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Andrew Lynch: Bullish Biffo is back and he's not going down without a fight

Meet the new Brian Cowen. He is tough, articulate, sharp, decisive and even quite funny. In short, he's exactly the sort of Taoiseach we need.

So why has Biffo failed to produce this form until it's far too late to save his political bacon?

Although Cowen's public appearances have been gradually improving since the humiliation of the IMF/EU bailout a couple of weeks ago, nobody took much notice until now.

With the ink barely dry on the Budget, however, he has dramatically pushed his performance levels up another few notches.

His media interviews yesterday were some of the best he has ever given, leaving veteran broadcasters such as Miriam O'Callaghan and Sean O'Rourke stunned as he dealt smartly and crisply with every question.


This was more like the Brian Cowen who won the last General Election more or less single-handedly, taking the campaign by the scruff of the neck while Bertie Ahern was overwhelmed by tribunal woes.

He managed to assert his alpha male authority without being obnoxious, waving his hands around like Tony Blair in his heyday. Instead of the Incredible Sulk who's been leading the country for the last two and a half years, we saw a man who is passionate about being Taoiseach and will fight tooth and nail to keep that job.

Not surprisingly, this has left FF TDs in a desperately confused mood.

Just a few days ago, there was a clear expectation that Cowen would step aside over the Christmas holidays and allow someone else to lead the party into next year's General Election.

Now it looks as if he wants to take on that suicide mission after all, sending out a clear message of "Come and get me" to his internal critics.

To set the wheels in motion, the FF rebels need 18 TDs to sign a letter demanding a motion of no confidence.

The problem is that while most of their colleagues think they would do better under new management, they believe that a bloody leadership battle could make things even worse.

If there was an obvious alternative, the situation might be very different -- but instead, the party is badly split over the merits of Brian Lenihan, Micheal Martin and Mary Hanafin.

This raises the distinct possibility that if Cowen really wants to go down fighting at the hands of the electorate, he might just get his wish.

It is even conceivable he could do much better in that election than suggested by an opinion poll putting FF on 13pc.

If he lashes into the opposition in a television debate with Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore as effectively as he's done this week, it is easy to imagine plenty of disillusioned FF voters returning to the fold.

No amount of decent media performances can make up for the economic black hole that Cowen will leave behind.

He still cannot bring himself to apologise for the desperate mistakes he made as both Minister for Finance and Taoiseach, falling back on weasel words such as, "I am very sorry for the situation we find ourselves in."

No matter how hard he spins, he is still responsible for a society in which the St Vincent de Paul society finds children scavenging in bins while bailed-out AIB executives are awarded €40m in Christmas bonuses.

And even after his own pay cut, he still earns far more than the British prime minister.


Cowen's dwindling band of supporters defend him on the grounds that he's not interested in style over substance.

What they fail to appreciate is that in the modern media age, you need to have both.

The Taoiseach has spent the last couple of years responding to journalists in much the same way that Dracula responds to garlic, reaching his nadir in that infamous 'Garglegate' interview broadcast on Morning Ireland last September.

Brian Cowen has proved that when his back is to the wall, he can be a seriously impressive politician.

It's just a shame that he had to drag the whole country down with him before finally showing us his better side.