Another nail in the coffin for the Glasaigh

From one resignation (you can read Lindsey’s account chez Alex) to another, as we look southwards. I skipped out on covering Gorgeous George Lee’s political suicide, fun as it was, because it had already been done so well elsewhere. But what do you know, here comes a resignation letter from Green Party Senator Déirdre de Búrca. Déirdre sez:

Dear John,
I am writing to inform you of my intention to resign from the Green Party Parliamentary Party and from Seanad Eireann with immediate effect.

It is with great sadness that I tender my resignation, having served as an elected member of the Green Party for eight years on Wicklow County Council and for a further two and a half years as a member of Seanad Eireann. During that time I have worked faithfully on behalf of the party to try to advance its political agenda in order to put this country on a more sustainable path.

I regret to say that I can no longer support the Green Party in government, as I believe that we have gradually abandoned our political values and our integrity and in many respects have become no more than an extension of the Fianna Fail party. I have had a number of conversations with you as Party Leader over many months now about my growing discomfort with the decisions that the Green Party has been supporting in government. You have been very aware of my frustration with the fact that despite the Green Party holding the balance of power in this government for some time now, our willingness to try to exercise that influence appears to grow less with every passing week.

As a party, we seem to have been paralysed by the electorate’s rejection of many of our candidates (including myself) in the local and European elections last June. Any suggestion that we challenge Fianna Fail, or face it down over important issues, seems to bring up a great fear in us that we will have to leave government. In fact staying in government appears to have become an end in itself now for the Green Party. While I was always aware that our political inexperience as a party would leave us vulnerable to being manipulated by Fianna Fail in government, what I hadn’t predicted was the strong attachment to office that appears to have developed since we became part of government.

It is with regret also that I must also inform you that I have lost confidence in you as Party Leader. The Parliamentary Party has had almost daily meetings now since well before Christmas at which we have discussed the very real problems we are experiencing in getting Fianna Fail to co-operate with us in implementing policy initiatives that were agreed as part of the original, and the revised Programme for Government. From stonewalling us and trying to unravel key aspects of our policy initiatives being implemented, to ignoring our input into the preparation of new legislation, to reneging on two key agreements made between Party Leaders, the Fianna Fail Party continues to ‘run rings’ around us and to take advantage of our inexperience and our very obvious fear of facing the electorate.

Despite the fact that you have been asked on many occasions over the past few months by the Parliamentary Party to take a stronger line with Brian Cowen and the Fianna Fail party in relation to certain core issues, you have clearly been unable, or unwilling to do so. Unfortunately the effect of this unwillingness to act is that the Green Party has been slowly haemhorraging support because of a growing public perception that we have lost the courage of our convictions and have become no more than an obedient ‘add-on’ to Fianna Fail. For example, I am aware that you as Minister have a key report in front of you from Dr Niamh Brennan on the issue of the Dublin Docklands Development Authority. I’m afraid I lack the confidence that the findings of this report will be acted on in the timely and appropriate manner that the public interest requires.

I believe that in your role as Party Leader you have done a disservice to the Green Party and to its members in allowing this ‘drift’ to occur. It would appear that holding onto office and to seats have become more important to the party than holding on to its fundamental political purpose. We have lost our way as a party and I am sad to say that it has reached a point where I, and most of the people I know, will be unable to vote Green in the next election.

I don’t take this decision to tender my resignation lightly. I am very clear however that I do not want to be part of what the Green Party is continuing to support in Government.

Ouch! But, of course, there’s more to this than meets the eye. The obligatory reference to the founding principles of the Greens may raise a chuckle or two amongst observers of our intrepid senator, but funnier still is Déirdre’s dig at the Gormley camarilla’s determination to cling to office. For few people in the GP had keener to shaft the party’s radical wing in pursuit of office, and none had been as naked in their personal ambition. An astute spinner of the media, despite her failure to be elected a TD she enjoyed a higher media profile than party colleagues with a more substantial mandate – which is why it wasn’t a surprise to see her appointed to the Seanad once her party had coalesced with Fianna Fáil. You didn’t have to pay much attention to her to hear her being tipped for great things, even an eventual run at the presidency. (One suspects much of this tipping came from sources close to Déirdre.) Recently, the word on the grapevine was that she’d be heading off to Brussels to join Máire Geoghegan-Quinn’s cabinet, but if the current Phoenix is to be believed (usual health warnings apply), Máire has decided against retaining her services, precisely on the grounds of such spinning.

