2010 – Predictions for a political year
The narrative of Joe Lee’s amazing social history of Ireland brought us from 1912 to 1985. The last chapter, Perspectives, lambasted the policy, moral and economic failures that had beset us. Lee compared Ireland unfavourably to Denmark, a country with a similar population, that had prospered during the decades that Ireland had stagnated.
But a decade later Lee’s assessment seemed pessimistic. Finally, it seemed Ireland had pulled itself up by its bootsprings and jostled its way into Europe’s first division. A decade on in 2005 and that unbelievably good progress seemed borne out, reinforced.
And unbelievably good indeed it was, at least in the second half of the second decade, where we blew up a big fat property and credit bubble that exploded in our faces. There was genuine systemic growth in the economy in the late 1990s, with the economy driven by exports, that created real jobs, not many of the ‘bubble’ jobs of more recent times.
The Joe Lee anecdote is there because no matter how bright you are, the rules that apply to historical analysis cannot apply to crystal ball gazing. Yep, okay, a few including Morgan O’Kelly, Alan Ahearne and George Lee predicted a property crash. But everybody in the know was aware that the good times would have to come to an end. The question was when the crash would happen and how bad it would be. Sadly, the denial and the fallout were of Tiger Woods proportions.
The old canard of George Santayana that those who don’t learn the lessons of history are condemned to repeat it sounds great but is true only to this extent. It’s true that history does repeat itself to some degree. It’s also true that there’s denial about this. But what happens is that somebody says they have come up with a new method or trick that will prevent history from repeating itself. This time round the development of derivative financial insturments and the growing fashion for self-regulation (and other grand sounding counter-cyclical measures) were meant to have usurped the cyclical nature of economies . Of course, it didn’t. It was just another old-fashioned bubble, that burst as all other bubbles had.
I’ve always tried to be relatively tacit in predictions because they rely on variables that we just can’t countenance at this moment in time – Donald Rumsfeld’s unknown unknowns. Political pundits and journalists are a pavlovian species at the best of times. Kneejerk reactions to a crisis has the Government and a political leader on the verge of the cliff-edge of the precipice. One week Bertie is a goner. And before you know it he’s won the 2007 election. Cowen has been written off for most of 2009. And will be written off for most of 2010. But he’s still likely to be there. And will only be shafted if the economy takes another calamitious dip, or if NAMA turns out be a disaster (and we won’t know that before 2012).
So with that huge caveat here are some of my tentative predictions for what may happen during the course of the year (really nailing my colours to the mast here, amn’t I?)
Reshuffle: Brian Lenihan’s illness has complicated this. He will be making the announcement on his political future within a couple of hours and what he says will govern Brian Cowen’s thinking on the composition of wider Government. A Spring reshuffle was never on the cards anyway. Cowen has survived 2009 and needed as much stabilitiy in 2010 as possible. A reshuffle with all the commotion it would cause was not politically smart. Nor would it serve any strategic purpose. The Government wants to steady the ship and hope for improvements during 2010 (a return to growth, a plateau on unemployment rates). And then, with a view to a 2012 election, the reshuffle will take place in the autumn or (more likely) early 2011 to allow the Government give a sense of renewal and energy etc in the run up to the election.
Will the Government survive 2010?
Will it retain the seat vacated by Pat the Cope in Donegal South West?
No. But Senator Brian O Domhnaill (an Taoiseach as he’s called locally) isn’t a bad candidate at all. He’s young, energetic, personable and has a large personal following in the constituency. The seat should be Pearse Doherty’s for the taking. Nationally, Sinn Fein are going nowhere. The party has been unable to find a new direction or purpose in the South for a new post-peace process era. Border counties – because of their proximity to the North of course - are different. Doherty should have won a seat in 2007 and should win the seat now. Fine Gael would need a very strong candidate to win the sea. It’s likely that their candidate will come from the south of the county and not from the Gaeltacht areas surrounding Gweedore. Prediction Sinn Fein.
British elections: They will be held in May and the Tories will win. Not by much. But they will win. I just can’t see Labour getting a fourth term.
Irish elections: When the elections are held (in 2012) it will be the same. Only a miraculous recovery for the economy will win Fianna Fail the election. They shouldn’t have won it in 2007. The only reason that Fine Gael didn’t win was the electorate was not convinced that Enda Kenny had the grit to become Taoiseach. Those doubts about his wherewithal have been addressed to a certain extent since then. Cowen’s credibility on the other hand has gone downhill. Fianna Fail and the Greens will view the 2012 election as a salvage operation.