Johnny Fallon

Irish Political Commentator

Archive for the month “April, 2013”

Interview – David Cullinane, SF, Tax, Leaders, Labour & Coalition

The 2011 General election and the Senate election that followed brought many new faces to Leinster House. Ushers and staff have had to get used to a lot of new people at a rate they didn’t experience in the past. It still brings a smile to my face when I arrive at the gates and the staff don’t recognise the name of the member or as in the case of David Cullinane they ask me to spell the name. Thankfully I found the congenial Waterford Senator after a few phone calls. As one of the new faces in Sinn Fein I wanted to try getting an understanding of the issues facing the party and what considerations it has to make in the future.

The first thing I wanted to put to him was the peculiar situation Sinn Fein finds itself in where it is well up in the polls on its general election showing but seems to have stagnated and is struggling to break the 20% ceiling. In response Cullinane points to the advances Sinn Fein have made since 2002 and says that the party is well positioned for further gains, but I suggested to him that in the current environment, surely they should be doing better. Perhaps a little unsurprisingly he says that ‘There certainly is an unfair bias against Sinn Fein in the media’ and no doubt many in Sinn Fein might agree that this is part of the problem. I might be tempted to agree at times but only on the odd occasion. The fact is that every party member or representative of every single organisation is convinced that the media is biased against them. They all give me umpteen examples so I am a little hesitant to agree completely. Cullinane makes the case however that much commentary tries to say that ‘Sinn Fein policy does not stack up’ or that they engage in fairytale economics, but he points out that ‘everything that we said about the economy has actually come to pass, which doesn’t give us any pleasure but it is the reality’.

‘The media say that SF policies don’t stack up but they don’t scrutinise the Fianna Fail policy to any extent’, Cullinane feels that the media don’t ask Fianna Fail how they will pay for things whereas Sinn Fein are forced to come up with figures every time they propose a policy. This is an argument that certainly does come up a lot and I asked him about specific policies such as the Wealth tax and whether the €800 million they proposed from this policy was realistic, given that they proposed the tax in two separate years, one where they included pensions and one where it was removed, but still came to the same figure. Cullinane suggests that ‘if you look at any of the budgetary adjustments made by the government, you will see that many don’t come in on target, we base our costings on our analysis of the situation.’ Specifically in relation to the wealth tax he says ‘We are asking people to buy into the concept of it, its 1% on anything over a million euro, as time went on we had to develop the position into a more robust one and firm out the proposals, so as part of that some adjustments were made.’ Sinn Fein, he says, spoke to a range of economists on the issue to make sure there were no holes in the argument, ‘Any of the independent costings we had done showed it would bring in at least €800 million, that’s a conservative estimate. But you can get caught up in whether it will bring in 800 million or 600 million, the point is its something that’s on the table and should be discussed’

Its not the only policy on taxation that Sinn Féin have as Cullinane points out ‘We have also called for a third rate of tax of 48% on any income over 100K, so clearly if you are earning 150k then you are going to pay 7% more tax’. I put it to him that this could be a return to the very high personal taxes of the mid eighties that failed so abysmally, but he argues we are already back in the ‘80s and ‘the very people who need money don’t have it. If you look at any independent analysis, including the ESRI, of the last two budgets from this government, they were the most unequal and most unfair and had a disproportionate impact on low and middle income workers.’

Cullinane is very definite on policy in this regard ‘there is a section of people who earn higher levels of income and a modest increase of 7% is not going to affect them to any great degree, it would have some impact, but far less impact than say a property tax and PRSI changes on people earning say 30 or 40k.’

There is no doubting the left wing credentials of such views and it would probably terrify any right wing reader of this article but Cullinane argues that there is little option with so many people reaching a point where they simply can’t pay their bills or meet the mortgage repayments. Sinn Féin would also change tax reliefs currently available at the top rate of tax to be standardised at only the lower rate, bring in increases in Capital Gains Tax and Capital Acquisitions Tax and tackle what he calls the ‘runaway pay’ at the top and the cost of the public sector. He says that Sinn Fein were told there could be no deal on bank debt but that now the government were looking for just that and that while SF is dismissed as having ‘having fairytale economics’ it wasn’t those polices that caused the mess but instead what he calls the ‘nightmare economics of FF and FG.’

