Anonymously yours – FF style
Whenever there are rumblings or mutterings or discontent within a party – and nowadays that’s Fianna Fail or Fine Gael folks - you get landed with the pleasurable (!) task of ringing around the backbenchers to try and sample the mood and divine the atmosphere. Today the task was to open the bonnet, have a look at the dipping indicator to see if Brian Cowen was so low on oil he was going to stall [permanently] at any moment.
Of course, there are a couple of peculiar features to such an exercise. Most TDs go ‘off the record’ to tell you what they really think. Which is fine. But you will find that with some – not everyone of course – what they really think often has no relation to the public stance they may adopt. And sometimes it might not even have a tenous link with the opinion (off-the-record, of course) they might profer to you the following week.
So you take those inconsistencies for granted. What the ringaround does is give you a sense of the mood right now. It’s not scientific but at least it can be indicative.
The other thing is the mammoth nature of the mining effort is not matched by the quanity in terms of product. The newsdesk is a cruel mistress. The morning flirtage – “We’re desperate, we’ll take anything from you at all” - becomes outright rejection at night – “We’re very tight for space so you’ll have to bung those five stories over as one and do it all in 50 lines (250 words). And what’s keeping your copy? This is a daily newspaper, not your (very irregular) blog, McGee”.
The net point is this: all those hours of conversations; all those acres of quotes; all that smalltalk, gets distilled down to a few hundred words. That ten minute conversation you had with that Deputy – yep, see, we have accommodated about three seconds of it in the last paragraph.
I spoke to a lot of Fianna Fail TDs today. Mostly anonymously. I though it might be a useful exercise to transcribe what they said, abridge it slightly, and then put it in to this blog in a raw state, untampered or untouched by human hand or keyboard. So following are some of the quotes from today, given in the sequence they were received. It just so happens that the first few are not supporters of Cowen. It balances out. It must also be remembered that quite a few backbenchers (mostly Cowenite) were prepared to go on the record and publicly nail their colours to the mast. Their views are reflected in the newspaper article.
“They are a couple of them going around trying to get people to sign up to a motion of no confidence. Nobody wants to sign that. That’s not the way it’s done. My own belief is that people will start going to [Cowen] between now and Christmas telling him that he has to to. We need a new leader going into the election.
Six months ago, I didn’t believe we needed a new leader but now we do. I think that the move will happen sometime in the New Year. He was good today and the pressure is off but I really think he has to go.
There are mixed messages. The grass roots want rid of him. A considerable number of TDs do not want to face into an election with him as leader. The bottom line is that while there are feelers out for other people, unless somebody challenges him he is leader by default.
Certaintly there’s a strong feeling that going into a General Election with him at the head would be disastrous. It’s going to be a hard sell. We need a person who gets the message across to the people.
A lot of people do not have the bottle to sign a motion. Others have different reasons for not going public. The future of the party is at risk at the next election. We are only going to survive it by having a leader that can communicate with the public.
The leadership question is shifting ground all the time. His performances this morning and last night were very strong. Last week I thought he would definitely not lead the party into an election. This week I have changed my mind. I think we have no other option.
Today in the Dail he was absolutely brillaint. He tore into the oppostion. He asked them what they would do and he did it again on the radio and the television last night. The damage from the IMF [intervention] – I would not blame the Taoiseach for all of it. He is definitely fighting now. If he was like that in an election, it would be a big help.
A lot of poeple beleive that it would be madness for this fellow to lead us. There is confusion though. Who is going to oppose him? Ministers point to TDs and TDs point to ministers. Nobody is willing to take responsibility. Most of the ministers are appointed by Cowen and thefore do not feel it’s their duty. The question is: who is going to take him out?
No Minister wants to be seen wielding the sword. The Budget is over and they should be [wielding it]. We cant’ get more than six signatures. Brian Lenihan needs to move now if he wants it. If he waits till after the election, he will lose to Micheal Martin,
As for Lenihan as leader, if you asked me before the IMF intervention, I would say yes. Now, I am not so sure. He’s been damaged in the past few weeks.
Cowen will lead us into the next election. I just can’t see the point of anybody else taking over. It’s as simple as that.
The idea of having three leaders in one term is ridiculous. It make no sense and would be a bad decision. We would be crucified for it.
I do not think there will be a direct challenge. There are many people who believe in a change of leadership. But they also believe a bloodbath in the party is not acceptable. It can only happen if party elders go to him and put it to him.
There are two different views. Changing would be a mistake as the party would lose credibility. The other is we need a fresh lick of paint. I am a Cowen supporter and am not keen for a bloodbath.
I do not think there will be one immediately. Brian Cowen is great when he is in a corner. He was in great form this week. I believe he will lead us. Nobody has asked me about the leadership.
I thinkhe will lead us into January. Whether he leads us into the month of February is a different matter. I am not sure that anybody is taking him on. If there is, it’s going to have to be a Minister. People have asked me to sign the [no confidence] motion and I have asked them: ‘You tell me who is the candidate?’ They have not been able to say. If there was a vote of no confidence, the most who would vote against him would be 9.
He is a changed man since Galway. He is the Brian Cowen we all though he was before. However excellent his recent performances, there’s a sense in the organisation that it’s too late. He is the lightning rod for a lot of public anger.
The traditions of the party are very strong. I do not see people willing to sign a motion of no confidence. If he continues with this type of performance he can turn the tide. For anybody else, what’s the point of being leader for an election you are going to lose?
Is there some benefits to us having a different face? A lot of people privately formed the opinion that it could make a difference of one to three per cent. But you balance that against the traditions and instincts of the party, or loyalty to the organisation.
If you asked me last week, I would have though he was looking for time to complete the job and go voluntarily after the Budget.
Now, he has a growing determination to stick with it. In the absence of a member of Cabinet or significant figures in the middle of the party putting themselves up to oppose him, he is there if he wants it.
Thre’s nothing happening. It’s more dead today that it was yesterday. There’s a few trying to drum up support for Brian Lenihan but they’re getting nowhere.
There’s no way that backbench TDs are going to put their names to a motion. He is fighting it out and he is not going to stand aside. It’s very hard to call. It’s not going to happen without a Minister getting involved. I believe that if 18 names were found, Cowen would lose the motion. There’s no way that backbench TDs are going to put their names to a motion though.