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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: February 10, 2011 @ 12:07 pm

    The New Reality

    Harry McGee

    Even in ordinary times, the world of politics is over-freighted with noise and guff.

    The trick is to try to distinguish between what’s merely rhetoric and what is – or might be – real.

    I have a sense – though it’s still a little  inchoate – that voters have gone beyond promises, have gone beyond blame, have gone beyond anger… and want politicians to tell them the stark truth …  unvarnished, unadulterated, naked.

    Of course, that doesn’t mean that Fianna Fail is going to get a ‘Get out of Jail Free’ card.

    Not at all. The party knows it will get a hiding. The name of the game for Micheál Martin is to have a salvageable party on February 26.

    But other parties need to be wary of the Big Sell on their promises, because voters themselves are becoming increasingly wary of them.

    It’s not a particularly pleasing simile but it’s the only one I can produce this morning. It’s like a patient with a terminal condition telling the surgeon to give it to him or her straight – the prognosis, the chances of survival, how long he or she has left to live.

    Maybe it’s not as stark as that. But on canvass with candidates (they were all Fianna Fail mind you) it has felt that way.

    My sense?  Parties are copping on that bluster and grandiouse comments and big gestures aren’t going to cut it.

    I was struck by that when looking at the debate on jobs on Primetime last night. All of the parties have cottoned on to the one tangible stimulus – the jobs that come from the national insulation scheme. The idea was originally that of the Green Party’s  but it has been appropriated by all the others. And it makes sense. Energy conservation is a good thing. With an injection of State funds it brings employment, particularly in the construction sector which has taken a hammering.  Sure there’s a cost to the State but there’s an outcome. Problem is that you are talking about only a few thousands jobs and none of them are permanent. But it’s a fix.

    That said, it was what Pat Rabbitte said about the more intractable unemployment problem  that was most interesting. Rabbitte and his party’s other former leader Ruairii Quinn seem to have licence to call it as they see it, without having to toe the party line too strictly.

    And very often their views seem to diverge… to be more moderate and more phlegmatic than that of the official party policy line ont ath issue.

    For example, one of Labour’s main line of attack against the coalition over the past three years was that it had no jobs strategy. The Fine Gael tuning fork hummed in unison whenever that note was struck.

    But blaming the Government for the lack of a jobs strategy and then coming up with a strategy of your own are two very different propositions. In a very sensible contribution last night, Rabbitte refused to commit himself on how many jobs Labour could promise on the basis that it’s as do-able a feat as predicting who’s going to win Sam Maguire in 2017.

    In brief, he said you needed to get the fundamentals right, to get growth, to get credit flowing from the banks, tos timulate demand. All that is messy big picture  stuff that needs clearing up and will take years of pain.

    And he was right. There is no magic formula to bring down unemployment. Indeed, all the indicatins are that we will have a jobless recovery for some time in the future – growth but without the attendant employment.

    Quinn and Rabbitte have been uber-realistic in their public utterances. There’s a sense too that Labour and Fine Gael (especially with the canny Michael Noonan in situ) have began to tone down the rhetoric, have slugged less heavily on the need to burn the bondholders or to negotiate interest rates downwards.

    Because the reality is, that besides a bit of mussing around the edges, there’s very little that can be done over the next couple of years about our predicament. It’s not easy but I think we will all have to learn to accept our penitent Lough Derg  status – dry toast, black tea, continuous stations of reparation around the island.

    Sure we are being punished for the sins of others. And it is very unfair. But deep down all the major parties recognise that there is little alternative.

    The only exception of course has been Sinn Fein. That party seems to have been inspired while drawing up its fiscal and monetary plans  by a Roald Dahl story called: “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”.

    The party has promised strong and decisive action which – when implemented – will produce magical other-worldly outcomes.

    The party will make a mark with a constituency that’s frothing at the mouth with anger . But people aren’t thick. But Sinn Fein needs to be wary too that there are a lot of its potential support base who believe that its policies are for the birds and have no relationship with the reality of the situation.

    And as a reminder read any  of the excellent analysis pieces my colleague economics editor  Dan O’Brien has written in this paper in recent weeks.

    Or if you have time, it is reallyreally  worth your while to read the op-ed analyis written for us by Donal Donovan, the former deputy director of the IMF this morning. You can find it here

    He goes through all the different arguments that have been made by political parties on the four-year plan and the IMF-EU deal… cuts versus taxes; minimum wage; banking sector; bruning the bondholders; and renegotaing the interest rate.

    He deals with them all in a low-key and realistic manner, telling us what’s real and what’s not.

    A key paragraph:

    “The IMF is unlikely to be perturbed by the more rhetorical reference on the hustings to sending 10 good men (or women) to batter down the walls of Brussels and sort matters out.

    The IMF takes a phlegmatic approach to things said during election campaigns. What matters to it is not what politicians say now but rather what turns otu to be feasible and realistic.”

    I believe the majority of voters now share that view. What’s done is done and cannot be undone. There a new air of reality that’s pervasive.

    • Paul says:

      Hi Harry,

      You’re right that no matter what happens the next few years are all about pain. The thing is though if we don’t renegotiate this deal with the EU we could be facing a decade of such pain.

    • Paul0690 says:

      Harry, you wouldn’t ask your buddies in FF to go back to Headquarters, box the paperwork in an archive box, send it to Collins Barracks and lock the door on the way out. Do us all a favour as the media just do not seem to get it, FF have basically cooked the goose, bolted the horse or whatever you’re having yourself, hopefully they will have to close after this election and do the country a favour.

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