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The Fianna Fáil mudguard on the Green Party? or how else to explain how almost 1 in 10 of us support the Green Party (apparently)… November 28, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Election 2007, Irish Politics.
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It took me a while to realise there was something very odd about the latest RedC poll in the Sunday Business Post. Sure, Fianna Fáil has dipped precipitously. Well, after the month they’ve had one would think they’d better be down, at least a bit. Provisional Licences, pay increases, the latest noises from the Tribunal and sundry other issues have conspired to make life difficult for the government, but it is… and this is becoming a cliche, very early days yet.

It would be foolish not to see calculation in all this. Fianna Fáil must have made a strategic decision to front load the bad news in order to remove it from the electoral cycle early. Sensible. Having said that bad news has a habit of running away with itself. I suspect that they didn’t quite envisage the perfect storm that has engulfed them. And they’re beginning to look – rather like Gordon Brown across the water – unlucky. Perhaps not quite as unlucky as the seemingly hapless Brown and UK Labour (after all, to lose a Party General Secretary isn’t just misfortune, it’s downright idiocy), but unlucky nonetheless. The current mutterings amongst FF deputies as regards the vote of confidence in Mary Harney is indicative of that. I don’t expect any to break ranks – although the temptation must be strong, since the perception is of a rock solid coalition – but who knows?

And then there was Finian McGrath’s entertaining solo run at the weekend. Will he or won’t he vote with the government. Again, my money is on him voting with. Still, Finian must be a man torn. After all, the heady days of May and June certainly didn’t seem to presage this… the unpleasant nitty gritty of serious political conflict and choices. And whatever about other parties an independent is… well, just that. Independent. And while answerable ultimately only to themselves on one level, there’s a whole world of pain out there in the form of disappointed or enraged constituents and covetous political rivals. Which leads to another thought. Just what is the status of the agreement between the Independents and the government. Are they similar to contracts? And if so how does that work if one side or the other decides to withdraw? And that leads to another thought again. In the past ‘deals’ by Independents were a bit like political alchemy, the sort of thing that turned base politics to electoral gold. The “Gregory Deal” remains the standard. Tony Gregory leveraged himself and his supporters into the political stratosphere by engaging with Charlie Haughey. That ‘deal’ did have clear outcomes. But so has this one, and perhaps less palatable ones for Independents (note too the way Michael Lowry is remaining schtum). Gregory had, of course, one great advantage. The government with which he ‘dealt’ fell shortly afterwards. So, he picked up the cheque with none of the pain of standing over the less palatable aspects of it. Perhaps this is one set of deals which in the long term will seem to have been a trifle too limited, and too costly in political terms. Who will in 2012 dare speak of the McGrath deal in hushed tones? Who indeed?

Meanwhile Fine Gael must be clapping themselves on the back. 31%. Remarkable. Except it’s not really. That’s actually not quite good enough. After the last two weeks the best they can do is claw back 4%? That doesn’t quite look like a party in waiting. But I’ve been very struck by just how slipshod their presentation (and ignoring the chorus of disdain from their latest overly loud recruits in the Dáil) seems. My favourite example? Seeing Enda Kenny (hair uncharacteristically askew) speaking on RTÉ at the weekend flanked by four party worthies. Suddenly halfway through Olivia Mitchell snuck into frame behind. A display the likes of which I hadn’t seen since the sort of elbowing last seen during the release of the Shell to Sea prisoners… never a great advertisement for politicians.

As for Labour. Well, one would have hoped that they’d get 3% simply off the back of their party conference. It’s not great either. Gilmore is an improvement. I’d wager that he’d get 3% simply off the back of his being someone other than one P. Rabbitte. But they’ll need to do consistently better.

And parsing the rest of the figures the PDs are becalmed, or more probably sunk, on 2%, Sinn Féin sits at about 7% (1% down as it happens, but that’s neither here nor there) and the Independents are also slightly down on 7%.

