The Parable of Andrei Arshavin
This is the parable of Andrei Arshavin*, Russian international, a man of quixotic and enigmatic talents.
The very first time I saw him play was during the European championships.
His performance was incredible. He shimmied left and right; he slotted through perfect passes; showed himself to be blessed of almost unnatural talents.
He disappeared from view. He was on the pitch but wholly anonymous for the rest of the tournament. He could well have been up in Row G.
I have seen his teams play on a great many occasions since then but sometimes it’s impossible to find him and you wonder is he on the pitch at all?
True, he occasionally rouses himself to remind us all of those glittering talents. But those occasions have been sporadic and, to me, have seemed few and far between.
He is what pundits describe as a temperamental player.
* I have taken a little artistic licence on Arshavin. He is not Mr Consistency but he plays well for Arsenal regularly enough. Well, far more regularly than the subject matter of this blog. Please read on…
When something went wrong with something in government, Bertie Ahern had a great knack of recreating himself as Bertie the Bystander. That’s really terrible, he would say. We should not stand for that.
Of course, the reason things were so terrible was because of decisions – or to be more accurate the lack of them – made by his government. That made no difference to Bertie. No better man to distance himself from trouble.
With Brian Cowen it’s different. It’s the Magnificent Biffolino and his amazing old-fashioned vanishing act. When something happens, he can distance himself not only in words but also in person. Where has he been since Christmas? Phwut. He has evaporated in a puff of (cigarette) smoke into thin air.
Ah now, easy on, He’s working away at his desk, making all those hard unpalatable decision, according to his people. But for Joe Public out there he may as well have been holed up during a blizzard on the North Face of Everest for the last three weeks sipping Bovril and contemplating the unavoidable reality that he is completely cut off from all human civilisation.
And that’s what makes him such a poor Taoiseach. He does not understand people. He does not understand the way of the world, the way of politics. He doesn’t understand that the world has moved on and the fact that he was a champion debater at Roscrea; that he swanned through his exams in UCD; that the rewards of national politics came so easy to him, just doesn’t cut it any more. A handful of stellar (and increasingly less so) performances a year haven’t done it. Won’t do it any more.
His race is over. And the problem with his Fianna Fail colleagues is that they are up in the stands holding the betting slips bearing his name, knowing with a sinking-feeling, that he’s a beaten docket but the starting flag has already been raised and it’s too late to back anybody else.
Where has he been since Christmas? And why has he not been out to defend his meetings and contacts with Sean Fitzpatrick? Has the energy that saw him do a round of TV and radio appearances before Christmas melted away like the snows.
I’ve discussed, in a previous blog, the perils of doing phone surveys to ascertain the ‘mood’ within political parties at any given time. TDs will tell you one thing in private but may say something different in public. They may also never act out their private sentiments. Having said that, the mood this week is resigned and almost fatalistic.
They all believe the optics of it are bad, terrible even. But no Minister is going to take out Cowen unless the crisis spins out of control in to a fully-fledged scandal. And though one or two middle-grounders are now beginning to get angry – as opposed to frustrated – with Cowen and his inconsistency, nobody really believes there is any benefit in taking him out before the election.
A number of the party’s younger TDs are clearly getting frustrated with the sense of inertia among the officer class and are beginning to make mutinous sounds. Others are trying to forge ahead with a bit of energy and original thinking, knowing it will be largely left to their generation to heal a crippled organisation.
The best contribution has come from the Cork TD Michael McGrath. He pointed out that the party needs to get younger people into position to articulate its position in ministries held by Greens, by Mary Harney, and by the Fianna Fail ministers who have announced they are retiring. Nobody is out there pummelling away at the opposition with the Fianna Fail artillery. Cowen should show some dynamism and move to correct that, he argues.
Mary Harney has been on holidays for three weeks now. Whatever about the alleged politicisation of the trolley and A&E issue, her continuing absence over the hike in VHI fees is almost indefensible.a
If Cowen had any political courage, he would have decommissioned the last piece of rusting weaponry from the PDs a long while ago.
They always harp on about his loyalty to the party and to colleagues. Loyalty is grand as long as it’s not the patently wrong thing to do.
As for wrong things to do, his failure to inform anybody until now of his contacts with Sean Fitzpatrick in 2008 shows how out-of-touch he is. His statement last night had a touch of the Willie O’Deas about it – wholly unapologetic. If he doesn’t understand how potent the disclosures are, he should have stepped aside a long time ago.
Sure he has taken brave and unpopular decisions in the past two years. And he won’t be thanked for it. But the decisions were only to undo the demented policies of the previous seven years. It’s true that other political parties and many citizens lost their bearings and political perspective in the face of the lure offered by rising property prices. But in the blame stakes, he – with the exception of Ahern, McCreevy and Harney – is guiltier than anybody else.
Yet somehow he thinks that during the Election campaign he will suddenly turn it all around with magical Andrei Arshavin performances.
It’s not going to happen.
He will resign as quickly as Michael Noonan did in 2002.