Ah yes, and there was the run for Strasbourg. Having relocated into Dublin from the less promising East constituency, not only did she fail to be elected, she lost her deposit, came close to bankrupting the GP and, worst of all, was handily beaten by Patricia McKenna. It would be fair to say that this was the cause of almost as many smiles on the Dublin left as Joe Higgins being elected.

Now, as to her charges against the GP leadership and Gormley in particular… they are not without merit, but she’s not necessarily the best person to make them. Has the GP ditched its principles? Yes it has. Has it become a political flak jacket for Fianna Fáil, much like the Desocrats of blessed memory? Why yes madam, you’re absolutely right. Now tell us how you helped it get that way.

One wonders, you know, what is the point of the Green Party these days. McKenna and the party’s left wing are gone, though there are still occasional resignations from party members around the country who wake up one morning and wonder whatever happened to their radicalism. (These would be the same people who turn up at conventions to vote against the leadership.) There was a curious statistic – I can’t find the reference or remember the exact numbers – to the effect that since the GP had entered government it had lost 500 members but gained 700. It’s hard to see who would join the present Green Party, and it’s tempting to see a trend of crusties being replaced by yuppies, which would not bode well for any real Greens remaining.

Just about the only reminder of the GP’s past is its hyper-democratic constitution, which requires conventions to be held (on a monthly basis it seems) whenever anything needs to be decided. So for one weekend a month the government of the state is put on hold until we discover whether Gormley can bamboozle a couple of hundred vegetarians into voting against what they believe in. After all this practice, he’s getting rather good at it.

However, it could be argued that de Búrca’s departure should worry Gormley more than that of people like McKenna who left on ideological grounds. A dynamic and ambitious politician of this sort would only resign for one reason, that she doesn’t believe the Green Party has a future. So that poses not an ideological but an existential question.

And then there’s the question of what next for ex-Greens. It’s possible that we could see Labour, or possibly leftish independents, hoovering up their historic electorate. And it’s possible that there could emerge a refounded Proper Green Party, built out of the People’s Movement, the Donegal splitters and whomever else can be rounded up. But I seriously doubt that Déirdre de Búrca would be part of it. Don’t worry though, I’m sure she’ll land on her feet.

More on this, as ever, at Cedar Lounge.

Damno ergo sum


While we’re waiting for the Euro-election results – and scuttlebutt is looking extraordinarily bad for the DUP – I’d like to ponder on something that Green MEP Caroline Lucas was saying on Newsnight the other night. This was apropos of Rankin’ Dave Cameron’s plan to take Tory MEPs out of the European Peoples Party and form a new Strasbourg bloc of rightwing Eurosceptic parties, mostly of the Eastern European persuasion. This is something that Ian Traynor has been banging on about in the Grauniad for weeks, largely recycling talking points from New Labour and the Party of European Socialists. To be scrupulously fair to Cameron, he isn’t proposing an alliance with the real rightwing exotica in the European Parliament, such as the League of Polish Families, the Greater Romania Party or Alessandra Mussolini’s Azione Sociale. It’s just that, by the hysterical tenor of Traynor’s articles, you’d assume he was.

Now, I like Caroline Lucas a lot more than I like Ian Traynor, and I wish she was one of my MEPs rather than the shower we have over here, but she was talking very much along the same lines. What was interesting to me was her line of argument against Cameron’s proposed partners. Given Václav Klaus’ eccentric views on climate change, it’s unsurprising that the Czech Civic Democrats are ideologically treif for a Green. The thing that startled me a little was Caroline lighting into the Polish Law and Justice Party, the vehicle of the Kaczyński brothers, which has a stringent moral conservatism as a key part of its platform. “Some of these people,” thundered Caroline, “actually believe that homosexuality is a sin!”

If I was being unkind, I might linger a little on the fact that Caroline is running for parliament in the gay ghetto of Brighton. I don’t in fact think she’s being opportunistic, I just think she’s being slightly disingenuous. She can’t really be surprised that rightwing Polish Catholics aren’t as gay-friendly as leftwing British Greens, nor do I think she seriously is. What she was saying was that these people’s opinions were so outrageously beyond the pale that no decent person should consider even forming a tactical alliance with them.