Two thoughts on that. Everyone appears to be here to stay, with the possible exception of the PDs (and rumours abound, but precious little hard data as to their future). All have nice large chunks of support that will tide them through the next four years. The media spin that SF is bound to disappear is simply that… spin. So for the more strategic perhaps it’s time to consider the ramifications of their presence as a force in five years time, with perhaps six or seven TDs if they play their cards right.

But let’s turn once more to the Greens who in yet another gravity defying feat managed to increase their share from 7% to 9%? How on earth is this being achieved? I genuinely don’t understand it. If I’m puzzled, and I’ll bet many GP members are too, then the incomprehension down at Government buildings must be a sight to behold. Because after all, this surely wasn’t part of the plan in June of this year. Wasn’t the idea that the Greens would soak up criticism of the government with their middle class whinging over the environment and their zany carbon taxes? By contrast Ahern et al would appear statesmanlike and sensible for deigning to invite the loons into the tent and half-listening to their pronouncements. Even better, issues such as incinerators and the M3 could be expedited as judiciously as possible while the Greens would take the heat and the rap.

Odd isn’t it that that is far from the way it’s worked out? I can’t help thinking that this is one instance where FF have been too clever by half. Great to dump those issues on the laps of Ryan and Gormley, to the genuine discomfiture of the new Ministers. But wait! It seems that to a very real degree almost no-one is that pushed about those issues. Some planners must wonder why they didn’t just route the road across the hill, for all the upset it’s actually causing. Shannon might as well play host to legions of US troops for all the interest that has evoked. And while the incinerator has real political potential as a problem for one GP TD in particular, well, hey, if anything there seems to be some sympathy developing abroad as regards the way in which the GP was left holding those particular parcels. And the near-tedious reiteration by Ahern that Gormley couldn’t exercise any powers over the issues doesn’t make Gormley look bad – after all the current narrative that the electorate seems to be buying into is that ‘the poor man is simply doing his best, and fair dues to him for going up against the shrewdest and most cunning of them all’ – it just makes Ahern and FF appear somewhat duplicitous. Add to that the continual Green mantra of ‘we’re here to save the whole world, don’t blame us if some bits of it get mislaid in the process’ which continues to have an enduring power.

I’ve suggested before that that latter message might get old. It surely will in time. But, there’s two aspects to front-loading issues. If I were the GP I’d get the incinerator out of the way pronto (although this will be a serious problem for the Minister in 2012). In fact I’d clear the decks of all the post-dated FF decisions. And then… settle down, exercise the power they can and hope that all things being equal they’ll make it to the finish line.

And what a line. A 9% rating. Now that’s a base to build on, after all, there’s a whole heap of former floating and PD voters, broadly middle class, suspicious of but not pathological about Fianna Fáil and so forth, who might well like an edge to their politics. Save the planet as well? Why that’ll do nicely.

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1. Pidge - November 28, 2007

You’re quite right about GP members being puzzled. I was working on Sunday and bumped into several people from the local party branch. When I pointed out the SBP to them, there was the same, slightly disturbed look on all their faces.

It’s strange, not least because I’m not exactly delighted about entering government, so I don’t get why so many other people seem to be.

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2. Eagle - November 28, 2007

Let me say that just be jettisoning Patricia McKenna the Greens went way up in my estimation.

They’ve been proving that they’re a practical political party and not just a collection of perpetual whining campaigners.

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3. soubresauts - November 28, 2007

WbS, if you watched the way the Green Party changed its spots over the last ten months, you wouldn’t be so surprised. It has become very similar to FF/PD, the main difference being that the Greens are a little bit more able and more committed on the issue of global warming.

The Greens may keep rising in the polls, but so what? They don’t stand for Green principles anymore; they don’t pursue Green policies anymore (with a few obvious exceptions).

Corporate donations? The Greens haven’t figured out a neat way to do an about-turn on that, but it seems to be only a matter of time.

