Tuesday, March 13, 2007


Outside conference season, Sundays are usually quiet days for political journalists. The political parties all know it is a quiet news day. Most of the press releases all have a 'Here's one I prepared earlier' vibe to them.

But in a strange kind of way, weekends have almost been busier than weekdays over the past two months. To be sure, a lot of it is explained by the party conferences and Ard Fheiseanna.

But it's axiomatic that an election is approaching faster than an Atlantic squall.

Sunday was a short straw day. Four separate press conferences - two Government, one PD, and one Labour. At least one of them - and maybe two - was a neat demonstration of the goldfish syndrome. Backroom people know that collective memories last all of about three seconds. So the trick is to announce the same thing over and over again.

But Sunday was the first time that I got a sense of the Grid. The Grid is the diary mode that all parties go into in an election campaign. The schedule everything to wonkish, nerdish, paranoid and exhaustive detail. There's the message of the day. There's the issue of the day. All the effort to get maximum exposure for the party's top personalities across as many demographics, across as wide a geography, as possible.

The Grid will be on the web, on the pod sphere and, yes, on the blogosphere for this election. Political parties will try to fulfill the American civil war maxim of getting there firstest with the mostest. A number of politicians - Dominic Hannigan, Joanna Tuffy, Ciaran Cuffe, John Gormely - have well established blogs. Labour threw up a video of Pat Rabbitte asking us the famous question with the weasel comma: But, are you happy? Mary Harney went one better this weekend with a slick video to accompany the PDs' billboard campaign on health. And here it is but see below for continuation of discussion!

Not so slick though was the actual launch of of the billboard by the Progressive Democrats. Its location was the junction of Stephen's Green and Grafton Street on a busy Sunday morning. That was a mistake. The reason. Politicians might actually encounter what they fear most - the electorate.

It was a very predictable event. The photographers do their smiley shots. Then the reporter huddle around to ask questions of our heroes. All us rabble are missing are the cards with the 'press' legend slipped into the band of our fedora hats.

But there was a guy passing who wasn't reading the script. Con Kennedy threw in a question right at the end of the huddle. The press officers tried to fend him off gently. But he was not to be deflected. He has a four year-old-son who has anaphylaxis which means that Con Kennedy always needs to carry shots of adrenaline. He asked a simple question: why was there no paediatric immunologist in Ireland to deal with his son's rare condition.

No amount of statistics, or general political pronouncements, or aspirations can deal with such direct human experience.

In fairness to Mary Harney, she did her best. But from a public relations perspective, a carefully coordinated press conference had been essentially hijacked.

It was a little like Tony Blair being ambushed by the Women's Institute or John Prescott throwing his famous uppercut. The dailies on Monday morning didn't report the PD billboard launch, rather the fact that an angry young father had rained on the parade.

The Grid. It's not in the sphere yet. In America maybe. But over here, the election will be fought on the streets and in the hustings. Not on the web. Its influence is growing, certainly, though it will take some time before it reaches critical mass.

As an end note, here is one of the vaguely funny parodies that are doing the rounds on You Tube. Do people have nothing better to do with their time except feeds us with such abundant blog fodder?


chumly said...

Progressive Democrats seem to say "Progress" a lot. I like Irish Politics.

Dan Sullivan said...

Ah jeez Harry I thought my "you pay taxes" piece on youtube would have gotten a mention ahead of the magnum opus that is the Ride of the Ranelaghlarie.

Anyway, I was very struck by the appear of Con Kennedy on the TV3 news but even more struck by the complete absence of this from the RTe news. Surely, they had cameras there and it was a made for TV moment.

Harry McGee said...

Dan, I'm going to look for your 'you pay taxes' piece this minute (I didn't know it existed - mea culpa) and I'll post it up immediately. H.

Harry McGee said...

No RTE weren't there. Either were the Irish Times. In fairness, the Irish Times rarely miss a trick when it comes to dutifully going to news markings. H.