Is He Actually Qualified To Be A Caretaker?

Bogman Cartoon

I’d have thought it would be better for Fianna Fáil to let Cowen stay on. Whoever leads them through the election is going to suffer a huge, possibly fatal, blow to their political career. Cowen… Well he has nothing left to lose. Why not let him absorb the damage? They must have come to the conclusion that the electoral result under Cowen would be such a wipe-out that it will be worth sacrificing one of their  players.

Any one of their players. Though the grey ghosts that haunt the higher echelons of Fianna Fáil can pretty much directly pressure a leader into resigning, they cannot dictate who the party as a whole will elect as replacement. Heavily influence certainly, but not quite dictate. A shoo-in as when Cowen replaced Ahern is not going to be possible with party discipline in its current parlous state.

There is going to be a leadership fight, and the biggest loser will be the winner.

The ideal outcome of course is that they will get a new leader that they can afford to sacrifice. Someone sufficiently experienced for the electorate to take seriously, attractive enough to help prevent them being entirely wiped out, but who was never really a serious future election-winner. Hanafin perhaps. First female FF leader, it would seem fresh. Cynical, yet fresh. On the other hand Brian Lenihan sustained a lot of damage as Minister for Finance and his health problems militated against him ever becoming Taoiseach anyway. He has a brother to continue the dynasty. Maybe now is the time to play his card.

And as I write, rumour reaches me that Ó Cuív will stand. That has to be a sacrifice candidate. I mean, Ó Cuív. He is surely more decorative than useful. Still, it would be cute if the history of Fianna Fáil had matching bookends.


Cowen To Step Down?

Speculation is rife – rife, I say – about what Brian Cowen is going to announce any second now. As the pronouncement is coming from a hotel rather than government property it’s safe enough to assume that he’s speaking in his private capacity, so… Stepping down as party leader, but staying on as Taoiseach? It’s technically possible. The Taoiseach is elected by the Dáil after all.

It would just be really strange. He’s actually going to continue running the country from the dustbin of history. A first.

But it’s easy to imagine that cooler heads within Fianna Fáil have pointed out to him that they must go into an election with a different leader, and if there’s going to be time to get one he needs to get out of the way. God, that’s got to hurt.

What I cannot imagine is, who the hell will want that job?


Cowen Collapses Into Black Hole

A Black Hole Earlier Today

This appears to be what happened: Several cabinet ministers did not want to run in the election – particularly once they knew they’d be doing it with Brian Cowen as leader. So he wanted to replace them with fresh new faces, presumably in the hope that voters would fool themselves into thinking they weren’t looking at the same old Fianna Fáil.

The Greens were less than happy with what they perceived as the conversion of the cabinet into an electoral window display. They said they would pull out of government rather than accept the appointments. As that would precipitate an election, Cowen instead shared the portfolios out among the remaining cabinet members, and finally chose the election date – March 11th – in the hope that this would stay the Greens’ hand. (We’ll see.) His backbenchers meanwhile were busy explaining to the press that they wouldn’t have accepted cabinet posts anyway. They now perceive that their best hope of holding onto their seats lies in distancing themselves from Cowen as far and as quickly as possible.

So Cowen’s attempt to assert his authority and remain leader has unravelled. If there is any surprising part, it’s that the man who is inexorably steering his party into its greatest election defeat ever thought he had any authority to assert. No doubt he sees himself not as the man responsible for his country’s woes, but as the man to lead us out of them. The problem is though, that as the Taoiseach who gave us the ruinous blanket bank guarantee and Minister for Finance throughout most of the economy-wrecking property bubble, he is the man most responsible for his country’s woes.

At least, of those still around. Which isn’t quite fair on him of course. More of the blame for the bubble belongs to his predecessor Bertie Ahern, just as responsibility for the party’s corruption under Ahern really belongs more to his predecessor. (It’s easy to imagine that the failures of modern Fianna Fáil can be traced back to character flaws in DeValera himself; flaws which were minor then but have been cultured within the party over decades.) Though this might as well be Cowen’s political epitaph, his going makes little difference. The leader is just the bit stuck on the front. The problem with Fianna Fáil – and of the wider political culture – go right to the roots and require far more thorough changes than one of mere leadership.

The coming election is the first real hope we have ever had of that change.

  1. Micháel Martin looks decent and honest and innocent? Remember, we thought that about Bertie Ahern once.

Hallelujah, That I Live To See This Day

After last night accepting the resignations of much of his cabinet, alleged Taoiseach Brian Cowen has finally called the long-overdue election. However, despite the fact that there is approximately zero chance of getting any actual work done before it, he has appointed new people to the vacant positions. All the resigning ministers have decided not to run in the election, rather than have their political careers end in an ignominious defeat, and Cowen says he wants to appoint ministers who are running and so have “the potential to stay in government.”¹

He lives in another world, doesn’t he? They have about as much chance of being in government after the election as I do of teaching a duck to play tennis.

In truth, these appointments are bribes to ensure future loyalty. It borders on the academic, seeing as he’s not going to be leader of anything for much longer, but he might as well spend what political capital he has while he can. He doesn’t have a hell of a lot of other moves left.

