I don’t get to blog these days as often as I’d like as I am flat out between work, college, family and for the past three weeks, the election campaign.
Michael Portillo has his ‘moment’ in 1997
However I wanted to post up some thoughts before the votes are cast and counted this weekend. Firstly I am delighted to see a new leader sweeping clean and I think Martin has had a great couple of weeks since he first took the reins, only a short few weeks ago. I supported him since his first move started and was delighted someone had finally found the courage of his convictions and cried halt. Brian Cowen was by no means a bad man, but he was, most unfortunately, a poor leader at the top, and he simply lacked the necessary mojo to lead the country or the party though these times of crisis. On the latter point it still amazes me when people talk about Brian Cowen putting the party first, when under his watch the party plummeted from 40% (RedC, May 08) to 8% (QR, Jan 11) just before he moved aside.
Moving swiftly on.. the battle for Fianna Fáil in this election is to be the lead party of opposition and to ensure relevance in the new world. In a curious way I am possibly more hopeful for the future of the party now than I have been for some time. Having spoken to many like minded party supporters and activists around the country, we look forward to the opportunity in opposition of rebuilding the party, of restoring past values, of restoring internal democracy, making the grass roots relevant again, removing the disconnect from those in high office and of coming back with a party we can be proud of in time for 2016.
When Micheál Martin gave his rallying cry on Sunday in Navan, he invoked the spirit of Aiken, Lemass, Markiewicz and other greats of Fianna Fáil and Irish history. These may not be fashionable in some media circles but they still remind those in Fianna Fáil of why we started in the first place. Martin has reenergised the troops and held out the promise – it is up to every member now to carry that forward, into the election and beyond.
Of course the party will lose seats. And in some cases it will be no harm. It used to be said you could stick a donkey on a Fianna Fáil ticket and they would get elected. I never saw those days myself! In fact when I ran in 09 I would say I had to work a lot harder for every vote than most other candidates in the same race. In many cases I won votes in spite of party affiliation, rather than because of. I have a friend used be an activist in Democratic Left. He was not surprised when they went on to take over the Labour party – because of their very low base, DL candidates had to be extra strong and especially capable to get elected. There is an element at the moment where some ‘Donkeys’ may still do it for Fine Gael and Labour, with the wind at their backs, but Fianna Fáil candidates will need to be seriously good to make it in future – and that is exactly how it should be.
The party is overdue a refresh and I am delighted to see former Ógra FF colleagues such as Averil Power in Dublin North East, Charlie McConalogue in Donegal North West and Dara Calleary in Mayo, all out on the pitch and doing well. (Also surprise late entrant, my Kings Inns classmate Lisa Chambers, in Mayo as the youngest female candidate of GE2011). When I spoke a few posts back about how I defined the party these were the people I had in mind – my own party circle, people whom I know to be of great ability and potential, and more relevant to me, then and now, than most Ministers. It is also inspirational to see people like Dr. Hillery in Clare enter the fray, a name synonymous with great times past and a man who stepped out of a comfortable medical career to keep the flame alive.
A few commentators recently have spoken about a “Portillo moment”, an image that would define the election, where a party stalwart lost their seat in a shock but symbolic defeat. The commentators suggested Mary Coughlan as this Portillo figure. I disagree. The only Portillo moment would be if none of the above were elected ; from 26th Feb on Fianna Fáil must be about the future not the past, in personnel, policies and practice.