Fine Gael Rallies its Troops
Deaglán de Bréadún
The Fine Gael ardfheis started off quietly enough last night. The high-point of the evening when leader Enda Kenny and Deputy Lucinda Creighton publicly embraced to show that their recent spat at the parliamentary party was now water under the bridge.
Lucinda and Enda kiss and make up (Photograph by Frank Miller)
That was when Lucinda walked out following an exchange which arose over a cryptic comment by the party leader about the kindly treatment Deputy Creighton supposedly gets from the Sunday Independent, whereas Kenny gets short shrift by comparison.
This evening’s speech by the party leader is billed as the Main Event of course and we can expect the troops to rally and cheer in the time-honoured fashion.
I’m told that, on social occasions, Kenny’s party-piece is to recite a speech by John F. Kennedy – presumably the great inaugural oration with its rousing call to “Let the word go forth from this time and place that the torch has been passed to a new generation” and “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”
He’s not an orator in the JFK class himself. Neither was Liam Cosgrave, but he still got to be taoiseach, so modest public-speaking abilities are not a barrier to high office. Jack Lynch, Sean Lemass, Charles Haughey, Garret FitzGerald, Bertie Ahern, Albert Reynolds, John Bruton – none of them was a latter-day Demosthenes.
Brian Cowen, on his day, can turn it on but more often he is content to read his script and get it over with as quickly as possible. Eamon Gilmore is a good speaker but will probably never have the numbers to get the top job.
And that’s what counts at the end of the day (one of Albert’s favourite phrases). Under Kenny, Fine Gael won back 20 seats and is now a serious contender to lead the next government.
It always surprises me that Fine Gael don’t play the “Leaving the same party in office for a long time is bad for Ireland: we need a change of government after 12 years” card more often. It could win them a good deal of support from people who would not normally vote FG.
But the political system is essentially in a state of suspension until next Tuesday’s Budget. The Government has to get it right for the sake of the economy of course. But it will also want to get it right from the point of view of its own political survival.
That means, no breath-taking and outrageous unfairness that has the mobs out on the streets next day. Methinks they have learnt their lesson from the debacle of the over-70′s medical card but there is always the human factor. A simple cock-up could bring this coalition down.
It seems the Greens have taken to heart the basic tenet for the smaller party in a coalition: when you’re bought you stay bought. Or to put it less cynically, you must guarantee stability in government. Labour forgot that when it was in office with Reynolds and has not darkened the door of the cabinet room for 12 years. Instead of Labour-flavored policies we had the PD tail wagging the Fianna Fail dog, with results that many are complaining about today.
Of course you mustn’t abandon your fundamental principles. The beauty of being Green is, quite simply, that even the smallest concession can be seen as a major gain because it is in line with the philosophy of “Think Global, Act Local”. Thus a small step forward for the Greens can equate with an old-style “biggie” for Labour.
They neatly sidestepped the whole tribunal imbroglio by looking to the ultimate publication of the report. The brown-rice-and-muesli image had everyone fooled: these are some of the smartest cookies ever seen in Irish politics and their performance in the polls continues, in the words of RTE’s Dave McCullagh, to “defy gravity”.
The Greens are the New Clergy. Like the Church in a previous generation – before the Great Disillusionment set in - they are above suspicion and deferred to by all. They can do no wrong because they follow a star the rest of us cannot even see. And they could well be in the next coalition, whatever its make-up. The other parties must be Green with envy.