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The lonely passion of the Irish Times… for Richard Bruton. November 16, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Uncategorized.
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There’s something a bit unlovely about the current enthusiasm for Richard Bruton at the Irish Times. Those of you who missed the front page of the paper yesterday are probably in blissful ignorance that Stephen Collins wrote:

A MAJORITY of people believe that the deputy leader of Fine Gael, Richard Bruton, would make a better leader than Enda Kenny in the current economic downturn, according to the latest Irish Times/ TNS mrbi poll.

And continued:

When asked which of the two Fine Gael senior figures would be a better leader in this economic downturn 46 per cent opted for Richard Bruton, while 28 per cent said Enda Kenny and 26 per cent had no opinion.

Among Fine Gael voters opinion was evenly split with 46 per cent for each man. Among the supporters of other parties, Sinn Féin voters were the most positive about Mr Kenny, while Fianna Fáil voters were the most negative.

Mr Kenny was most popular in Dublin but there was no significant difference in his rating across the regional divide. In age terms the Fine Gael leader was strongest among 35- to 49-year-olds and in class terms he was strongest among lower-income DE voters.

By contrast, Mr Bruton was strongest among the better-off AB voters where he had a rating of 50 per cent. In age terms he was the clear favourite among the over-65s where he attracted 67 per cent support.

Mr Kenny got marginally more support from women than from men but Mr Bruton was significantly more popular with men. Women and working-class DE voters provided his lowest ratings

Perhaps it’s my imagination but note the concentration on Bruton’s polling amongst AB voters. Yes. That has to be important. To the Irish Times at least.

Anyhow, as it happens I have some respect for Bruton having seen him in the early 1980s actually have the courage of his convictions to face a meeting in Finglas with his own peculiar spin on what would later be known as neo-liberalism. Didn’t, and don’t, agree with him mind, but he took the word to the people.

But look, isn’t there something a tad unseemly about this casting around by the IT for someone to give their heart to? For the editorial is only trotting after it…

IT IS impossible to ignore Enda Kenny’s consistently poor showing in the opinion polls. Fine Gael’s recent and spectacular resurgence at the expense of Fianna Fáil, because of the economic recession and the Government’s uncertain responses, has been accompanied by a slow decline in its leader’s public satisfaction rating. This dichotomy has to be a worrying trend for party supporters and Oireachtas members as they prepare for a general election and the prospect of forming a government.

And also…

Mr Kenny has done a good job in rebuilding Fine Gael, following its extremely poor showing in the 2002 general election. But he has failed to inspire confidence in his capabilities in the wider electorate.

Respondents in the latest Irish Times /TNS mrbi opinion poll took the view that finance spokesman Richard Bruton, rather than Mr Kenny, would make a better leader in the current economic downturn. An eighteen point margin of support dividing the two men was emphatic although, within Fine Gael, backing for the two men was evenly balanced. Mr Kenny held an advantage with the youngest group of voters. But he trailed the deputy leader by a margin of four-to-one among the over-65’s. Perhaps more importantly, Mr Bruton was more highly rated among supporters of possible coalition partners, Labour and the Green Party.

Hmmm…. I’m dubious about that last bit there. One of the big – perhaps insurmountable – problems facing the opposition, and Labour in particular, is that they’ve fairly comprehensively turned their face to the current strictures introduced in the Budget. Unfortunately I have little doubt but that if they want to they’ll find a way back, but it might mean that dealing with more overtly right inclined FG politicians should a coalition become a serious possibility may be more difficult, and that consequently might make Bruton’s future career a little less exalted than the IT might like to propose.

Still, spare a thought for Cowen, now given the following brush off by the IT…

Public opinion is fickle. In the 1980s, Charles Haughey consistently under-performed Fianna Fáil in terms of public popularity and yet was elected taoiseach. And while Garret FitzGerald was personally popular, that did not always transfer to Fine Gael. What is consistent is the public’s demand for strong leadership.

