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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: January 4, 2010 @ 1:11 pm

    2010 – Predictions for a political year

    Harry McGee

    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.

    • Desmond FitzGerald says:

      I don’t see the Tories winning in May. There is no buzz at all about them. It’s a case of wanting to punish Labour but not wanting to bite off the nose to spite the face. Once the election date looms people will focus on the reality of a Tory government. Those who actually make the effort to vote are old enough to remember what a Tory government was like and the more they see the potential Tory cabinet of Etonians lecture people on cutbacks etc when those same people have lived off inherited wealth all their lives then they’ll realise Labour – for all its failings – isn’t too bad.

      However, I wonder how to factor in voting for Labour meaning 5 more years of Brown or if Brown is pushed in April will the new leader get a big enough bounce in the immediate election they’d have to call to keep Labour high enough?

    • Dan Sullivan says:

      I think the problem for the Tories is the simply enormous seat gap they have to close in order to get even the smallest majority. They need to win about 130 extra seats to get a razor thin majority. I’m not sure that any party in the UK has ever closed that large a gap. True, Labour in 1997 won 147 extra seats but they didn’t need to win them they only needed to win 50 odd more to get a majority. The rest was a buffer brought on by the landslide. There doesn’t appear to be a landslide feeling around the Tories. Both of the main parties are shrouded in gloom for one reason or another.

      I can see the Tories falling short but breaching the 300 seat mark. Labour would end up south of 260, the LibDems will offer support on the basis of electoral reform but it would be rejected.

      The Tories would end up calling another election with 12 months, and Labour under a new leader might be able to get enough in that new election to do a deal with the LibDems. And on foot of that deal with electoral reforms there might be another election with 2 years.

    • Harry says:

      A lot of British commentators are saying a hung parliament. I just feel that Labour after three terms of office are running low on fuel… dangerously so. H. It’s a big gap, true, but the Tories under Cameron are a very different proposition that the Tories under a succession of right wing non entities over the last decade and a half.

    • Harry says:

      And that’s not saying that Cameron ain’t right win. I think he’s more to the right than he presents. But so too has every British prime minister, including Tony Blair. It would be fascinating to see the Lib Dems holding the balance of power. Incidentally, my colleague Mark Hennessy (formerly of this dept) has written some sharp analysis on the unfolding situation.

    • Dan Sullivan says:

      Harry, the problem for the Tories is that even with a massive win votewise that does not necessarily translate into seats. People often miss it (in large part due to the exit poll gap being 37% to 33%) but the gap in 2005 was only 2% in Labour’s favour yet they won 150 more seats.


      You can try out some scenarios with the site above, even with the Tories getting 42% to Labour 29% they still only end up with a 20 seat majority. Hence the view that they will fall that wee bit short.

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