Thursday, February 12, 2009

Time for Labour/FG to talk to John Gormley directly and cut a deal

By now most people have seen the results of the opinion poll from the MRBI published in the Irish Times. Moving beyond the mere numbers, it is clear that the government does not have the support of the public to act. It is time for someone from FG and Labour to approach John Gormley and if necessary cut a deal that would allow them to go softly, softly on the majority of the existing Green seats.

The problem for the Greens in the next election whenever it comes will not be whether they get 4% or 7% nationally but whether or not they get transfers. And if there are any Green candidates out there reading this who are thinking that FF transfers will see them home, either in the general election or more immediately in the upcoming local elections, then they need to wake up and smell the stale coffee of the FF core vote. It simply won't come to their rescue. If they really value their policy agenda, their seats and the long term viablity of their party then they should withdraw now from a goverment that no one explicitly voted for and which now utterly lacks the mandate to act as a government need to given the difficulties we are faced with.

If you did happen to miss them then these are the adjusted figures for party support, compared with the last Irish Times poll in November are: Fianna Fáil, 22 per cent (down 5 points); Fine Gael, 32 per cent (down 2 points); Labour, 24 per cent (up 10 point); Sinn Féin, 8 per cent (up 1 point); Green Party, 4 per cent (no change); and Independents/others, 9 per cent (down 4 points).

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Cowen's speech

Listening to the reaction to and commentary on Cowen's set piece speech on Thursday night one would be forgiven for wondering if the standard of public discourse in Ireland has fallen so low that the fact of an elected politician being able to string a few sentences together is viewed as a cross between the sermon on the mount and the Gettysburg address.

In all truthfulness, we have a history of generally weak public oratory in Ireland. For the last decade we've had a Taoiseach who couldn't get through a paragraph with causing us to wonder if it might all be so much better if only we could lip read. For all his considerable wit and the logic he presents his points with, I'm not gone on listening to Eamon Gilmore myself . His voice doesn't carry us with him. We're all bold children to him and he's chastising and telling us off. I think that Enda Kenny tries too hard to make a speech instead of just talking to the public, he gave a speech in 2003 in Galway that I think was one of the best in the last ten years. A pity hardly anyone saw it. After that he's been too stiff, almost too focused on not making mistakes instead of relaxing into it. Gerry Adams comes across as just too damn pleased with himself and reminds me a lot of the time of a priest back from the missions with a worthy, worth message.

For sure the Taoiseach said some things that are true and needed saying. Yet they've needed saying for quite some time. So why the delay? The problem as I see it about the Taoiseach's analysis is that there is no element of mea culpa, no admission that the country was unprepared, like a parent who lets their child run about in the nip but then shrugs their shoulders that sure it could happen to anyone when their kid gets pneumonia while other children have the sniffles. We have gotten pneumonia while other countries are down with the flu.

The mantra from the government is everything would have been fine if that blasted turn in the road hadn't come along (the same logic is used by speeding boy racers a lot too). We can debate about when the turn was going to come, but we should all be in agreement that a turn was going to come at sometime. And let's face it this was no 90% corner that came out of the blue. It could be seen easily that we were out of control, and whether it was a deer running out into the road, or a corner or an oncoming car our government simply didn't have their concentration on the road. And that is the fault of the driver.

Taking for example the so-called highlights as selected by the Irish Independent


"The one thing that characterises their success is their self belief.

If we decide to wallow in a sea of doubt, do not be surprised if we end [up] in the turbulent waters that we are in today."

Ok so young people are confident, jeez who knew? Haven't we been told this for years, in fact we've been told that young people are overconfident on the roads.


"Unless we're prepared to say that we as a country are prepared to step back a few places now and take a drop in our standard of living -- yes, of 10 or 12pc over the next couple of years -- in the perspective of a country that has increased its wealth so much over the last few years, by 70, 80pc; yes it's a step back, but we are in a far better position than previous generations had to contend with."

