WHAT a pity Brendan Howlin didn’t resort to a bit of the auld Lord Nelson rhetoric when he appealed to the Irish nation for help in restructuring the Labour Party.
The best he could come up with was the rather limp ‘Labour will have to adjust to reality and make the best of the situation.’ It was a far cry from what might have stirred the national psyche.
And, there is no doubt that a Nelson pastiche would have made a difference. For instance, something along the lines of: ‘Labour, namely me, Joan, and Kathleen down in Cork, expects every Irish member of the cloth cap brigade to do his or her duty, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, religious persuasion or disability to regenerate our glorious party.’ That would have been inch-perfect for any occasion.
We jest, of course. Howlin is no orator, and perhaps he’s overwhelmed at the sight of the Good Ship Labour sinking into oblivion now that a general election appears on the horizon?
Still and all, there’s a kind of endearing political honesty about him as he prepares the remnants of the Labour Party for political oblivion and a muddy end – something that happened, literally, to former leader Joan Burton during the Great Flood in Athlone.
‘Any sort of a snap election would not be good for Labour; and whether it happens in the immediate aftermath of a change of leadership in Fine Gael is a matter for Fianna Fáil,’ Howlin commented with remarkable astuteness.
For that matter, a snap general election would not do much to promote the political future of Vlad Varadkar, heir apparent to the leadership of Fine Gael. It’s the last thing he wants just now, being quite happy with Fianna Fáil and Martin acting as a political mudguard for the Blueshirts.
Varadkar recently declared that his party would continue to honour the ‘Confidence and Supply’ Agreement’ (what a silly moniker for a deal brokered after the last election and which ensures FG continues to hold the reins of power!). Certainly, from a FG point of view, it’s nice to see De Valera’s once proud party stuck in limbo-land, foolishly having one foot in opposition and the other in government, while at the same time supplying ‘support and confidence’ to its betters.
Even more satisfying is the fact that Michéal Martin is dead nuts against a snap election until his party does better in the polls – a stance that delights Fine Gael since even the dogs in the street know that Martin lacks the force of personality to manufacture a significant boost for the Soldiers of Destiny.
As matters stand, under Martin’s captaincy, there is no consistent momentum of change in support of Fianna Fáil and, on the basis of approval ratings, his party has been stuck, neck-and-neck, alongside Fine Gael in a kind of Saragossa Sea graveyard.
Strategy of caution
For loyal and unwavering F&Fers, such a situation is humiliating. According to the latest popularity poll, Martin’s lot are at a 27% approval rate, down one point since the last survey (Fine Gael is at 28%, also down 1%).
Martin’s ambition is for FF to reach a poll rating of at least 32%, thus ensuring that it would be in the majority of whatever sort of coalition that is formed down the line.
Contributing to his reluctance to pull the plug and trigger a general election is his long-term pipe dream that the day will come when the polls will point to the possibility of snaffling around 60 seats in a general election.
But, sad to relate and to his immense frustration, a giant FF leap-forward doesn’t look as if it’s going to happen – at least in the immediate future. Hence his strategy of caution.
He’s sticking to his guns and, according to reports, has told his senior front bench that he has extended the time span to an election, not shortened it. As matters stand, the time is not right to initiate a snap election, he says.
The Phoenix magazine predicted that Martin’s ‘new time scale – depending on unforeseen crises – would see FF keeping Fine Gael in power until the 2018 budget or even past it’.
And that grates on the nerves of ambitious FF politicos already straining at the bit for a crack at government.
The FF leader, it seems, has become mentally and politically dependent on poll-taking and head counting, an addiction that some F&Fers find disconcerting. Worse still, it really sticks in the craw to have to support a FG government of utter awfulness, one mired in so many endless scandals that Houdini himself would find it difficult to extricate himself.
And yet, instead of going for the jugular, such as rejecting Fine Gael and forming a coalition with Sinn Féin – which is holding firm with a 18% approval rate (20 seats) – FF hardy bucks have to bite their lips and forcibly prevent themselves from exhibiting irritation at Martin’s ‘going-nowhere’ plan. Talk about tying the party in knots!
Meanwhile, the public has seen through Fianna Fáil’s duplicity and is sick of it. And it’s not only the bluster surrounding the Garda Commissioner that is infuriating those who would like to see a hard-line approach to the Blueshirts.
For instance, in February, reform of the rental market and the treatment of Garda whistle-blower, Sgt McCabe almost brought the palsy-walsy ‘Support and Confidence’ arrangement to a crashing end. It was the perfect moment to call an election, but Martin chose to do nothing and instead warned FG that it was their last chance!
In March, the two parties were at loggerheads over water charges when FG sought to introduce a penalty charge for ‘excessive usage.’ TD Barry Cowen bitterly accused Minister Coveney of an unprecedented intervention, which in turn led to fears the government would collapse. Thanks to Martin, it didn’t.
Even stranger is Martin’s dismissal of very relevant poll indications, such as the fact that under half of all voters (49%) want a general election. Nor is he taking seriously signs that party seat levels have settled into a trend which, in the event of an election, would give Fianna Fáil 54 seats, Fine Gael 54 seats and Sinn Féin 34.
It might well be the case that Martin is barking up the wrong tree with his insistence on his party first reaching a 60-seat target before he’ll consider forcing a general election.
And now for some light humour. As the man in Dinty’s said: ‘I don’t approve of political jokes. I’ve seen too many of them get elected.’
(That’s ancient – Ed)
Or what about this one: Politicians and nappies have one thing in common. They have to be changed regularly, and for the same reason!
(That’s worse. You’re fired! – Ed)