Beware what you wish for…
Brian Cowen this morning said something he will regret later this year. He told the Dáil that this wasn’t like the 1980s when unemployment rose to 17 per cent.
That was after he dropped the bombshell that unemployement rose by a staggering 26,000 in February brining the grand total to 354,000, an incredible 200,000 more than at the time of the General Election in 2007.
It is 10.4 per cent at this moment in time. Cowen is now saying that the jobless total could rise to 450,000 by the end of the year. But given the accuracy of previous predictions – woeful! – it’s likely that the picture will deteriorate worse than that. There’s no guarantee unemployement won’t creep up to 600,000, a truly frightening prospect.
And where will that leave us? At 17 per cent. And where will that bring us? Right back to the 80s.
Whatever uplift that Cowen and FF got from the Ard Fheis has been lost. It was pointless self-defeating approach by him yesterday to refuse to say the ‘Budget’ word. He created a mini controversy out of nothing. He said supplementary budget this morning and it was fine.
The Government looks like it’s flying on a wing and a prayer too. Until the weekend it was holding on an autumn budget, saying that everything would be determined by its Holy Grail, the Commission for Taxation’s report in early September.
Now we have a supplementary budget that will need to find not much shy of an additional €5 billion in cuts and in taxes… and in the last nine months of the year. Just to stay within the 9.5 per cent of GDP on which the Government gave a commitment to the European Commission.
Cowen can be justifiably be accused by the oppositon of heel-dragging on the tax issue. But there is a valid argument that his floundering isn’t worse than any other leader. Last week’s silver bullet becomes this week’s dud – look at what happend to AIG in the US yesterday with its fourth bail-out in as many months. Sure, it’s the fifth time the Government came back to it. But as he pointed out we are not looking at a static situation.
However, the big political charge is what the Government got up to over a decade where they allowed windfall taxes and temporary gains (all from the property bubble) to finance permanent costly expenditure. The expenditure remains the same now but the money source has completely dried up.
Cowen refused to say the B word. Equally impetuous has been his refusal to use the S word. To say sorry for the mistakes that he has made. As I write I’m listening to Gillian Bowler make a profuse apology on behalf of Irish Life and Permanent (and not before time!)
Is there more coperation between government and opposition. Lenihan seems more open. Cowen is flinty with the opposition leaders. Dempsey is filling the old Cowen role – the ultimate Fianna Fail partisan.
In a world where wholescale hubris has been exposed, humility is the most important political quality that’s required right now.
We need to see lots of it from all those who assume leadership roles for themselves in our society.