Noonan, the colossus that bestrides the nation? Er… not exactly. March 21, 2013Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.
doctor five referenced the myth of Michael Noonan earlier in the week, and it’s quite some myth. The media are very keen to promote our finance minister. And the reasons for this are obvious. He’s strongly associated with the orthodoxy. Hence the ‘safe pair of hands’, ‘unlikely to rock the boat’ line that is now so popular. And so pervasive is this that now the Backroom column in the SBP is getting in on the act.
The anonymous writer notes:
On a weekend where finance minister Michael Noonan has been left in charge of the shop, it is worth reflecting that he may well be in the process of providing a rare exception to Powell’s maxim [“All political lives, unless they are cut off in midstream at a happy juncture, end in failure, because that is the nature of politics and of human affairs.” – surely the most over quoted line in politics – wbs].
This is a relatively unpopular government right now. It is headed by a Taoiseach who has always been more loved by the media than by the people, few of whom perceive him as being a genuine leader with a plan.
That’s an interesting line, and it does make one wonder as to the provenance of Backroom this week. Could s/he be dissident/oppositional Fine Gael? Could be!
It’s not that one would make a strenuous case that Kenny is a great leader – even putting aside the ideological gulf between most of us and him, but in some respects he’s been as good/bad as might be expected. He’s certainly less hapless than his immediate predecessor. And that’s no small achievement. As to being ‘loved by the people’. So what? Now, all that said with FG ratings going south at a rapid rate of knots his leadership might indeed be open to question, indeed this very column by Backroom could be part and parcel of that process. For it is always telling to see one cabinet member bigged up at the expense of a Taoiseach – and while, again, we’re not quite in the heady days of 2009/11 in respect of Cowen sufficient of this stuff and we very well might be.
Anyhow, the stuff about Kenny written by Backroom is merely a means of ensuring that Noonan’s star shines brighter by contrast. For example:
Noonan is different. With the economy – the only issue which anyone cares about – he is the only member of government who is generally respected and viewed as having a clear sense of what he’s at. Nothing in his career would have predicted this.
He has been around for a very, very long time. While Kenny is the longest-serving TD, Noonan is the longest-serving senior politician by some distance. This year he will reach his 70th birthday. He was first appointed to cabinet 31 years ago.
Before his appointment as Minister for Finance two years ago, he had held four departments: Justice; Industry and Commerce; Energy; and Health. He developed a reputation more as a political bruiser than a minister focused on policy.
In Health, he had a disastrous time, permanently marked by the appalling legal treatment of women infected by hepatitis C.
In 2001 he led a coup against John Bruton and took over the leadership of Fine Gael. His short time in the post was error-strewn and ultimately catastrophic for his party. Stupid populist promises and a negative approach led Fine Gael to a near-meltdown. Noonan immediately resigned, and it looked as if his career was over.
Mind you, no fool he. He kept his powder dry subsequently and right up to and including the risible coup against Kenny some years back ensuring that it was he and not the cleverest boy in the class Richard Bruton who took over Finance.
But in truth it’s hard to take all Backroom’s contentions as to Noonan’s time there entirely seriously.
For example Backroom argues that Noonan’s first year was shaky but that recently:
He then took a different approach. He dropped the hyper-political approach of others, and has sought to be a quiet, reasonable voice. In the Dáil he engages less in party politics than any of his colleagues – and gets a lot of respect back from his opponents.
But another way of looking at it is that he has a very very low public profile, that he is absent from the picture as much as he is in it and that if there is any great tactical triumph here it is one of avoidance rather than engagement. That’s all very well as far as it goes, but it doesn’t necessarily go very far at all. And while it allows Backroom to make a case, well, it’s a case for what exactly?
Backroom concludes that:
Noonan clearly knows the details when he talks on a topic. He doesn’t go on about how hard his job is, or what a great job he’s done. He just gets on with it. He’s become the best-rated minister because he hasn’t sent out legions of advisers to promote his every word and action. Quiet competence, not loud politics – maybe that’s a lesson for the others?
Certainly, it is at the core of Noonan’s reversal of the normal political gravity, which sees careers start on a high and end in indifference or indignity.
That’s it? That’s the great achievement? Far be it for this site to boost Enda Kenny, but he hardly pales in comparison. And there’s an obvious issue here, for it is far far too centred on personality – or as in the case of Noonan (and arguably Kenny) the absence of it.
It’s not that personality doesn’t matter at all, but it matters so much less than some commentators might think. And this is where the current positioning around Noonan is so deceptive. Put any other member of Cabinet into that position and she or he would offer essentially the same prescription just as this government is offering essentially the same prescription as its predecessor. It cannot be any other way because they are all agreed on the fundamentals and the approaches that are being imposed on the state and on citizens.
Yes, it is interesting in a way to view the inner workings of FG as they tip ever closer to the political edge – what for example would a sub-20 per cent poll rating trigger in that party should it occur? But the reality is that Fine Gael is an instrument, with remarkably little volition of its own.
It’s capital. Always has been, and in this state for the foreseeable future always will be.