As to the Coalition… August 30, 2012Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics, The Left.
Pat Leahy has some interesting thoughts about the Government in the SBP, having written an ‘Enda term report’ – ahem. But it’s not a bad exercise in terms of weighing up how from within the orthodoxy (broadly speaking) the government is perceived.
• The government is making steady progress towards the bigger goals, though it faces some significant short-term problems which will require tough politics.
• Some of those problems are of its own making.
• It is nowhere near as reformist as it pretended to be.
• It is – like many other small European countries – at the mercy of events in the eurozone that it has little or no power to influence.
• Its successes in Europe and in addressing the fiscal challenges (albeit following the Fianna Fáil/troika roadmap) mean that it has a realistic chance of ultimate success: emerging from the programme with a growing economy.
Forget, if one can, points one and two. One of the most striking features of this government has been an unnecessary ineptness. That’s odd given that they had a masterclass in the shape of the Cowen government as to what not to do. But it’s a reality. Hogan’s uneasy tenure at Environment et al is only part of it. Health is looking like no picnic either and there are mutterings from points various, including Burton’s bailiwick. All told that’s pretty shambolic. But those short term problems – the property tax, etc included have significant potential to generate political attrition. It’s no small achievement to put forward a policy that sees (largely) passive resistance on the part of hundreds of thousands of citizens. It certainly suggests an significant disconnect between what the Government might like to do and what is actually feasible. It will, almost certainly, be eventually dealt with, perhaps by adding the current charge onto future property taxes and parking that, but its short to medium term outcomes – all largely avoidable – are something else.
I would hazard a guess that his fourth point is the most important, that ‘it is at the mercy of events in the eurozone’. It is striking, is it not, how the Governments fortunes in terms of banking debt improved – albeit so far only rhetorically, as Leahy notes the deal is by no means done yet – in the wake of events in Greece and the Hollande election. Neither of those were anywhere within the reach of the Irish government. Each could have, and still could, go a different way. It is this reality that makes the bellicose language used in the run up to the last election still the yardstick against which the outcomes will be measured, because that language promised so much more to those who listened to it. Indeed one could argue that it is events beyond the eurozone which will be crucial. Global economic problems will cut the already remarkably rosy expectations of growth which the government (and others) have made. That being the case…
Indeed, contextualised like that, and one can see that everything else is essentially minimal. Reformist? How significant is that really? And in relation to what? Public sector reform? Political reform? Economic reform? We hear much less of the last than the first two. And the Government is tellingly hesitant about all three. It’s probably a good bet that a lot of what we’ve been promised (or threatened with, depending upon viewpoint) will not come to pass in this Dáil term. And perhaps that’s no bad thing either. A crisis is not necessarily the best time to make into an opportunity, not least because attention may be misdirected.
Then there’s his last point, the ‘realistic chance of ultimate success: emerging from the programme with a growing economy’. Well, perhaps, but if you read Richard Curran in the same edition – referenced here - talking about mortgage arrears figures (now creeping up to 1 in 4 mortgages – and more on this soon) you’d be forgiven for not being filled with optimism. Curran rightly notes that we’re facing into another Budget (and he mentions the one after that, and one can mention the one after that again). Of course the other aspect of that is that ‘the realistic chance of ultimate success’ means the prospect of reelection for one or both of the Government parties.
For Fine Gael I would have thought that even as matters stand today that is probably more likely than not. But for Labour? Well, I guess that should FG need to make up numbers a much diminished LP will do the trick. Though what good that is to the LP is an useful question and one given the mutterings amongst the troops something their leadership might want to think about long and hard.
And his conclusion?
Some trends have emerged in the first half of the year which are likely to be more pronounced in the rest of the year.
One is Labour’s need to assert its own identity in the administration, which will be partly done through social policy changes like abortion legislation and gay marriage which are deeply discomfiting for the Fine Gael base.
The other is the transition to ‘normal’ politics. By normal politics, government insiders say they expect the administration to become unpopular and its poll numbers to dip. With no end to austerity in sight, they’re probably right about that.
I’ve already pointed out that social policy changes are unlikely to be enough for the LP base, whatever it may be at this stage – and arguably not enough for a tranche of their members. And whether when it comes to any future election that will work with the electorate any better than, say the rather substantial achievements in the wake of the 1990s Rainbow coalition remains to be seen.
But isn’t his point about ‘normal’ politics somewhat at odds with his thoughts of ‘chance of ultimate success’? Or is it that the impact upon party support of austerity will somehow melt away in the face of growth three years down the line? I can’t be alone in thinking that that’s more hope than expectation.
There’s one other thought that strikes me. Perhaps I’m wrong, but all this suggests that far from any element of the Government seeking to cut and run anytime soon, the dynamics at play here will lock them fairly tightly into prolonging the life of the Coalition. The election has to be held in 2016 at the latest, though one might wonder if they’d be entirely keen to go quite that far given the interesting coincidence of dates and the potential outworking of that on other parties votes. But with a Budget this year, one next and so on, and each containing – for some time to come deflationary measures in greater or lesser degree – how long can they afford to wait for a) signs that growth is starting again and b) that it is sufficiently evident to ensure a fair wind behind them at a subsequent election?