Backroom column in the SBP calls for – er… back room for Fine Gael – natch! November 10, 2011Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics.
Have to admit to enjoying the Backroom column in the Business Post this weekend.
It argues that:
Central to the rebuilding [of FG] was what [Enda Kenny] constantly described as the engine of the party – new resources for organisation, policy and press which would support the recovering TDs and senators and a more professional research assisted approach to developing the party’s messages. Essentially, he created the FG backroom.
As the party recovered its feet and succeeded in local and European elections the source of power in the party was clear. It lay with the leader, the party’s senior paid staff and a smaller number of parliamentarians. In the view of may, they backroom ruled and the formula worked, to a point. In 2007 it ran its best campaign in decades but the perceived strength of FF on the economy… denied Kenny the keys to government.
The 2007 election also brought in a new officer corps [now there’s a telling way of putting it - wbs] of articulate, competent and ambitious politicians – Varadkar, Hayes, Reilly, et al. The powerbase began to shift to senior spokesmen [sic].
Kenny’s vanquishing of the heave established his position, and the imminence of the general election created a short term fusion between the back room and the senior front bench members. Together they delivered an election victory…
It then argues that Fine Gael has suffered a decline in its fortunes since the election due to the fact that most of its former back room staff have been scattered to the winds, or the government departments, as special advisers and therefore this byproduct of success sees the party unable to join the dots and produce a coherent government narrative.
As a partial aside, Backroom goes further and argues, with something of a middle class whinge, that:
Labour is never shy about talking up its concern for the less well-off in society. When was the last time you heard a Fine Gael minister expressing concern for the middle-income people who pay their taxes and get no medical cards, no rent supplements and no hand outs in return?
Yeah, well. In a state where increases in incomes taxes are ruled out, actual effective policies to deal with mortgages anathema and the introduction of a comprehensive national health service apparently off the table I’ll pass on offering too much sympathy to those making that case. Because it’s all very well to talk about ‘middle-income people’ but do nothing at all to actually assist them because ones politics is avowedly non-interventionist. And to be honest the Sunday Business Post isn’t great on the issue of various reliefs and supports available to the middle and higher income earners, as evidenced by its support for private education, private pension relief, etcetera. Or rather it’s great for them, but not very keen on more equitable solutions.
As it happens it’s not that I entirely disagree in terms of the general political dynamic argued in the column [though the idea that the Labour Party of a Joan Burton who can far too glibly talk about ‘life-style’ choices in relation to unemployment during the worst recession in living memory is simply wedded to ‘talking up its concern for the less well-off in society’ is bleakly entertaining too]. Political parties need to have a reflective core. The Green Party got by with one researcher for much of its time in government and it’s fairly well known how thinly stretched its overall resources were by the very fact of government where advisors and others were pushed directly into the process of day to day governance or management of governance rather than an appreciation of the bigger picture. For the ULA – granted in opposition, not government – a not entirely dissimilar process has occurred due to the arrival in larger numbers in Dáil Éireann where activists have had to be pulled into Leinster House to support the TDs leaving the ranks beyond somewhat thinner than perhaps they should be during a crisis of the proportions now being faced. The Labour Party during the last Dáil had no economic research team or so I believe, and it is interesting to contemplate whether that situation has been rectified. Certainly that was a bizarre situation for a party that one would imagine would live or die in relation to economic matters.
And there’s more. There’s a difference between opposition and government. Policy research during the latter is different to that during the former. Presentation likewise. And the very nature of politics intrudes. As noted above the Presidental Election and Dublin West by-election might well be sui generis, but they happened and have a political impact. There are those who unkindly would argue that one of the officer corps was directly responsible in part for the mess Dublin West became for FG. There’s no policy formulation that could guard against the dynamics that led to the nomination of Gay Mitchell as Presidential candidate – and crucially a nomination that occurred over the heads of Enda Kenny and his own aides. In other words basic politics itself will push the boat this way and that. Which isn’t, needless to say that parties shouldn’t have backrooms. Again, there is a need for a centre. But let’s not get carried away with just what can be achieved.
Indeed there’s a very telling line in the piece which goes as follows:
How can you be on 36 per cent in the polls and have a Black Thursday?
While the piece notes that it was an electoral college in FG which nominated Mitchell, it ignores the broader political context. It is remarkable, and to some degree incredible, that FG remains on 36 per cent in the current economic and political climate. And that poll rating is unlikely to be sustained as Budgets are implemented.
But in truth most observers have tended to the view that Fine Gael, whatever the problems around the Presidential election, and indeed the Dublin West by-election, both of which are arguably sui-generis, has been actually having quite a good war so far, and perhaps better than Labour. So perhaps this particular column doth protest to much.
And that feeling grew as I read the following:
The question is who is looking after the party’s political agenda? Who is thinking about how the local elections will be fought and how the next general election can be won? Who is researching and developing a political message that ministers should be adopting as they govern?
If Fine Gael wants to win the next set of election it fights, it needs to go back to the formula that works – a strong back room which enjoys the confidence of the leaders and the party, and is trusted to produce the strategies that will deliver electoral success.
Sounds like a job application to me…