I do wonder what is going on in the minds of the Greens, many of whom I used to know well. A partial explanation is provided by Howth councillor David Healy (www.davidhealy.com), a politician for whom I had great admiration. Right after the Greens voted for the Programme for Government, he wrote:

“I voted against… In conscience there is no way I could support a programme for government which will see a continuation of military use of Shannon Airport.
“But even if I were to ignore my conscience, and the victims of war, the deal struck is a terrible one. No key Green demand has been met…”
(www.davidhealy.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=243&Itemid=35)

However, this month he wrote:

“I have taken a job as a policy adviser to John Gormley, Minister for the Environment. Despite my criticisms of the agreement to go into government, I accept the decision of the majority in the Party. And I do acknowledge the major opportunities which now exist to move sustainability to the core of the political process.”
(www.davidhealy.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=247&Itemid=35)

So that’s alright then.

Of course the Greens have now left a significant gap in the political spectrum — for a party that is honest, will not tolerate corruption, follows its principles, raises awareness about all issues, respects all people as well as the planet, is serious about fairness and justice, and so forth.

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4. WorldbyStorm - November 28, 2007

An interesting range of reactions. Certainly for those involved this is clearly quite an emotive issue. The David Healy thing struck me as interesting. But above and beyond that what intrigues me is the process… how have the Greens defied political gravity, and perhaps its not dissimilar to the Australian Labor Party. Promise nothing that can’t be delivered. Underplay expectations.

Cynical or genius? Or both?

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5. Eagle - November 28, 2007

They’ve simply done a good job of shaking that “nutters” image. I know from a ‘left’ perspective this might not seem so obvious, but I honestly think that the greens were never perceived as government material.

I think it’s down to everything that John Gormley and Trevor Sargent hoped for when they agreed to swallow their misgivings and take a chance on government with FF.

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6. soubresauts - November 29, 2007

Eagle, in what way did the Greens “jettison” Patricia McKenna?

Can you see clear differences between the Green Party and Fianna Fáil now?

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7. WorldbyStorm - November 29, 2007

Dan Boyle has, for one, made it clear that the Greens are enterprise friendly… interesting times…

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8. Wednesday - November 29, 2007

Keep in mind that the Greens’ increase is within the margin of error. Also I wouldn’t be surprised if they did lose some support – but made it up elsewhere with FF supporters slightly peeved with their own party but not willing to make too big of a leap.

As for Finian I don’t think he was torn at all. He was never not going to vote with the Government.

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9. WorldbyStorm - November 29, 2007

That’s a fair point too. The only thing is that the trend does appear to be upwards with the same polling company. Early days though…

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10. Eagle - November 29, 2007

Eagle, in what way did the Greens “jettison” Patricia McKenna?

Maybe my wording isn’t right, but nowadays I know she’s unhappy with the leadership and is, as I far as I can tell, outside the party. Maybe she left them, but either way the Green Party is no longer represented by her. She always struck me as the most extreme of their public representatives.

Can you see clear differences between the Green Party and Fianna Fáil now?

Yes, but sure they’re murky right now. This is what happens with coalition government. To my mind, FF is moving towards a more “Green” agenda, but I guess to someone from the left all you see is how far the Greens seem to have shifted. They’re the minor party in the coalition, so their shifts will be have to be greater.

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11. Eagle - November 29, 2007

WBS

I don’t hear much from Dan Boyle, but I have to admit that he appeals more than John Gormley based on the little I know.

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12. WorldbyStorm - November 29, 2007

I’ve had enormous respect for Dan Boyle. I’m not sure that he’s a leftist, but he’s a good guy.

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13. soubresauts - November 30, 2007

I think everyone likes Dan… I haven’t been paying much attention to economic matters recently, but I wonder if anything is happening on the Guaranteed Basic Income front, one of Dan’s areas of expertise. That has always been a cornerstone of the Greens’ economic policy.