There is possibly an aspect here of being a little inured to this kind of thing – he who listens to phone-ins on Radio Ulster will be exposed to a very different spectrum of views than she who listens to phone-ins on Five Live. After all, we get to hear the weird and wonderful thoughts of Iris Robinson and Sammy Wilson on a regular basis – lots of us even vote for them. On the other hand, I’m sympathetic to what Madam Miaow was saying on the dog ‘n’ bone this morning, that it’s when we lose the capacity to be shocked that we should be worried. Mind you, it’s something that has struck me for some considerable period of time, that a lot of well-meaning people, when faced with outright reaction, simply go haywire. It’s where you find this assumption that views falling outwith modern metropolitan cultural mores are not opinions you can disagree with, but psychopathologies to be anathematised. Britain isn’t quite as advanced as Canada, where those holding unfashionable opinions can be hauled in front of human rights tribunals and told to stop expressing those opinions in public, but it’s getting there.

So anyway, in my whimsical fashion, I was watching this segment on Newsnight and started thinking that this was the sort of thing that would be tailor-made for those jokey pieces they sometimes like to do in Philosophy Now, wondering what great thinkers of the past would make of contemporary problems. Actually, you could have a Newsnight Review-style round table, perhaps featuring Nietzsche, Locke, Descartes and the late Saint Augustine.

Nietzsche would, I think, have found the whole argument rather funny. He understood as well as anyone that religion is an integral system, and once you start removing planks then the whole edifice is under threat. You will notice, for instance, that Reform Judaism tends to suffer quite a high attrition rate, while the Haredi sects experience it hardly at all; in irreligious Britain, the Catholics and Pentecostalists are thriving, while the dear old C of E is virtually dying on its arse. That’s because there’s an incredibly strong imperative in religion to hold onto traditional values. The systematic aspect of this is quite important. For example, the Catholic stance on homosexuality is not some arbitrary and irrational piece of prejudice – if anything, it’s too rational, as Catholic teaching on sexual morality, deriving from an Aristotelian concept of natural law, is a one-size-fits-all doctrine that simply doesn’t make room for the gays. That’s why Pope Benny might, if you ask him the right question, talk about a compassionate approach to all of God’s creatures, but he’s not going to rewrite the rule book in accordance with the demands of OutRage! and Channel 4 News.

Nietzsche grasped this brilliantly, as an essential part of his “Death of God” thesis. His view was that, once you killed off the basis of religion, then you also destroyed the basis of traditional morality, and therefore the Umwertung aller Werte – the revaluation of all values – came into play as, if you had the courage of your convictions, you had to consciously rewrite values from the bottom up. He had particular fun attacking the freethinkers who, having disposed of Christian belief, wanted to hang onto those bits of Christian morality they found congenial, while ditching the bits they didn’t like. Even if you don’t like to use the word “sin”, you certainly believe in right and wrong. But without a firm ethical basis, the danger is that your morality is simply based on what is popular at any particular point in time.

So let us now turn to Augustine. His political theology is of interest in terms of the debate around separating church and state, especially regarding the distinction he drew between sin and crime, and why it wasn’t the business of the state to outlaw sin. In Augustine’s view, the state could legislate to prevent citizens from harming each other, but it couldn’t legislate to make citizens virtuous – that was the job of religion. The distinction is important when we come to the question of tolerance. You see, if one approves of something, or is indifferent to it, then tolerance doesn’t come into the equation. I don’t “tolerate” homosexuality because I don’t have a moral problem with it. On the other hand, it is perfectly possible to believe that homosexual acts should be legal, and that gays shouldn’t be persecuted by the state, while simultaneously holding that homosexuality is sinful. I would suggest that this is in fact the majority viewpoint in the north of Ireland. You may similarly get people to agree that abortion should be legalised here as a social necessity, but it would be a much tougher ask to get people to stop disapproving of abortion – even the Alliance for Choice fight shy of that one.

While we’re on the subject of toleration, let’s turn to Locke, who still informs a lot of left-liberal thinking on cultural matters. I remind you that Locke’s call for religious toleration was restricted to the Non-Conformist sects; he explicitly opposed toleration for the Catholic Church, on the grounds that Catholicism was, well, intolerant. If you hear in this an echo of Geert Wilders and his call to protect Dutch tolerance by not tolerating brown people with funny religions, you aren’t far wrong. And you may also detect an affinity with the Decent Left. It has to be understood here, in the context of British constitutional history, that for over 300 years, from Henry VIII until about the 1850s, the central issue in English politics was the Catholic problem. I suggest that the Muslim problem currently exercising the intelligentsia is basically the Catholic problem by other means.

