Feb 2011

Vincent Browne for Taoiseach

No. Not really. Though he’d certainly do a better job than any of the main party leaders. Plus it’d almost certainly force Enda Kenny to flee the country, so it’d be worth it on that basis alone.

It’s less than week now until Ireland goes to the polls and elects a Fine Gael government to dig the nation further into the hole left to us by Fianna Fáil. It’s a mess of a situation and the only question left to be answered is whether or not Enda Kenny’s visionless crew will secure enough seats to win an absolute majority (heaven help us!) or will need to form a coalition. For most of the election campaign a Fine Gael Labour coalition looked certain, with Labour’s gains being significant enough to give them plenty of influence over policy. As February 25th approaches though, they’ve lost a lot of ground and — if current opinion polls are to be believed — Fine Gael could win a big enough share of the vote to form a majority government with the backing of a handful of independents.

The reason for Fine Gael’s meteoric rise in the polls is difficult to fathom. Or rather, it’s difficult to fathom if you assume an even vaguely sensible electorate. The consensus seems to be that a) Ireland has adopted a two-party mindset… because Fianna Fáil got us into this mess, Fine Gael will get us out, and b) the electorate wants a stable government… the compromise of coalition is undesirable at a time of national crisis such as this.

Of course, even a cursory examination of these two conclusions reveals them to be nonsense of the highest order.

a) Yes, Fianna Fáil got us into this mess. But they did so during a period when there were no significant policy differences between themselves and Fine Gael. In fact, while in opposition, Enda Kenny’s party were complaining that Fianna Fáil’s tax cuts and regulatory light-touch didn’t go far enough. Both parties are essentially centre-right adherents to free-market capitalism. If anything, Fine Gael are slightly further to the right than Fianna Fáil ever were and the criticism they have been levelling at Fianna Fáil during this election campaign should leave any sensible person with a taste of bile in their mouth. Certainly the disastrous government of the last decade and a half merits criticism, but when that criticism comes from a party that would have done exactly the same thing it’s just embarrassing.

b) If people think that what the country needs is a single-party stable majority government, they appear to be forgetting that it was a single-party stable majority government that created this mess in the first place. Well, in all but name. Yes, Fianna Fáil had the Progressive Democrats as junior partners for much of their recent rule. And they had the Greens for the past three years. But the PDs were mostly ex-Fianna Fáil who left the party due to a clash of personalities with a long gone leader. They were Fianna Fáil through-and-through, as demonstrated by Mary Harney’s return to the fold after the death of the PDs. As for the Greens? Well, in the three years they’ve spent at the top table, they failed to influence government policy in any significant way and — in fact — enthusiastically supported Fianna Fáil at pretty much every turn. Even refusing to rock the boat on issues like the Corrib gas field, or the motorway cutting a swathe through the Tara Valley (a project they described as “a monstrous act of cultural vandalism” just a few short months before taking office and supporting the government carrying out that monstrous act).

See, this is the problem. The people voting for Enda Kenny and his empty suits claim to be voting for change. When in fact they are voting for a clear continuation of the dreadful policies of the past 15 years.

The significant problems we have cannot be solved using the same kinds of thinking with which we created them – Albert Einstein (attrib)

Vincent Browne

Give them the eye Vincent!

My overseas readers may be a little confused by the title of this post. “Who the hell is Vincent Browne?” they wonder. “Is he some far-left politician, perhaps?” No, he’s not. Vincent Browne is the presenter of a nightly political discussion on TV3. I’ve heard him described as “the Irish Jeremy Paxman”, but while I understand the reasons some might say that (his tenacious insistence on getting people to answer the damn question draws the comparison), it’s a rather lazy comparison. I see him as being closer to Peter Falk’s Columbo. The way he paces his questions and the disarming self-deprecation he uses to confound the more combative panel members is straight out of Columbo.

Over the past few weeks, Tonight with Vincent Browne has become essential viewing in the Bliss household. The panel of four or five members is usually made up of a mix of politicians, academics, artists and journalists. The discussion is usually entertaining, occasionally informative but always worth watching. Whether it’s Fianna Fáil junior minister Conor Lenihan completely losing the plot and shouting at Browne to “back off Vincent, or I’ll come at you!” Or the eminently likeable independent candidate, Paul Sommerville, visibly seething while discussing the economic policies of the Fianna Fáil government. Or just the eclectic mix of opinions that he assembles, Browne’s programme is one of the few edifying things about this current election campaign… indeed about Irish politics in general right now.

Would I genuinely want him as Taoiseach? Of course not. Do I agree with everything he says? Not at all. But at a time when Ireland is sinking beneath the weight of bland corporate apologists dressed as representatives of the people, Vincent Browne — for all his faults, and all the controversies — is a beacon of light.

Posted in: Opinion