Making politics great again
THESE are heady times. There are days when you know you are living through the Reeling In the Years of the future, and this is one of those times. We will look back and laugh at what yokels we were back in 2018, at the ridiculous navy suits with narrow lapels and narrow trousers the politicians all wore. “Fashion hadn’t evolved on to flares, large lapels and loud ties at that point,” we’ll say. “Tasteless understatement was all the rage.”
Politics this past week has been like politics in the 1970s without the smoking. It was even refreshing to see a bit of high emotion. Measured calm is the hallmark of new politics. So Denis Naughten’s emotional outburst in the Dail brought a nice bit of human drama. Here was a man whose only fault was a kind of eating disorder, the disorder being that he couldn’t remember dinners after he ate them.
What most people didn’t realise was that the whole thing was planned. Senior sources inside Government have told the Sunday Independent what really happened. When the Strategic Communications Unit, which still operates in secret deep in the bowels of Government Buildings, got the feedback on the Budget, they realised they had a problem. The word that came up most often in focus groups based around the Budget was “boring”.
“There wasn’t even one cock-up or unforeseen landmine,” was a typical comment from a focus group member, a rural male aged 40-55. The SCU sent a memo to the highest levels warning them that they were in danger of losing people, that things had got too predictable and stable.
And so, secret cross-party support was scrambled. Naughten agreed to take the fall and went into intensive classes at the Gaiety School of Acting, practising emotional speeches and subsequent flounces out. Brendan Howlin and others were given their lines for after Naughten left the chamber, and the Taoiseach then wrote his own lines, even coming up with the idea himself of delaying his statement to the Dail by a dramatic 20 minutes. Frances Fitzgerald was taught to act dignified and vindicated but coy about the prospect of coming back into Cabinet. There was even talk for a time of the Government shoring itself up by bringing another Independent on board through promotion, but script editors decided that replacing Naughten as Minister for Communications with Michael Lowry might stretch credulity.
The icing on the cake was a letter the scriptwriters wrote for Micheal Martin, which was to drop on Friday just in case interest was waning at that point.
As of Saturday the SCU’s research showed that ratings and audience engagement were back to acceptable levels, but now the pressure is on to write the next chapter, and add further plot twists.