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How Micheal managed to mess it up

THE vote's not until tomorrow, but Brian Cowen has already outwitted challenger Micheal Martin by convincing him not to quit Cabinet.

Critics have always argued that Martin is not strong on decision-making, while Cowen's at his best with his back to the wall.

And indeed it was the Offaly man who came out fighting while the rebel was barely limbering up.

They say that to be in politics, and more importantly to be a party leader, you need to have a bad streak, a high level of self-importance and nerves of steel.


A general description of Micheal Martin is more likely to include phrases like clean-living.

Even before the Taoiseach's announcement of a secret ballot, word was seeping around Dublin's Alexandra Hotel that Martin would come out "with all guns blazing" if Cowen decided to stay on.

In the event, Martin arrived with an air rifle. He huffed and puffed but could not blow the Taoiseach over.

"This is not an old-style heave," said Martin, explaining why he wasn't stepping down as Foreign Affairs Minister.

He described as "alarming" the lack of a campaign strategy for the election and said morale in the party was "very low".

Martin might not be the teacher's pet any more but he "never threatened to resign".

And as a result it was his own capability of becoming leader of the party that came under fire.

The idea that you can declare no confidence in your boss, the Taoiseach, and then continue to take orders from him is seen as an untenable position.

Effectively Martin was saying 'I can do this job better than you' -- but squirmed away when Cowen told him to obey orders.

Defending his own CV, the Minister cited the smoking ban as his finest achievement and one that had been copied all over the world.

He argued that he has continually fought against vested interests to introduce new laws and reforms across ministries.

And he said that morale in the party was "very low".

"I would add value to the party into the future," he said.

In a well-worked PR exercise yesterday, Brian Cowen came out flanked by Tanaiste Mary Coughlan and Government Chief Whip John Curran.

Before the Taoiseach entered the room it was announced that he would be speaking for around 15 minutes before taking questions.

Ears pricked at the idea that Mr Cowen had so much to say when really he had only one question to answer.

His speech didn't take quite that long but the message was clear: Back me or sack me.

There would be no walking the plank, no jumping ship and certainly no row back.

The captain of the Fianna Fail ship was going down with it.

As he spoke Mr Cowen knew that his rebel Minister was preparing a script of his own, which would later unfold at the Burlington Hotel.

Mr Cowen also appears to have split his detractors with Brian Lenihan last night saying that he would do nothing to bring down the Taoiseach.

It was Lenihan's backbench supporters who had been most vocal in condemning Cowen's leadership in recent days.

But the Minister himself claims he helped advise the Taoiseach on his current course of action.

Micheal Martin consulted with Mary Hanafin before he went public with his move.

But the feeling is that Cowen may have pulled his career back from the brink -- for now.

He said he was "confident" that he would have the numbers.

Micheal Martin said: "This was never about numbers as far as I was concerned."

Martin said that the "very survival" of the party was at stake. Cowen said he was "putting the country first".

Who to believe? That is now the question for the FF faithful.

The reality is that its TDs are probably going to end up backing a losing horse either way.