As elec­tion looms the more things change the more they stay the same

Wicklow People (West Edition) - - OPINION -

AT his party’s Ard Fheis last week, Taoiseach Leo Varad­kar set out an am­bi­tious plan for the fu­ture, the fu­ture of Fine Gael that is. In a speech that hear­kened back the no­to­ri­ous give-away bud­gets of Fianna Fáil in the Ah­ern era, Mr Varad­kar promised that – if vot­ers see fit to re­turn Fine Gael to power – mid­dle in­come earn­ers will see their In­come Tax bills slashed by up to €3,000 over five years.

The ‘squeezed mid­dle’ as it has be­come known – that gen­er­a­tion still be­ing ham­mered by neg­a­tive eq­uity and the hang­over from the age of aus­ter­ity – are seen as key to win­ning the next Gen­eral Elec­tion.

Mr Varad­kar’s In­come Tax pledge was squarely aimed at this con­stituency and it is one of the most bla­tant pieces of auc­tion pol­i­tics we have seen since the boom days presided over by Ber­tie Ah­ern and his spend­thrift ad­min­is­tra­tions.

Sev­eral ea­gle-eyed me­dia ob­servers also no­ticed an­other strik­ing sim­i­lar­ity be­tween last week’s Fine Gael ex­trav­a­ganza and pre­vi­ous Fianna Fáil blow-outs.

As Mr Varad­kar an­nounced his planned bud­get splurge to win over the mid­dle class, he did so in front of the party’s lat­est slo­gan: ‘Fine Gael – Tak­ing Ire­land For­ward To­gether’.

If that sounds a lit­tle fa­mil­iar, it should.

Back in 2007 one of Fianna Fáil’s main slo­gans at that year’s Gen­eral Elec­tion, the party’s last un­der Ber­tie Ah­ern, was ‘Fianna Fáil - To­gether lets take the next steps for­ward’.

At that elec­tion Ah­ern’s party took 42 per cent of the vote and clearly the Fine Gael ad­ver­tis­ing team were im­pressed by what they saw, both in terms of the slo­gan and their op­po­nent’s free spend­ing elec­toral phi­los­o­phy.

As the con­fi­dence and sup­ply ne­go­ti­a­tions rum­ble on, both Mr Varad­kar and Fianna Fáil leader Michael Martin are jock­ey­ing for po­si­tion as they try to find an ex­cuse to pull the plug on the cur­rent Dáil.

No one knows ex­actly when the elec­tion will take place but now that the Gov­ern­ment has got­ten its cheque­book out and played what could be its best hand, it looks like the FG/FF ‘phoney war’ is en­ter­ing its endgame.

Of course, as is al­most al­ways the case with po­lit­i­cal prom­ises, the devil is in the de­tail.

Just a day after Mr Varad­kar re­vealed his plan to slash In­come Taxes, it emerged that PAYE work­ers are set lose the tax de­duc­tions on flat rate ex­penses for work re­lated costs.

This could re­sults in losses rang­ing from about €100 to €750 a year for work­ers across nu­mer­ous sec­tors, in­clud­ing some of Ire­land’s low­est paid.

‘What God giveth God taketh away’ as the old say­ing goes. The op­po­si­tion par­ties will surely be keen to ham­mer this point home and – along with Ire­land’s un­sus­tain­able de­pen­dence on Cor­po­ra­tion Tax – it’s sure to be key to any de­bate on Leo’s give-away.

Ten years after the mad­ness of the boom and the dev­as­ta­tion of the crash it’s re­ally start­ing to feel like we’re right back where we started.

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