On the rebound
Brian Cowen has had a good few terrible weeks in the 35 weeks since he became leader (about 32 I’d say). But this has been a great week for him. Twice he has dispensed with the scripts he hates and spoken from notes and from the heart. And it has worked.
I happened to be in the hotel covering the story because of an different expectation. My paper was following the recapitalisation story all day and hoped he might say something. There were three of us at the door of the Four Seasons to do a doorstep with him. The other two left after he did the interview; there was no real reason for them to stay as we were told that little would happen.
It was a standard after-dinner speech to the Dublin Chamber of Commerce. Cowen goes to more of these gigs than he has hot meals or pints (well, maybe!). The Government Information Service (GIS) sent out no advance notice. There were no expectations – even from his own staff – that he would do anything special. So he delivered the speech of his life with no cameras or press corpos or radio mikes present, as you would expected from such an important stump speech. As it happened, the Chamber of Commerce itself recorded the proceedings (as did I but on my iphone which would not really have been recordable copy).
It was a tremendous speech. A colleague told me this morning that he must have learned wadges of it off by heart like Mary Harney (who never reads from a script but memorises all her speeches from beginning to end). And there were certainly a couple of lines that had the look of “here’s one I prepared earlier” about it. Including the one that stopped them in the aisles:
“The one thing that characterise their success is their self-belief. If we decide to wallow in the sea of doubt do not be surprised if we remain in the turbulent waters that we are in today.”
It was impressive. A strong passionate defence, a realistic assessment or where we are (mired in recession if you must know) and a smidgen of hope and determination… fighting talk. And there were borrowings from Obama especially in that exhortation with its effective repetition: “Jobs, jobs, jobs must be our priority”.
February is going to be tough. Already, gaps are appearing in the €2b plan. Unions may very well mobilise on the streets. The economy will continue to sink like a pint of stout in the hands of you-know-who.
But let’s call it like it is. Cowen had a good week this week. He has removed (if only temporarily) some of that huge doubt and uncertainty that has dogged his leadership for months.