Fianna Fail: Crisis round to Cowen; next round to Martin…

I’m a big fan of restating the bleedin obvious. It’s a much underestimated tool in the journalist’s skillset. So here’s Harry Magee with the first sentient post leadership crisis analysis after Brian Cowen won his intra party competition tonight:

Obvious Conclusion One: The middle ground had not shifted.

Obvious Conclusion Two: Nobody other than Brian Cowen has built up a support base in the party. From the evidence of the past week, the pretenders can each rely on only a handful (and a smallish one at that) of supporters.

Obvious Concluskon Three: Brian Cowen is a winner but will be a loser in the long term.

Obvious Conclusion Four: Micheal Martin is a loser but may be the big winner ultimately. Reason: He finally faced down the Taoiseach and also began dismantling the image of him as a waverer and ditherer. He also came out really really well compared to the subjects of the next two conclusions. He is now the clear favourite to succeed Cowen. His reputation has been enhanced by the events of this week.

Obvious Conclusion Five: Brian Lenihan has been damaged (and some say badly damaged) by the claims (true or untrue) from John McGuinness that he was encouraging dissent against Cowen last year. Even the uttering of such a claim will taint him  – and he will struggle to try to overcome it.

Obvious Conclusion Five: Mary Hanafin has also come out of it badly. Her public utterances last week suggested she wanted Cowen gone but she failed to follow through. She ducked the question on the Frontline, made herself generally unavailable to the media, and then delivered a short speech at the meeting tonight in which she refused to disclose here voting intentions.

I agree with Harry that this has been a sideshow. In politics there often is a lot of smoke without fire. The trouble is that all of this controversy amplifies the suspicions of a populis under strain and looking for someone (er, the Government) to blame for it all. To wit, Fianna Fail knew more than they are publicly admitting about the nature of the banking crisis.

It fits a certain narrative (and the donation patterns to the party’s TDs from developers) over the last ten years. Up until 2007, Fianna Fail had the benefit of the doubt. Now that doubt is rapidly disappearing, and so is the popular support for Ireland’s ‘natural party of government’.

In my view, all bets are off. But Harry reckons it could have unexpected outcomes yet:

…yes, it was a sideshow. And yes it was the most despised party in the State. But that party has badly needed an emergency of this kind to force it to confront its own reality, to allow it focus,  and galvanise support.

It is probably a crisis the party needed to have months, or even two years ago. As I argued this morning, time is running out.