Election Rule #1: Don’t get carried away

As part of a new weekly series I will be looking at the lessons we should learn in politics from now until the election. Lesson one is – Never get carried away.

Politics is a game of hype. You tell everyone you are absolutely brilliant and that the other fella is the devil incarnate. Due to the adversarial nature of politics there is often little room for being fair. This is all well and good but you must be careful not to get carried away. Self praise or attacks on the other side lose their effectiveness when you go too far.

This week Enda Kenny managed to create a controversy out of absolutely nothing. This was all down to his comments on the Army guarding ATM’s. The second part of his comment that the troika was a ‘bloodless coup’ was probably fair enough. The Taoiseach is prone to such statements as RTE Prime Time reported last night. He gets carried away.

The problem here is that he truly believes the line he is selling. This results in him being ok with going a bit further to convince people. He is not alone in this. Politicians often suffer from it and end up making rash promises and grandiose statements that come back to haunt them.

For the current government the problem goes back to 2007. Fianna Fail was dead and buried and then rose again with just over a week to go to voting. It was a shock. It caused them never to trust that FF was beaten again. So, during the financial crisis a huge amount of talk was put out there. Now, let’s make no mistake it was a woeful crisis and a disastrous time.

We are also better off now than we were in 2010 or 2011. The thing is people do actually know this; you need to trust them a little. However, back in the height of the crisis the then opposition were so afraid that FF would rise from the dead again they couldn’t see that the government was already beaten.

This caused some rash promises to be unnecessarily made that they paid for later. It also caused wild statements that they might believe are true but that don’t resonate with the public. The whole loss of sovereignty was one.

Yes, I know it’s a big political argument among us nerds but to be honest for most people the whole thing passed by with no discernible difference on this sovereignty thing. Eamon Gilmore accused the then Taoiseach of treason, a comment that I believe sowed the seeds for his own downfall some years later.

Hyperbole is normal in politics. The problem is that you have to realise it as such behind closed doors. The Taoiseach returned to the hyperbole this week. He did so because his natural instinct is to remind people how far we have come. He feels that people have not punished FF enough or that they don’t grasp the dangers the country was in.

He fears they dont realise that with different policies we might go back there under SF. Therefore he tries to underline this for them in stark terms that they will understand. It’s ok in his mind because he is only trying to convince them of what he sees as the truth.

The problem is that the public do actually know but they don’t buy into the idea that it’s all perfect now. They don’t buy into the idea that a revolution of some kind was imminent. They know they continued working and paying taxes and that most of the hysteria was not played out on the streets but in Lenister House and TV studios. It then becomes embarrassing if the facts don’t match up to the hyperbole.

You cannot afford to get carried away in politics. We know that Bertie Ahern’s first government was not too shabby. His second seemed to believe that he and the country’s success was invincible. When things are going well for you it is easy to be swept away into believing your own hype. When things are not going well there is a temptation to lash out as strongly as possible.

There is a fine limit to be observed. All arguments have a tipping point. When you are trying to convince people it is important to lead them up that hill and keep them following you, but for heaven’s sake don’t go mad and jump off the cliff at the top. They won’t follow you.

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