Gael economic team of Michael Noonan, Richard Bruton and Leo Varadkar brings a formidable mix of experience, integrity and exuberance.

The party knows the only way to get the debate away from its party leader is through the displays of those around him and setting out policy.

The full extent of its plan to reduce the deficit has yet to be seen, but at least the party is coming at it with the correct attitude of acknowledging the reality.

The extent of the party's bravery will be tested when it publishes its public sector reform proposals. It will be a test of character to see if Kenny's party truly does grasp the nettle of contract changes, redundancies and pensions in the sector.

And Fine Gael has finally copped on to the fact that Labour is as much of an enemy to them at the next General Election as Fianna Fail.

Ruairi Quinn's 'helpful' offer of a pairing arrangement for Tanaiste Mary Coughlan three weeks ago was a kick in Fine Gael's teeth when the party was already on the ground.

It proved to Fine Gael that Labour was no ally as Gilmore's party was happy to profit from its ill fortune and even sparked a rethink of tactics within Kenny's ranks.

Unless Fine Gael definitively wins the next General Election, securing an unquestionable mandate to lead, the party's wish to pursue a policy of fiscal rectitude to control public spending and reduce the budget deficit will be hampered once again in Government by Labour's opposition to reductions in public services.

History will repeat itself just as in the 1980s, but the public can't say it hasn't been warned.

Irish Independent

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