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Preparing for Government

3.15.2006





Perhaps unsurprisingly, Frank is unimpressed with the hullabaloo over yesterdays joint document by the government in waiting. The document was released to highlight the oppositions proposals to tighten up on government waste if /when (I'll use if for ease) elected next time round. The new campaign is looking to underwrite the clearly professional tone that Fine Gael and Labour are trying to strike in time for the upcoming election.

All of the image is on professional, capable hands, waiting and preparing to take control of the country from the spendthrift madmen and incompetent oofs of the present administration. Im sure very few voters would dismiss out of hands concerns over the manner in which the government has spent our money over the last two terms. There have been some very high-profile blunders, higher-profile relcalcitrance over the follies (Martin Cullen, I see you shuffling down the back).

All of this is well and good, it just so happens that yesterdays announcement is not how I would forsee a prospective government laying the ground work for their election. Attacking the government over PPARs, and its ilk in the infrastructure sectors is, to my mind, a monumental folly of tactics at this stage in the game.

I agree with most FG and Labour people who argue that it is way too early for policy, Frank will have to wait and see what emerges on that front. If a policy is good, the government will steal it. If its bad, then it speaks for itself. Instead FG and Labour are prosecuting an image strategy which presents them in press releases as the "alternative government", discusses their "preperation to govern" and posits them as managerially capable. However the flaw in this image is that over the 5 governments in the last 20 years, Labour and Fine Gael have been in one together and Labour in one with Fianna Fail.

My own feeling is that the opposition have still failed to learn the lesson of Eddie Hobbs' Rip Off Republic series. Eddie Hobbs managed to tap a river of feeling that was running through the country, he popularised it and without and solid policy proposal managed to secure the attention of over 600,000 irish people. He elucidated emotion that was running rife in the electorate. The opposition (by virtue of a pre-existing website) fell in behind the momentum almost as taken aback as everyone else that it had taken on a life of its own.

The lesson here is not that the government need to be attacked on managerial issues, they are to be attacked on issues of principle." The government wasted money and we will manage it better", was what was heard yesterday, in the long run who will remember. Instead there is huge room for Labour and Fine Gael to construct a broader, wider principled narrative. Not a sanctimonious, patronising principle but one which goes back to first principles and over the coming months constructs a dialogue on the principles of irish democratic government, principles governing public policy, broader themes which can bring the people living in the communter belts back into the fold, themes which offer genuine choice to the electorate.

What yesterday suggested to me was a collapes into the age-old paradigm of irish politics of Fianna Fail and anyone-but-Fianna-Fail. Matters of principle and policy can come second to the primary issue of management and personality clashes. The irish electoral market has long since moved on, with a much wider electoral market facing us next year. The electorate can be interested and involved in wider deliberation by drumming up dialogue on the fundmentals. The priniciples which need to ground a coalition of Labour and Fine Gael, a commitment not to broad meaningless phrases (prosperity, goodness, lollipops) but commitments to "involvement", participation, a fair deal for voters, a more responsive government.

Government begins and ends with the people, it represents the interests of the public at large. A Fine Gael Labour pre-campaign strategy should be focussing on framing the debate in broader terms which relate in very real ways to the lives and perceptions of irish people today. We have shambolic public serivces, moderate interest from government in putting the commuter first, moderate interest from government in dealing with housing issues.

Of course my own prescription seems muddled enought, but from a starting point of discussion of democracy, citizenship, rights and respect, Im sure that a bigger and better narrative could be built up. One premised on the interests of citizen, the quality of government and the primacy of dialogue and openness. Consistent discussion of managerial projects (Accountancy and Social partnership) are necessary but are nuts and bolts to a bigger picture that FG and Labour are yet to paint.


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  1. Blogger Simon | 11:29 p.m. |  

    would I be right in saying that a government with Fine Gael or Labour or both has never stayed in for 5 years. Exculding Cumman Na Gaelhael.

  2. Blogger Cian | 12:17 a.m. |  

    I think (from what i can find) that the FG/Lab lasted 82-87 although your correct the FG/Lab coalition is not the most stable partnership in coalition terms.
    C

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