As election looms the more things change the more they stay the same

Editorial comment

At his party's Ard Fheis last week, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar set out an ambitious plan for the future, the future of Fine Gael that is.

In a speech that hearkened back the notorious give-away budgets of Fianna Fáil in the Ahern era, Mr Varadkar promised that - if voters see fit to return Fine Gael to power - middle income earners will see their Income Tax bills slashed by up to €3,000 over five years.

The 'squeezed middle' as it has become known - that generation still being hammered by negative equity and the hangover from the age of austerity - are seen as key to winning the next General Election.

Mr Varadkar's Income Tax pledge was squarely aimed at this constituency and it is one of the most blatant pieces of auction politics we have seen since the boom days presided over by Bertie Ahern and his spendthrift administrations.

Several eagle-eyed media observers also noticed another striking similarity between last week's Fine Gael extravaganza and previous Fianna Fáil blow-outs.

As Mr Varadkar announced his planned budget splurge to win over the middle class, he did so in front of the party's latest slogan: 'Fine Gael - Taking Ireland Forward Together'.

If that sounds a little familiar, it should.

Back in 2007 one of Fianna Fáil's main slogans at that year's General Election, the party's last under Bertie Ahern, was 'Fianna Fáil - Together lets take the next steps forward'.

At that election Ahern's party took 42 per cent of the vote and clearly the Fine Gael advertising team were impressed by what they saw, both in terms of the slogan and their opponent's free spending electoral philosophy.

As the confidence and supply negotiations rumble on, both Mr Varadkar and Fianna Fáil leader Michael Martin are jockeying for position as they try to find an excuse to pull the plug on the current Dáil.

No one knows exactly when the election will take place but now that the Government has gotten its chequebook out and played what could be its best hand, it looks like the FG/FF 'phoney war' is entering its endgame.

Of course, as is almost always the case with political promises, the devil is in the detail.

Just a day after Mr Varadkar revealed his plan to slash Income Taxes, it emerged that PAYE workers are set lose the tax deductions on flat rate expenses for work related costs.

This could results in losses ranging from about €100 to €750 a year for workers across numerous sectors, including some of Ireland's lowest paid.

'What God giveth God taketh away' as the old saying goes.

The opposition parties will surely be keen to hammer this point home and - along with Ireland's unsustainable dependence on Corporation Tax - it's sure to be key to any debate on Leo's give-away.

Ten years after the madness of the boom and the devastation of the crash it's really starting to feel like we're right back where we started.