Finally, let’s have a brief pitstop with Descartes. Old René, following on from the Galileo affair, was insistent on the need to start from first principles and, if first principles are in conflict with standing public opinion, then so much the worse for standing public opinion. This works quite well for science, but, notwithstanding the pretensions of scientific socialism, I’ve never really believed that you can have a Cartesian approach to politics.

I believe this because of the difficulty in establishing unarguable first principles in politics. What you usually end up with is conventional wisdom, and conventional wisdom is almost always wrong. Or one thinks of Francis Wheen’s Mumbo-Jumbo, where rationalism is identified with propositions Francis agrees with (though how his strident scientism is compatible with Private Eye‘s stance on MMR is still a mystery), while propositions he disagrees with are dismissed as mumbo-jumbo. Or one can get into the far left where the various shibbolethim of the various groups – “consistent democracy” for the AWL, “centrism” for Workers Power, “popular frontism” for the Weekly Worker, and whatever you’re having yourself – are elevated into first principles that can form a golden key to explaining the world and pointing a uniquely correct way forward.

My point here is that politics is, above all else, a dialogue. One may have one’s ethical or moral or ideological compass, although much of the political class appears to have none except the gaining and holding of office. But it’s vital to hang onto the necessity of dialogue. We don’t gain much from stating a tangled bunch of preconceptions as first principles and then acting as if those who hold dissenting positions are somehow mad or bad.

Yet, for all that, Caroline Lucas has some basic principles. So too have the mad Polish Catholics, although they aren’t the same ones. If Lord Snooty has any, I’ve yet to notice.

And that’s quite a ramble from where we started. Now, I think it’s time for a nice cup of tea, a chocolate gravy ring and some Battlestar Galactica.

Party like it’s 1948


Following on from WorldbyStorm’s great post on the implausibility of the new coalition government in Dublin, I am drawn to reflect on implausible coalitions. Even by Irish standards, the line-up of Fianna Fáil, the Greens, the rump Desocrats, Jackie the Cap of South Kerry, disgraced Fianna Fáiler Bev Flynn, disgraced Blueshirt Michael Lowry and socialist republican Finian McGrath is a doozy.

I have to say, though, that the putative “Alliance for Change” government touted by Electric Enda would have trumped it. Considering Enda’s ruling out of any arrangements with FF or the Provos, and Jackie already having plighted his troth to Bertie, the only line-up possible would have been: Fine Gael, Labour, the Greens, the Desocrats, Lowry, Flynn, McGrath and our old friend Tony Gregory. As implausible configurations go, that one would have had Amanda Brunker beat. But would it have been the least plausible coalition ever seen in Leinster House? No, it would not.

Let us now enter the Tardis and return to the aftermath of the 1948 election. That time around, Fianna Fáil remained easily the largest party, returning with one more seat than all opposition parties put together. However, after sixteen straight years of FF government and the hardships caused by the Economic War and the Emergency, it was not surprising that FF would suffer a dip in popularity, and in the end Dev returned with 68 seats out of 147, six short of a majority with a dozen fairly diverse independents holding the balance of power.

What would have seemed to be the most plausible outcome would have been yet another FF-led government, not least because Fine Gael at that time seemed to be in terminal decline, returning a mere 31 deputies, with its vote bobbing along around the 20% mark and having been wiped out in large swathes of the state – only returning three TDs in the whole of Connacht, for instance. But that doesn’t account for the ingenuity of the Irish TD sniffing a chance at power, and thus the wondrous First Inter-Party Government was born.

Let’s consider the forces involved in this government. You had Fine Gael, the Free State party, the Commonwealth party, the bolthole for dispossessed Unionists and Redmondites. It was the party of Oriel House and the 77 executions, the party that ran the Saorstát with an iron fist for ten years, the party of then barely reconstructed Blueshirtism. It was, by any standard, an extremely conservative party, representing in the main the interests of the South Dublin upper bourgeoisie and the big ranchers.

You had Clann na Poblachta, a party made up largely, though not exclusively, of former IRA men. These were guys who had spent ten years opposing the 1937 Bunreacht, who had tried in 1939 to launch a war against England, and who during the Emergency had dissented from the almost unanimous support for neutrality in trying to line up Ireland with the Axis. Having been ferociously repressed by Fianna Fáil, they then gave that up for a bad job, abruptly became a constitutional party, and began merrily cannibalising the Fianna Fáil electorate. Their programme was militantly republican on the national question and, by the standards of the time, extremely leftwing on social and economic issues – in other words, a souped-up version of Fianna Fáil’s 1926 programme.

