Don’t write off the old leaders just yet

Under pressure of the worst recession since the 1930s, leadership everywhere is having a tough time. Gerry Adams take comfort, you’re not alone. Like the early to mid 30s, only in America is leadership flourishing and even there, under growing pressure. In our own islands, the uncanny similarities between Brown and Cowen – finance ministers who got us into this mess, poor communicators, worse leaders etc – persuade many of us to write them off. None of this will produce a democratic revolution or indeed much change.In the UK, the mutterings against Brown are reviving in the wake of the Norwich by-election. Polly Toynbee, Brown’s sharpest critic within the tent slates him for not leading an attack on the bankers – but let’s be honest, who is to lead to a revival of the banks except bankers? Oddly she attacks him for failing to make more of the one thing he had been doing: dividing between “Labour spending and Tory cuts”. Intellectual weight for this policy has come first in a powerful warning against cutting now from that scarcely radical source, Richard Koo chief economist of Nomura. And it has been added to domestically by the doyen of British economic commentators Sam Brittan. In this lies Brown best – maybe only – hope of survival.

But fag-end prime ministers seldom do well; Eden, Douglas-Home, Major, (a long fag end after some success admittedly), Reynolds. Yet looking at the alternatives to incumbency today, Enda Kenny and David Cameron have the least impressive past profiles of any opposition leaders on the brink of likely victory I can think of. But the past shows that a blend of depth and charisma may not be necessary to lead the way out of recession. It was Neville Chamberlain of all people who drove the recovery in Britain in the 1930s. Experience may count and he had plenty of it. In the forthcoming general election (Ireland’s being much further away) leadership and policies may count for less than regional and party splintering. And that incidentally, may offer Sinn Fein in the Republic another chance.

Of course there’s a huge difference of scale in Gerry Adams’s role. I can’t tell but it may be that the pressure against him is more from the rank and file than media (including blog) driven. The Ferris pebble may start an avalanche. But from across the pond, Niall Dowd answers Mick ‘s question about Adams’ future in the negative. I share Dowd’s alarm that the people’s champion of Garvaghy Road Brendan Maccionaith has come out with blatantly dissident republican language – and that soon after his “cordial” meeting with Peter Robinson. So it seems that along with their problems in the south, SF are facing a mounting republican challenge in the north which although still small is resonant with some of their traditional core. But is the same true with their much wider electoral support? Where’s the evidence?

I hold no brief for the SF narrative. I believe politics will never become “normal” until all the old warriors, so indispensable for creating the peace, have departed the scene. But I harbour doubts about the arguments of some of Adams’ critics.

He’s attacked for floundering over strategy – but who’s doing much better? In the south, no party seems entirely secure and in Europe, left parties generally have failed to capitalise on the recession. He’s mocked because the days of hob-nobbing with the great are over – is it fair that his role in spiking the guns is forgotten so quickly? Some of those who most wanted republicans to give up the armed struggle now mock them for having no purpose. That’s a dangerous game, for it chimes with the dissidents’ cry of betrayal.

In London last week, Adams said an interesting thing. “All Prime Ministers are unionists.” By that he mean successive taoisigh would like unity on a plate but oh Lord, not yet if ever. British Prime Ministers who remain emotionally uncommitted to the Union fall back on the consent principle. Even Ulster unionism is conditional. Is it so absurd then for Adams to want to revive his old plan for urging the sovereign governments to become “persuaders for unity?” That, and a fairly bold defence of what powersharing stands for in the face of threats from both sides uses up less adrenaline than the long war. But it doesn’t seem such a bad strategy to me.

  • 6countyprod

    ‘only in America is leadership flourishing’

    What a strange statement! Rasmussen’s latest poll puts Obama’s approval rating at under 50% for the first time. In fact, the Friday 24th poll shows that only 30% of the nation’s voters now strongly approve of the way that Barack Obama is performing his role as President.

