After Fianna Fail, the new government must stretch time horizons…

A few years back, my old mucker from River Path days, David Steven warned an audience in Tokyo of the dangers of the unrest that would come in the wake of the world credit crisis:

…be ready for the backlash – people are angry and rightfully so, but that may well lead us down some populist blind alleys.

You can’t help thinking that the Arab world may be in part or in whole wandering down some particularly nasty populist blind alleys even as we ‘speak’.

Today’s Guardian wonders, on a similar theme, whether Fine Gael is simply benefiting from a ‘it’s our turn’ benefit on the merry-go-round of Irish politics and that the Irish people are running blind into the arms of the next guy, without reflecting on whether they have the wherewithal to actually make the necessary changes.

There was certainly a theme on RTE’s excellent new Eleventh Hour programme last night, with all manner of experts pulling their hair out at the unreality of the Leaders Debate, in which they felt none of the current political party leaders were squaring up to the dread reality of the Republic’s financial situation.

Eddie Hobbs likened the new Taoiseach as taking up the role of the present day bank manager. He has the name of taking important decisions, but in reality they will be taken far from Government Buildings.

That’s true to an extent. Ireland’s never been good at conceiving how its sovereignty might extend into what used to be known as ‘external affairs’.

Enda Kenny mentioned ‘stress tests’ of the banks might change everything. And indeed they might. If their losses are even greater than reported heretofore that could be when default on the current arrangements becomes a national imperative.

But to return to David’s Tokyo presentation, what the new government needs to do more than anything else is ‘to stretch time horizons’ for the time in which the Irish economic tanker can be turned round.

Fianna Fail’s disarray comes in part because Brian Cowen was visibly forced to turn on a sixpence over less than a twenty four hour period. The Taoiseach (and his deputy) will need to plot a careful longer term course out of the current mess.

Kenny’s mention of stress testing is the first time we’ve heard what we’re going to hear a lot of after this weekend, ie that sharp drawing of breath between the teeth followed by an ominous warning, “We never thought it was quite as bad as this…”

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  • It’s important that the reason we’re all in this mess is nailed clearly in the public mind – and early. If either FG or FG/Lab do what the ConDems are doing – and reap short-term benefit from repeating the simplistic formula that the problems stem entirely from the previous government’s handling of the economy (and not the crisis itself) then it will end up in the sort of populist crisis that won’t do them any good in the medium term. At least FG/Lab will be able to point to the poor long-term handling of the economy AND a ill-thought out response to the crisis on FF’s part.

    This is a failure of liberal democracy – a failure to rein in powerful pressure groups and make unpopular short-term decisions. This is something that both FF and UK Labour failed to do, preferring to let us eat cake today. Unless the new government can bore the public a bit with a range of measures to improve the quality and democracy of policymaking very early, they will soon start facing the public’s wrath as things get even worse.

    FG/Lab need to hit the ground with the message that it’s everyone’s fault and not just FFs.

  • “a failure of liberal democracy – a failure to rein in powerful pressure groups”

    We’ll always have powerful pressure groups but our political systems are not producing the calibre of politicians necessary to control their influence.

  • John Ó Néill

    I think it is a more rounded failure. If you take FG’s manifesto (since they will lead the next government). It was delivered very late and very light into the campaign – it has limited detail for very expansive claims re cuts etc (or adjustments). Similarly it pins it’s projections on out-of-date and overly optimistic growth forecasts that no-one believes any more. Even to suggest that they would sell [supposedly non-]strategic assets to raise revenue for their New Era jobs scheme is in flat contradiction of the IMF-ECB memorandum of understanding which means they, not the state, have first call on any revenues. Without any irony (on Newstalk with Ivan Yates this morning), Phil Hogan, the main FG fixer, pointed to Enda Kenny’s photo-ops with Barroso and Merkel as evidence that FG would be allowed to do that – when the converse seems more likely – that both Merkel and Barroso engaged as they believe Kenny will actually follow through on the IMF-ECB deal.
    None of this was debated in any depth by the mainstream media (excepting the likes of Vincent Browne on TV3 and Marc Coleman, and occasionally Ivan Yates, on Newstalk). The same media howled with rage at the IMF/ECB deal over bank debt but still, and despite the obvious evidence of a widespread skill deficiency in the body politic, largely took economic policy in manifestoes at face value.
    It is widely acknowledged that, as the new government, FG will have to simply pulp their manifestoes which seems to point to the our turn thesis rather than a measured change. There was no debate on fiscal realities, nor was there much discussion of any social policy changes. As a sort of protracted job interview, the election campaign resembled the recruitment of some for the shop floor rather than a CEO. How far this purely electioneering and not an act of denial by the parties isn’t clear (yet). Perhaps it reflects a broader societal denial of the debt problems facing the state.
    My money is on a second election within 12-18 months as FG (and whoever props them up) are going to baulk at the task. FG are not going to have a majority (or if they do it will be inordinately slim), they will have to rely on a motley crew of independents or Labour (or, less likely, FF or SF). No coalition will survive the stress of the economic problems for long.

