Thursday 21 November 2019

Taoiseach has blown his one 'Big Decision'

Fine Gael and Labour's carefully woven narrative of stability vs chaos unravels as the coalition parties squabble over election date, writes Jody Corcoran

At loggerheads: Michael Noonan wants a November poll, but Joan Burton is adamant that the election must wait until next year
At loggerheads: Michael Noonan wants a November poll, but Joan Burton is adamant that the election must wait until next year
Jody Corcoran

Jody Corcoran

The 31st Dail is stumbling to the finishing line in rancour and bitterness, the Coalition's narrative - stability versus chaos - its politics of fear agenda, elect us or else, is in tatters this weekend.

At the Cabinet table, Fine Gael and Labour are fighting like cats and dogs.

Labour blame Fine Gael for attempting to ditch them at the altar; Fine Gael blame Labour for not having the re-election numbers.

And they both blame each other for spinning like spinning tops. In that regard, at least, both are correct.

What about? The Budget, the election - everything. You name it, they're spinning it. Nerves are frayed, but all you really know is that the whole thing is ending in farce.

Enda Kenny may still try to put the cat back in the bag this weekend. He is said to be mulling over an attempt to end the farce and declare on TV that the election will be next year, not next month - but will still try to leave his options open.

That may be seen for what it is: Labour have belled the cat, for now. The Taoiseach's 'Big Decision' - to call an election - has been thwarted by the Tanaiste.

But Kenny is still likely to go to the country in November if the opinion polls tell him the Budget has gone down well.

So expect fear and loathing between now and then, whenever the Taoiseach is allowed to finally make up his mind.

At times like this, you get to see the truth.

And this is the truth - Fine Gael have given up on Labour. We said it months ago. The hamfisted manner in which Kenny has made his election indecision illuminates it.

And Labour no longer trust Fine Gael; worse, they resent their Coalition partner for having played them for mugs, banked the credit for recovery and then attempted to call the election at a time which best suits… Fine Gael.

This is the so-called Coalition of Stability which has negotiated a supposed vote-transfer pact?

Here is another truth: that vote-transfer pact, if it actually sticks, will end at 10pm on the night of the General Election, whenever the Tanaiste decides that may be. You couldn't make this up.

After that, it is every party for itself, and within that, it is every man and woman for themselves.

The next Coalition could just as easily be Fianna Fail, Sinn Fein and Labour; or it could be Fine Gael and Sinn Fein, or any other combination of chaos you may choose. From now on, Fine Gael and Labour are together for the sake of the children.

And when will the election be held? In November, if Enda has his way. He was convinced by Michael Noonan, the Finance Minister who has come to believe his own publicity.

Michael doesn't read opinion polls. He goes to the ploughing championships and looks into his soul. November, he told Enda - they love us out there. And Enda said: "right so." Maybe.

The thing is Noonan is half right. The country is ready for an election. The country actually wants an election now, not later. The Coalition will lose, but Fine Gael will win, or lose less badly.

Joan Burton still thinks the dog days of winter are a better time to go to the polls. The public sector will have its pay restored; people will have money in their pockets and all of the rest of it, which misses the point.

Labour are calling this wrongly. In their minds, voters have already spent the Budget return. Christmas is coming and the geese are getting fat. The current mood is buoyant. By February, voters will be paying off the excess of the season.

But Labour look to opinion polls past. Last year, they say, the Coalition got a bounce after the Budget. In fact, it did not. That was the year before, when the Troika left. Fine Gael came in on 30pc, Labour on 12pc in December 2013. Since then, it has been all downhill.

Fact is, the 'stability versus chaos' theory officially came to an end, not this week or last, but on December 15, 2013, the day the Troika left.

Since then, the Coalition has stumbled from shambles to crisis, while in between, the economy has slowly recovered after seven years of austerity. You name it: the criminal justice system - a mess; the health service - a scandal; housing - a joke; Irish Water - beyond parody.

So the Coalition must now trade on a single transferable narrative: the economy, stupid. But to do that, it must prey on the fears of people.

Fail to elect us and the country will go to hell in a handcart. Simple, but not necessarily true, unless Sinn Fein and the far Left manage to form a Government between them, which is unlikely.

All of this reminds us of Gordon Brown in the UK in 2007.

Brown could have held an election within a few weeks of the premiership handover by Tony Blair.

Many of his sidekicks had lobbied hard for a 'snap election' and cash-strapped Labour blew a million pounds on preparations.

Having struggled in the opinion polls at the end of the Blair years, Labour 'bo-unced' with the arrival of Brown. He was new, after all.

But his refusal to go to the country in late 2007 allowed the Conservatives to call him "bottler Brown." The rest is history.

So what will they call Enda Kenny? If he caves, Indecisive Enda, maybe; if he pushes ahead with the election in November, the titular head of Coalition for Instability?

Either way, he has blown the one big decision he had to make.

Sunday Independent

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