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Yes Minister? Well… actually no Minister, we’re not replacing Provisional Licenses just yet… October 28, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.
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So then. That lasted precisely three days. 72 hours if we want to be picky. A whole host of expensive Road Safety Authority advertising in the weekend newspapers burnt on the alter of political expediency since, as the Department of Transport notes:

From Tuesday next (30th October 2007) all new applicants for driving licences will be issued with a learner permit. The rules applying to a new applicants learner permit will stipulate that:

  • The holder must be accompanied by a driver who has had a full licence for at least two years;

  • The holder must have the permit for a minimum of 6 months of supervised practice before applying for a test.

From 30th June 2008 all provisional licence holders must be accompanied by a fully licenced driver of at least two years experience.

Well, that’s alright then. The status remains quo, so to speak. A system that has been allowed to develop that permits – indeed arguably encourages – widespread illegality is in place, at least until June 30th and after that? Well, my guess is another extension particularly if the waiting times to tests remain long enough (45 weeks in some centres) to make the 30th of June as aspirational a date for the completion of these processes as any other. I have a test sometime in the next 45 weeks so I’ll be back behind the steering wheel immediately. And maybe, if I’m lucky, I’ll actually pass it. But unlike most in this situation I don’t drive.

But, as an example of how not to do politics I think this matter is fascinating. I can’t help feeling that the Minister was very poorly advised. On a side note I was recently given a box set of Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister. To say that it had a certain familiarity would be to understate it. To suggest that it is timeless would be nearer the mark. The 1980s BBC production values in no way obscure the cynical (perhaps to my mind overly cynical) view of public service and representation. And the concerns – because they deal with the minutiae of government and the broad strokes of policy – remain relevant. First episode of Yes Prime Minister (a series I missed because I was having an appropriately miserable time in college in the mid-1980s) sees Prime Minister Jim Hacker wrestling with Trident and a civil service implacably opposed to any suggestion of doing away with it.
Trident… Provisional Licenses. Well, not quite the same are they? But where were the Sir Humphrey’s to whisper softly that the course of action engaged over the past week was…’unwise’ ? Eamon O Cuiv was sent out on RTÉ at lunchtime yesterday to defend the indefensible and received a roasting from Pat Rabbitte (clearly back on form now that he is no longer leader of the Labour Party) and Lucinda Creighton. And all this was utterly predictable. I’m a bit taken aback by the ferocity of public reaction, but not by that reaction. But I’m not paid to foresee these sort of things. Others are, and didn’t.

And also, as mentioned before, as an example of a political issue that reaches straight to the general public it could hardly be bettered. Consider other mass outcries in the recent past… there were issues relating to child protection which led to marches outside Leinster House, the Iraq War which saw the largest marches ever on the streets of Dublin (funny that – eh – considering our own little war up the road never quite saw the same mobilisation) and numerous other campaigns of greater or lesser degrees of public support. Or consider the media uproar about gang land crime.

Then take another look at the response from the public over the past 72 hours.

Yet as Eagle suggested in the comments:

…although it seems illogical, this is far more important an issue than the state of health system because deep down most people at least acknowledge that there’s no easy answer to those issues. That’s not the case here. This is so simple, the right answer so obvious, that it really illustrates incompetence in a way that the bigger political issues cannot.

That’s a crucial point. The sense that this was government by diktat was central to the protests against this change in the law. Safety is a huge issue, but… and this is often unspoken, there are trade-offs here as in every area of life. The case presented – in the context of safety – was simply not strong enough to overwhelm the sense of anger by those affected and those who know those affected. And it is anger and frustration that has been expressed.

Intriguing then to read the Sunday Business Post RedC poll taken prior to the weekend which saw Fianna Fáil broadly retaining support at 39%, Fine Gael consolidating support at 27% and the Green Party remaining on 7%. A very disappointing loss of support for Labour (in light of the change at the top) and Sinn Féin would appear to have brought back a couple of percentage points that probably went across to Fianna Fáil during the election. Too late… too late… Would that it had been taken a couple of days later. Fascinating to see how the next poll reads. But… this indicates that generally speaking there is a general acceptance of this government, that the Tribunals have had little or no effect upon political standing. And perhaps Fianna Fáil will take heart from the details and hope that the three point turn we just saw will mollify the electorate. But I don’t know. There is an exemplary effect to such things which can lead to the attrition of political credibility, and the beauty of this is that it goes well beyond partisan considerations.

