The Price of Power: Inside Ireland’s Crisis Coalition, by Pat Leahy
Leahy exposes the undermining of cabinet government by a Coalition gambling that it can clean up the mess by the next general election
Same show, different cast: Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore. Photograph: Eric Luke
In perhaps the greatest of political novels, Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s The Leopard, there is an object lesson in how conservative forces should react intelligently to a crisis that threatens their ascendancy. It is May 1860, and the revolutionary armies of Garibaldi and the Italian Risorgimento are about to attack Sicily. The prince, Salina, is a stalwart of the king of Naples. He is shocked when his beloved nephew, Tancredi, announces that he is off to join the rebels.
The prince objects that a man of Tancredi’s aristocratic blood should be “with us, for the King”. Tancredi, suddenly serious, counters: “Unless we ourselves take a hand now, they will foist a republic on us. If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.”
In a sense, the coalition that came to power two and a half years ago is neither Fine Gael nor Labour. It is the Tancredi party. Its primary goal has been to ensure that “they” (an angry and disillusioned citizenry) did not foist a republic on “us” (the structures of power and privilege that had brought the country to ruin). Pat Leahy’s vivid and compelling The Price of Power might have been better called The Strange Non-Death of Conservative Ireland. It is an excellent account of a remarkable achievement: the self-preservation of a system that had failed catastrophically.
Leahy, the deputy editor and political editor of the Sunday Business Post, gave us a terrific account of Fianna Fáil in power in Showtime, published in 2009. Its message could be summed up in one line, that of a very senior member of Bertie Ahern’s cabinet who told Leahy that “politics is keeping enough people happy at the right time and taking the shit for the rest of the time”.
The Price of Power could be summed up with the same sentence, not as a statement of fact this time but as an expression of hope. The excrement is much, much deeper, but the primary gamble of the Coalition parties, especially Labour, is that enough people will be happy enough when “the right time” comes with the general election of 2016. In the meantime, the motto of Irish politics is: “Hold your nose and pass the shovel.” That The Price of Power should be so continuous with Showtime in this respect says it all.
Likewise, the methodology established in the first book is carried over to the second. Leahy is quite upfront about the deal he makes with senior politicians and their handlers: they tell him their stories and he preserves their anonymity. Implicit in this contract is that the book is a narrative – and an insider narrative at that – not a critique.