Yesterday’s opinion poll marked a new low point for Fianna Fáil and for the government, but the real low point has been the slow drip drip, of death by a thousand cuts and gradual erosion of party support over the past many months and even years.
I’ve long said it is not good enough to simply want power for the simple reason of having power. You must want to do something with that power and have clear and powerful enough goals to inspire others to entrust you with it. I’ve been working on some policy ideas with a few other like mindeds but I might talk more on that another day.
For now, here are a few simple things I think the government could and should be doing if it is to recover its standing among the people.
Patently transparent and open government
I remember knocking on doors one night last Spring, in the early days of the local election canvass and meeting a friendly face. It was an aquaintance of mine, a social contact in Naas and like myself, an IT professional and a commuter, a friendly face. We talked socially and business wise for a while then moved onto brass tacks of politics and the economy. He accepted the harsh measures in recent budgets, even admired perhaps the Minister in charge, but then dropped the bombshell. “Your partys problem is corruption” he said. I was genuinely taken aback. Sure there were tough and unpopular decisions but I could defend those, and he accepted them. But there was a hangover he said. Too many on the take. For all my belief that those days were in the past, and that the days of brown envelopes were well and truly gone, there is still a huge perception amongst the public, and not unjustified, that implicit, if not explicit corruption still continues. That decisions are made and policies set according to who is in the know, if not the payroll of the corporates and developers. This notion and any suggestion of it needs to be firmly and finally addressed before the party is to recover. Perhaps there was undue influence in the past from FF friendly corporates? Whether it did or didn’t happen before, it cannot, or even a perception of it cannot be allowed to happen today. Decisions must be made openly and transparently with full rationale. If they are unpopular we will take the hit. If they win favour we will take the plaudits. But we can champion them without compromise knowing they are there for all the right reasons.
Zero Tolerance for Carpetbaggers
On a related theme we have scored, or allowed to be scored, more own goals against the party than the opposition have ever placed in the net. Perhaps naievely I really believed the day of free loaders in Fianna Fáil had gone. It may not be as overt now with no bank drafts or brown envelopes changing hands, but loans from Fingleton or expense scams are a sordid modern equivalent. This kind of sqaulour should be rewarded with an absolute zero tolerance policy and offenders turfed out upon their ear to face the full rigour of the law or the corú as appropriate. Those that betray the public or the party trust should be treated accordingly.
At least some application of moral hazard
Though many accept the need for some form of banking rescue, what has really grated is the apparent dichotomony betwen little and large. The householder in negative equity whilst the bank is being bailed out. Whilst I believe this to be a simplistic and not entirely accurate picture I hold a view that those who make a decision should be culpable for it, beit the householder or the bondholder. If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime and the same should apply to lenders, big and small. I am familiar with the concept of ‘too big to fail’ and I am aware every western democracy bar Canada has seen banking support schemes of some nature but I am deeply uncomfortable with the absence of moral hazard. I believe those that take risks must stand to gain from them but the converse must also hold true. We need to see at least some form of moral hazard being applied to those at the top as well as at the bottom of the pile.
Internal review and democracy
The party needs to look to its structures for internal reform and policy development. It grated many, many members that the Green grass roots got more say in the Programme for Government than many of our backbench TDs did. This is wrong and is not the way to run a modern political party. And it is not the way to attract and retain the membership needed for what could and should be a team of all the talents. There are great people in the organisation already. We need to function as a whole greater than the sum of the parts.
Communicate and explain decisions
Policies need to be sold as well as made. Talk to the people. Communicate. Explain what is being done, why it is being done, how it is being done. And do so in a language people will understand. The Taoiseach has got better at this recently and I would have expected some upswing on the strength of it. He was good on PrimeTime last night and I think he should keep doing this and more of it, and get the rest of the cabinet out to bat also.
Review of Anglo
Probably the most toxic decision of the last twenty four months has been the horrendous sums to be ploughed into Anglo, a bank that even its supporters feel can have at best limited shelf life with perhaps a remant hiving off into a form of corporate credit union. NAMA, I can accept, the figures can even add up, but twenty plus billions into Anglo is a hell of a price to pay for sovereign reputation. I’m not an economist, I’m not a financier (notwithstanding an M.Sc. in financial maths) and I don’t claim to have all the answers. Unlike many commentators perhaps, when the Minister says something, I believe it unreservedly, so I trust him on this also. But I am concerned when so many commentators, academics and what appears to be informed opinions are positioned against this, to ask is there really no other way? A clear succcint and final explanation or even better, an honest and open review of this would help dispel a lot of the really bad karma that surrounds this right now.
For many this may not be an issue, may not even be on the radar. But it matters to me. It’s partly why I was attracted to the party, as the leader of nationalist opinion on the island. We have members enlisted in the North. We have cumann established and eager to get going. We have had expressions of interest from sitting representatives. We have some fine young activists really pushing this hard. And still we are not there. Why the inertia, why can we not put our money where our mouth is on this one and mobilse for real in thirty two counties. Shockwave – we might lose elections. Well we’re not going to win any with no candidates.
