Saturday, May 05, 2007
INSIDE POLITICS - ANORAKS AND BARBECUES
It’s a bank holiday weekend and we all need a break from anoraking about the Anorak.
So in the interests of public service the Irish Examiner has decided to make this week’s column a no fly zone for anything to do with Bertie Ahern. Or anything in fact to do with the anvil-heavy vicissitudes of the week.
It will be quite a difficult task because unlike God who made the world in six days and then took a rest, the Taoiseach made the news agenda all week but unfortunately isn’t likely to take a rest anytime soon.
Anyway, we have promised to bring you to some of the previously unexplored shores of this election campaign to see some exotic tribes and hear strange new conversations – that actually talk about other things than all the mysteries that surround practical jackets in sensible blue.
I bet you Pat Rabbitte won’t be calling this morning’s Irish Examiner poll a rogue poll like he did last September. With a three per cent uplift of support for the Labour party, you can expect he will be flaunting it proudly around this weekend as if it were a Kate Moss designed garment he scored at the Top Shop extravaganza this week.
The other trend of the week besides the demise of a practical non-Kate Moss designed jacket was the rise of the barbecue in the annals of Irish politics.
Brian Cowen started the trend on Monday when he borrowed an old insult of former Australian prime minister Paul Keating that he’d slowly roast the opposition on the Barbie. From there on there was no stopping the quips about burned fingers, charred meat, and getting soot on your face. Even RTE’s Bryan Dobson got into the act when asking about Brian Cowen’s supposed u-turn on stamp duty.
“Can you explain how the Minister can eat his own words after they have been barbecued?,” he quipped. Boom. Boom.
And then there were Fine Gael, Labour, Sinn Fein and the Greens. Remember them. They actually put forward things called policy papers on issues like health, crime, and the environment this week. The hours, weeks and months of preparation put into the policies were brought to nought. For as soon as the party spokespeople did their set pieces, the reporters began their questions thus:
“What is your opinion on the latest developments on the Taoiseach’s personal finances?”
And so all of their policies became roadkill to the juggernaut that was a gentleman’s practical overcoat, more fashionable in the 1980s than now.
Ah, the Greens. They brought up a novel new policy. They introduced the notion of hari kari into Irish politics for the first time. The moment they have a prospect of winning double digit figures, they propose to reduce the number of TDs from 166 to 130. It’s a very commendable idea that this column fully supports. When you tot up the number of parliamentarians in both houses (there are 60 Senators) our total of 226 is the highest of any country in western Europe bar a teensy weensy country called Luxembourg. The Netherlands, a country three times our size, has exactly the same number of national representatives.
However, such a cull is never going to happen. If the Greens looked at it from a selfish point of view, they would be among the biggest losers, as they are still not fully bedded in permanently.
The last person to float such a brave idea was then Environment Minister Noel Dempsey who spoke, if memory serves correctly, of a lower house with only 100 TDs.
In theory, the idea has merits. But in the real world – realpolitik as we experts like to say – it was going nowhere. The most memorable assessment of all was given by the legendary Fine Gael TD Alice Glenn: “It’s like asking a turkey to vote for Christmas.”
Fianna Fail made valiant efforts to regain the initiative all week but has learned that, unlike 2002, it cannot control the agenda in the same way. Terry Prone yesterday summed up the entire week beautifully, beginning with the unfortunate rush to the park last Sunday.
“It’s the first time that a party has shot itself in the foot with its own starting gun.”
Fianna Fail hopes that when everybody returns on Tuesday, it will be to a more conventional campaign. We promised to keep this column relatively Anorak free for the long weekend. FF strategists are fervently praying that it will be the same in real life.
This is my column from today's Irish Examiner