Miriam Lord: Let he who is without spin cast the first stone
In Malahide, a wide-eyed Micheál Martin berated Fine Gael for inventing political spin
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin with Anne Rabbitte, Fiona O’Loughlin, Lorraine Clifford-Lee, Catherine Ardagh and Lisa Chambers in Malahide, Co Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Fine Gael is obsessed with spin.
Whereas Fianna Fáil is obsessing about spin.
Or is that the other way around? It’s hard to tell after the latest in this season’s series of political party think-spins. As it was Tuesday, it was Fianna Fáil’s turn. They met in the north Dublin town of Malahide, which is a relatively short spin up the road from Leinster House but far enough away from base to merit a very agreeable overnight by the sea for the parliamentary party.
TDs and Senators met to discuss the forthcoming Dáil and Seanad sessions while “focusing on the major challenges of the day”, which were filed under the headings of housing, health, the economy and Brexit.
There was also the hugely important challenge and conundrum posed by FFexit, but any discussions on the subject cannot be mentioned in public as plotting the best possible date for the party to leave the confidence-and-supply deal is a delicate matter and must be spun very carefully so as not to appear vulgar.
However, attendees in the Grand Hotel will have been gratified to see notices around the conference area alerting visitors to the wifi codes. The network name was “VICTORY” and the password a galvanising “grandvictory”. These were for media access. One imagines the politicians closeted for the day in the O’Carolan Suite, daydreaming over even better codes. Maybe a thrilling “LANDSLIDE” followed by “overallmajority”.
Party leader Micheál Martin stuck to a very definite line when he held a briefing on the hotel lawn, echoing a theme already opened by his lieutenants in their pre-season radio outings over the preceding days. As attack plans go, it’s not very subtle. In fact, the strategy is sticking out a mile, but the trick is to completely ignore it and feign total innocence.
So, here is the spin: there is no such thing as Fianna Fáil spin, only Fine Gael spin. That’s the spin.
No spin cycle
It allows Micheál Marspin to lambast Leo Varadspin over “the spin, spin, spin focus of this government” while insisting that his party machine (while washing whiter than white) doesn’t even possess a spin cycle.
Furthermore, he appears to know nothing at all about leaks, except that they are shocking altogether.
If Micheál was a washing machine you’d send him back to the shops. Everyone knows that a good political machine spins and occasionally leaks.
Including Fianna Fáil.
After a dizzying half an hour of their leader loftily chastising everyone else for indulging in political “play-acting” and “game-playing” and outrageous spin, his audience between the lavender beds and herbaceous border were swaying like they had one go too many on the waltzers.
“We are not going to be part of any political theatre of politics for politics sake,” he fulminated dramatically, lambasting the Taoiseach and his Minister for Housing for their latest pronouncements against local councils for not building enough houses. The evidence advanced in their defence by a number of councils is that they have requested government go-ahead to begin building and have heard nothing back.
Going by that damning information, Micheál accused the Government of “playing a pathetic blame game to try deflect attention from their own failings”.
He may be right, but he made his anger clear in a non-dramatic way.
The Fianna Fáil leader, it turns out, is very taken by a word that was dropped into political parlance a few months ago by EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, when he talked of the need for a “de-dramatisation” of contentious issues around the Border backstop.
Micheál referred to it again on Tuesday, but only in the context of Brexit. However, he made it abundantly clear that he urgently wants to de-dramatise the Government and the way in which it goes about its business.
Take the housing crisis and the Government’s response (“shocking” he said, non-theatrically) and the leaking of the conclusion of the Scally report on the cervical smear scandal. All down to the Government’s “spin, spin, spin” obsession.
That leak – it could have emanated from a number of sources within the health sector, where turf wars are in vicious swing – couldn’t have come at a better time for Micheál as he embarked on his new role as Bin the Spin crusader.
“That kind of nonsense, really, we’re fed up of. And we’re fed up of the play-acting, and we’re fed-up of ... ”
So fed up, he had to change tack.
“Everything has to be leaked by this Government,” he complained, sounding very exasperated. “Everything is about spin. They seem incapable – it’s either a combination of immaturity or downright cynicism – that they behave in this manner.”
He was on a roll. But not in a dramatic way.
“And the people are fed up with this kind of political theatre, game-playing, trying to set the agenda all of the time, every day [with their] “We’ll leak this. We’ll spin it this way”.
It was ever so de-dramatic.
The new season Fianna Fail wants to focus on the “substance” of issues and not “the theatre” of them. There will be no attempt to replicate “what the Taoiseach has been up to for the last two to three weeks, which is all about play-acting, playing the game of politics.”
Who could forget July, when he met Leo and they agreed to meet again in September and “within 24 hours there was a leak and a spin to the newspapers” about what the Taoiseach said to him. This was followed by the release of Leo’s letter to him, which turned it into “more of a glorified press release than a serious document”.
Micheál was happy to refresh memories.
But it may be wise to dial down on the injured innocent act just a bit. As he embarks on his crusade, some might think that he doth protest too much.
Fianna Fáil was giving spin classes before they were conducted on bikes.