POOR ole Inda! He’s damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. For months he was beating around the bush, wondering if the time was right for a pre-Christmas general election. Then, when he eventually cobbled together a sort of a giveaway budget, the punters thought his moment had arrived. ‘This is it; the election is on the way,’ they cried with relief. But the dream was not to be!
A panicky Joan Burton, fearful of the inevitable loss of her seat and anxious to postpone the dreadful day of reckoning for as long as possible, managed to twist Inda’s arm and force him to postpone the election until spring.
Immediately, the Indo/Sindo’s stable of pundits, gurus and wonks accused Inda of wasting the Budget ‘feelgood factor’ that they said was essential for success in a general election. Accusations abounded of flip-flopping, indecision and of changing his mind. Worst of all was the implication that he surrendered without a fight to Burton’s wheedling and cajolery.
Mercilessly, the reptiles savaged his postponement of the election, considering it to be an error of judgement and the harbinger of a political tragedy that would lead to Inda’s downfall and to ever-lasting chaos for Fine Gael.
Sloshed customers (with literary aspirations) at the Roaring Donkey saw a parallel in Shakespeare’s play Macbeth between the Scottish politico who gave in too easily to the Weird Sisters and the Mayoman’s lethargic surrender to Burton.
After Macbeth encouraged the powers of darkness to grant him the ability to do extraordinary things, his onetime pal Macduff took umbrage and proceeded to chop off Macbeth’s head. Having presented the noggin to the heir apparent, the new leader promptly invited everyone to a party that celebrated the establishment of a more up-to-date political order.
There’s a message in that for Inda. Is it possible that a Shakespearean-style tragedy is coming down the tracks, but of course without the decapitation bit? Certainly Inda would do well to ‘beware the Ides of March,’ should he be thinking of that particular month as a date for a general election. Julius Caesar didn’t heed the warnings, and we all know what happened to him: stabbed by his political rivals in the forum (painful) and in the back (fatal)!
And Inda has another problem. The newspaper omens! In the unstable political climate in which ‘the earth is feverous and doth shake,’ British soothsayers published a creepy warning relating to Kenny. According to the latest Sunday Times-Behaviour & Attitudes opinion poll, Fine Gael suffered a three-percentage point decrease in support levels. Party support was down to 24% and Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s mishandling of the timing of the general election was the reason.
The unpleasant information was in sharp contrast to the golden days when times were good and opinion polls brimmed with reassuring news for Enda and Fine Gael. For example, in the run-up to the 2011 general election, FG returned a consistent 36% to 39% poll rating. Hot stuff indeed that put a bounce of confidence into every Blueshirt politico.
Indeed, Kenny’s celebrity-status was so huge and his belief in the effectiveness of his party’s abilities so strong that nobody was surprised when he secured a whopping seventy-six seats, which made his party the largest in the Dáil.
World his oyster
The 2011 election was the highpoint of his career and the world his oyster. But he’s failed to copper-fasten his popularity and FG approval ratings have continued to drop, sometimes edging close to 20%. Nor has it gone unnoticed that Fine Gael at 24% (the Sunday Times poll) is just two points above the vote that produced the catastrophic election result in 2002 when the party returned 31 seats.
That was the election when Fine Gael almost went into meltdown. The previous year FG dumped the scary John Bruton, replacing him with the even spookier Michael Noonan who dramatically resigned on the night of the terrible 2002 election-result. Tourism minister Enda Kenny in turn replaced Noonan in the subsequent leadership election, amid serious questions as to whether the Blueshirts had any future.
To his credit, Kenny put the party into recovery mode and, five years later, in the 2007 general election he secured another 20 seats, bringing FG to a total of 51 seats and 27.32% of the vote. Four years after that, in the 2011 general election, he hit the historic 76 seat-jackpot and 41.6% of the vote.
He was the man of the moment: a safely-ensconced Taoiseach, albeit with Labour as a mudguard on which to jump up and down.
And now, things again have turned sour. Just as Banquo’s ghost came back to haunt Macbeth, the spectre of the 2002 election is rising up before Dame Inda like a tormenting bogeyman. The horror … oh, the horror!
How our Dear Leader’s hands must tremble, his colour change, his eyes fix and glaze as he recalls those chilling times in 2002, when high-octane Blueshirts crashed ignobly on failing to get re-elected. Ah, the piteous farewells from the ghosts of good guys past, such as Alan Dukes, Jim Mitchell, Nora Owen, Jim Higgins, Alan Shatter, Deirdre Clune, Michael Creed and Frances Fitzgerald! (Some, such as Shatter, Creed and Fitzgerald, later managed to crawl back into the Dáil fold).
But now, as matters get worse for Fine Gael and as the phantoms wander hither and thither in restless haste, a pathetic complaint can be heard as they pass by: ‘It is Fine Gael, Enda, that must take responsibility for the arrival of a large number of independent candidates in 2002 and for the emergence of that pestilential Sinn Féin, which increased its seat number from one to five. And look at how the republicans have prospered ever since!’
No doubt the misery of it all comes back to haunt Inda. Yes, the 2002 general election was Fine Gael’s second-worst electoral result ever (after the 1948 general election), but in the shadows recently cast by the Sunday Times poll, a strange, inexplicable dread must make Inda’s blood run cold. Is he due for a repeat of 2002 when he exercises his exclusive prerogative to call a general election next spring?
If the polls are right – and up to this they have been – a hammering is on the cards. What then for the warrior caste to which Inda belongs, the 76 Dáil Blueshirts? Will those gladiators of electoral triumph become castaways from the rights and privileges of Dáil Eireann and be plunged into a political netherworld, expelled from their comfort zone and ending up in the street on their very own ear holes? After what Inda has achieved, such a calamity, well, just wouldn’t be fair!
So pass the onion, please. We feel the tears coming on!