Playing a long game

The FF Ard Fheis with the strong television presence of various young candidates got me thinking about FF’s future; they do have one you know just as FG had one in 2002. It is just all too tempting for most of us (myself included) in writing commentary to simply write them off.

It occurred to me that with all the talk of the impeding collapse of the government that FF might have decided to stay their course and simply ride it out. The Greens appear not to be for moving no matter what the circumstances, I believe that to be a mistake but having made that decision for their own reasons they are determined to see it through. I would still hold that the real weak link come the next budget is the FF backbenchers, however I would have to blind to the reality to ignore the alternative which is that FF are simply playing for time at the moment. In seeking to ride out the negative reaction to the current economic climate they could decide, much as they did partially in 2004, to throw the local and European elections. This would let the voting public get their venting out of their system and while not damaging the electoral prospects of the party at national level. In doing so it would suit them to get as much bad news and the taste of the awful medicine out of the way ASAP. Hell after all if they are going to lose the locals anyway then all the better reason to lose big at this stage while giving themselves 3 whole years to turn things around. As for the Europeans only in Dublin is the loss of a seat a serious prospect and even there it would require a strange set of circumstances for it to happen. I personally believe that a longer period than the current Dail allows for will be needed to return the country to sound finances. That said there is the small matter of a provision for the Dail term to be extended to up to seven years in emergencies, I wonder if FF might be tempted to go in that direction at some point. It was jokingly referred to back at the time of the FG/Lab coalition in the 80s.

Yet it is not impossible that were things to be looking a good degree more stable 3 years then FF support could be up. And up substantially from their current levels in the low 20s which to be fair are pretty much disastrous. Yet a scenario whereby FF and FG are tussling it out on 30% odd while Labour are floating in the high teens to low twenties would be just fine for FF. That situation would leave SF, the Greens and the Independents to fight over the remaining 20/25% of public support. Might the greens and SF be in a position to do a deal is that were the lie of the land. While not optimum for current TDs, it is considerably better than the prospects for the party at the moment.

Coupled with this is that fact FF’s candidate strategy which has offended so many local activists could also be marking a shift to a UK style central office directed candidate selection process for Dail candidates. Sure all the parties who stand for election want to win seats but FF want to be able to govern too and that translates that some minimum number of TDs has to be capable of being more than glorified councillors. Some of them have to be able to run ministries.

Of course, I can’t say for sure that this is the case but I wouldn’t put it past some element of the FF hierarchy or PtB to have sat down and done the maths and decided to take the long view on the prospects of that party. And part of that long view is that a retreat in support, if it is only temporary, could well suit the party in the long term.

  • Greenflag

    Dan ,

    ‘which is that FF are simply playing for time at the moment.’

    That’s about all they can do -just like every other small and indeed large country in the EU and elsewhere . We’ll have to wait and see what comes out of the April G20 in London and find out what President Obama and Prime Minister cooked up following their meeting in Washington . All the fit has not yet hit the shan . There are or were 7,000 hedge funds out there and many are in trouble which trouble is getting worse with the market decline and no sign of relief on the property front in the USA . In the midst of all this Ireland can be grateful for small mercies i.e we’re still in the Euro Zone .Latvia , Hungary and Ukraine are all in the crapper with barely 15 years of ‘democracy’ and perhaps 10 years of moderate economic growth behind them and that starting form a much lower base than pre Celtic Tiger Ireland .

    Probably best for FF to sit tight through this one . Backbenchers who would hurtle the party into opposition following an early election will be ending their political careers . Next time out I will however be considering a vote for FG for the first time in my life not because I’m changing my allegiance but because there comes a time when the nappy just has to be changed for the sake of the long term health of the child;)

    Never write off FF .

  • It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it

    Greenflag,

    “Never write off FF” You could have said the same about the Catholic Church in Ireland – but trust has been punctured and will never return.

    Of course they will ride it out – they have no where else to go except oblivion and although in my opinion they are probably the best party for the job at the moment precisely because they do not have any public popularity to protect which any party coming in on a tide of support would have to.

    But when this economic calamity has passed things will never be the same again for the warriors of complete recklessnesses and corruption – and that will probably be the one good thing to come out of this disastrous situation.

    p.s. Cracking comment from the Ard Fheis on RTE on Sunday when they asked some quareone who sounded as if she was on speed what she thought of the Labour leader to which she replied “He couldnt organise a dog fight”.

