Saturday 7 December 2019

Coalition risks broken heart in seducing coping class

The Government must be wary of the middle class Venus flytrap, writes John Drennan

Health Minister Dr James Reilly. Photo: Collins
Health Minister Dr James Reilly. Photo: Collins

John Drennan

AS FINE Gael and Labour continue to struggle in the polls, reality is slowly dawning upon these political equivalents of distressed property holders.

Labour initially, and now Fine Gael, have belatedly recognised that they are going to have to learn to fall in love with the coping classes again. Or to put it more accurately, they are going to have to convince the squeezed middle that, despite all of the castor oil they have been doling out, the Coalition nurses really do love our increasingly fretful electoral children.

The problem, alas, is that the Grumpy Old Men now realise all too clearly that seducing our coping classes is fraught with danger.

It is all very different when you are in Opposition for at that point, the woes and concerns of our beleaguered coping class mass are like a beautiful waving flower.

If the eyes are not dazzled by the garish colours, then our politicians are entranced by the scents that emanate from the squeezed middle when it is aroused.

Experience, of course, should teach our politicians that such an aroused 'coping class' should be approached with great caution.

Instead, they are entranced by the singing siren of the vast numbers of the struggling middle and not even the fate of the many other failed political mariners can deter our political classes from dancing with this creature.

The desire to mate means they lose their natural caution and start making all sorts of extravagant promises in an attempt to seduce the siren.

Logic says our politicians would do far better were they to approach the squeezed middle with the caution reserved for a particularly elaborate form of Venus flytrap.

But, be it in 1977 or in the Haughey era, the age of Bertie, or Labour's, concerns about how "every little hurts", our lot cannot refrain from racing enthusiastically over until it is too late to escape and the jaws of the squeezed middle clamp down decisively on the hopeful politicians.

As they free-fall down the polls, the failure of the Coalition to live up to the promises it once used to seduce the political monster means that this electoral group is clamping down particularly harshly on Dear Leader Enda and the Invisible Tanaiste.

It has gotten personal between the squeezed middle, Enda and Eamon.

Now that the initial shock of unpopularity has worn off, the Coalition is trying to seduce the Venus Flytrap into loosening its grip via a new variety of promises.

After a long lacuna, Gilmore and Kenny are beginning again to talk the talk about the woes of middle class mum, the evils of high taxes and the absence of disposable income.

The new attitude is very welcome but unfortunately there is one small problem dogging the Government's desire to engage in a somewhat more civilised relationship with the 'coping classes'.

The Coalition may be using its tongue as prettily as it can but the necessary fiscal changes it must do to protect its core commitment to no new taxes on work, allied to the prolonged outworking of the troika deal, means it increasingly appears to be engaged in an ongoing war with the very middle class it is attempting to seduce.

You are in trouble indeed when the tactics you must employ on the battlefield conflict with your strategic imperatives, but, that is precisely the unfortunate place in which the Grumpy Old Men have found themselves.

The Cabinet may complain bitterly about Alan Shatter and the trouble that presumptuous former minister landed them in.

This, however is a mere fracas when compared to the war that is yet to escalate when middle Ireland learns the full truth over the latest variation of the politics of the three-card trick where the promise that the average water charge cost would be €240, though true, is not quite as true as it appears to be.

When they discover all those exemptions negotiated by Labour mean the final cost for middle Ireland for water will be closer to €500, we are sure they will find some way to show their appreciation – to Labour in particular.

As Cabinet ministers belatedly confess, a year after Michael D came to this conclusion, that Ireland has reached the limits of austerity, some of the Coalition's troubles are of course of their own making.

This is epitomised by the scenario where citizens without disposable income now fear they are supposed to find thousands of euro to fund

James Reilly's universal health insurance debacle.

We understand it is very difficult for a Cabinet of multi-millionaires and lifer politicians – if there is any difference between the two – who are waited on hand and foot to cultivate the dour virtue of empathy with the class of humble citizen.

But, if the Coalition genuinely believes middle Ireland can indulge in the squander-mania of more than a thousand euro a head to fund a UHI-style castle in the sky, which has more than a ring of the Bertie-bowl surrounding it, it is in trouble indeed.

In that regard, the mood of the squeezed middle has not at all been improved by their belief, insofar as they read any manifesto, that what the Coalition was promising was that private insurance would be replaced by a new State insurance scheme where they wouldn't have to pay for anything.

The current scenario where they are instead expected to compulsorily pay more for less is not at all attractive.

And the Government's further plans for compulsory (that word again!) health insurance for those in the 20 to 30 age bracket – the cost of which again will be subsidised by the squeezed middle – hasn't exactly got them rolling in the aisles either.

The alienation is not just confined to economics for, increasingly, we appear to be ruled by a Coalition of scolds that get far too much pleasure of putting manners on the 'unruly Irish'.

In fairness to FG, nothing epitomises the status of that propensity as part of its DNA more than the collapsed budget of 1981 where outside of the tax on children's shoes, John Bruton put a tax on foreign holidays lest the lower orders get too much of a taste for the finer things in life.


Unfortunately, like its predecessors, a Government that is far too anxious to reform us far too thoroughly is racing towards a similar fate.

For now, in the eyes of these scolds, we poor coping classes eat too much, smoke too much, don't cycle enough, work too little, holiday too often and sleep too much for the happiness of our masters.

But, whether Fine Gael or Labour likes it or not, the Irish are not the Germans.

We instead are easy-going Mediterranean types who are not overly keen on Valley of the Squinting Windows-style counsels of perfection.

And we are growing much less attracted to a Government which thinks our sole purpose is to be sharecroppers to the banks and to serve the public image of the Dear Leader by becoming "the best small country in the world to do business in" so Enda Kenny can smirk and be praised in Google.

Outside of John Bruton and the shoes, the most classic example of the dangers of an empathy deficit is provided by Marie Antoinette.

In fairness though, the doomed French Queen at least suggested that the peasants should be allowed to eat cake.

In contrast, this lot would slap a fat tax on it.

As Ireland's coping class muses ever more grimly over the ongoing devastation of its disposable income and the delights of being lectured by a Coalition who appear to have gone to empathy school on the knee of Nurse Ratchet, the Government, if the latest polls are to be believed, are on the verge of suffering a similar fate to Marie Antoinette.

Ironically, the Venus flytrap of the Irish squeezed middle are suffering their own difficulties for whilst they may not at all like the taste of that which is clamped between their teeth, the coping classes are finding it is extraordinarily hard to spit out the Grumpy Old Men.

The bad news for the Coalition, though, is that they generally find a way.

Sunday Independent

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