  • GGN

    I think that many people are perfectly capable of understanding why the unionist press in Belfast and Dublin are talking up the dissident analysis.

    I think that even most members of say Éirígí are perfectly capable of understanding that as well.

  • Greenflag

    BW ,

    ‘Some of those who most wanted republicans to give up the armed struggle now mock them for having no purpose. That’s a dangerous game, for it chimes with the dissidents’ cry of betrayal.

    Indeed and an excellent post BW . The hounding of Adams is just another phase in the old ‘Unionist ‘ game of when the dog is dead keep kicking it until it’s revived ! The dissidents also have nothing to offer NI except a return to violence and sectarian conflict . There are those on the traditional unionist side of the fence who would welcome such a return for it would help to justify their new found paranoia . What can the dissidents or the TUV bring to the table except more shrouds for more corpses ?

    Adams and McGuinness had to make the same choice that Michael Collins had to make in 1922 politics being the art of the possible in the here and now .

    Now if the dissidents or the TUV crowd were both in favour of a fair repartitioning of Northern Ireland then there would be some logic or semblance of political sense to their stance . But neither are . They both seem to want something unattainable . The former (dissidents) call for a UI socialist/marxist workers republic against the wishes of the vast majority of people’s votes both North and South ? And the TUV are looking for a return to a ‘normal’ democracy which of course never existed in NI except in the imaginations of former Unionist leaders and their supporters .

    Both dissidents and TUV’ers make that North Korean nutcase Kim Il Sung the (dear leader) seem like a model of political and strategic sense 🙁

  • Joe

    Greenflag +1

    The positive to take from this is in the percentages.

    Jim Allister has a core ‘protest’ vote yes, but compared to the pro-agreement bloc, its a tiny minority and mostly old boys at that.

    And the new I-can’t-believe-its-not-the-IRA or whoever they are, seem to have more members than supporters.

    Both will have to be tolerated for now, but they are doomed to shrivel up and die in the fulness of time as NI takes the yellow brick road to accomodation.

  • Pete Baker

    Brian

    “I can’t tell but it may be that the pressure against him is more from the rank and file than media (including blog) driven.”

    They are the ones who are closer to the action – the briefings, the broken promises, etc.

    And O’Dowd doesn’t answer anything. He asserts.

    “In the south, no party seems entirely secure and in Europe, left parties generally have failed to capitalise on the recession.”

    In Ireland [Republic of] left parties did capitalise. Sinn Féin did not.

    “He’s mocked because the days of hob-nobbing with the great are over – is it fair that his role in spiking the guns is forgotten so quickly?”

    Whose guns did he spike, again?

    “Some of those who most wanted republicans to give up the armed struggle now mock them for having no purpose. That’s a dangerous game, for it chimes with the dissidents’ cry of betrayal.”

    Perhaps we should, instead, be well-behaved witnesses to the “fragile flower”?

    Or ignore the perpetuating of myths?

    Even if that means being in the “land of the cuckoo”?

    Or cover for those other “good guys” as well?

    Adhering, all the time, to a newly coined narrative of the “bright shiny new future”.

    Even as Adams embraces the same old warriors..

    “Is it so absurd then for Adams to want to revive his old plan for urging the sovereign governments to become “persuaders for unity?””

    It’s not absurd. But it’s worth noting that it’s not new. And it’s not something that the sovereign governments are going to do, having agreed on the principle of consent.

    As some of those Prime Ministers have acknowledged.

    The problem with Adams’ old/new strategy is that it is another top-down strategy which ignores the role of his own party in Northern Ireland.

    As I believe I did mention.

    Equating Adams’, and Sinn Féin’s, electoral strength with The Process™ will continue to distort politics here – making unity less, not more, likely.

  • “The hounding of Adams”

    Greenflag, Pete Baker is often pilloried for acting in that role yet I see no evidence to indicate that he’s a ‘Unionist’.