Meanwhile, talking of Garret FitzGerald he made an interesting point in the paper yesterday when he noted about the PDs that:

The last thing we needed during the past decade was a party which, on the one hand, increased the burden of current spending and, on the other, advocated that taxation be reduced to the kind of level that has now pushed us into a crisis.

It’s a good piece, not least because it points up the vacuity of any analyses which talk about the ‘courage’ of the PDs. They were in government essentially during the good times when the only courage they had to exercise was getting across the plinth at Leinster House to their cars on a rainy day without getting wet. And when they did try to exercise some muscle, as with Harney’s near ludicrous attack on single mothers in 1997 and McDowell’s disturbingly excessive rhetoric during the last administration they demonstrated that they were politically tone-deaf.

FitzGerald also notes that:

The tax policies adopted by these FF/PD governments between 1997 and 2006 reduced the proportion of tax revenue derived from income tax from 37 per cent to 27 per cent of GNP. I believe that no modern western European state can be run properly with such a very low level of income taxation.

I think he’s right, although his emphasis appears to be more on standard rates rather than the higher one.

Curiously the Collins front page piece is no longer under Irish news – one has to exercise the search function to find it. Perhaps it’s just a little too strong in it’s push for Bruton.

Mind you, talk about unintended consequence. I’ll bet there’s some wailing and gnashing of teeth amongst certain parties at the Irish Times (again that’d by Stephen Collins) at the news that the public expects Mary Harney to do the decent thing when (not should as the poll has it) the PDs expire – 63% of it no less. It would take a heart of stone not to smile at the outcome of all the portentious rhetoric in the media about how the PDs had no future and how they should thrown in the towel has led to the prospect of her departure. I’ll bet that wasn’t part of the plan. And an ignominious exit for her whatever way one cuts it.

Comments»

1. Eagle - November 16, 2008

Funny. I can’t remember the last time I agreed with the Irish Times on anything, but I’ve already written that I’d like to see Bruton take over the reins from Kenny. If that’s now the Irish Times’s line, then maybe I should reconsider.

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2. Eagle - November 16, 2008

I should add that despite the fact that I probably fit the bill as backing a ‘neo-liberal’ line (hard to figure how I can be both neo-con and neo-lib, but that’s the case, right?) I never liked the PD’s. I’d love to imagine a party more to my liking will rise in their place, but that seems unlikely right now. Maybe Declan Ganley will oblige me?

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3. WorldbyStorm - November 16, 2008

Do you think Libertas would fit your bill though?

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4. Craig - November 16, 2008

Richard Bruton strikes me as a bit of a windbag (don’t much like John B. either) and I can’t help thinking of Charlie McCreevy when I see him on TV.

I don’t think FG-Labour being in power would have made any difference between 1997 and now, and I don’t think the seemingly inevitable FG victory at the next election is something to get excited about… the normal FG tactic is to oppose everything FF does, but you just know that they would be largely the same in power.

As for Ganley, I think his political ambitions are limited to the Euro elections… for now.

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5. Garibaldy - November 16, 2008

Can’t see FG winning even the largest number of seats at the next election, but you never know. I wouldn’t be surprised if they came in slightly behind FF, but no-one wanting to share power with FF.

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6. crocodile - November 16, 2008

Richard Bruton has an air of competence and self-assurance that Enda kenny would love to have and that many of the voters in this poll would find attractive. If they have been listening to Bruton’s pronouncements on financial and fiscal matters, they’ll know that he believes strongly in cutting of public services – particularly in limiting the public service wage bill – as a solution to current problems.
I think that the IT’s beloved A & B readers are probably in two minds – believing there’s a need to cut public spending while wanting to spare health and education, of which they are big consumers. Fine Gael under any leader will find it hard to persuade the Irish ‘middle classes’ ( there aren’t enough inverted commas in the world to do justice to that phrase) to accept such cuts. Is there no chance that they would listen to a politician who explained the need for higher income/property taxes in order to preserve services?
Or is that the most naive question ever asked on this site?

