Saturday, January 27, 2007


my Examiner column, Saturday January 27

For Sale. Going cheap. Soul of a political party. High mileage but still running like new. A few dents and scrapes suffered along the way but no major structural damage. Comes with highly experienced driver. Good for another five years. No tyre-kickers.

With all the bickering and bartering of the past couple of weeks, a tiny little detail may have escaped your attention.

The election is still about four months away.

But already most of the parties are acting like the race is run, that they have slung their hooks.

Everybody has ruled out Sinn Fein.
Fine Gael has ruled out the PDs.
Fine Gael has obviously also ruled out Fianna Fail.
Fianna Fail has obviously also ruled out Fine Gael.
The PDs have ruled out Fine Gael.
Labour has ruled out the PDs.
The Greens have ruled out the PDs.
The PDs have ruled out the Greens.
The PDs have ruled out Labour.
Labour Party ruled out/not ruled out Fianna Fail (delete where applicable).
Sinn Fein says its TDs will be the “king-makers”.
So do the independents.

Many months before a single citizen has cast a single ballot paper, the musical chairs game is nearly over. We are left with only three or four spots still available to plonk political backsides on. They are: the current coalition with or without independents; the Mullingar Accord with the Greens; FF and Labour; or FF and the Greens.

All of that is based on the evidence delivered by the one great nostrum in between elections – opinion polls. One of the working definitions of nostrum is quack medicine. Okay an opinion poll is hardly as fake as snake oil or as big a charlatan as a psychic or astrologer. But it’s amazing how they are taken for granted, as they contain all the great truths.

All of this horseplay is all very well but it’s leading nowhere. It’s all based on a misconception that somehow the polls are going to pan out magically just as the opinion polls predict.

Lonely Hearts. SWM. Dynamic leader. Mid 50s. Recently split from partner. Looking for a long-term link up with view to political marriage. Will pass on photo if requested (have hundreds of billboard size portraits to spare). Genuine suitors only. No beards need apply.

Five years ago, the polls told us a couple of things that were right and a lot of things that were wrong. They told us that Fianna Fail would do well. But the party didn’t win the overall majority that was predicted. They also told us that the PDs would be obliterated; that Fine Gael would flatline or lose a little and the Greens and Sinn Fein would stay static.
To assess all five propositions. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
Trawling through the cuttings from 2002, I came across the confident prediction of a very esteemed political pundit who said that FF would win 74, the Greens would win 3 seats, Sinn Fein would come back with only two, Labour would be as you were, and that hell would freeze over before FG fell below 40.
And when the real poll takes place and we realise just how off kilter the other polls were, we all say we have learned a lesson. And indeed we have. Until the next election comes five years later. And we proceed to make the same mistaken assumptions. And we learn the lesson all over again.

Missing. Since May 17 2002. 20 Dáil seats, formerly the property of Fine Gael. Anyone with any information on how they can be returned, please write in confidence to Enda Kenny, Leinster House, Dublin 2. Reward offered.

What we have had are lots of posters, billboards, hot air, furies, speculation and twaddle about coalition partners. Along with the usual scare tactics about rivals jumping into bed with the scary Shinners, the barmy Greens and the Labour pinkoes.
What we have not had are any really decent ideas. From any of them. Fine Gael’s major contributions on the Irish language, on Padraig Nally and on immigration have smacked of populism. In fact, one FF backroom person told me this week that his ‘Christian and Celtic’ reference was the classic use of the ‘dog whistle’ tactic – a message that is lost on most of the population but pricks up the ears of a key sector of the electorate who aren’t too enamoured of having too many foreigners here. In fairness, Fine Gael has hotly denied that it had any such intention.

Labour have unveiled two of its five commitments – commendable as they are, neither childcare nor community policing will be election-clinchers.

And Fianna Fail and the PDs? As John Lennon slagged off Paul McCartney for writing only one good song, Yesterday, the coalition have been living off the royalties of its one hit wonder – the low taxes it introduced in 1997. No new ideas since then. Nothing radical. Nothing.

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