Monday, February 08, 2010

George Lee - Innocent as a Lamb or Crazy like a Fox?

George Lee, former TD, is either the most naïve politician in the history of Irish politics, or else the most cunning and ambitious the 21st century has seen so far. George Lee has either got destroyed by the Irish political system or is about to destroy it himself.

On the face of it, Lee has thrown the rattle from the pram and resigned because he is a political innocent, a lost lamb, and this view is what Fine Gael are furiously spinning currently – once their front line spokespeople got over the shock of Lee’s resignation, which seems to have descended from the clear blue sky.

Any amount of Fine Gael luminaries, from old hands like Alan Dukes and Michael Noonan to young guns like Lucinda Creighton and Leo Varadkar, have been on the radio today, shaking their heads sadly and giving it the Absalom! Oh Absalom! stuff about George Lee, how he just didn’t give himself time to bed in properly into Irish political life. Sure, George is made for sums and his time to fog up the calculator screen in service to Erin would surely come, if only he’d show a little patience.

Joe Duffy make the point to George Lee on Liveline that Lee was being extremely naïve in his understanding of the very nature of politics in his refusal to accept Enda Kenny’s last minute offer of a front bench post. Joe thought that there was nothing wrong with being offered a front bench post under duress, that there was nothing wrong in threatening to go nuclear in order to get what you want. This may be an interesting insight into how a radio phone-in show host gets paid more than a Prime Minister in Ireland by the way, but that is a story for another day.

If all this is true, how isn’t it astonishing how naïve George Lee seems to have been about the way the world works? How annoyed he is that the world wouldn’t fall down at his feet when he walked in the door? How shocked he is that his talent for sums couldn’t be seen and followed just as the Israelites followed a pillar of fire in the desert. How he seems unware that even Brian Lenihan had to cool his heels on the back benches before he got a go on the reins.

But your cynical old Spailpín finds it hard to believe that a man as clever as George Lee bought that many glass hammers. Very hard to believe indeed.

The news about George Lee broke today around half-twelve or one o’clock. Since then, George Lee has been:

1. Talking to Sean O’Rourke on the News at One on the radio;
2. Talking to Joe Duffy for over an hour on Liveline from after the News at One until three o’clock;
3. Talking to Matt Cooper on the Last Word at half-four;
4. Talking to Alan Cantwell on TV3 at half-five;
5. Talking to Brian Dobson on Six-One.

That’s a pretty full day, and An Spailpín fully expects George to be on Vincent Browne’s show tonight on TV3 while your correspondent is tucked up in bed, and would probably even be on Nuacht TG4 if only George were blessed with the Gaeilge.

For a man who’s a political innocent who doesn’t know how the system works, that’s some media blitz. It is not the action of a man who took on a job and realised he couldn’t do it. If that was how he felt he could have just released his statement, did Six-One and walked back to his guaranteed public sector job in RTÉ.

But that’s not what George Lee has done. That’s not what he’s done at all.

Fine Gael are aware now that one of their own has gone dangerously rogue. George Lee has not spilled the beans on what exactly the internal wranglings in Fine Gael were that did for him in the end, but he has been pointed in his refusal to endorse Enda Kenny as a viable alternative Taoiseach.

It was interesting to note how quick both Leo Varadkar and Olivia Mitchell were to point out how little the Dáil has sat in the nine months since George Lee was elected. Politicians’ normal tune is that they work every minute God sends them, and turning up in the Dáil is only a small part of that. Fine Gael are running scared, but it’s interesting to wonder if the entire political establishment isn’t just sweating slightly about just what exactly George might be up to.

An Spailpín will be watching this with interest. Chances are nothing will come of it. There’s a huge indolence in the Irish political system, as written about by An Tomaltach recently, and the chances are that George Lee will just float away into a footnote in history, a fish out of water like Justin Keating, the Cruiser and the rest.

What would be really interesting though would be if Certain People were go visit George Lee in the next few weeks, and start talking about new voices and new directions in Irish politics. For instance, Dessie O’Malley caused a big stir when he set up the PDs a quarter of a century ago, a move that damaged Fine Gael far more than it damaged Fianna Fáil.

The presence of a PD option meant that natural Fine Gael voters could vote for Fine Gael politics knowing that they could be implemented by a FF/PD Government in a way that would never happen in a Fine Gael/Labour coalition. Wouldn’t it be interesting if Fine Gael’s determination to have George Lee know his place were to cause him to start something that could deliver them, and Civil War politics itself, a death blow? An Spailpín Fánach does not believe that Irish public life has seen the last of George Lee.

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