On the face of it Brian Cowen has pre-empted yet another heave, but it would seem that this is the beginning of the end and because of a number of factors that I will outline why I believe that his demise may now be sooner than later.
The Fianna Fail parliamentary party is clearly divided on the leadership issue into two main camps : one group, and that includes most of those loyal to Brian Cowen believe that it would be nothing short of political suicide to become embroiled in a leadership struggle so close to the election. They feel that this would be seen by the public as FF pre-occupied with themselves rather than the country.
The other group are equally adamant that to go to the people in a general election under the present leadership with nothing to put before the public but excuses for the past and claims of damage limitations for a situation that FF are clearly now identified with and blamed for causing, would equally be political suicide.
As Noel Whelan said on RTE on Friday evening, everyone expected them to return the New Year with a new narrative, but it is the same old leadership story.
The downward spiral continues and again to quote Wheelan, there is no floor to how low FF seat losses can go.
Last Oct / Nov I could not see this bottom going under twenty five seats with the election last stand pushing them into low thirties. On current figures and circumstances I cannot now see the party holding twenty seats in a best case scenario. Current support would indicate around fifteen seats but that could easly fall to ten to twelve.
Inside Fianna Failed it is really now a case of bald men fighting over a comb!
This really is unknown territory in Irish Party politics; many former heavyweights have retired rather than face the electoral firing squad.
Some of the big names remaining have no cast iron certainty of a return to the next Dail. That includes the three front runners for potential leadership, Micheal Martin, Mary Hannifin and Brian Lenihan.
Not very inspiring choices. This time last year Brian Lenihan could still walk on water : now he can barely hold his head above water; Mary Hanifan is seen as a kingmaker, a number two rather than a Maggie Thatcher and Brian Lenihan is now dependent in the extend Lenihan clan calling in favours.
Brian still has some standing inside the Dublin 4 / Law Library, set. He can claim that he was not at the Cabinet Table when the financial mess was allowed to happen. Martin was at the table during all this period, an unpleasant fact not referred to by Martin when talking about the past, but no doubt, some of Lenihans camp will soon remind him of the fact come contest time!
Basically there is little political difference between the Lenihan mindset and their Fine Gale Bruton opposites who are equally unenamoured with Dame Enda.
There is however a pressing reality for all three in the Fianna Fail leadership contention: if they do not move now they will probably have missed the leadership bus.
Fianna Failed as a party have an extradionary capacity for disassociation, ‘That was then and this is now’ was the mantra of Haughey towards the Lynch / O’Donnoghue era, it was the mantra of the Renyols leadership against the Haughey/McSharry/Flynn et al and it became the mantra of the Bertie eta against the Reynols era.
Naturally it has become the current mantra of Cowen’s leadership against ‘The Bertie Era’! However it no longer cuts any ice with the general public. Last week when Pat Kenny introduced the Fianna Failed spokesperson he was laughed at by the TV studio audience, nothing personal, it was just what he represented no longer had a shred of credibility or relevance!
While the public are hopping mad at the situation Fianna Failure brought about, so also are a younger generation of back benchers who see the Old Guard as having wrecked politics for them. All had good career prospects the last election, now they will be lucky to be re-elected and then only to years of Back Bench Opposition drudgery, without any influence.
No longer just ten years from a backside on a victory count supporters shoulder to hind quarters in a government car!
Martin and Co have to move now, if they do not jump now, post the election devastation, the leadership could and probably will jump a generation. Martin and Co are then yesterdays news, always assuming they are re-elected of course.
Then there is the Brian Cowen factor : whatever the perception of Brian to the general public, and however much sections of the party may view him as an electoral liability, all agree that first, last and foremost, Brian is Fianna Fail through and through. The man do genuinely put the party before himself and if he feels that he has lost the support of the party, or that it would be better for the party that he went, then after consultation, he will go if that is the consensus.
It would seem that the balance is on the side of departure. No heave will then be required, if go he must for the party, go he will!
This weekend will tell it all : either the moves for change of leadership will come the start of the week or the hatches will be battened down on the Fianna Failed ship to ride out the coming electoral storm. All the indications as of now are that the would be leaders for the reasons given, must and will publicly move.
The dream ticket is for a muscle flexing by all three followed by Mary and Michael clinically installed as Leader and Deputy Leader in a quick,clean excercise.
I am not as keyed into active politics as I once was but I still have more than a few contacts here and there. As one remarked in a call this evening, “only them bastards at the top know what else is there and the Greens are only one more disclosure from walking!”
That sums sums up the reality for all and indicates how unstable Government really
is. A week, next week will indeed be a long time in politics for the Irish public in the Twenty Six Counties!
This was written Thursday evening; this Friday afternoon Labour pulled a great PR and political stroke. Gilmore with the whole Dail Party lined up behind him on the Dail forecourt, announced that he was putting down a notice of no confidence in the government. Anybody knowing anything about Fianna Fail will appreciate that this will cause ranks to close and FF and the Greens to sort out immediate accommodations.
Dame Enda almost immediately pointed out the obvious, that this was likely to unify Fianna Failure just as they were desintragating. But of course that is exactly what it was about, Gilmore wants Cowen there for the election……..and this Government continuing for a weeks yet.
Cowen and Fianna Failure are history, Labour now needs a few more weeks for the Enda factor and the FG foot shooting capacity to kick in. Labour in their view can only go up and FG down!
One can only think of Haughey’s remark when Labour elected the late (and limited) Frank Cluskey as Leader ….. he let out a low whistle and went…..” Jeezes, there’s confidence for you ” !