Saturday 21 September 2019

Willie O'Dea: 'They're the masters of spin, but sometimes less would be more'

Fine Gael should remember that displays of spontaneity work better when they're spontaneous, writes Willie O'Dea

Spun out: Minister of single digit numbers Eoghan Murphy
Spun out: Minister of single digit numbers Eoghan Murphy

If you urgently need to know what Fine Gael ministers think of pineapple as a pizza topping, or if they would "rather fight 100 duck-sized horses or one horse-size duck" then I strongly urge you to type Fine Gael ministers minute into Google video search and look for the results on the site.

What you will find is a modern-day re-enactment of the Emperor's new suit - but in the guise of a Fine Gael promotional video, taken from their recent Ard Fheis.

While the intention may have been to show the lighter, funnier side of the Fine Gael Cabinet team to the party faithful, the result is cringe- making. Billed as Fine Gael's Ministers Minute, the video opens with a series of shots of each minister standing with their back to the camera. Beside them a multi-coloured spinning disc.

Whether the spinning disc is a Freudian representation of the centrality of spin to Fine Gael's metaphysical political existence, or simply an attempt to hypnotise the audience into immediately forgetting what is to come, is unclear - but either way it plays a key part in the unfolding drama.

As the camera zooms in, each of the ministers takes it in turn to swing around and smile into the lens as if to say: "Oh, hello! And I had no clue that there was a camera there at all."

Though I have now watched it several times, I still have no idea as to why they each do this.

Was it a guessing game? Name that minister from behind? I think it's Michael Creed… oh no, I was wrong….

Anyway, most of the ministers manage the task of turning and smiling, without toppling over, like complete pros.

All those professional "turning around and smiling" classes and workshops clearly paid off.

Indeed, some ministers managing to extemporise a bit with Ministers Creed and Bruton each throwing in an additional thumbs up.

But the Olivier award (or should that perhaps be an Oliver J award), unquestionably goes to Justice Minister, Charlie Flanagan who jumps the shark by giving the crowd his celebrated Fonzie impression, complete with double thumbs up - though sans the "hey!" and slicked-back hairdo. It's an image that, once seen, can never be forgotten.

Introductions complete, we move to the Spin the Wheel/Mastermind stage. To be fair, given the multi-coloured design of wheel they are spinning, it is more like Trivial Pursuit - with a very strong emphasis on the trivial.

Unlike the old RTE Quicksilver quiz show, whose production values it echoes, it starts with the hard ones first.

First up is: "How many times has Ireland won the Eurovision?" Only Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy, showing his complete mastery of single digit numbers, gets the answer right (it was seven, by the way). This should come as no surprise as he rarely has reason to deal with bigger numbers in his department, unless it is increases in homelessness.

The next question is my personal favourite. They are then asked; what item of cutlery did Varadkar famously place in a dishwasher in 2017? I do like the use of the adverb "famously", though I would suggest that "pretentiously" "ostentatiously" or even "egotistically" might be more accurate.

Most of the ministers do get it right (it's a spoon) though it does take Josepha Madigan three goes to get there. The most innovative answer as to which item of cutlery it was, comes from Michael Ring, who thought it was a cup.

As Larry Gogan would have said: the questions didn't suit you, Michael. (Though maybe Larry would have charitably edited out some answers, if he had the option.)

I could go on, but nothing I could write here could do justice to the full horror of seeing the video for yourself. As I said, you'll find it on the website.

I am not trying to be po-faced about this. Though politics is a serious business, most politicians have a lighter side and should be open to sending themselves up.

It is okay for politicians to come across as normal and even self-deprecating. There is nothing wrong with it - even when it does occasionally go wrong - but the thing about spontaneous displays of spontaneity, is that they should be spontaneous.

There is nothing as unfunny as forced funniness.

It is Fine Gael's problem that it employs a comms person who thought dragooning 10 cabinet ministers to do a silly mock quiz show was a good idea, but it is our problem that not one of those 10 had the cop-on to ask: is this really wise? Is this something we should be doing?

The real problem with the video is that it looks precisely like what it is.

It is a group of ministers who have neither the gumption nor the bottle to challenge the spin masters who tell them what to say or do, nor the supremo who ordered his ministers to do this while staying far away from it, himself.

Sunday Independent

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