Marking your own card
SELF-ASSESSMENT by Government in judging its own performance after just a year in office is always a risky venture. The danger is that it will be seen as a self-serving public relations event. For when a government marks its own scorecard, the result can never be in doubt. Successes are often exaggerated, failures minimised and the public is rarely impressed. For the electorate – ever mindful of how government performance never quite matches opposition promise – too much self-congratulation too soon smacks of complacency and arrogance. And when Fine Gael took the self-assessment exercise a stage further this week, the move deservedly backfired in spectacular fashion.
The party had planned a photo call to publicise its distinct contribution to the coalition story so far. The idea was for party TDs to hold aloft stars to highlight Fine Gael’s achievements. On hearing of the plan Labour minister Pat Rabbitte dismissed the idea as “silly”. And, it would seem, Taoiseach Enda Kenny thought so too, having claimed he had only just heard about it. Fine Gael quickly dropped the photo call and engaged in a swift damage limitation exercise, in which the party’s press office served as the ritual scapegoat.
After a year in government, anniversary celebrations seem both premature and ill timed – particularly when they occur on the day a State-owned bank, AIB, announces plans to lay off 2,500 employees. The timing of the event was insensitive and, from the point of Coalition solidarity, quite inappropriate. The achievements or failings of government are just that. They are not the successes or failures of the respective parties in Coalition.
Government involves Ministers sharing collective responsibility for Cabinet decisions. Government should not be based on a political calculation of how those decisions may affect party fortunes. Neither, subsequently, should Coalition parties attempt to claim government achievements as distinct party successes. The reasons should be obvious. Such an approach is divisive. It weakens rather than strengthens Coalition solidarity.
No government has had to face a more daunting set of challenges – particularly on the economy – than this administration. And to date, Fine Gael and Labour have shown a willingness to serve a national, rather than party, interest in government. It is reckless and wrong for the Coalition parties to risk putting that spirit of mutual confidence and trust in jeopardy for the sake of some narrow, temporary and fleeting party advantage.