Add to that the annoyance over the wage increases for the upper echelons of our political class – incidentally, had to laugh at the idea that somehow the White House or Chequers should be seen as part of the bonus ‘package’ of the US Presidency or the UK Premiership which our own put upon senior political representative is somehow denied. Proportion is all. A wage increase of €38,000 is simply too big at a point when those receiving same are also calling for wage restraint.

I’m not suggesting that this is a mortal blow to the government. Far far from it. With four and a half years to go it looks firmly cemented to power. But I’d be surprised if it had no effect at all, if it didn’t even tangentially add to a sense that perhaps the administration is getting a little ‘old’. That is important because it might just impel others to take another look at party image and wonder is it nearing time for a new broom and that the smack of firm government is rarely valued if it is neither firm nor logical.

A quick thought, has anyone done any sort of calculation on just how well equipped driving schools are to take up the increased demand of drivers keen to be ready for the 28th of June? 

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Comments»

1. Garibaldy - October 28, 2007

You could see this as an example of bad government and politics. Or the ability to see which way the wind is blowing, and change asap. Pure FF at its most effective I’d say.

On the changes in government. I think Bertie will have to go before the next election (though he’d probably win it). I suspect once FF has gone 32 county might be a suitable time. What a legacy. Peace in NI, a successful economy, and FF into the fourth green field. And say two years for a presidential campaign, coining it in on the after dinner circuit at the same time. If not some international position.

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2. WorldbyStorm - October 28, 2007

God, yes. I’d forgotten how he might be cued up for the Presidential. Ah sure, why not cut to the chase and just make him President for Life now.

As to the license issue, what really interests me about this is not the issue itself which is easily remedied as you suggest, and perhaps we as leftists should be much more forensic about it, is how to seriously mobilise political support in contemporary society. Errors/misreadings of public mood like this can whip up enormous emotion/anger. It reminds me in some ways of the poll tax in the UK (although that took much longer to go critical but when it did it was pervasive), or the anti-war feeling since 2003 in the UK which essentially shaped the political narrative for three years and only now is fading as the players leave the stage. Over on p.ie which has had an odd, but also fascinating, role in all this there are some noting the sheer volume of threads on the driving issue as against Susie Long and the health service. Demographics, sure, but… worth examining very very closely indeed.

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3. Garibaldy - October 28, 2007

You’re totally right about the need to get onto things like this. Water and bin charges have been successful, but what’s that – like two in a decade?

I’d like to think that the anti-war thing shaped politics in Britain since 2003, but to be honest I just don’t believe that. I doubt even 5% of the electorate changed its vote for that reason, though I may be wrong.

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4. WorldbyStorm - October 28, 2007

It certainly scuppered Blairs political credibility over the long haul. But that took time to sink in and of course Labour won the election….

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5. Garibaldy - October 29, 2007

I’m not sure it did among the people who counted – the wavering middle classes who can vote tory or labour – as much as people like to think. And internally it was Brown’s as much as Blair’s government. So I’m not sure any the change means anything. But yeah, it was a slow acting corrosive on his position.

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6. WorldbyStorm - October 29, 2007

Yes, it is odd in way how the anti-war vote didn’t mobilise in quite the way anticipated. Having said that I think it did assist the Liberal Democrats quite a bit by solidifying their vote in a way that might not have happened otherwise.

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7. Martin Cassidy - October 29, 2007

How hard is it to do a hill start, reverse park and three point turn?

That’s all there is to it!

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8. Yes Minister? Well… actually no Minister, we’re not replacing Provisional Licenses just yet… - October 29, 2007

[...] WorldbyStorm Made a great post today on cedarlounge.wordpress.comRead this summary: [...]

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9. WorldbyStorm - October 29, 2007

Martin, as someone who tried and failed back in 2005 it’s a bit more than that. Oddly enough both my hill start, reverse around a corner and three point turn were perfect. Twas the bits in between that were less excellent. Not awful, just not great. Was I dangerous on a road? No. Was I good enough to pass. No. Just in the gray area in between…

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