  • “re cuts etc (or adjustments)”

    John, the splendid ‘indicative savings’ is the term used in the NI Draft budget!!

  • maca

    Regarding the initial point on ‘Irish people are running blind into the arms of the next guy’ I think it certainly is the case for many people.

    What angers voters like me about FF is not simply their complete ineptitude in handling the crisis of recent years but also issues such as the Shell fiasco where they threw away the opportunity for serious tax revenues which the state could badly do with now.

    People want change and unfortunately FG are the best (debatable) of an utterly sh1t bunch (not debatable) of options available.

    Having said that nothing with convince me to give FG my vote.

  • lover not a fighter

    We should run our Dictator Bankers and their lickspittle politicians out of their plus offices and mansions.

    The present bunch of Arab Dictators that are coming under duress would never have had the brass neck to contemplate what our (w)bankers are doing with impunity.

  • Greenflag

    Both Paul Evans and John O’Neill are on the ball .What we are seeing is a failure of liberal democracy not just in the Republic but elsewhere in the western world . The belief is fast dissipating that our elected ‘rulers’ have the capacity much less the political will to take the international banking system and make the necessary reforms .

    As we look across the Middle East where several countries are now enmeshed in popular revolt and the degenerate Saudi monarchy is forced to throw extra baubles of his oil wealth in social welfare to his unemployed and probably unemployable minions -one ponders on the eventual outcome in this important region .

    Was the USA invasion of Iraq really necessary ? Would all of those American and Iraqi and British lives have been saved had the Bush and Blair been a little more patient and a lot less gung ho ? Would the Iraqis have eventually revolded a la egyptienne and tunisien ?

    Or have the invasions so upset the power balances in the region that they indirectly have set off the Arab revolution ?

    But where will it end / In mushroom clouds over Iran and Israel or could these Egyptian and Tunisian and Libyan etc revolts spread to the West and by some strange karma remind Americans in Wisconsin and elsewhere that for democracy to assert itself sometimes there are no other ways than mass protest and unfortunately the violence that often accompanies it ?

    How ironic would it be that in trying to export ‘anarchic ‘capitalism to the Middle East , the USA and UK find that they import in exchange ‘anarchic ‘democracy and awaken the American and British and Irish middle and working classes to their rapidly diminishing rights and economies in the face of multinational financial banking corporations who play western politicians like puppets ?

    I wonder will tomorrow’s turnout be larger be significantly more or less or about the same as the last election ?
    It could be either of the above outcomes so ‘unreadable ‘is the public mood . Many are angry and will vent in the booth others will react by not voting on the basis that none of the parties have been convincing in their campaigns . Other than being a relatively peaceful election -it has been almost a ‘zombie ritual ‘ as the politicians go through their ‘policies ‘ with all of the conviction of an insurance salesman trying to persuade a 18 year old to sign up for a whole life policy on the basis that he /she won’t live forever -while the 18 year old is rightly more concerned about the here and now .

    It’s early days still with the North African popular ‘democratic ‘ revolutions and I’m sure these events have put the fear of god if not allah into the boardrooms of the Anglo American oil companies and the powers that be from Washington to london and even further afield as I read the Chinese (those model authoritarian neo capitalists have closed down the web for any chinese who are trying to be informed of events in Libya . Our modern new technology seems capable of spreading the unrest and revolution virus around the world in minutes and tyrannical governments from North Korea to Myanmar will be coming under increased pressure .

    We may not all walk like an Egyptian or indeed riot or organise like them but they and the Tunisians have certainly lit a fuse which will not go out and they have lost their fear of their rulers .

    Will we see the day when Irish and British and American soldiers and policemen refuse to take orders from their own discredited governments and leaders if and when ‘anarchic ‘ capitalism eventually leads to blood in the streets ?