You had Clann na Talmhan, who are unfortunately forgotten these days, but were a fascinating formation in their own right. This was a party of impoverished small farmers in the West and its main policy was radical land reform, in line with the Fianna Fáil programme but not with FF’s record in government. The interests of the CnaT base were fundamentally opposed to the big farmers who increasingly dominated FG.

You also had not one but two Labour parties, having split a few years previously and spent the election campaign smearing and slandering each other with wild abandon. If you think the SWP-Militant bunfights on Indymedia are bad, the Labourites of the 1940s make them look like the wusses they really are.

Put all these disparate groups together and you still weren’t close to a majority, so what transpired in 1948 was a coalition of five parties and a technical group of nine – count ’em – nine independents, none of whom agreed on anything except that they wanted to put FF out. These differences were bridged by the simple introduction of the abeyance principle – in other words, everybody forgot about their programmes and concentrated on the division of spoils. And it all went surprisingly smoothly, with the only big stumbling block Clann na Poblachta’s refusal to accept the FG leader, General Mulcahy, as Taoiseach. So FG put forward Costello for the top job, Mulcahy got a seat at cabinet in any case and that was that. And, as we know, this Frankenstein government lasted a whole three years, thus scundering all those smart alecks in Fianna Fáil who expected it to collapse within months.

There is another interesting aspect to 1948, which is that Fine Gael did not dominate the opposition. FG held a mere 31 seats, as against 19 for the two Labour parties, ten for Clann na Poblachta and seven for Clann na Talmhan. There was a distinct possibility of a Labour-Republican bloc, possibly involving the small farmers, supplanting FG as the second force in the state. But that would have required Norton and the other Labour leaders to play a long game, eschewing bums on seats in the short term for the big prize in the long term. We know of course what they chose, and the effect of their choice was to breathe new life into a moribund Fine Gael, and for decades to come condemn Labour to being not a challenger for power in its own right, but a small and docile appendage to FG.

Does any of this sound familiar?

The new government takes office


And so, Bertie is re-elected Taoiseach and names his cabinet. And the Greens get two seats around the table, which will at least make up for getting frig all policy-wise, unless you count loft insulation and a someday maybe carbon tax as grand steps forward. Hell, at least Esau could eat a mess of pottage.
The word is that the Greens have scored two important ministries. Looked at from the Machiavellian point of view, which is often the best strategy where Bertie is concerned, they have two poisoned chalices. Gormley is in charge of the Galway water supply and Ryan the Corrib pipeline, both issues dear to the hearts of the nice people who vote Green, but where they will have limited opportunity to improve things.

Otherwise it’s more or less as you were, aside from O’Donoghue being shunted over to the Ceann Comhairle’s chair to clear some space. Biffo is of course an immovable object. Harney is still in Health, as predicted. Mary Hanafin, who has proven that nobody can handle the teaching unions like a teacher, retains Education. De Valera scion and uncrowned King of Connacht Éamon Ó Cuív remains in situ as Minister of Culchies and Gaeilgeoirí, which will come in handy for quietly building up his personal machine in the West. And so on.

Martin Cullen is still in the cabinet. Why?

Aside from the Greens, the interesting appointment is that of young Brian Lenihan to the Justice Department vacated by Dirty Mike. It seems an obvious move for one of the few sharp legal minds in the Dáil, a bona fide constitutional expert, and someone who has been waiting on promotion for years. But I can’t help seeing the double-edged sword. Brian may turn out to be a really good Justice Minister, which will of course reflect well on Bertie’s inspired appointment. But if, say, there is a major crime wave, I suspect Brian and not Bertie will be fucked.

And finally, since I’m always glad to see a prediction coming right, I am cheered by Bertie’s announcement that Bev Flynn may well get the whip back after all. This is the icing on the cake, and very much of a piece with Jackie the Cap’s envelope of goodies for South Kerry. All is as it should be in this great little country of ours. Huzzah!

Maybe I’m amazed… or maybe not, as the Glasaigh enter government


The water in Galway has been undrinkable for months. A key issue, one might think, for the Irish Greens. And what do we find today? The Greens going into government with the buggers responsible for this mess. If only Galway mayor Niall Ó Brolcháin had succeeded in winning a seat for the party, this would have been even funnier.