Ah but did the country really increase its wealth by 70/80%? That is the question? Are we better placed than previous generations yes? Undoubtedly, but that is our own doing mind not the sole doing of the state. We did the overtime and saved our few quid, or some of us did. There again some of the commentariat are overreaching when it comes to which generations to compare us against. Eoghan Harris was comparing us to the Irish at the time of the Vikings and Cromwell. Is this how it is done elsewhere? Do the French console themselves that at least it's not the great Terror, or the Portuguese that it's not the Lisbon earthquake of 1555?

Cowen "If we lose the belief in our own capacity to confront this issue and to do whatever is necessary to avoid putting at risk that which we have achieved so well, and of which we are rightly proud of in recent times, then perhaps we didn't deserve it in the first place."


"Jobs, jobs, jobs has to be the priority in the coming years."

The sentiment is ok but the line is awful, 'the coming years' and what would be so wrong with some alliteration. How about this instead?

"Jobs, jobs, jobs are my focus, I know they're your focus, and they must be and will be the focus for all of us for the future. So have they been before and so they should be again." It's not something Jon Favearu would write for President Obama but it trips off the tongue better than Cowen's version.

I found Harris's claim on the late that Cowen had to speak to a few hundred people because he's just not comfortable in front of the Dail or on television a bit like the great footballer who can only do his magic on a small pitch in front of a small crowd on a balmy summer's day, not much use is he? And does this completely invalidate the argument used by FF and others against Enda Kenny that because he's not good in the Dail or on tv that he's just not Taoiseach material. Or is it ok for a FF leader to be hopeless in the Dail and on the box so long as he's ok speaking to the right crowd?

I suspect that Cowen was in part attempting to do an Arnie Vinick last week with all the media appearances. Meet the press in so many guises that they tire of him and move on.

I'm reminded of the words of Aaron Sorkin spoken in the The American President.
Lewis Rothschild: " the absence of genuine leadership, they'll listen to anyone who steps up to the microphone. They want leadership. They're so thirsty for it they'll crawl through the desert toward a mirage, and when they discover there's no water, they'll drink the sand.

President Andrew Shepherd: Lewis, we've had presidents who were beloved, who couldn't find a coherent sentence with two hands and a flashlight. People don't drink the sand because they're thirsty. They drink the sand because they don't know the difference. "

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Whither the knowledge economy.

Over the last few years you could barely get from your front door to the local bookies without bumping into some reference to the knowledge economy, it was on the tip of the tongue of every government spokesperson and half the political class - at least those members that were awake. The knowledge economy was the oft-declared destination that was to be reached by means of our extensive up-skilling and personal mental re-tooling.

Yet in the last couple of weeks it is hard to avoid noticing it's replacement with a new phrase, the 'smart economy'. So sudden is the dropping of the idea of the knowledge economy that I'm genuinely concerned that someone in the government might have broken the 'knowledge economy' by accident, and its replacement with the smart economy is simply designed to avoid the awkward questions that are bound to crop up such as to who was last seen carrying the knowledge economy and if they were impaired at the time in some way by drink or carrying the addresses of too many prospective task force members.

Did former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern in fact crack the knowledge economy while descending his stairs in Drumcondra and did he simply fail to mention it when leaving it in the care of the new Taoiseach Brian Cowen. Then one lovely crisp winter morning as Brian was exercising his vocal chords did he hit a note that resonated with the knowledge economy and the crack widened to shatter the entire edifice? Does anyone remember when they last saw or heard of the knowledge economy? Did Martin Cullen bring it to China with him and was it replaced there with a cheap knock off?

Perhaps this was because knowledge required bukkes and they cost money and in this straitened times we can't afford them But what do they mean by a 'smart economy' is it a cheeky economy that gives you back lip,or talks out of turn?

And who in the wider world is likely to give much credence to any further ideas we have when we were so quick to pick up, run with and then drop the knowledge economy for no good reason. Cowen's speech to the Dublin Chamber of Commerce was peppered with the phrase, but does he actually mean by it? Is it smart to spend when you have it and then to cut back drastically when you don't without bothering to saving for a rainy day in between? Is it smart to judge your construction industry purely by how many houses they build and not where they are built? Or is it that smart in this instance is just short for smartarse?