But while there may be many people out there who would be attracted to such policies I put it to him the Irish people are searching for honesty. That even with all these changes surely some impact upon ordinary people is still unavoidable. I asked him directly if SF were elected in the morning, and they admit that this crisis does carry pain for all, then what would be the impact on someone earning 40k or less under SF. Cullinane says ‘the argument is not about how much pain you inflict on someone earning 40k but whether or not its economically justified…what we would do is implement our policies such as the wealth tax and income tax increases in the first year of government’. Cullinane argues that hitting people on 40k or less will only perpetuate the problem, so I press him on this and he says that ‘Certainly under 40k I cant see how…in fact, I think things would get better for them to be honest because the property tax would be replaced with the wealth tax’

Whatever your view of economic matters SF certainly has set out its stall, but then I ask him if the policy is so definite then why there are such difficulties with the media and getting the message across. I suggested to him that perhaps it was the responsibility of the party leader to sell the message and maybe it was time for SF to consider a change. However, Cullinane doe not feel there is a mood right now for this, ‘It’s a very fair question for people to ask and people are entitled to ask questions of any political leader and whether or not it is time for that person to move on, but ultimately of course a decision such as that is a matter for the Sinn Fein party and I don’t see any desire within the party for that to happen at this point and time.’

One of the reasons that Gerry Adams is still important to SF as a leader is because of Northern Ireland according to Cullinane and he says there are ‘many unresolved issues’ with regard to the peace process and he says there are ‘a lot of issues to be dealt with in relation to victims’. He agrees with the idea that ‘republicans must face up’ to their responsibilities but it is clear that there is work to be done. I get the impression that Cullinane trusts Adams more than anyone else to lead this conversation. However he admits that ‘I understand the media fascination with the leadership and maybe there are some sections of our constituency out there that might be asking questions in that regard but I think Gerry Adams is doing a very good job in Leinster house and the party is articulating well our core proposals.’

That begs the question though as to whether the historical overhang from the Northern conflict that is holding SF back. In his response Cullinane points to the efforts SF made for peace and he points out that the situation in Northern Ireland was complex, he says the ‘conflict existed because of core injustices’ but he is also clear that he does not agree with every thing the IRA did or with all of its actions, but he does understand the situation and what led to it.

But, while I accept Cullinane’s position on this I am forced to ask him, if, after all the efforts for peace and all the discussion of understanding and victims it is appropriate to have IRA memorabilia on sale from the SF shop, and to sell ‘Sniper at work’ badges at the Ard Fheis. To be fair to Cullinane he struck me as understanding the difficulty this presents and that it made him uncomfortable. There was no doubt that he hugely respects and admires figures like Bobby Sands and other republican heroes but he says ‘I don’t believe any organisation or party should be glorifying war, war is ugly and war is brutal and anything that would glorify war is not something any party should be doing’. I asked him if it was something SF need to look at and he said ‘I think its something we are conscious of…but it is an issue we need to look at.’

Talk of the Ard Fheis brings up the question of if we are seeing a change in SF, and rather than being in splendid isolation they are now starting to reach out to Labour as a possible friend and I did find his answer interesting as he said ‘What we have in this country are two parties whose polices are the same and then we have the Labour party, who in fairness their policies are different, but they are prepared to be a mudguard for either of those two parties and that retards the development of a genuine alternative.’
He says that ‘I don’t see Labour as the enemy, the Labour party are just misguided, I have regular meetings with people who are in the Labour party but not public representatives and I would say to all these people….that their policies, by and large are not wrong, there is a lot of agreement between us but tactically I think they are wrong to prop up either of the tow main parties’

That brings us to the question of Coalition. We are used these days to parties ruling out one another on the basis of never even talking and before even an election takes place. Cullinane has a far more considered view, he does not see SF coalescing with FF or FG simply because he does not believe either would be willing to agree to SF policies, however he says that while ‘there must be compromise’ if SF got a significant portion of their policy agreed and were seen as equal partners in government then they would consider any possible government. However, he does not believe it likely that any of the current main parties could see their way to agreeing enough of the SF redline issues to allow them enter government. He says the problem for Labour was that they had a bottom line but ‘then reversed that’ to stay in government. Cullinane says ‘we are not looking to be in permanent opposition’ he points out that SF want to be in power but ‘not power for the sake of it’ but ‘’if we can get a substantive part of our policies delivered that’s different’ but he simply doesn’t believe that can or will happen with FF or FG.