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7. WorldbyStorm - November 16, 2008

I don’t think so. To me it’s the most logical question so far.

Craig, I think you’re right re Ganley. But what seat(s)? I can’t think of any he has a snowball’s chance of getting.

G, the largest number of seats… Jesus wept.

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8. WorldbyStorm - November 16, 2008

Actually just thinking about it I can think of one party that would, more or less under any circumstances share power with FF, and it ain’t the former PDs.

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9. crocodile - November 16, 2008

Garret FitzGerald was a Fine Gael Taoiseach at a time I remember only too well – and I was never his greatest fan – but he’s playing a blinder in Saturday ITs recently, the only political/economic commentator to point out, repeatedly, that what we have is not an expenditure problem but a revenue problem.
Come back social democracy, all is forgiven.
Come to think of it, can anyone think of a Fine Gaeler that could be described as a social democrat, these days?

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10. Garibaldy - November 16, 2008

Are you sure WBS there aren’t two parties, or even actually three if FF will have them?

Crocodile,

Hard to find social democrats anywhere these days.

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11. Eagle - November 16, 2008

Crocodile

Whenever you have a revenue problem by definition you have an expenditure problem. There are no other sources of revenue available to us, therefore expenditure has to be cut. When revenues were soaring we allowed expenditures to soar too. Now those sources of revenue are gone, so …

This is part of the problem of being in a currency that we have little influence over and that is valued according to economies that we don’t really match in terms of cycle, etc. Too much credit, too low interest & exchange rates that fed the bubble and now that it’s burst we have budget limits that must be adhered to. Our government and central bank KNEW this was the case, but they lived for today and treated tomorrow as if it would never come. It’s come.

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12. Eagle - November 16, 2008

Croc,

Your description of R. Bruton is exactly right and why I think he’d be better than Kenny.

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13. WorldbyStorm - November 16, 2008

Very true crocodile.

Although I take your point G. Which links back to crocodiles about FG.

I was amused to see GFG say in the same article that he could never be in a economically right wing party like the PDs… hmmmm….

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14. Eagle - November 16, 2008

WBS,

I don’t know about Ganley. I mean, I’ve heard him speak a few times on the radio and read his comments about the EU in newspapers, but I don’t know what his full agenda might be. I like the little I know, but he’s very much an unknown to me. I know a lot more of what others infer about him than I do actually know about him.

I should also say that he doesn’t strike me as a political leader. He could be a powerful behind the scenes guy, but I don’t think he has the personality or patience to build a new political party or movement.

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15. WorldbyStorm - November 16, 2008

Eagle, in a way what you say is correct, but it really depends on how one regards expenditure and revenue. And also the nature of taxation as regards influencing the latter. So it’s really a problem with three elements (or many more, but you see my point).

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16. Eagle - November 17, 2008

WBS,

Yes, true, but raising income taxes only goes so far before it becomes self-defeating and leads to a fall in revenues as it disincentivizes (new word?) working harder/longer and/or hiring more people. And we haven’t even seen the big fall in income tax that’s coming.

Are there other taxes – other than income – that I’m missing that could be raised to meet the current shortfall (or even approach it)?

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17. Garibaldy - November 17, 2008

What usually happens is the government’s raise indirect taxes is it not? I expect that to happen in the south shortly.

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18. WorldbyStorm - November 17, 2008

Eagle, I hear the tread of a Laffer curve approaching! 🙂

But as noted by smiffy to me each tax is different in its impact, even the same tax applied to different groups so I think there’s a fair bit of space to play around with such things…

G, indirect taxes here are already pretty high, and aren’t they particularly iniquitous, well, taxes on consumption of staples are…

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19. ejh - November 17, 2008

On the Recent Comments list, the thread title appears as The lonely passion of the Iris. There’s something sad and moving about that.

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20. Eagle - November 17, 2008

WBS

Yes, you know it! That’s exactly where I was heading.:-)

And, I don’t disagree with smiffy. I never really believe economics is science at all. The same action in nearly identical circumstances can produce wildly different results. It sure as heck ain’t physics.

