Cowen on the hustings
Observe the picture closely. It’s a group of people waiting for a Luas tram at the platform in Dundrum. But it’s no ordinary group. The assembly is composed of political correspondents, reporters, colour writers, photographers and camera operators. And they’re not waiting for a train. Rather for the occupant of a train.
This conspicuous group was spotted by Luas’s security office. A voice crackled into life over the tannoy on the platform intoning that cameras or filming were not allowed on Luas ‘infrastructure’ without permits. A minute or two later the same voice said that they were all being watched and recorded on CCTV.
It was Big Brother stuff, straight out of 1984.
But then Brian Cowen alighted off the Luas and we realised it wasn’t 1984.
It was much much worse than that. Worse than the clock striking 13. Worse than Room 101. Worse than the fate met by Winston Smith.
For this was 2009 and the nightmare facing Fianna Fail made George Orwell’s fatalistic take on totalitarianism seem like a tea party.
Of course, the reason why everybody was there was because it was a ‘media event’. At grass roots level, candidates actually go and meet the electorate. But for national leaders and Eurpean candidates, it’s all about events. That means a quick sweep through a shopping centre, meeting and greeting everybody who crosses your path. Of course, every comet passing though has a tail. And that tail is the media. Everything is designed to get a sound byte on air, to get a couple of clips onto the news bulletin, to get a ‘human side of Pat the Political Leadr’ picture into the paper.
And so it was yesterday. Brian Cowen was retinued by a press pack of 30 or so people as he accompanied Fianna Fail’s candidate in Dublin South, Shay Brennan, through Dundrum. He was fated to meet far fewer ‘real people’ than the small army of handlers, politicians, journalists and snappers that surrounded him.
The biggest surprise of the half hour walkabout was the non-existent hostlity. On the other hand there was little euphoria either, in marked contrast to George Lee who had been three only moments before.
Cowen gave a very careful stand-up interview where he repeated the line that the Fianna Fail-led Government was the only body willing to make the hard decisions. He discounted all contentions that the party was in trouble, that his leadership was in trouble, or that FF was in freefall.
The impression from the first day on the hustings is this: Fianna Fail will do badly. But the party will not do quite as badly as people are claiming right now. Deep downs all FFers know that the two byelections are lost. If the party manages to salvage three European seats and takes only a relative hit in the local elections, it will be able to claim a victory of sorts.
But only until the next crisis rears its head.