Rant over. I do broadly agree with most govt policies but there are some that rankle, and the political presentation at times rankles even more. Deal with the offenders, listen to own membership, re earn the trust of the people and return to greatness once more.
Build that shining city on that hill. And let the beacon light a way where now there appears none…
I hope FF TDs and HQ folk are reading this.
I think you’d better look up the definition of “moral hazard” – it means pretty much the opposite of what you think.
Hey man. This post is all well and good (genuinely so). However, trying to imagine the revamped FF that you call for here is like trying to imagine Tom Waits singing soprano! Okay, perhaps the latter IS considerably more likely. However, the point remains that you do not kindly ask cancer to transform itself into something benign and cuddly. You just rip it out fast and hard. Realistically, FF is a poisoned, beyond-redemption, dyed-in-the-wool brand. You simply must know that this post is utterly futile in terms of actually accomplishing anything worthwhile from within.
I guess that what I am really saying is that if there must be a centre-right populist party in this country, why not a new one – free from the multitude of vested interests, free from the back-scratching deadwood membership, and, above all, free from the sickening and morally bankrupt legacy of the past few decades?
Think you are missing James’ point. He’s not looking for a new party, he wants to get the existing party sorted out. Setting up a new party isn’t what angry FF-ers want.
Nope. I believe that I understood James’ point perfectly well. I am afraid that it is you who has misunderstood what I made of such a position!
To try again, treating James’ points sincerely, then I have to say that I find it to be a highly wishful set of proposals with no hope of ever being delivered upon. It looks good and sure to get most people nodding sagely in public at its wisdom and worthiness. However, to genuinely think that such ideals could ever become part of the FF DNA, for me, is to become quite fanciful in one’s expectations.
To illustrate my point, can you name even one member of the parliamentary party that would seriously entertain such proposals? And, by “seriously”, I do not mean the usual old empty “lip service” to any discussion about change and reform, I mean “who would inherently agree with such proposals and would actively champion their implementation”?
Indeed, as FF becomes increasingly dominated by its conservative, rural support base, a reactionary agenda and ever more “parish pump” politics looks like being the more likely way forward for a party that has known little else. With respect, I think that progressive thinkers like James and you are more likely to become marginalised over the next decade, rather than actively encouraged!
I am not so boneheaded not to appreciate that I could well be wrong in all of this. However, I have been around too long to be optimistic about such things any more.
Indeed, on that note, I would be pretty much as jaundiced about Fine Gael and Labour would not trot too far behind again They all make noise in opposition about reforms and changes. However, that really just comes back to the “lip service” point again. Someone wears a new tie these days and it gets heralded as “radical change”.
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Thanks for the feedback.
Thing is, my experience of Fianna Fáil is not drawn from jaundiced media columns or the admitted prolifigacy in scandal sheets but rather from over a decade of working with and within the party at a variety of levels and locations. I have been a member of cumainn in Trinity College, my home place Wexford, briefly in Dublin South and finally and most permanently in Sallins (where I am cumann Cathaoirleach). I have also ran for election quite recently and have many friends and party associates of similar demographic and profile. In this time I have not come across these corruption issues or seen it go on. On the contrary the kind of people who stock a cumann are typically ‘salt of the earth’, grass roots types, who are quite likely to be also the driving forces between their local GAA, Tidy Towns, Community Games etc etc at the same time and to which they give freely of their own time and for no monetary reward. If there were any cabals of power and consumption they certainly weren’t at the party faithful level.
Similarly when I look at other election candidates of my own generation (and I stress the generational issue as I can only speak of my own time involved but I can speak on that authoratively) I have many friends and contacts of similar vintage to myself who ran for the party last year, and these are all ideologically driven, intelligent, educated individuals in whom community service along with a strong patriotic streak are the defining qualities. Probably most striking, and in stark contrast to the perceptions mentioned, the majority of these candidates and including myself, were self funded in our election campaigns. No corporate donations or at least nothing that was not completely transparent perhaps in the form of a fundraising event but largely ‘supported by gallant allies but relying the first on own strengths’ we used savings or credit union loans or whatever other means were at our disposal but we did not, and I would say of my contemporaries, without exception, we were not bankrolled by anyone else or any other vested interest. I strongly believe we could have been the generation of change that would have restored the party and been damn hard working and effective local councillors, the irony is we were rejected by the people before we ever got a chance.
“Your partys problem is corruption” he said. I was genuinely taken aback”
Yes seriously. I don’t write these ‘heart on my sleeve’ pieces for fun.
If you take the rest of the paragraph it puts the quote into context and also my last comment in the trail underneath.
I don’t doubt there was corruption in the past however in my decade or more of activity within the party from ogra and college days up to my recent local election bid, I have not seen it. I have seen a lot of hard working grassroots activists and a lot of decent able and aspiring politicians (struggling to get off the ground), all pay for the sins of the past. As I said in the piece, perhaps naievely I thought the party had finally shrugged off that baggage – but the perception still remains in many minds. I do not believe it to be true of the party and membership today.
In fact a point I made recently in other fora, parties of government always attract a disproportionate share of me feiners, perhaps one up side of a spell in the wilderness that some of the freeloaders might go pick on another party to sling their slimy hooks on. And good riddance.