State of the Nation, Gargantuan and Jargontuan.
Last August I wrote a story that Brian Cowen was planning to deliver a state of the nation address sometime in September (see the original story here) . It was sourced impeccably, from a minister who should know these things.
It didn’t happen. I got it in the ear from the handlers with plenty of scoffage every time it was mentioned.
I resorted to the default excuse of the Indo’s former political editor Chris Glennon: “I was right at the time”.
How my little heart soared on Monday evening (and my ego too – I am a journalist after all) to hear that six – yes six – TDs and Senators had urged Cowen to make a State of the Nation address about the economic situation.
There has been concern among the troops about Cowen’s reticence and his lack of presence. For two months, every time he made a public utterance he either mumbled, or was too vague, or went into a long spiel chock-a-block with jargon. The was Cowen the Jargontuan.
Well on Monday he told it like it his to his Fianna Fail colleagues at the parliamentary party meeting. His fortright, direct mode of address signalled a change of tack, and perhaps, a return to form. To borrow Enda Kenny’s New Testament metaphor, the saviour had returned after wandering for 40 days in the desert.
Has the Gargantuan returned? I personally thought that he was strong yesterday and that his impassioned (almost emotional) defence of his handling of the crisis worked. He had two audiences… those in front of him and those behind him on the backbenches of Government. The FF backwoodsmen would have been happy with the bench-thumping Tony Soprano stuff. Some of my colleagues believe that that gruffness and aggression doesn’t wash with Joe Public out there. I’m not inclined to agree. I think that’s what people expect (and want) from Cowen (though that will turn some people off). When Australia elected Paul Keating as prime minister they knew they would get a leader with a poisonous tongue. Cowen is Biffo. That’s his image. That’s what he’s best at. Maybe I’m wrong on this but when he tries to be moderate, statesmanlike and diplomatic he bores us all to distraction. And he only offers us two choices – Jargontuan or Gargantuan – with no middle ground.
Of course, he’s taken a massive gamble by cleaving to the social partnership model. If the talks unravel this weekend or if there’s any signs of a fudge or of backsliding, he will quickly find himself back in the wilderness roaring to no one in particular.