  • Uladh

    FF have had their chance and lost it in my opinion. They have failed miserably and must be consigned to the dustbin of history. In relation to them having young people at their ard fheis i have to say that Sinn Féin had a extraordinarily big youth turn out for their ard fheis by the looks of things.. and a large number of youth candidates in the upcoming local elections.. maybe its testimony to the strength of their youth wing, im not sure but all i know is that they look to have a strong future.

  • Mick Fealty

    Sammy,

    It’s funny how the quality of your commentary suddenly lifts when we are talking about southern politics… Agreed that FF’s unpopularity gives them a licence to do unpopular things… If they do the right things, three years could be enough to bring the ship back to some kind of harbour…

  • Modernist

    For the long term well being of the nation Fianna Fáil need to be consigned to the dustbin. Personally I feel the Greens even with their limited experience should be the ones running the country. Fine Gael are just Fianna Fáil light when it comes to politics. We should never forget characters like Michael Lowry.
    If unionists in the north had any sense they’d avoid voting for the DUP who I view as being very similar for their political cronyism… Paisleys… Dodds … etc.

  • Greenflag

    ‘but trust has been punctured and will never return. ‘

    Then FF will not be alone if trust is never to return . They will join the august company of US Republican and Democrat politicians , bankers of all nations , hedge fund managers , Insurance companies , mortgage brokers and the entire financial services sector not to mention the ‘public sector’s top mandarins responsible for oversight of banking etc etc . These former ‘pillars’ of society are now seen as suspect in terms of fiscal rectitude and responsible behaviour with other people’s monies.

    Gordon Brown hit the nail on the head when he said that the world has to get back to basics as regards the entire financial services sector and the way it was allowed to usurp and indeed pillage the economies of entire countries . This of course does not get FF off the fence . But to be honest from what I’m hearing from Gilmore , Kenny and Co at the moment does not encourage me that they would or could do much better . Both the Republic and Northern Ireland are hostages to fortune on this one and even the UK does not have a free hand to extricate itself from this mess .

    I believe Gordon Brown has the nous for what needs to be done . Whether he will retain his political clout at the upcoming G-20 is another question . The Germans , French , Russians and Chinese among others will not ‘tolerate’ any future situation in which the pirates of western finance will be allowed to create havoc via the financial skulldugerry of the shadow banking masters of disaster . The line up of eastern european nations now desiring Euro membership lengthens with each day and in the USA people await the next big hedge fund scandal following on the rest of the sad litany over the past 18 months . Who now remebers the Enron’s , World Communications , Bear Sterns , Lehmans , Merrill Lynches , etc etc etc .

    Truly we have seen financial capitalism at it’s lowest ebb since the great depression . Let’s hope it doesn’t take another world war to dig ourselves out of this self inflicted mess .

  • Scaramoosh

    This is surely the final nail in the FF coffin;

    “CUTS to child benefit and other social welfare payments are on the cards, as the Government attempts to bridge a €5bn hole in the public finances.”

  • Mick Fealty

    I would not be so sure Scara… It’s becoming obvious to me that FF is prepping for a big political fight between those in the Private and Public sectors…

    The private was prepared to carry the public whilst it was creaming in the FDI cash; and the costs of unemployment were slight. The reality is that that cash is only going to get more scarce and the demands through increased unemployment will go up.

    I have no idea if it will work; but from paying public sector workers well above the private rate during the boom, they are now trying to position themselves as the champions of the private sector.

    It is more likely to depend on whether they can get to a recovery in time for the 2012 election than cuts in social expenditure. €4.5 billion is still a long way short of the deficit.

    And it will take the Obama/Brown/Merkel plans to work before any projection can be relied upon. And I’d put my money on the Lotto before betting on that.

  • It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it

    Greenflag,

    Reckless mismanagement of the economy alone would not be enough to ensure the non-recovery of FF.

    The plain people of Ireland must now realise,
    that the ‘cute hoors’ with no public morals (as as evidenced by the numerous tribunals spanning 4 or 5 different leaders ) which they thought they were electing were in fact not only crooked but grossly incompetent and this has taken place against a backdrop of the already long slow death for a party who would once not have needed a coalition partner.

    FF will never go away totally, you know – but what will also be going nowhere is the memory of the shocking political cocktail of incompetence, recklessness and corruption which the Plain People of Ireland consumed greedily at the last elections – a mistake they now have to live with as they try to deal with mother-of-all-economic-hangovers.