Bertie the modern Machiavelli has reason to feel pleased with himself. The rump Desocrats are staying on board, rather than follow the logic of their position and just dissolve into Fine Gael. Jackie has got some goodies for South Kerry, and now the Greens have voted by 86% to join the Fianna Fáil-led government. I must admit, I thought Pat Rabbitte was being smart with his poker-face routine, but it wouldn’t be the first time he’s outsmarted himself. Besides, he still might get to do the patriotic thing and become Tánaiste if the Greens go flaky.

So what have the Greens got for their trouble? Apart from bums on seats, I mean.

The M3 is going ahead. So too, I assume, will the other roads the government has committed to building.

In health, there will be no rollback of Harneyism – indeed, Harney herself seems likely to stay put. Co-location will be going ahead.

Will the Yanks be told they can’t use Shannon any more? It seems unlikely.

What the Greens do have is a commitment that, at some unspecified point in the future, there will be a carbon tax. Possibly on Green ministers’ Mercs. And it’s something that would probably have come in eventually anyway.

I know the Greens are in a much weaker position numerically, but the outcome of the negotiations doesn’t compare very well to what Groucho got in 1992, where FF kept control of the economy and Labour ministers got to bring in lots of cuddly social reforms. But we shall see.

Another point worth raising is whether the Greens’ supporters will forgive them. I don’t see why not. Actually, coalescing with FF makes a certain amount of sense. Take the Desocrats – they could never cut a deal with the Blueshirts for the simple arithmetical reason that both parties were pitching for the same vote. If one did well, the other would do badly. Who votes for the Greens? Nice, middle-class people with nice liberal opinions, mostly in Greater Dublin. The same people who voted FG in Sir Garret’s day and have turned to Labour in more recent years. This is a big reason why Trevor was clever enough to keep his distance from Mullingar – it’s hard to imagine a coalition whereby Labour and the Greens were constantly trying to cannibalise each other’s base.

This is one of the joys of the PRSTV system, that it throws up these seeming coalitions of opposites, while those closest to you on paper are your most bitter rivals. Hence Clann na Poblachta coalescing in 1948 with a pretty much unreconstructed Fine Gael. Hence Dessie saying that FF, and in particular Charlie, were unfit to be in office, and then putting them back into office. Hence today’s FF-Green-PD combo. And why not a Blueshirt-Provo coalition in five years’ time?

Finally, props to Clever Trevor for actually keeping a promise and resigning the party leadership. Though I suspect he’ll be back by and by.

Bertie does the supermarket sweep


There are a number of stages to dealing with the results of an Irish election. First you stare at the TV and exclaim “What the hell kind of country is this?” Then you sleep on it. Then you sit down with a cup of tea and a chocolate gravy ring, crunch the numbers and convince yourself it all makes sense.

The results are, I suppose, only dramatic in that they falsified the polls. It’s remarkable, but five of the six parties were pretty much within a 1% deviation from their 2002 result, Fine Gael being the exception. So it’s pretty much as you were for Fianna Fáil, Labour and the Greens; the Provos were a bit unlucky in that their big surge in Donegal didn’t deliver at least one seat to compensate for their loss in Tallaght; and the Desocrats, the weakest of the big six, fell below critical mass. If there hadn’t been a slew of opinion polls, we might have thought the results pretty dull, but consistent polling predictions of a Fianna Fáil meltdown and big gains for the Greens and PSF had skewed our expectations.

On one level, this is sort of the antimatter version of the Scottish election – the reassertion of the competitive two-party system, after a collapse of the main opposition last time out, resulting in a squeeze on the small parties and independents. On another level, the presidential factor would have played a role. Not for the first time, Bertie has played chicken with the electorate and, faced with the very real prospect of Electric Enda becoming taoiseach, the electorate folded. Besides which, one can assume that with the bien-pensants’ predictions of an FF meltdown, the wish was father to the thought.

I’ll write separately about the republican and left votes, because they have some implications for how we might build an opposition in the future. But there are a few observations worth making.

Firstly, I was taken aback by FG’s enormous gain in seats, from 32 to 51. In retrospect, this could have been predicted. The Blueshirts had a genuinely horrible result in 2002, not only seeing their vote slump but, due to a lack of transfers, losing out badly in terms of seats – they should really have scored around 40 last time out. So, Electric Enda has energised Fine Gael and made it look like a halfway serious party again. Factor in a 5% gain in share of the vote, plus a decent level of transfers from eliminated Labour candidates, and you have a recipe for substantial seat gains. However, these gains come at the expense, not of Fianna Fáil, but the forces who capitalised on FG’s collapse last time – the Desocrats and centrist independents.

