Monday, March 07, 2011

Fine Gael Can’t Image Life Without Their Labour Blankie

RTÉ's Eleventh Hour team uploaded a funny montage to You Tube about the number of mentions of change during the election campaign. How sad that the end result of that campaign is civil war politics as usual, with no change at all.

Fine Gael is the biggest party in the state, for the first time in its history. Single party government was easily achievable. Fine Gael could return their own gene pool independents and ideological matches – Lowry, Ross, Donnelly, maybe Ming, strange though it may seem – to the party to bring the number up to eighty-odd and then dare Fianna Fáil to put its money where (what’s left of) its mouth is to support Fine Gael in Government.

Fine Gael could have called Fianna Fáil’s bluff. If Fianna Fáil pulled the rug Fine Gael go to the country with hurt in their faces and right on their side. They could then go the extra yard and return with a working majority. This crack about “stable Government” is a myth. Lemass had minority administrations and got a lot done. You can have the majority of support in the Dáil and still be in a minority yourself. All it needed was the ability to see beyond the obvious and the courage to seize the day.

But Fine Gael didn’t even consider that as an option. Instead, Fine Gael reverted immediately to type, and restored Irish politics to its leaden polarity within a week of the election.

Irish politics has been defined since the 1930s not as Fianna Fáil versus Fine Gael, but as Fianna Fáil versus Not Fianna Fáil. This is what has made coalitions between Fine Gael and Labour in the past, and the disastrous inter party governments of the 1950s – the single fact of the collective parties’ Not Fianna Fáil-ness is greater than each individual parties’ ideologies or beliefs or manifestoes.

Fianna Fáil got more or less one hundred per cent of the blame for the current crisis in the election. Whether or not they deserved it is open to the judgement of history It could be that they were simply unprepared for the calibre of disaster in which they were engulfed, like a seven stone weakling getting into a bar fight with Mike Tyson. They never stood a chance.

The people are outraged, and want a radical change in Irish politics to address the new reality. Instead, they got a warm reunion of former lovers.

The most depressing thing of it all is that the extraordinary cosiness with which the coalition deal was arranged. Ivan Yates and Shane Ross – Fine Gael men both, who should know whereof they speak – both said last week that a deal could be hammered out between the two sides in half an hour, and the rest of the week would then be about divvying up the goodies and optics.

Labour are Fine Gael’s security blanket. Fine Gael have been given an extraordinary and unprecedented mandate to save the country and finally wipe out the Fianna Fáil party that has dominated politics since DeValera choose pragmatism over ideology in 1926. But they don’t realise it. They don’t know that the world have changed, and are dancing the same steps that Liam Cosgrave danced with Brendan Corish and Garret Fitzgerald danced with Michael O’Leary and Dick Spring.

As for Labour, it’s hard to know what they get out of it. They suffer after every coalition they’re in, and they’re always the minority party. For a left-wing party to not even acknowledge the extraordinary swing to the left in Irish politics makes you question if Fianna Fáil really is the most cynical party in Irish politics.

It would be nice to have something on which to pin hopes. The new Government, according to Phil Hogan on This Week, will target jobs, rebuild hope and hit the ground running. How it will target jobs or rebuild hope, or whether just being able to sit up in bed and having a little tea and toast rather than go haring off down the road would be better for shattered Ireland remains a mystery.

The policy document talks a great fight, until to you get to when exactly all this gravy will be poured on the chips. Then you read about committees, a Fianna Fáil special of the last ten years.

The creation of the Ministry of Public Sector Reform seems the only potentially radical proposal. But exactly how radical it is will depend on its true remit – will the department exist to pare the fat and get value for money in the Irish public sector, or will it be the Ministry for Keeping Beards Happy? Is it Public Private Partnership under another name?

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Political reform now.