Is Cowen really straight out of Nob Nation?
Mark Hennessy’s assessment on Cowen this morning is great stuff (here’s the link but don’t dare click it till you reach the end!)
It raises a number of pertinent and searching questions about Cowen’s style of leadership that have been touched on here and elsewhere. In the broadest sense they are:
1. Does the Taiseach understand the full extent of the current problems?
2. Is he capable of devising real solutions to deal with them?
3. Is he capable of taking decisive – if highly unpopular- action?
4. Can he communicate all of that to the population to instill a sense of confidence in the leadership.
In other words, is he still The Man?
The four questions above are not multiple choice – there is a mutuality on them. Each depends on each other. If one of the pillars (oh how I love the sensuous language of social partnership) is weak then all the rest is in danger of toppling.
Cowen and Lenhan made a couple of mistakes along the way. But only a couple. Correct me if I’m wrong but is there any Government in western Europe that has yet brought in the full panoply of astringent medicine that will be required?
|It has taken a few months for the full extent of the carnage to be absorbed by everybody. Look at what happened with the over 70s medical cards and education cut-backs last October. That was only, in relative terms, a shifting of the deckchairs exercise. Imagine if the Government had tried to steamroll €2 billion in cuts through back then.
The quality of the response hasn’t been bad, certainly no worse than any other Government. We have seen Governments fire off whole cartridges of so-called silver bullets in quick succession over the past couple of months, only to find that the ‘nuclear option’ has not made a whit of difference in terms of stimulating economies or revitalising banking activity.
In a way, the delays in unveiling a plan the resulted in Cowen and Lenihan’s decision to stick with partnerhsip has worked to their advantage. Nobody is under any illusion about the chill winds that now blow. Everybody will be far more pliant to taking the tough medicine.
That said, the Government have had a pretty dire time of it in the past six months. On the pure political level, there have been mistakes of policy and presentation. But there have been strong decisions that people have conveniently forgot – the state guaranteee of deposits, the decision to recapitalise the banks, the early announcement of cuts – as well as the bloops like the medical cards and the pointless bringing forward of the budget and the very wooly economic framework plan.
But the situation is fluid. Let’s explain that little euphemism. Nobody knows the hell what’s going on. One of the things that gives me a pain is listening to people (usually the economists who told us in 2007 that growth would slow down a little but that’s all). What’s really worrying is the certitude. Can we really let Anglo Irish Bank go for example? Do we really know what consequences will flow from that?
I had a neighbour who told me about his method of picking a horse in a race. He placed the racing pages on the hedge. He retreated to the other end of the garden. He took the garden fork in his hand. Then he charged down the length of the lawn like Sir Lancelot. Wherever the prong pierced, that was his choice.
Did the method work? Well, as well as the prognostications we are hearing from any of the other economic punters.
The biggest failure the Government has been one of presentation. The so-called troika or Cabinet of three of Cowen, Lenihan and Coughlan isn’t true but it’s been allowed get out there. Stories about rifts between Lenihan and Cowen over strategy are not true either but they have also been allowed propogate. Cowen’s own media appearances (and Dail contributions) have been bland, long-winded, jargon-filled and over-cautious. The collective impression is that he’s vague and non-commital, not energised and vacillating and maybe not fully in control of the situation.
People on the street are asking: Does he know what he’s doing?
Those who work with him saythat is anything but the case, that he working decisively and exhaustively behind the scenes. One of his staff also pointed out to me this week that the media is over-obsessed with the ‘communication’ (i.e. spinning part) of the brief and because he’s not out there doing a Jimmy Cagney song ‘n dance routine, we all think that he’s a goner. Said staffer pointed out similar media criticism of The Anorak in 2003 and 2004 and said he bounced back.
But the crisis facing Bertie Ahern back then is incomparable with now. As Mark and Stephen Collins point out today, Cowen does not have time on his side. He has a couple of weeks to come up with a plan that will steer Ireland away from the dangerous rapids ahead. And that’s only the first challenge. The summer elections and the second rerun of Lisbon are both capable of downing him if results go disastrously wrong for the Government.
The Nob Nation portrayal of him as a slobby drinker has (unfortunately) taken purchase. Oliver Callan’s impression of him has improved but the scripting of all the sketches I have heard is woeful. And crude. Real lowest common denominator stuff. To think that people are trying to compare it with real satire like Scrap Saturday or Hall’s Pictorial Weekly, both of which took no prisoners but did it with art and perception, not with end of the pier toilet humour.
That’s where we are at now. Fianna Fail’s most colourful minister becomes its blandest leader. Second division humour becomes cutting-edge criticism.