Tales of heartbreak a backdrop for uninspiring GE11 campaign
MY ELECTION campaign review would normally crystalise key defining moments. Specific iconic occasions portray the net difference between parties or pivotal point of conflict. Colour and charisma of a campaign diary emerge from a memorable sound bite or photograph. The Ranelagh Rumble in 2007, Michael McDowell’s ‘single party government - no thanks’ or Michael Noonan’s facial custard pie in 2002 are such incidents. GE 2011 failed to rise above predictable set piece media briefings or leader tours - forgettable and lacklustre throughout.
Despite a radical swing towards Fine Gael and historic reversal for Fianna Fáil, this did not come about through any inspirational performance. FG’s singular aim was not to drop the ball or concede an own goal. Enda Kenny succeeded in this minimalist achievement. They stayed on message-that 5 point plan ad nauseam, avoiding craic and controversy. Shadowboxing with Labour over Tesco type ‘Every little hurts’ advertisements was as heated as it got.
Superficial analysis misses the significance, depth and importance of the election. Politicians and their spin were overshadowed because of a much more profound narrative, coming from the people. Heretofore, elections were cynically used by parties to deliver goodies -one for everyone in the grateful audience.
There was no prospect of buying votes. The political class had to listen this time. Thousands of personal tragedies were relayed on doorsteps and high streets of unprecedented human misery. Candidates endured diatribes of the consequences of their failures. Anger was matched by deep despair and despondency. Grandparents and parents repeatedly outlined how their hopes and dreams were shattered.
Countless tales of heartbreak: separated families through emigration to Australia and Canada; mortgage misery stalking households whose debt exceeds house value; school leavers with no prospects of interviews, let alone jobs; pay slips with greatly diminished January net pay packets. These stories previously hid under a cloak of reserved pride. Life changing pain transcends all generations. Nest eggs of shares have evaporated. Struggling self employed see no prospective upturn. Expectations have never been lower.
This crescendo of angst was the hallmark of GE2011, reducing politicians to face the demise of a political culture. Parish pump politics failed at national level. The quality and capac-
The crescendo of angst has forced politicians to face up to the demise of a political culture
ity of political personnel was exposed as inadequate. This was not dull or boring. The ‘ask the audience’ moment provided a profound reality. Voters had waited since 2009 for this long overdue election. They vented their spleen at the lack of accountability. They cut the long grass and were waiting in the short grass for those who brought us to economic ruin. This essence of this election was the heartache of a nation - at last, getting the chance to articulate their collective grief, before moving on.
The real outcome? All political parties have to fundamentally raise their game. Political reform means treating the electorate as intelligent, knowledgeable adults. Stroke politics: purchasing independent TDs; nepotism with family dynasties and cronyism of state appointees will be no longer accepted. Bozos and clowns giving pathetic non answers will be treated with contempt they deserve. Back slapping platitudes no longer substitute for transparent costed credible policy. The ballot box message is old party loyalties are over. Long standing deep tribal traditions of voting patterns cannot be sustained. Voter volatility has reached a whole new era.
If Fianna Fáil can be systematically dismembered, the same can be done to any party. What may seem to have been a mundane and unmemorable event, history will transpire to record as momentous. Reactions of people to their personal adversity were to insist on a new order of democratic accountability. Members of the 31st Dáil must absorb these lessons or perish next time. People have risen to the challenge. The result is a popular revolt. New politics must usher the beginning of a fresh start.
NEW GOVERNMENT IN-TRAY
Since December 7th (Budget day), government business has been on auto-pilot. Forget any honeymoon for a new cabinet, elected on March 9th. Most predictable initial event will be an ashen faced Minister for Finance revealing details of briefings received. Toxic banks, both those terminated and terminally ill, will require €15bn extra capital. Further impairments on bank balance sheets will reveal an extra liquidity requirement of €25bn over the next decade. Latest stress tests on financial institutions will yet again realise our worst fears. A larger bank bailout package than €35bn agreed, needs to be procured.
There has been a concerted cover up of gaping holes in public finances. Local government is in a fiscal crisis. Disappearance of capital receipts, levies and fees from construction activity have created a funding shortfall of €4bn in budgets and balance sheets of our town and county councils.
Extra costs from ghost housing estates, bad weather and bad debt provisions have been concealed. A new revenue base will have to be constructed.
Critical decisions on the future of the Eurozone economy are pending in Brussels. Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrat Party got horse whipped in recent regional elections in wealthy Hamburg. German tax payers have no appetite to bail out delinquent states, whose indiscipline has resulted in boom to bust economies. Cordial goodwill of understanding that previously greeted Ireland is in short supply. Irish, Greeks and Portuguese are no longer perceived as premiership players - facing relegation.
Murphy’s Law (what can go wrong, will go wrong) comes into play for our new Government. Two vital cost factors to economic recovery are deteriorating. Civil unrest in Cairo and Tripoli is leading to regime change respectively in Egypt and Libya. Demands for democracy are directly impacting on oil prices. In mid 2008, crude oil peaked at $150 per barrel. Subsequently, global recession decreased demand resulting in a bottom value of $40/barrel. International analysts fear energy costs will triple from this low point.
The other game changer is interest rates. EBS and Permanent TSB are removing access to fixed rate loans. Ulster Bank last week increased rates by almost another 1%. AIB and Bank of Ireland will follow suit. Domestic finance is set to rise by 2-3% year on year. By year end, the ECB will no longer be able to sustain a 1% rate. Cumulatively, borrowers and mortgagees face a combined higher cost base amounting to 4%.
Enda Kenny’s first 100 day government agenda is laudable. He seems oblivious of the depth of manure he will wade into.
First priority must be to complete the process of governmental change. 14 years of Fianna Fáil appointed senior civil servants created an unhealthy merger between ministers and mandarins. FF implemented their agenda and paid the price. Fine Gael must demand resignations of top echelons of permanent government, whose culpability is concealed by their anonymity. Starting with Dermot McCarthy (Government Secretary), heads should roll. Otherwise, we’ll endure same old culture of excuses and mediocrity. Remember the adage about power? Don’t use it, you’ll lose it.
Time For Rupert looks a good thing in the Sun Alliance Novice Chase at the Cheltenham festival. A top class staying hurdler when second over course and distance to Big Bucks in last year’s World Hurdle. He has taken really well to fences. In five course runs, he has never finished worse than second, winning three times. Odds of 5/2 still appeal as banker material.
Pat Gilroy’s Dublin team have commenced the League season in flying form, building on last year’s impressive improvements. The Dubs seem more finely tuned and less experimental than Championship foes Cork, Kerry and Ulster counties. 6/4 is a fair price about them lifting the Division 1 League Title.
This time there was no prospect of buying votes. The political class had to listen this time.
FG's singular aim in the GE2011 campaign was not to drop the ball or concede an own goal. Enda Kenny succeeded in this minimalist achievement.