Still, what taxes can be raised that will come anywhere near closing our budget gap? And, as I said, I don’t think we’ve actually grasped how far the revenues will be down. I think the government’s forecast was wildly optimistic. And, slapping an additional 15% on the “high earners” might feel good, but it won’t accomplish much.

And the much maligned corporate tax rate is totally misunderstood. The Irish profits of many multinational operations are inflated through transfer pricing gimmicks & intellectual property slight of hand so that they can take advantage of the 12.5% rate. (This & this are a few years old, but still essentially true.) Through these arrangements come billions in taxes that are (it seems clear) really owed elsewhere.

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21. Crocodile - November 17, 2008

It suits some people very well to say that only spending cuts can contribute to narrowing the gap between tax income and outgoings. Off the top of my head, a couple of points:
A carbon tax will have to be introduced in the near future anyway. Now is the time to take advantage of any fall in oil prices by introducing it.
We were told that the higher rate of income tax was reduced ‘because we could afford it’. Now, like the universal medical card, we can’t afford it any more, so shouldn’t that decision be reversed?
Most people who are employed by the state are prepared, even anxious, to contribute. What would go a long way to reassuring them is a guarantee that when things improve the status quo ante will be restored. Many public employees fear, with justification, that the targetting of the cuts was largely a matter of civil service vendettas. Teachers would feel much better about a pay freeze, for example, if the restoration of the pupil/teacher ratio, when public finances reach a certain level, was tied in to a binding agreement.
A blanket ban on the hiring of new consultants and advisors, and a cut in those already there, would do little harm: most of these consultants are either being rewarded for party affiliations, or provide an expensive way of getting work done without having to recruit permanent, pensionable staff.

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22. WorldbyStorm - November 17, 2008

Eagle, adding to Crocodiles points, surely borrowing is where this comes in. And let’s think about it a few moments. I keep hearing that capital/infrastructural projects are legit for borrowing. Grand, I’ve no problem there. But how about an economy facing meltdown? Why is that not a legitimate area for investment.

And can I echo Crocodile, there are many of us, and those working in the public sector too who would be more than wiling to put the shoulder to the wheel. Reading Cliff Taylor in yesterday’s SBP I was struck by how much of what he said about the public sector I agreed with (while disagreeing with many other bits he wrote). I know I keep saying it, pay increases and incremental pay increases should cease for the next year. I’ll try to write a post about it.

I also think your idea Crocodile about a linkage between what measures are taken now and future improvements is an excellent one. But who apart from you is articulating it. That would be a left position that I think would gather some support – particularly if linked into a serious engagement with the other areas such as higher taxation.

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23. Eagle - November 18, 2008

WBS,

Borrowing is out of the question because we’re in the euro. We’re already overborrowed according to the rules we agreed to when we joined the euro. If we weren’t in the euro we could borrow to our hearts’ content (and arguably our financial institutions would have behaved more conservatively), but we’d be also now be a small currency under serious pressure. Anyway, that’s why I ruled borrowing out.

Regardless, we’re going to have to borrow to meet the current bill, a bill that’s going to grow next year while revenues keep falling AND we will probably have to fund the banks to a significant level.

As for the public sector, the problem is we overgrew it. We need to scale it back. The government overpromised – on all sorts of things – and we need to scale back. Teacher/pupil ratios AND the increased demand of substitution (see how increased maternity leave has led to bigger bills there) are incompatible. If we’re going to have all that substitution cover, we’re also going to have to have bigger classes.

Raise taxes? I guess you could, of course. HOWEVER, that’s not going to grow the economy and whether it will increase revenues is unknowable as higher taxes may cause more wage demands and force employers to cut the numbers employed.

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24. Eagle - November 18, 2008

I should add that I’m not looking to single out maternity leave for teachers; it’s one of the many changes that has increased the cost of public services. It was just that it was in my head after reading this in today’s Irish Independent.