Cullinane says that there are many people out there who might well fear SF coming to power because he believes that in government, they would break up the ‘cosy cartel’ that exists and what he calls the Galway tent culture that still exists. Form business to the media he argues that there are many who want to see the status quo retained but that if SF comes to power they know they will see that ‘crashing down’. Therefore he says it’s ‘no surprise that many in the media present the argument that they do.’

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Exclusive interview with Colm Keaveney TD – Labour, its future. leadership and why cutting is easy, it’s saying stop that’s tough

I interviewed Labour Chairperson Colm Keaveney today in order to get an insight into what is happening in the Labour party at the moment and what are the dangers the party faces. It can be rare in politics to find people willing to talk straight and face up to problems. Keaveney is in no doubt however that that is exactly what Labour needs to start doing.

In a very open interview he accepted that Labour ‘has added to the volatility’ of Irish politics at the moment through a failure to deliver what people elected them for. ‘There is no doubt we over promised at the general election’ he says and he believes that by doing this Labour have added ‘in no small way’ to the public cynicism about politics.

He argues that the issue of rhetoric and promises is something that Labour ‘have to come to terms with quickly.’ Unless this is addressed in a meaningful way it could have big implications for the party. In particular Keaveney says that the now infamous ‘Every little hurts’ ad, was taken by himself and others to be the basis of the conditions upon which Labour were going to enter government.’ The fact that the party has failed to deliver any of this is a source of immense disappointment for him. For Keaveney in particular, the cut to child benefit was a step too far. ‘There is nowhere in the programme for government where it says we will cut child benefit, it is not provided for’ and Keaveney argues that this represented and major break with the trust of the Labour voters.

The problem, of course, is that such promises were made and if you want to deal with this issue then someone has to take responsibility. It was not as if Labour prepared for the election in the dark, they were well aware of the economic situation. Keaveney lays the blame for this on the fact that the preparations for the election and the discussion of promises to be made were not the most democratic process in the world. ‘I have suspected for some time that there is a cohort of management personnel who chase numbers and figures on likely support and the rhetoric is based around that intel.’ This is a process that Keaveney does not agree with as it leads to simply chasing votes rather that attracting a vote by virtue of what you actually want to do. He admits quite openly to believing that the ‘promises were unnecessary and were not based on sound political science.’

The problems this created for Labour are being felt by the party membership now. The labour vote has been plummeting and Keaveney believes this to be because ‘the people who needed us most’ are now the ‘people with the greatest grievance’. It is clear that the current Labour leadership did sign off on the strategy and Keaveney describes the approach as ‘immature’ and a judgement call that ‘lacked professionalism’.

Any party that finds itself saying that about its own leader’s decisions has to face up to taking some actions. The Labour Chairman has called for an early national conference to allow the members have their say on the direction of the party and the policies it is implementing. His thinking on this is pretty simple ‘If you can’t persuade the membership then you can’t persuade the country.’ According to Keaveney the Labour grassroots are increasingly disaffected with a growing number of TDs and Councillors feeling the pressure too. He believes that decisions were taken that have grave implications for Labours future ‘Within a number of months (after entering government) it became apparent that we were going to capitulate the left in Irish politics.’ That is a thought that should worry all Labour members as the largest left wing party in the country and with a number of rivals snapping at their heels. ‘Meath East was not a flash in the pan’ Keaveney says, arguing that the disastrous by election result could be repeated across the country.

So where do Labour go? What can they do to stop this becoming a reality? On this question the Galway deputy feels that there is no magic solution and says that coming back will be difficult. It will be a slow process and Labour will have to fight for every inch. Change is required and the ability to build a new brand of Labour in government through their capacity to negotiate at the cabinet table is critical to any success. But is the leadership listening to this advice? I put it to him that the leadership and some other Labour TDs have made clear that they see nothing wrong with Labour policy and that he and others are just taking an easy route out in order to try and save their seat. It was clear that this argument is one that annoys Keaveney. He says that such messaging is part of a ‘consistent formula rolled out by management of the party where dissent is not provided for’ and critical analysis is not facilitated. He maintains that the current language used by the Leadership is ‘unhelpful’. ‘The reality is that the hardest decision is to cross the floor. It’s easy to take from those that are not organised, it’s very easy to cut and take from people with disabilities, very easy to remove someone’s mobility allowances, and very easy to dismantle mental health services.’