So what happens between now and the election? If Cowen does secretly accept that Fianna Fail have no hope of being in the next government (and I’m sure, in the quietness of solitude, he does), then his real problem is to make sure that they aren’t destroyed permanently as a political force. Most do not consider that a possibility, more a fantasy of us commentator-types, but it could happen. Where once it had a distinct nationalist agenda, Fianna Fáil now depends for its vote on patronage, on the sharing out of the goods the State has at its disposal² to friendly faces in business.

Obviously they won’t be making powerful friends if they can’t bring gifts to the party. But this known corruption is essential for the FF base too. It helps give the impression to voters that by electing a FF representative they will get a better deal personally. The voter wants a representative who will do them favours, use their government insider status to secure them an advantage with state mechanisms that are meant to be impartial. This is why you barely ever hear politicians accused of corruption in Ireland. A level of corruption – on their behalf – is precisely what voters have come to look for in their politicians.

Of course, the ways in which a lowly TD can really influence state bureaucracy are small (particularly if the petitioner is an ordinary person whose interests do no align with those of more generous business contributors ), but TDs work hard on the illusion that they are bending rules and pulling strings for their constituents.

This illusion though can only be maintained if FF are in power on a more or less ongoing basis. Otherwise, constituents will discover that they have pretty much the same benefits even if their TD isn’t furiously writing letters for them. But the thing is, they have been. Fianna Fáil has been running this country for all but nineteen of the last seventy-nine years. The longest they have ever been out of power is less than five. It is less a party now than a permanent ruling elite.

This must be number one of Fianna Fáil’s first successive terms in opposition. Cut off from the supply of the State’s (that is, our) money to give to its supporters, it will inevitably shrink. It won’t be the end of corruption in Irish politics of course, but it will be a huge step towards bringing it down to a controllable level. And by ‘controllable’, I mean a level that will not entirely bankrupt the country. Again.

  1. In Ireland all ministers must be elected representatives.
  2. Which includes information.

Cowen Survives!

Cowen ‘won’. If only FF TDs were representative of the country, he’d be in great shape. Unfortunately for him, FF TDs are now representative of about everything the country hates.

Micheál Martin won the real game. The loser here is best positioned to be the next leader of Fianna Fáil – which is the highest office any member of Fianna Fáil will be getting for the foreseeable future.


The Trucking Election

So Joseph McNamara, the guy who pushed his cement truck up to the front gates of the Dáil, says he’s going to run in Galway West. Fair play to him, he’s determined to get in there one way or another.

I’m really in favour of protesting candidates standing up and driving the party drones out of the next Dáil. People with real grievances should demonstrate that yes, they can do a better job than those idiots.

But dammit, bankrupt property developers are not exactly what I was hoping for.


Taoiseach Announces Decision to Not Make Decision

It was a very Irish event.

I got a text warning of Cowen’s press conference while driving, so by the time I could read it there was only ten minutes left. It sounds like almost sitcom contrivance, but both the stereo in the car and the sound card on my computer are out of action. My phone of course only gets radio when you haven’t lost the headphones. I had to find a pub with TV in the next small country town, fast.

The first two I tried were crowded with people watching sports on satellite channels. I didn’t fancy my chances of getting them to switch over to our glorious leader. The third though was empty. No customers, no TV – I wasn’t sure if there was even anyone minding the place. A big funeral was going on at the undertakers’ right next door, maybe they were all at that. But miracle of miracles, there was a little old radio on – a transistor radio, I almost want to call it. And the Taoiseach himself was speaking, though in such vague terms that I wasn’t able to tell at first whether I’d missed anything important.

Then out came the little old radio owner, a lady I could barely see over the bar. She asked me what I wanted and I told her I’d like a coffee. She couldn’t make out what I was saying so she started to turn the radio down. It took a while to explain that I’d actually come in to listen to it. Then she didn’t have any coffee. “Or anyone to make it,” whatever she meant by that. I asked for a Coke instead, so she took down a Pepsi and went looking for a bottle opener. As she hunted back and forth the FM reception faded in and out.

Two old lads came in from the funeral, eager to hear the speech too. They asked me if he was going or not. “Damned if I can tell,” was my reply. It was not until the announcer summed things up after that I finally got the gist. He’s putting a “Back Me or Sack Me¹” motion to the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party on Tuesday. So the Taoiseach actually called a press conference to announce that there was no news and that he had not made a decision – a first that, surely. Instead it would be up to his TDs.

Could we not just vote instead? It would save an awful lot of time and trouble to skip to the inevitable conclusion. Ah, but that would mean Fianna Fáil leaving power before they’d finished sharing the country out among themselves. And what is politics for after all if not looting?

What amuses me is trying to picture FF’s internal machinations. Clearly just about every one of them wants Cowen to go in the hope that it will save their seat. (It almost certainly won’t, but it’s the only hope they’ve got.) However, there isn’t one among them who wants to lead the party into what is virtually certain to be its greatest ever electoral defeat. So they all want someone else to do the ousting. You can see them, can’t you? Furiously playing a game of Pass The Poison Chalice. This leads to political acrobatics of the first order, as prominent party members deny in public that they want the Taoiseach’s job, while hinting to their colleagues that they might be willing to take on the Taoiseach’s job, while secretly not actually wanting the Taoiseach’s job.

