Tuesday, May 01, 2007


Only Day 3 of 25 and already this election is shaping up to be a cliff-hanger.
Five years ago, it was all over even at this stage. One remarkable thing about the commentary from day three on was speculation about how total the FF victory would be. At this stage of this campaign, they stopped talking about FF's win and started doing spec pieces on the margin. A few days later, it became embarrassing, almost painful, to read about Fine Gael's demise.

The start of the campaign has been a disaster for FF.

It's amazing to see that time has almost stood still for the party. There's old hand PJ Mara still elegantly wielding the baton as he conducts the media operation. There's an army of political advisers to Ministers, who have resigned their jobs and are now buzzing around FF's election headquarters. There's an awful lot of them. They include big swatters like Mandy Johnston, Gerry Hickey, Colin Hunt, Ciaran Quinn, Tom Rowley, Gerry Howlin, and Averil Power.

Like five years ago, there's a daily 'grid' of schedules for ministers and the Taoiseach. There's a positive new message every day (today it was pensions). There's the unit whose job it is to rebut all claims made by the oppostion parties. Plus, FF's enormous operation is supplying us in the media with all the images, words, movements, actions and car chases (if you're following Bertie) we desire.

But it's all seems to be falling a bit flat. I'm writing in tomorrow's paper that Fianna Fail's pension announcement today was like its overall campaign - hastily arranged and cobbled together. And the other new factor is that the media isn't the passive and supplicant entity it was five years ago.

The more Seamus Brennan talked about the new SSIA-type incentive the more it sounded like it was concocted on the back of an envelope. Seamus talks about it being in the planning for two and a half years but there was no costings, no indication of how much the Government would pay, and no provision for it in Fianna Fail's economic blueprint for the next five years.

The biggest liability the party has was its biggest asset until 8am on Sunday morning. Something just does't add up about his decision to do his dawn swoop on the Aras just an hour before the President travelled abroad for a week.

When I first heard it on Sunday (I was away) I thought: that's been done for reasons of decorum. But I wasn't aware of the Daily Mail story that revealed that £30,000 st that had been transferred to his ex partner Celia Larkin for refurbishment. The President can't travel abroad without the permission of Government. And Bertie Ahern said yesterday said he originally planned to bring the Dail to an end on Tuesday. So why the indecent haste at the weekend. The not-breaking-with-precedent explanation looks wan when you read of all the outings by FF ministers and the Taoiseach himself over the weekend, bitterly criticising the Tribunal for being in full flow during the election campaign.

Whatever, the effect of the Taoiseach calling the election on Sunday was to stop the Tribunal in its tracks. It meant no opening statement on Monday; no Tom Gilmartin getting into the witness box.

And senior people in FF have told me in recent weeks that they were really worried about the collateral damage that would be inflicted on Bertie and FF, if allegations were aired at Mahon. The last thing the party wanted this May was BertieGate, the Sequel.

Since Sunday FF has been playing catch-up. And Ahern has been very much on the back foot. His tactic of saying nothing yesterday was all very well but it's a tactic he should have employed on Monday rather than giving a confusing explanation then that it was a "stamp duty issue". Once he opened his mouth on Monday, his subsequent 'no comments' and stonewalling looked really bad from an optics perspective. In three days, he has wavered from narky to taciturn to silent. It's clear he of all people wasn't ready for this.

A very bright FF strategist told me a couple of months ago that the party learned in 2002 that when the media claims that the party is in serious trouble, the view is not always shared by Joe Citizen out there.

But that was then. And the goalposts, the pitch, the stadium, and the world have all shifted since then. It's a different game. New rules now apply. Of all people FF, the spinmeisters supreme of modern Irish politics, should know that nothing stands still, that a change of tack is needed.


Anonymous said...

FF will ride this storm. Most of it is media generated.

Anonymous said...

Is Harry McGee for real?
His analysis is so one-sided it is hard to believe that he is one of less than half a dozen key 'influencers' of public opinion in this election. But then his paper ran a full page front-page anti Fianna Fail advert in 1932, so maybe they dont influence that much!!