Speaking of the Desocrats, who may well end up folding as a party, I’m surprised to find myself rather sorry at McDowell bowing out of politics. He’s one of those people, like Alan Shatter or Bob McCartney, who I’ve never had time for politically but who do add something to public life. As in: he may have been a bastard, but he was a bastard with substance, and it says something about our political culture that he can be ousted by a lightweight like Lucinda Creighton.

As for Labour, well, Rabbitte made a rod for his own back with Mullingar. I could have told him this ages ago – the only time Labour ever gained from a close association with Fine Gael was in 1973, and the resulting government was so atrocious you wouldn’t want to see it repeated. He then made a second rod for his back by trying to give himself wiggle room for an alternative coalition. And, while the Green and Provo hordes may have been held off for the time being, a vote share below 10% and a notably elderly parliamentary party should give Labour members pause for thought.

As for Bertie, he has a few tasks ahead of him, not least putting together a stable majority. One may guess that Bev Flynn will get the whip back in the near future, but even so, the two “gene pool” indies and the two Desocrats won’t get him to the magic 83. Will he be willing to reach a non-coalition understanding with the Provos? Will Clever Trevor get his feet under the table? Only time will tell, but things don’t look long-term stable just yet.

And that’s just the electoral end of things. Will the multiple judicial tribunals into corruption actually start claiming scalps, bearing in mind that Mahon will be reconvened soon? What happens when the boom goes tits up? And what of the factional manoeuvring within Fianna Fáil itself? As Kinky Friedman sang, when the Lord closes the door, he opens a little window.

Saorstát social democracy


Fresh from my success at calling the weekend polls, I’ll revisit the southern election. It hasn’t to date been very interesting, partly because the parties are saying very similar things about most of the big issues, and partly because the media are intent on making this a presidential campaign, which is bloody stupid in a parliamentary election with PRSTV voting.

Anyway, a presidential campaign suits Bertie, because even a jaded Bertie fast approaching his sell-by date trumps Electric Enda. Enda’s main success in this campaign has been to confirm his image as a likeable bloke with tons of energy. However, being a likeable bloke doesn’t get you the taoiseach’s job in and of itself. Even Jack Lynch, who was famously affable, was also a devious bastard of Bertie proportions when it suited him. Electric Enda, meanwhile, has failed to shake off the widespread perception that he’s, well, a little bit lightweight.

As I’ve indicated, I expect the Provos to do quite well this time out. Whatever about their national poll rating, all indications are that they are doing well in areas where they need to do well. The bookies are quoting them as holding their five seats and picking up their three targets in northside Dublin, but you also have to factor in two excellent chances in Donegal and sporting chances in Waterford, Wexford and Sligo. It will also be interesting to see whether PSF’s difficulty in attracting transfers is on the wane. So, depending on the rub of the green, their seat tally could be anything from 7 to 12. In any case, and whatever Gerry thinks, the southern membership wouldn’t be displeased if they didn’t get into government. Another five years of building up the organisation, grooming candidates and cannibalising the more plebeian sections of the Fianna Fáil and Labour bases would suit them down to the ground.

Labour illustrate how hard it is to make predictions under STV. Despite flatlining for months at around 12%, barely ahead of PSF, they are widely anticipated to pick up twice as many seats. But Labour won so many seats with narrow margins last time out that, again depending on the rub of the green, they could be up a little or down quite sharply. Apart from the Provos, Labour have a further difficulty in the rise of the Greens, who are no longer a niche party for tree-hugging hippies but are making a strong pitch for the votes of nice middle-class people with nice liberal opinions, which describes a big chunk of the Labour electorate, especially in greater Dublin. The Greens these days are cultivating a profile not far distant from Labour’s, only without the vestigial socialism and with a much less elderly parliamentary party. This is likely to be a long-term problem for Labour.

And, since this is supposed to be a left blog, I’ll do a quick review of the further left. The Socialist Party’s manifesto is just as dull as you would expect, although I was interested in them proclaiming “Water charges victories North and South”. Well, one of those was ten years ago, and the other comes under the heading of counting your chickens. Some windy platitudes on the North, as the SP aren’t keen to advertise their neo-unionism in the South – God knows why, because there are lots of people in the South who wish the North was a thousand miles away. And really, extremely youthful appearances from Joe and Clare in their official photos. Have the leaders of the working class discovered Botox? I think we should be told.