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25. ejh - November 18, 2008

And then when teachers leave the profession for other jobs with better conditions, how will it have helped to cut maternity leave?

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26. crocodile - November 18, 2008

And was there ever a more fatuous headline than today’s Irish Times lead: ‘Majority of voters back pay cut for public servants’.
What was the question I wonder?
Maybe ‘There’s a crisis in the public finances: who would you like to pay for it? a. You or b. Somebody else ‘?

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27. WorldbyStorm - November 18, 2008

Still Eagle, we can’t borrow but we must… sounds like the US! 🙂

crocodile, that’s it precisely.

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28. Eagle - November 18, 2008

WBS,

America can borrow and has and will. Lots. We need to, but are forbidden. We can hope that the French, Spanish and others convince the Germans & Italians that inflating the economies of Europe is a good idea and borrowing rules loosened. It’s a possibility.

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29. WorldbyStorm - November 18, 2008

I kind of meant on a political level for the current administration. The UK is certainly pushing for it. Don’t you think that the Eurozone will follow rapidly given the option?

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30. Eagle - November 18, 2008

And then when teachers leave the profession for other jobs with better conditions, how will it have helped to cut maternity leave?

They won’t leave and I’m not saying you have to cut maternity leave (although you could more easily question the fairly sudden jump from 14 weeks to 26 weeks of paid maternity leave). Once a benefit is given it’s much harder to take it away. It would probably be easier to increase class sizes and cut the provision of other services & subsequently reduce the number of part-time teachers than to cut the maternity benefits of permanent teachers.

I was only singling out one example of how benefits were added which added to the costs of public services (and the cost for private businesses too).

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31. Eagle - November 18, 2008

WBS

I don’t know. The French, Spanish and a few others & us, obviously, want to see the borrowing rules loosened, but the Germans don’t have a lot of debt and aren’t keen to devalue their savings. It’s going to be a big battle. Could be the decisive moment in the life of the euro.

The Germans have a deeply ingrained fear of inflation, which could explode on the Americans if they start printing money like there’s no tomorrow to try to avoid the recession that they’ve really earned.

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32. Crocodile - November 18, 2008

“And then when teachers leave the profession for other jobs with better conditions, how will it have helped to cut maternity leave?

They won’t leave ”

I think they will. One of my best friends is a teacher in his early forties, fit and well, who walked out on a permanent teaching job, pension and all, last May – before the credit crunch. And he had no other job to go to.
His reason was the intolerable increase in workload over the last few years and he says that the real exodus from teaching will happen when the spurious ‘productivity’ requirements – lengthened school year, exams during Easter holidays, that kind of thing – are loaded on to justify any further pay deal – not for any sound educational reasons but to keep the private sector cheerleaders happy.

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33. Eagle - November 18, 2008

Crocodile.

If it’s any consolation to you, I’m not in favor of extending the school year. I don’t believe kids need to be in school any longer. Your use of the word spurious is spot on.

HOWEVER, pressure for a longer school year will only intensify because it’s the cheapest form of childcare. Parents and employers will be seeking that.

I’m also curious about your friend’s “increased workload”. How much of that was just more government garbage to justify the many, many layers of bureaucracy that we have.

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34. Crocodile - November 19, 2008

Most. The rest was the kind of expectations you refer to, from parents, who see schools as childcare facilities.

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35. You go first, no you go, no really - I insist - you go first… that public sector pay cut poll… « The Cedar Lounge Revolution - November 19, 2008

[…] polled thought the public sector should emulate the Taoiseach and Ministers and take a 10% pay cut, here… And was there ever a more fatuous headline than today’s Irish Times lead: ‘Majority of […]

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36. ejh - November 19, 2008

They won’t leave

I don’t know the precise situation in Ireland, but in the UK, teachers leaving the profession after a few years is a very serious problem – I believe that on average they last four years. Now if the picture is anbything likew that in Ireland, and given that starting teachers tend to be young and are more often women than men – can we say with confidence that cutting maternity leave will not make that situation worse?

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