Friday, June 18, 2010

Week of the Rubber Knives - Has Richard Bruton Destroyed Fine Gael?

An Spailpín Fánach, in one of his more dissolute days, was having a drink in a bar that was owned by a man who would later become a member of that supposedly soon to be endangered species, Seanad Éireann.

In the bar, I got talking to a local and the subject got on to fighting. My new friend, who was the worse for wear and had been for quite some years, advised your correspondent that, should ill-luck ever dictate I got involved in a fight, the first punch was vital. If I failed to do damage with the first punch, then damage would be done unto me. There ended the lesson.

Would that Richard Burton had been in that bar instead of An Spailpín Fánach. Bruton could have saved himself, his party and his country a whole lot of trouble by learning that the first shot has to be the kill shot.

Strange to say it now, but Fine Gael can count themselves lucky that this happened now as opposed to in the course of an election campaign. Richard Bruton has been touted as Fine Gael’s shining star for years by a not-terribly-discerning press but when his moment came he didn’t so much shoot himself in the foot as climb up onto the spout of the woodchipper and lower himself into the swirling blades, inch by bloody inch.

Richard Bruton has had years to plan his moment. The suspicion existed that he never moved against Enda Kenny because he really didn’t want to. It wasn’t in his make up. And the bizarre events of the past week bear that out because it is impossible to imagine how he could have planned it worse. Whatever possessed him, or whoever was whispering in his ear, he made the most incredible bags of it.

Telling the old boss that there’s a new boss in town in the final moment of a coup. The clever plotter has all his pawns in place long before then. Richard Burton, for reasons that can never be explained, seems to have only started counting heads when Enda Kenny, rather than going gently into that good night, cuffed tricky Dicky around the ears and sent him and his cohorts to bed without supper.

This week of the rubber knives saw Richard Bruton exposed, now and forever, as a bumbling political amateur. The commentariat may not care for the Mayo cadence of Enda Kenny’s accent, but the Father of the Dáil clearly learned a thing or two in a lifetime in politics. Bruton lost at every engagement. He was utterly out of his depth.

Irrespective of your own biases, this week has been bad for politics in Ireland. An opposition must exist for politics to exist and, however much people may fume at Fianna Fáil perfidy, the lesson of the past two elections is that the sovereign people chose the devil they knew. Richard Bruton, and whatever plotters put him up to it, couldn’t win an election in his own party, and didn’t even seem too bothered about going out canvassing for votes in time for his heave. What chance had he of winning a national election?

As for Enda, it’s a Pyrrhic victory. He is well rid of an all-mouth-and-no-trousers brigade but Fine Gael’s fundamental problems remain. Fine Gael exist as a party that is defined by who they are not rather than who they are. They don’t stand for anything.

The Bruton heave was all about personality, and nothing about policy or how the differences between how the two men would save the country. And that is the emptiest feeling of all when the hilarity of this week has died down. The nation may not like Fianna Fáil, but at least the Soldiers of Destiny know what they’re doing.