  • Mack

    Sammy McNally

    There’s a large grain of truth in your comments, but I don’t think the tribunals, alleged corruption etc will have as big an influence as you might think. This stuff has been going on a long time, without seriously damaging FF. Charlie is something of a folk hero.

    What matters now is the live register is over 10%, more jobs are being lost everyday. The banks are bust and the government is spending way more than it takes in income. Coupled with that, if the government doesn’t lead and make tough decisions the markets will stop purchasing Irish bonds and the country will be bankrupt overnight.

    Mick Fealty

    It could be good strategy, pitting the public sector against the private sector and coming down on the side of the largest grouping. In the process they’d pit themselves against ‘socialist’ Labour defending the privileged public sector workers and squeeze the niche that Fine Gael is carving for itself. But I’m not sure that’s what they’re doing. (I’m slightly hopeful, they may actually be about to show geniune leadership, we’ll see).

    When the mini-budget was announced yesterday many of my collegues were apopeltic. We’ve already effectively taken pay cuts and are facing lay-offs in the next few weeks. Some were angry about additional tax hikes.

    Personally, I’ve no problem in paying out higher taxes as part of the budget balancing process (as long as public spending is also cut ), but if FF were going to play the private and public sectors off one and other surely the short fall would be made up merely by spending cuts?

    The first graph in the blog below shows real spending has increased by 50% since 2005, the second that tax revnues have collapsed along with GDP.

    http://www.irisheconomy.ie/index.php/2009/03/04/both-tax-and-spending-need-attention/

  • Mack

    The Panel on CJ Haughey :-

  • George

    Sammy,
    the thing is that, as you point out, the Irish electorate were complicit in FF’s cocktail of incompetence, recklessness and corruption. Hell, they cheered them on from the sidelines.

    And while FF were in power, FG and Labour outdid each other promising an even greater cocktail of fiscal incompetence.

    This is will be what saves FF from oblivion in my view. We are all to blame (although obviously FF more than others).

    Much of the electorate know damn well that they believed their own hype and share some responsibility for encouraging a bunch of Mammonites to go wild.

    Naturally they will confess their sins by voting out FF but when the time comes for them to seek absolution for their sins, and that time will come, in forgiving themselves their past misdeeds they will forgive FF in the process.

    If I was to call it, I would say the only sea change this whole thing could bring about is a realignment where FG and FF start fishing out of the one pond and Labour out of the other.

    That would leave us with 3 parties hovering between 20 and 35% with SF, Greens and independents making up the rest.

    FF – Liberal non-ideological
    FG – Conservative
    Lab – Social Democratic

    That would make for interesting times because then there would always be the possibility of a left-leaning or right-leaning coalition.

  • Greenflag

    Sammy ,

    I tend to agree with George’s comment above . This was Ireland’s first direct ‘bubble ‘ experience . And while I agree that the FF government could have done a few things to mitigate the build up to this mess we would not have been able to avoid it altogether . The ‘people’ also know in hindsight of course that they were complicit in the ‘bubble ‘

    I read that Northern Ireland is coping better with this recession than many of the UK regions mainly because of it’s high level of ‘government ‘ i.e public sector jobs and the fact that some 70% of spending emanates from that sector . Their ‘cheap’ location with a land border with the Republic has also helped . But longer term the ‘Public Sector’ cannot continue to feed off the back of the ‘productive’ private sector . Northern Ireland manages only because it feeds off the entire British private sector . Had it to rely on it’s own it could not support the present level of expenditure .

    There is a lesson here for the Republic’s public sector . Grow too big and powerful and you kill the goose that lays the golden egg . The Soviet Union learned that one the hard way . The Chinese have found a ‘novel’ way around this obstacle by continuing to call themselves communist while practising ‘raw ‘ capitalism to generate their new found wealth .

  • Jer

    On this notion of FF stoking a fight between thge Privare and Public sector so as to at least consolidate some support then yeah I believe that its a live strategy.

    But as I cautioned on another site a few weeks back this is playing with almost fundamental forces – half a million on this side and half a million on that side.

    Can even an organisation like FF master such a stand-off or are they likely to get trampled into the grass when these elephants start fighting.

  • the greatest con-job in the world how the british taxpayer pays for the east german style 6 county economy. If they only knew.