Next to the Socialist Workers Party (Swiss Toni prop.), running under the “People Before Profit” rubric. In years gone by, the SWP used to lash the SP for its parliamentary illusions, but now appears to believe that Irish politics can be transformed if only party honcho and friend of this blog Richard Boyd Barrett gets a seat in Dún Laoghaire. I really recommend having a look at Richie’s address to the proletariat of Kingstown if you get the chance. I know Richie has the theatrical gene, but I couldn’t help thinking of Groucho in Horse Feathers singing “Whatever It Is, I’m Against It”. Richie has principles, you see, and if you don’t like his principles, he can always get some more. As always with the SWP, the tone could be more accurately captured with a liberal sprinkling of exclamation marks and Yos.

Skipping lightly over the Workers Party, which is running exactly the kind of low-profile campaign it usually does, we conclude with the WP’s former comrades in the Togliattite Irish Socialist Network, who are running the personable John O’Neill in Finglas. John has two key pledges, neither of which he has a hope in hell of fulfilling. The first is that he won’t coalesce with the right, but will try to forge an alliance with Séamus Healy and Joe Higgins (neither of whom, by the way, are looking terribly secure). The second pledge is that he’ll take the average industrial wage – although the Provos take the average industrial wage, and it hasn’t waterproofed them against corruption. Still, I was very taken with his mock pizza ad. A bit of humour in politics is never a bad thing.

The mathematics of coalition


God, but wasn’t Prime Time desperate? It had the wholly unforeseen consequence of making me warm slightly to McDowell. Gerryspeak does my head in at the best of times, and between Grizzly’s torrent of abstract nouns and Rabbitte’s continuing impersonation of an 18th-century parliamentarian, I could well empathise with Dirty Mike’s eye-rolling.

OK, so we are now going to look at possible outcomes of the election. I’m not so daft as to try to predict the result of an STV election, but some hazy outlines can be discerned. And I’ll stick my neck out and say that the most likely new government is Fianna Fáil and Labour, although Bertie and/or Pat may have to make way for Brian and/or Brendan in the process. There are of course other possibilities, but this is the most credible one.

The consensus is that Fianna Fáil have had a shocking start to the campaign, which is true in the sense that the party hasn’t dominated the media agenda and its poll ratings have slumped. But there are a few factors militating against that. One is that the punters don’t seem as exercised about Bertiegate and stamp duty as the chattering classes. Another is that, as any fule kno, you can’t place any credence on a national poll. The constituency polls are more interesting, especially the batch of eleven done by Red C for the Examiner group and helpfully summarised in this week’s Phoenix. These indicate that, while FF support is dropping and Fine Gael support rising quite markedly in most areas, this isn’t translating into a big net shift in seats.

There are good reasons for believing this. One is that FF’s higher starting vote makes it easier for them to convert votes into seats, a situation strengthened by the new (and almost certainly unconstitutional) boundaries. The Blueshirts have the converse problem, that Big Phil has failed to crack the whip and therefore they are running far too many candidates to take advantage of the swing. It is of course true that the Red C batch doesn’t cover Dublin, where FF are likely to do very badly, but then the capital is virtually a Blueshirt-free zone and one expects FF losses there to benefit the Provos and Greens rather than the official opposition.

Now, for Electric Enda to become taoiseach a number of criteria have to be fulfilled. First, Fine Gael needs to up its seats from 32 to a minimum of something like 55. These enormous gains have to be overwhelmingly at the expense of FF, and without causing collateral damage to Labour or the Greens. Assuming Labour hold steady at about twenty and there are eight or nine Greens, a bare majority could be achieved – assuming Labour prove resistant to FF blandishments and also assuming that the Greens will come on board, which Clever Trevor to date has conspicuously not done. That’s a hell of a lot of assumptions, and for starters I would be astonished if FG break 50.

Fianna Fáil are likely to remain easily the largest party, despite significant losses. That gives them more options, although they certainly won’t be nearly close enough to the magic 83 that a government could be formed with the support of a couple of indies or the wreck of the Desocrat Hesperus. If the FF tally is in the low seventies, then FF-Green or FF-Provo become possibilities, although either of those parties would have some hard thinking to do first. If FF suffer a bloodbath in Dublin and fall significantly below 70, then Labour becomes the only realistic partner. And it is of interest that Rabbitte, previously viscerally hostile to FF, has been allowing himself sufficient wiggle room lately to make it look plausible for him to do the patriotic thing and become Tánaiste either way.

Obviously this is all just speculation at this point. But I strongly suspect that there won’t be an obvious winner next week, which will make for some fascinating horse-trading.