…there was no widespread enthusiasm for the new government outside their own parties and most of the media. February 23, 2012Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, The Irish Right Orthodoxy, The Left.
The Sunday Business Post Backroom column this weekend makes an excellent point in relation to the upcoming first anniversary of this government. Actually it made a couple of excellent points, so it’s worth considering them all.
In a run-through of the events underpinning the election it notes that the campaign was a ‘slugfest’. It continues that:
Labour thought it could run on the idea of changing national politics, but nearly got engulfed in a tidal wave of Fine Gael local and national promises in the first weeks of the campaign. Labour’s rapid decline was only halted when it went on a binge of promising things it had no intention of delivering (like no university fees) and attacking Fine Gael for policies it knew it would have to implement (like increasing Vat).
This may be true, but it might be more accurate, if true, to say that some in Labour ‘started promising things they had no intention of delivering’.
Because clearly there are a number of Labour politicians and members who believed that those commitments were solid. Moreover, in a way it’s irrelevant whether they believed it or not because the voters who gifted the LP their vote did believe it.
And Backroom is far from wrong in suggesting that:
While it wasn’t much commented on at the time, the way the two parties campaigned set a trap for them in government. Unlike in most countries, where a long-lived and widely disliked government loses office, there was no widespread enthusiasm for the new government outside their own parties and most of the media. There were no cavalcades and street celebrations other than the now-traditional ‘local boy done good’ Mayo demonstration.
This wasn’t, and I hesitate at even attempting to draw the comparison, London 1997 after more than a decade and an half of Thatcherite Toryism. Let alone a genuinely revolutionary change. The UK Labour comparison is instructive. For all the myriad flaws of that government it took one egregious war, a multitude of somewhat lesser slights and three elections to chip away at the strength they had amassed in that election. For our incumbents no such luck as regards a solid store of electoral goodwill. Numbers have been dipping since the end of the first six months or so. The small peaks in enthusiasm have been incidental and tended to focus on external actors, such as the Obama visit. Instead there was a relief that Fianna Fáil was gone, but an absolute trepidation as to what the future would hold and little or no confidence that either FG or the LP could make much difference.
How could it? As the column continues:
It was a government elected on the basis of only one big idea (we’re not Fianna Fбil) and a mountain of small promises. They made lots of noise about change and renewal, but the core of their campaigning was much more basic. This was an unsustainable approach for actually running the country, and their biggest problem is that they have yet to come up with a new narrative to replace it.
But being ‘not Fianna Fáil’ only worked up to the point where they entered government and rapidly became…well…Fianna Fáil albeit under different branding. I’m not saying that the LP or FG are FF, but that functionally they’re running the show well within parameters that would be acceptable to FF were it in power. Indeed one might argue that in some respects its run slightly further to the right than FF due to the sheer numbers of FG TDs in situ.
And Backroom rightly points to the fact that the last twelve months have been characterised not by any grand vision, let alone a means of implementing it, but instead ‘ a whole series of disjointed decisions, many of which bore no relationship to what was being claimed on their behalf’.
In a way all this doesn’t matter, not even the point that Backroom makes that “This is a relatively unpopular government led by a reasonably popular Taoiseach.”. Nor even that “It has not managed to shake its reliance on campaign tactics, and this is what lies at the growing sense of drift around its programme”.
The Government retains its enormous majority. A majority that oddly is sometimes hidden by the sheer diversity of the Opposition. As a friend said wonderingly in the first few weeks of that majority, they – FG and LP – could lose near enough half their TDs to defections and what ever and they would still retain power. That’s what will keep them stable for longer rather than shorter. This isn’t FF in 2010/11 with a tiny majority subject to an attrition of its TDs [and let’s be honest, even then there was no end of those parading their adherence to the ‘national interest’ amongst those dissident FF TDs and Independents]. But if it is unloved now then where will it be in a year, or two or four years time?
And who could dispute the central point that Backroom fixes upon when s/he notes:
Instead of spending the next few weeks claiming to have created a new dawn, the government would be better served finding a way to show exactly what its overall strategy is. That assumes, of course, that it goes beyond “something will turn up”.
Given that the basis for the FG/LP coalition was that they weren’t FF why should we expect anything much more of them?