What strange times, when politicians are forced into inadvertent honesty. It would be hilarious, if it wasn’t so depressing. To cheer you up then, here is some footage of cats in space.

  1. “…Or Crack Me”, as someone on Twitter creatively added.

A Golf Game and a Massacre

It is an absurd conspiracy theory. I do not believe for a moment that any deal was made on a golf course between the Taoiseach and Sean Fitzpatrick of Anglo-Irish Bank. It’s ridiculous to hold up this chance encounter as the smoking gun that proves they were in cahoots.

You don’t need meetings to work out which side bread is buttered on. Cogs in a machine don’t have to talk to each other. Government had been working in the interests of Anglo-Irish in particular and reckless property speculation in general for years before that. That was where all the money was coming from. The money that was keeping them in power. Not to mention the percentage that was finding its way into their own personal lives, apparently by sheer osmosis. The reason we need to get Fianna Fáil out of government forever is not that Brian Cowen was a naughty boy. It’s because the whole FF political machine has become rotten to the core. There’s not much to add to that, so let us turn to the strange things going down in America.

Well I guess we’re not going to be using the phrase “grammar Nazi” so much in future.

When someone attempts to kill a Democrat Congresswoman, especially in this brittle political climate, the natural assumption is that they’re a gun-hugging Tea Party extremist. Confusingly however, Loughner appears to be just a plain nut. One must be careful not to blacken the name of the insane – he has not, it seems, ever been diagnosed with a mental illness – but his personal ravings have that familiar paranoid sound.

Which is sort of a disappointment really. When someone goes on a killing spree it would be nice to have an explanation. We want something bigger and more important than one young man’s distorted fantasies to share the blame. The weird upshot of this being that Loughner’s insanity actually seems to make him more personally responsible.

But as no one is obviously to blame, everyone is going to blame everyone. Loughner provided plenty material for this; his book collection covered the gamut from the Communist Manifesto to Hitler’s Mein Kampf, allowing any pundit of any stripe to construct the story of their choice. I have no doubt at all that someone is going to look straight into a TV camera and say that Loughner shot the Democratic Governor because he is a liberal. Probably on Fox.

Indeed if anyone other than the shooter himself can bear any of the blame here, it must be Fox News. Not because it’s the station that promotes right-wing demagoguery, but because it’s the station that promotes paranoia. Fox likes to claim it’s just responding to a liberal bias in the other television networks. (Funny how the didn’t seem liberal until Fox came along.) If they do have such a bias though, it is the one that most educated Americans have, invested in the progress and improvement of their own country. Rupert Murdoch’s investment is a financial one only. He came to the well of American public discourse and saw that he could make a buck out of poisoning it.

By the way, has it ever struck you how all of Fox’s main conservative hate-makers – Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity – have a Catholic or an Irish background? I’m not sure what that means exactly, but it disturbs me.


You Called That 2010?

You may (perhaps) have wondered why I didn’t do the usual year-end review in this column last week. The truth is, I just wanted one week after Christmas without having to be depressed again. But now, like pretty much everyone else, I have a stinking cold. Being in a foul mood anyway then, I might as well get on with it.

2010, the year the country was taken into receivership. The year we agreed to smash up our health and welfare systems in order pay for the mistakes of bankers. If overcrowding is any measure, our hospitals are now in the worst state that they have ever been. The year in which we found out that we are basically slaves to the whims of a financial market, in which our government became our pimps, offering out our services for the best terms they could get. One easy country, only slightly abused, willing to work into the next generation.

And it’s not going to get better soon. Beware a false dawn, as Fianna Fáil tries desperately to spin anything not immediately disastrous into ‘recovery’. Expect them to make complete asses out of the Green party as they continually put off the election in the desperate hope that some good news will arrive. Or, more depressing but more likely, that we will eventually come to see our current state of oppression as normal.

In the end we may have to hold a general strike or other mass protest to force them to stop harming the country. The fact that they have not already resigned out of sheer embarrassment tells us a lot about the kind of shower they are.

So 2011 is not shaping up to be a good year… The President has asked business to project a dynamic image of Ireland abroad but you know, I think if they could they’d be doing it already. How can they when the people responsible for this mess are still in charge? At best we look forward to a desperate endgame followed by a divisive election, our impossible financial situation growing worse all the while. It will be a year of damage but… Well, at least it won’t be dull.

I can’t finish though without a quick word about Ivan Yates and the collapse of his business. It is a sad situation of course when a company goes under, especially one with many employees. But I cannot find it in myself to feel sorry for the man. Recall what business he was in – gambling. It’s not exactly productive industry. Gambling is something we need a whole lot less of in this country. In the madness of the last few years, Ireland changed from a growing economy into a property casino. And yet, in a complete reversal of the norm in these things, it was the house that lost.

It must be said though, at least Ivan Yates doesn’t expect the rest of us to make good his losses. When banks could learn a lesson in socially responsible business and basic morality from a bookie, you know what they’re worth.