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Mick Mulholland’s Political Notebook - Riding Political Luck

At the Fine Gael Nice Referendum meeting in the Montague Hotel in October 2002 were Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny, David Goodwin, Kathleen O'Brien, John Moran, Deputy Olwyn Enright and former taoiseach Garret Fitzgerald.

At the Fine Gael Nice Referendum meeting in the Montague Hotel in October 2002 were Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny, David Goodwin, Kathleen O'Brien, John Moran, Deputy Olwyn Enright and former taoiseach Garret Fitzgerald.

Given the size of the Government’s majority, are there two terms in this Coalition ?

It is a question posed now and then in the corridors of power in those moments when the focus moves away from contemporary events.

The common consent is that there should be.

The two parties could shed a significant number of seats and still have enough to secure a further term.

After all, Fianna Fail is likely to still be rebuilding after the next election. Sinn Fein will probably still want the opportunities of Opposition to consolidate the party’s base, probably under a new leader, Mary Lou McDonald.

Right now, that is the common consensus.

But politics is a mercurial and unpredictable business.

Making long-term predictions is hazardous. The political landscape can change overnight.

Luck and timing are always important ingredients in politics.

Take the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, as an example.

He has, indeed, been a lucky political general. Even making it to the cover of Time magazine, at a time of economic austerity, is sheer luck.

Some of it he made himself.

He showed tremendous commitment and energy in building up the party from the ashes of the 2002 general election.

But there was an element of luck in that, too.

Mr Kenny secured the Fine Gael leadership because some of the party’s heavy-hitters had bit the electoral dust as Fine Gael seat after seat fell in a savage downturn in fortunes.

Crucially, Jim Higgins, in Mr Kenny’s Mayo backyard, and Charlie Flanagan, in Laois-Offaly, had lost their seats. Indeed, in a remarkable stroke of luck, the vagaries of proportional representation saved Mr Kenny in Mayo.

It looked as if Mr Higgins was about to secure a seat, with Mr Kenny the loser, until a transfer of votes unexpectedly won the day for the current Taoiseach.

Mr Flanagan was an unexpected casualty in Laois-Offaly in a result which, at one time, would not have been predicted. The long-running Flanagan dynasty in the constituency seemed utterly when politics was a more predictable business.

But in 2002, Fine Gael heads rolled in an unprecedented fashion and even dynasties crumbled.

Had Mr Higgins and Mr Flanagan been in the leadership mix, as they inevitably would, Mr Kenny might not have made it.

Indeed, in the case of Mr Higgins and Mr Flanagan, they not alone lost Dail seats but also lost out on being leader. It would have been a tight contest, but either could have made it.

Had events been different, the Taoiseach’s State car might now traversing Laois-Offaly rather than Mayo on the days when the holder of the office was back in his constituency. uch is the unpredictable world of politics !

Mr Kenny inherited a party on its knees, thereby ensuring a level of loyalty to the leader which might not have been there in better times.

He was lucky, too, in losing the 2007 general election, given that the economy was about to collapse.

By the last election, voters were in the mood for a big change. Fine Gael and Labour reaped the whirlwind. The December budget will be a defining moment for the Coalition.

Harsh measures will have to be underpinned by social justice. There will be little room for banana skins. So far, the Coalition has skidded on enough of those.

If it gets through the budget with a modicum of public approval – no easy task in the current climate – it might, just might, set itself on a more competent road.

Mr Kenny could get lucky again.

Even a modest economic upturn over the next few years just might lead to people believing that there is some light at the end of a dark economic tunnel.

People might start to believe that the economic war could be won. All that is mere supposition and speculation.

The opposite could happen. This Government could self-destruct, not in terms of numbers, but in terms of credibility with the public.

Public confidence could drain away and voters might opt to wait for the two parties in the long grass as they waited for Fianna Fail and the Greens.

In such circumstances, Fianna Fail’s recovery could be significant.

But who would a rejuvenated Fine Gael coalesce with ? Would Sinn Fein be tempted ? Would it be a depleted Fine Gael or Labour, assuming that the numbers would stack up ?

Again, that is mere supposition and speculation.

A major electoral test for all parties will be the 2014 European and local elections.

The local elections’ results will strongly influence the outcome in some constituencies in the next general election.

The challenge for Fianna Fail, in particular, will be to secure the election of new, young councillors who will build up a base to challenge for a Dail seat.

Apart from the existing TDs, Micheal Martin has to engineer something of a revolution in candidate and outlook for the next election.

The baggage of the past must be buried. Twenty years ago, it was thought that the FF-Labour Government would serve at least two terms, given the size of its majority.

It was a good Government. Its Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, made huge progress on the peace process.

But it collapsed over what Mr Reynolds famously described as the “little things’’.

The current Coalition should beware of the lessons of history as it manages the present and contemplates the future.

 
 
 

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