Saturday, February 03, 2007


THERE are some laws of nature that are immutable and predictable.
Gravity. Death. Taxes. Kerry winning All-Irelands.
And then there are some that are not so precise, more theories than universal truth.

One is a version of Newton’s Third Law — for every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction.

It goes something like this: For every over-the-top reaction from Tánaiste Michael McDowell, there’s an equal and opposite downward traction in the opinion polls. In the relatively peaceful period in the run-up to Christmas, he was uncharacteristically quiet (maybe he was still hurting after being put through Bertie Ahern’s truth-mangling machine).

People do like to hear him speak. On occasion, though. There’s only so much voice that mortal human beings can bear. In the past 10 ten days, McDowell has been on an extraordinary crusade to make his voice more omnipresent, more omniscient than the voice that haunts Winston Smith in George Orwell’s 1984.

He launched his poster. He made some vague threats about detention camps (letting Enda Kenny know who’s the real tough guy around here). He made pronouncements on tougher sentencing (again), anti-gun and anti-gang legislation (again). In 10 ten days, he opened, released, spoke at, launched, presided, keynoted, addressed, appeared, and stopped just short of walking on water.

He’s a fantastic old genie all the same, capable of many things including shinnning up lamp-posts. But the problem is that once he’s out of the damn bottle it's impossible to put him back in again.

And the result of this ever-so-slightly unscientific theory? When you bang the oven door too hard, the souffle tends to collapse. When you heat up the custard too quickly, it tends to curdle. When you are trying too hard as leader of your small political party, your support tends to plummet.

The latest TNS/mrbi poll for The Irish Times has support for the PDs at 1%. To be sure, there’s a 3% margin of error plus or minus. So it’s not all bad news. It’s worse than that. It’s all drastic news verging on disastrous news.

Statistically (well, theoretically) the Progressive Democrats might be at minus two, a delicious thought for its many enemies. And no excuse about being a niche party is going to magic away such a lousy finding. Bluntly, in terms of national reach, there are almost down to ‘Ming the Merciless’ or Abbey of the Holy Cross
Fitzsimons territory.

Let us enter a caveat. Though couched in the language of science, and festooned with mathematically terms that suggest precision, you
always have to remember how crude, how unscientific and how imprecise polls are. No mathematics will get around somebody who lies, or who says something because it's what they think you want to hear or because it's convenient.

I don’t believe the PDs are quite facing meltdown. In fact, with the margin of error, they could actually be at 4%. But all the same it's indisputable that the party has had a very unmerry New Year.

Beside McDowell’s overexposure (and being exposed somewhat on his crime policies), Mary Harney has also had a cruel January. Nowadays, everywhere she turns, another Socrates is telling her the blatantly and pitiably obvious. You were biting off more than you could chew when you took health. You should have known the monster you were taking on. The biggest ships are slowest at turning. What is the moon, what is the stars, Joxer?

Harney has been brave but has been a little like the new boy, the outsider, in The Lord of the Flies. Those who control the conch are the posh ones, the doctors who call themselves “mister”.

Fair dues to the minister — she has been the first to really tackle them head-on. But she has learned to her cost that there are forces in this land (namely rich business people; rich lawyers and rich doctors) more powerful than any Government.

Will the PDs be vaporised because of the weakness of strategy of its two strongest assets? They will certainly struggle and may end up back in 1997 territory(when the party returned four TDs).

Incidentally, the Greens have jumped to eight points (from four) apropos nothing in particular in January. A 100% leap looks a bit iffy to me but I have been writing for months that the Greens will take huge scalps in constituencies where convention doesn’t give them a prayer. Nobody ever predicts the routing and gougings that takes place at every election. Nobody every sees the tsunami coming.

That’s not a theory by the way. It’s an actual law of nature. And its name? The law of the jungle, otherwise known as the General Election.

This is my column from the Irish Examiner, Saturday, February 3.


Anonymous said...

Why are you so against the PDs? And are you agreeing with the poll findings or disagreeing with them?

Harry McGee said...

Well, I'm not disagreeing with them; merely saying that they are a crude instrument. Especially so when it relates to smaller rather than larger parties, where small changes in voter preference are critical at election time. Nor am I against the PDs, well not more against them than any of our political parties!