The only other prominent Irish organization that is identified with GBI (as far as I know) is the Conference of Religious of Ireland (CORI), and I seem to recall a meeting between CORI’s Fr Sean Healy and Fianna Fáil people not too long ago. I wonder if the Greens and FF might actually begin to see eye to eye on some significant changes to the taxation and social welfare systems…

I’m sure the meaning of “socialism” has been discussed at some length on this website, but if there is a clear, commonly understood meaning, does it not fit very well with GBI?

Incidentally WbS, another name identified with GBI was Andre Gorz, and I thought you would have marked his passing in September with an article or something.

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14. WorldbyStorm - November 30, 2007

I’m a big fan of GBI… soubresauts, I should have written something, but I didn’t know he died.

I’ll rectify that pronto… and indeed if you want to write a piece on it that’d be very welcome and we’ll post it up…

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15. Eagle - November 30, 2007

I’m not as averse to the GBI concept as maybe I should be? I guess it depends on how high the GBI is set.

If I understand it right, it would eliminate all disincentives to working unlike our current welfare and benefits system. True?

It might be costly, but it seems a lot more just to simply say “This is what all need to live on, but everything else will require your effort”.

I’d also welcome a switch to taxing property over labor. Labor & capital are mobile and can find better opportunities elsewhere, but property is rooted here and therefore the only element of production that we can tax as much as we like without fear of it moving elsewhere.

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16. soubresauts - November 30, 2007

That’s a good little summary, Eagle. Eliminating (most of) the current welfare and benefits system would save a lot of money, as well as grief and frustration.

The Greens used to make an effort at costing the whole thing but in recent years I think everybody leaves that to CORI who have done a great job.

WbS, I never actually read Gorz very much (you’re the expert!). I was influenced indirectly by him. In the early days of the Irish Greens (first the Ecology Party, then the Green Alliance) there were a few people who knew the whole thing inside out and I learned at their feet. There were so many other things to read… Illich (especially), and all the early environmentalist (EF Schumacher, etc.), anti-nuke, pacifist people, and so on. Come to think of it, there was campaigning to be done as well.

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17. WorldbyStorm - November 30, 2007

I find it interesting that many on the centre and right find GBI reasonable enough as a proposition. Of course, that might be tactical… ;)

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18. Garibaldy - November 30, 2007

Dunno. Even the Yanks have a minimum wage.

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19. Eagle - November 30, 2007

Combine GBI with a flat tax and I think I’d be be right on side.

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20. Eagle - November 30, 2007

I should add that I’d expect a MUCH REDUCED civil service if we had a flat tax and GBI. Everything would be much simpler. Would make our elected TDs’ lives much easier too. Maybe they could take a tax cut.

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21. WorldbyStorm - November 30, 2007

You get closer then you recede Eagle… :) Still, I’m no statist, or at least not much of one, so perhaps we could settle for a beefed up civic society?

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22. Loose Cannon - December 5, 2007

Prior to the last election Green support looked like 7% but that proved to be a chimera as the punters who were canvassed proved to be lying FF supporters after all.
Plenty of Greens are grinding their teeth at the Tara / Incinerator situation but recognise that realpolitik is the only game to play at present. David Healy would be a good example – it will be a gain if he can effect a change of mindset within the department as in the long term it will be a gain if the civil servants wake up to the issues facing us and start drafting more sustainable policies…

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23. ejh - December 6, 2007

should add that I’d expect a MUCH REDUCED civil service if we had a flat tax and GBI. Everything would be much simpler.

Beware of anybody who ever claims there’s a simple solution that would make things much simpler. It’s only simpler because they’re seeing only what they want to see. Which is simple, all right, but not in the sense they mean.

(In the given instance, by the way, flat taxes are not simpler because, among a host of other reasons, it’s not calculating the percentages that’s the problem. It’s calculating the income, which would become no easier.)

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