The Lisbon campaign falters ever onwards. May 27, 2008Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.
Reading the information in the Irish Times yesterday about the campaign I’m struck by how sharp the comments of the Taoiseach and Minister for Finance are about Fine Gael.
In a comment believed to be mainly aimed at Fine Gael, he said he wanted to see the same level of support for the treaty in other parties who have “the same vocation to the European idea as we have”. Mr Cowen was speaking after newly-released poll results yesterday showed Fine Gael voters evenly divided between the Yes and No side, while an absolute majority of Fianna Fáil voters were supporting the treaty.
Now the poll results are interesting, not least because they point to the undecideds breaking to the No side in greater numbers than to the Yes side.
A poll on the treaty in the Sunday Business Post yesterday showed the Yes vote at 41 per cent, up three points, the No vote at 33, up five, and the don’t knows down eight points at 26 per cent.
Cowen, et al, must be desperately hoping that such figures don’t translate into a loss in two weeks. That said, my rudimentary grasp of maths seems to indicate that the Yes side would still just shade it on the day.
But interesting is it not the division within Fine Gael between Yes and No. How very unusual for a party that has hitherto seen itself not merely as a bastion of europhilia, but indeed the bastion of same. And the possible answer?
Why step forward Deputy Leo Varadkar, never far from the thoughts of the CLR when they turn to Fine Gael.
For in his response we see perhaps something of the dynamic which would lead to such a split.
…enterprise, trade and employment spokesman Leo Varadkar accused Fianna Fáil of having prepared a “cowardly” strategy of blaming the main Opposition party in the event of a referendum defeat. “It is very obvious that in the event of a referendum defeat, Fianna Fáil’s cowardly PR strategy will be to blame Fine Gael. They are putting out this ‘spin’ for a few weeks now.
Well, that’s fine, and there must be more than one person, myself included, who had precisely the same thought when I read Cowen’s comments. Whether cowardly, or astute, no doubt the electorate will judge. It certainly plays well in terms of maintaining party unity. But it is his next comment which is in a sense the giveaway.
“A lot of our supporters are voting No because they are angry with the conceit and arrogance of the Taoiseach and the Government.”
Hmmm… a spin on the spin – to protect Fine Gael should the event lead to wailing and gnashing of teeth in the wake of a referendum lost? Or the mask slipping just a little to reveal the entirely genuine visceral loathing of nuFine Gael for Fianna Fáil and the sense that this is as good a time as any to give them a lash. Because there is something just a little risible about discussing the conceit and arrogance of Cowen – whatever the truth of the matter – when he has been in power hardly a wet weekend. Nor, and this is crucial, is there any effort to call back those supporters voting No… odd, one might think. Or perhaps not.
Another thought strikes. Is Libertas providing some cover for right of centre voters who either are fed up with Europe, antagonistic to its interventionist ways or once more willing to get the boot into the government? The Progressive Democrats may have gone, but their demographic remains, and may not be entirely comfortable with no place to go but Fianna Fáil. And does the example of Nice 1 and 2 give them some grounds for – well, perhaps not optimism, but the sense that they’ll be given the opportunity to be sure to be sure.
And what of the prodigal sons and daughters of the left? No, not Labour, who Cowen was distinctly soft on in his comments, but rather the Green Party.
Quite a turn around for those of us who have followed such things to hear the following from Eamon Ryan,
We are utterly dependent on our fellow EU member states for energy security,” he told The Irish Times . “Ninety per cent of our gas comes from other EU countries.”
Stressing the need to ensure a supply of gas, oil and electricity for Ireland’s basic needs, he said: “We have no ability to provide such security for our people in the absence of co-operation from Europe.”
Or what of this, which I actually agree with, but nonetheless…
His experience at EU level showed that “it is the only progressive forum in which the issues of energy security and climate change are being tackled”.
Hows about John Gormley who has decided that:
“A key reason for my decision to support the Lisbon Treaty is that it takes important steps towards remedying [being a top-down organisation]. These include more direct lawmaking powers for the European Parliament and more supervisory powers for the Dáil and other national parliaments,” he said.
Still, this is hardly a surprise. We’ve seen another generation of politicians on the left move towards such positions from a stance of total antipathy – and a big hi to the usual suspects… Indeed many moons ago I worked on research for DL on aspects of the EU (or was it the EC? So many acronyms, so little time), where I amongst others was charged with ferreting out the most noxious aspects of a certain area of European policy in order to bolster the anti side. As it happened I had to report back that all things considered – and to my genuine surprise – there wasn’t much that would be of actual concern. Ireland was sufficiently protected from opt-outs and suchlike that it had no tangible effect upon us (of course that this was true of that specific material provides no guarantee that subsequent material would be the same). The news was received, shall we say, with a certain lack of enthusiasm. And curiously policy statements on same didn’t alter until later when suddenly all things EC (or was EU?) were suddenly okay. Granted, that might have been a different party by then, and I was long gone from it, but that sort of thing stays with a young(ish) lad – as I was then – and makes him a tad cynical about the centrality of the issue to political discourse, and let me hasten to add on every side of the equation.
Now I could comfort myself with the thought that that crop of politicians were uniquely susceptible to the flesh-pots of Brussels, but somehow I don’t think so.
And while I’m not quite implying that it was chosen for political USP by all concerned on left right and centre, I would suggest that the passions it inflames are transitory even amongst the staunchest defenders and greatest critics. After all, even that other great supranational entity the United Nations is hardly beloved of the world. Simply put it’s hard to have any great affection for large political projects. They’re kind of dull, and having waded through more than my share of European legislation, draft legislation, documents and such like for a fair chunk of the 1990s it’s no surprise to see how easy it is to project onto them more or less whatever hopes or fears one might wish to.
So the supposedly ardent Europhiles of FG can wobble more than a little when push comes to shove, while the supposedly agnostic FF, or even as we saw from the noises emanating from the purportedly critical SF during the last election (and got to love the charge by an FF TD about them being the most anti-EU party of the last forty years. Hmmm… I was a member of two supposedly more convinced anti-EU parties across a decade and I wonder how many of their members feel that same antagonism – precious few it seems), can offer the odd kind word, or put their shoulders to the wheel when necessary.
Indeed I’m willing to place good money on another generation or two of Irish politicians following suit.
Two weeks to go? Ten years might give us a better idea on how all this will play out.