Brendan Keenan has clearly been cogitating on our quaint northern mess we call politics, and it takes him back to stories, narrative and selling your own (albeit austerity locked) virtues:
The story which the Coalition set out to tell – most of which it inherited from the previous government – is no longer true. The facts have changed.
Keynes observed that when this happens you must change your mind. But you must also change your story.
The original story called for severe budgetary adjustment in the early years. Then, as the economy recovered, the austerity brake could be eased and growth would take over most of the adjustment.
The story is clear from the figures in the plan. So far, budgets have taken almost 16pc of GDP out of the economy. There is “only” 5pc to go, with each budget from now easier than the previous one.
In fairness, it was a plausible enough story in the beginning. Even if one took the view that this would be a 10 to 12-year recession, we should be entering the recovery phase by now.
Unlike investment, what matters in politics is not when recovery reaches the previous peak but when it begins to come out of the trough. It seems pretty clear now that this will not be before 2014, when it should have been 2012.
But, says Keenan…
The original story is no longer plausible. The severity and persistence of the euro crisis, even if foreseen, could not have been inserted into official EU and IMF plans. In this vicious circle, the euro crisis cannot be solved unless and until the euro crisis is solved. Stories of imminent recovery lack credibility.
Without recovery, that remaining 5pc of GDP will have to be taken out the hard way. Without a new narrative, that may prove politically impossible. The last one heard, the old line was still in use; with the Taoiseach talking about restoring confidence in the economy and the Tanaiste about solving the economic crisis.
Neither are in the power of an Irish government. Its task is to fix the country. The post-Budget controversy suggest that, both inside and outside Leinster House, a lot of people still do not understand how broken it is.
And, for Labour, who are hurting most, Keenan says they have completely failed to frame their own proactive actions…
Labour’s story, as that correspondent pointed out, should have been the modest nature of the correction in the public sector, especially compared with Greece, Portugal or even Spain.
The target has been, not to cut day-to-day government spending but to hold it steady. Without the last four budgets, public spending would have risen by around €10bn by now – clearly a completely impossible scenario.