    Jim Allister articulates a position held by the Irish political establishment on the unsuitability of paramilitary godfathers in an Irish government – and you accuse him of paranoia 😉

  • “making unity less, not more, likely.”

    Pete, have you expressed any views of your own on the desirability or otherwise of Irish unity? Can we see the colour of your money?

  • Brian Walker

    Pete, Purely as as reader far from the grass roots, the criticisms of Adams seem to me grumblings rather than rebellion. However, their significance will become clearer in time. His problems seem far from exceptional. I may be wrong and it may be that we’re witnessing the rough SF equivalent of the fall of Paisley, minus the decline in personal capacity. I agree he’s a reduced figure and I welcome that. I don’t object in the least to your schadenfreude in respect of his lack of a clear strategy and the cracks in a formerly stalinist facade and semi-personality cult. Many of us get a rise out of that. But it all seems like an evolution in the direction of normal politics when the disciplines amounting to ruthlessness of the long war are bound to relax. I simply point out that there are dangers in any scenario for the fall of Adams as distinct from his natural retirement, no sign on the surface that he wishes to quit and not much from anywhere else. I would prefer to see the Assembly system stabilise a bit more before he goes. He still seems to wield a lot of clout among the SF support that barely remembers the troubles. Where we differ perhaps is that I welcome a slow-burn retreat from the tiresome old monolith while you seem to exult in his discomfiture. And it would be a mistake to understimate him.

  • Pete Baker

    Brian

    I’d agree that, at the minute, it’s more grumblings than rebellion.

    But the level of those grumblings is notable as being exceptionally public for Sinn Féin.

    The Sunday Tribune has a report of a forthcoming party meeting to try to address the apparent drift. We may see how far the party has actually evolved.

    Ideally, I’d like to see the Assembly stabilise and reform as soon as possible.

    But I’d also point out that Sinn Féin spent a large part of last year destabilising the Assembly – by blocking Executive meetings for 5 months – for their own party political reasons.

    Their warnings about its stability at present are equally self-serving.

    And it’s not exultation you detect. As I mentioned previously, the alternative to laughing at the World Tour is to despair.

  • Greenflag

    Nevin,

    ‘Jim Allister articulates a position held by the Irish political establishment on the unsuitability of paramilitary godfathers in an Irish government – and you accuse him of paranoia ;)’

    In Allister’s case perhaps paranoia is too harsh. More like unrealistic expectations I’d say. At this time and I would expect for a long time to come a generation or two I cannot see ‘voluntary’ coalition becoming the ‘norm’ in NI. The ‘dreary steeples’ of Fermamagh and the local conflict history for the past generation and more will see to that . The annual Orange ‘remembrance ‘ in it’s breadth and scope and in some cases intent will also be a continuing reminder to Irish nationalists that whereas one can trust Unionist politicians up to a point that point is not a fixed one and can change dramatically depending on the season of the year -the closeness of an election and the results of the latest census .

    Meanwhile normal life goes on and the best is made of a poor set of cards for the political poker game that is NI. It’ll be a long slow trudge to ‘normalcy’ and the light at the end of the tunnel may be just the pre viewed images of the fires of future conflict .

    SF have achieved much in going down the politics road . It’s important that they keep on that road . I may not agree with their more hair brained economic policies but then I’m not impressed either by the policies of any of the political parties in NI nor for that matter in the Republic or the UK at this time . It seems to me that they are all in ‘waiting for Godot’ mood .

    And we all know that Godot never comes eh 😉

  • Reader

    Greenflag: And we all know that ***** never comes eh 😉
    Spoiler!

  • Greenflag, why do you suggest that a position endorsed by the Irish political establishment is unrealistic?

    Much of the conflict has been local but players such as Dick Spring have played the partisan card in a manner that has made difficult situations here worse. The full extent of this ‘play’ cannot be ascertained easily and the MSM seems reluctant to enlighten the great unwashed. Even the most erudite of Slugger bloggers have failed to highlight this lack of democratic accountability

    PS Sadly Codot came 🙁