The failure of politics and the politics of failure
The end of these arrangement tends to be a grubby affair.
When heterogenous parties are yoked together like that, there are inevitably going to be tensions. Initially – sometimes for a long time – the fit seems workable. But in times of looming crisis, the stitches just rip out. Sometimes it’s drawn out. At other times, it falls apart so quickly that it’s gone in the flash of an eye.
The junior partner is the one that usually occupies the eject seat.
In this case, the Greens waited very late – until the aircraft was in an uncontrollable tailspin – to bail out.
And it wasn’t pretty.
No matter how they tried to dress it up as some kind of principle, it still looked tawdry. Neither of the parteis have come out well from this.
Of course, the Greens owed Fianna Fail nothing. Cowen tried to pull a fast one with his disastrous unilateral decison to go ahead with the reshuffle.
But the Greens in recent months have shown themselves quite capable of pulling sly ones themselves.
It must not be forgotten that they unilaterally decided to pull the plug on Government last November with their own ‘rush of blood to the head moment’.
And did they consult with their partners before holding their press conference? Well, erm.. no.
In fact, they left it so late that they were unable to contact Cowen in time. And had to delay their conference until Gormley got him on the other end of the telephone.
Like the Labour Party, the way the Greens tell it, there is always a higher motive. If you even timorously suggest they – sorry, have to use a technical phrase here – are covering their own behinds, you are ordered by them to go off and say three decades of the Rosary for even allowing such an impure thought cross your mind.
There are a couple of decision where the party will be on a sticky wicket when explaining the exit strategy in terms of ‘we’re a party of principle that doesn’t look for heads on plates’.
1. Its decision to exit Government before the Finance Bill. The party wanted out but was committed to the Finance Bill. The only way they could go and save face was to plead with the opposition to support an early passage. That will mean that the Finance Bill as presented will be as diluted as a homeopathy remedy. In other words, a pale shadow of the Finance Bill the Greens wanted through. They can dress it up all they like but that’s what it this is, a fig leaf to cover the nakedness of its strategy. It also allowed Fine Gael to have complete control of the unfolding agenda.
(In fact, Fine Gael is now pushing all the levers. It is the government by proxy.)
2. The backchannel with Fine Gael. The attempted backchannel with Labour. And both ongoing since the autumn. That’s all sounds a bit furtive and ‘uisce faoi thalamh’ for a party that prides itself on its principled stands on issues. It doesn’t sound very consistent to be in Government with one party while maintaining contacts with others, presumably unknown to the other party.
3. The party said it arrived at the decision by consensus. What it didn’t say was that it arrived at the decision unanimously. Because the decision to pull out of Government was not unanimous. One member of the parliamentary party argued strongly that the party should stay in Government until the Finance Bill was completed (a matter of ten days) but was over-ruled by colleagues.
There’s an obvious boxing metaphor for the fate of Fianna Fail. It’s like Muhammed Ali – long past his prime – deciding to take on the unremarkable young pretender Larry Holmes. The great champion was pulverised, embarrasingly so. Holmes, in the end, shook his head sadly, knowing that it was a mismatch, that it was an unedifying spectacle.
The party is in terrible demise. It will take a whole generation to reverse… and there is no guarantee it can ever recover what has been lost. Of course, its destiny has been determined by its own actions.
Enoch Powell’s old dictum about all political careers ending in failure rang true again. And for the unfortunate Cowen, ‘failure’ is almost a euphemism for his fate.
And as for Labour and Fine Gael?
It has been handed to them on a silver platter.
The Finance Bill was always going to be a proble for both parties.
Both are (quote) opposed (unquote) to it. But both want it to go through so they won’t have the headache of having to redraw a Budget that they don’t agree on.
So both actually want to see it get through.
And now they have the amazingly fortuitous scenario being presented to them. Allow the quick passage of the Bill and you will get an early election.
So both will facilitate the passage of the Bill (which both really really want to see going through) and then both will have the luxury of voting against it. In collusion with the Greens (and relucantly) Fianna Fail.
Yep, it’s like the last chapter of Animal Farm.
A double shot of hypocrisy all round. Cheers!