Meet TINA – your companion till the next election
Coalition will be hammering home their message that ‘There Is No Alternative’
‘Expect more political fixes, of differing scales, as the election draws near. A recent example was the extra funding provided by Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan for resource teaching hours for children with Down syndrome.’ Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy
Voter, meet Tina. She will be your companion over the next six months to a year, from this spring to next. She will be in your ear during radio debates, she will grace your television sets and she will likely come to your door at some stage, perhaps more than once if you’re really, really lucky.
Tina, first used by Margaret Thatcher’s Tories, is expected to be forceful yet polite as the general election approaches and is undoubtedly going to tell you that you should stick to what you know and vote for the Coalition, since There Is No Alternative.
Some in Government circles are already describing Election 2016, or possibly Election 2015, as the Tina election and, buoyed by improving poll figures, believe the natural conservatism and risk aversion of Irish voters will deliver a second term for Fine Gael and Labour, even if they need to tack a few unthreatening Independents on to the wagon.
Pat Rabbitte was pilloried in 2012 for suggested there was no alternative to the current Government but you can expect to hear this argument repeated in the coming months, although perhaps made more subtly, perhaps not.
The political and economic cycles seem to be aligning as the Coalition wished when it took office, and it has the benefit of another year should it decide to go the full term. Unlike its counterparts in the British government, the Tories and the Liberal Democrats, Fine Gael and Labour have time on their sides before they put themselves before the people. The UK election arguably came too soon for the incumbents to fully capitalise on economic recovery.
The Easter lull had the feel of one last deep breath prior to the plunge into the election in the middle distance, with polling day likely to fall in November or February. No matter when the election is called, the long campaign really begins this month. One set piece, the amended package to deal with the mortgage arrears crisis, is essentially fixing a political problem before it erupts.
Expect more political fixes, of differing scales, as the election draws near. A recent example was the extra funding provided by Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan for resource teaching hours for children with Down syndrome. Changing the property tax system to guard against steep rises will be another.
April’s second set piece, the spring economic statement, sets the fiscal parameters within which the Government wants to frame the election debate. It will attempt to box the Opposition into playing on the Coalition’s pitch and the same-sex marriage referendum should provide a warm glow if it passes in May.
National Economic Dialogue in June – the new forum to discuss budgetary options proposed by Brendan Howlin and Michael Noonan – will attempt to wrap civil society groups, or what were called social partners until the term became toxic, into the recovery. Public sector pay talks will rumble on and reach their inevitable conclusion, capital spending projects will be announced and the Low Pay Commission will recommend that the minimum wage should go up.
The summer will see the ground level politicking of finalising election tickets and local jockeying between constituency rivals. The October budget will aim to please, and then we will have a Dáil counting the minutes until its dissolution.
Tina will say hello at all these junctures and will pop in whenever Fianna Fáil has internal convulsions, Sinn Féin deals with republican sex abuse or the Independents concoct a policy of dubious credibility or disagree among themselves.
Given the politically shambolic year the Government experienced in 2014, it is understandable it would want to continue what has been a well-managed year to date in 2015 right up to polling day.
No surprises, no cock-ups, no alternatives. Just a message of sound management and competence. Yet to restrict an election pitch so tightly would be to do a disservice to what the Irish public has endured over the past seven years.
The reason 2014 saw such anger was because people went through years of uncertainty, loss, emigration and stress; feelings which largely crystallised in the water charges protests, protests which were, and are, about much more than the bill from Irish Water.
The anger may have largely dissipated but the desire for something different, for a fuller picture of what our politicians will do now they have achieved stability, cannot be fobbed off with a €100 subsidy from the welfare office.
As Ireland exited the bailout in late 2013, then tánaiste Eamon Gilmore spoke of creating a vision of a “post-recession Ireland”, a nice phrase which was never truly developed.
Fear and uncertainty – relying on a lack of alternatives – do win elections, as do easy promises which can store up future trouble. Such tactics could be relied upon with the normal rules of politics seemingly reasserting themselves and economic recovery restoring popularity.
Tina might be enough to place the Coalition in with a fighting chance of re-election, but the electorate needs more. Fiach Kelly is Political Correspondent Stephen Collins is on leave