Keaveney says that he is receiving calls everyday from around the country. Communities are being torn apart and the language and example set by the Labour leadership is not what is required according to the Deputy. This led me to asking him directly if Labour needed to change Leader and if that was what the grassroots were saying. Perhaps understandably Keaveney, as chair of the party does not want to instigate that debate or make such calls as that is a matter he feels for the party at large. But he says that there is not doubt members want a change in policy and ‘policy is closely aligned with personality’, as a result of this Keaveney feels it is an error for the leadership to be showing an unwillingness to engage with the grassroots.

‘We need firm leadership, but we also need compassionate leadership’ and this is where Keaveney sees some of Labours greatest failings. He maintains that they are not following a conciliatory strategy and that it would have been far more difficult for him or others to leave the parliamentary party if there had been any willingness on the part of the powers that be to reach out and empathise with their concerns. Instead he feels he was met with ‘personal attacks’ and says that the same formula was seen only last week in the ‘de-characterisation of Neassa Childers’, but he argues that this policy is now transparent and members of the party across the country have had enough.

So lets call a spade a spade, Labour have lost a considerable number of personnel and many more seem willing to jump ship unless something changes, so if the leadership is not listening, is someone going to call time? Keaveney is definite that this is ‘not a debate to be held in public’; the Labour party must deal with such issues in the proper manner. As Chairperson he says that any such discussion must be facilitated within the confines of the party. But as I sat there listening to these words I could not help but feel that its not exactly good news for Eamonn Gilmore and the leader’s reluctance to agree to an early conference is probably informed by this fear.

But is there hope for reconciliation? What needs to happen to appease the fears and worries of the rebel TDs and the membership? Here again Keaveney is in no doubt about some Labour redline issues in the lead up to the next budget. He says that he was ‘appalled’ to hear Richard Bruton talking that very morning about reductions in income tax and says that when he hears such talk he hears ‘cuts in home help and intellectual disability.’ Ireland needs a fairer tax system and Keaveney wants to see the difference between the headline and actual rate of corporation tax addressed along with changes to the USC that will see higher paid public servants and high income earners shoulder even just a little more of the weight. Any failure to do this or another regressive budget laying most of the pain on low and middle income families will cause a serious issue for government stability according to the Labour Chair. He argues that this is just one of a number of crisis points that they face.

What was most striking about his approach, however, was the pragmatism. He believes that while social policy is important the number one priority right now must be ‘jobs and growth’ and the money in ordinary peoples pockets. He fears that a decision was taken to try make social issues the battleground for Labour at the next election but that the ordinary voter is currently far more worried about the economy and not paying as much attention to social or constitutional change as the political class might be. ‘I don’t think this election will be won in the leafy suburbs of Dublin 4’ he argues adding that there is a whole country out there that Labour needs to convince.

Keaveney is determined to give the Labour grassroots an opportunity to influence policy before it’s too late and has tabled a motion to hold an early conference to facilitate this. He admits that he was surprised to find that the Leadership have already proposed a November date for any such conference which conveniently means it will be after the budget and Keaveney feel this is a ‘foolish’ stance to take. It would appear that battle lines are being drawn and we are going to watch a fight for the soul of the Labour party over the coming months. No party can afford to put the idea of stable government over its own ideology or aspirations for society and increasingly it seems Labour members feel this is what’s happening. A struggle between those at the top and those at the bottom seems inevitable and Keaveney finds himself in the middle of this. It’s unlikely that we are going to see a dramatic change in poll figures and with the current leadership setting its face against any compromise with the rebels it may only be a matter of time before someone else has had enough. Watch this space.

Margaret Thatcher – a name to always spark debate

The passing of Margaret Thatcher will cause much debate and argument as regards her legacy. She has always been a person who brought out the strongest of opinions in even the meekest of people. She would have been proud of that to a large extent as she never shied away from an argument or from a decision.

There is no doubt that she was a formidable woman. She was certainly one of the most able politicians of the last 50 years irrespective of whether you agreed with her or not. She knew how to win elections, she knew how to play politics. For those of a right wing perspective she will always remain a hero. Over the course of a decade she smashed socialism within the UK. She championed right wing policy and the idea of free markets fearlessly. She led her country through the Falklands war and did so determinedly.

This was not a Prime Minister to be messed with. She was also a product of her times. The cold war world was one that was deeply split along the left/right divide with both sides going to extremes in order to prove their ideology. Thatcher and Regan could both rejoice at the fall of their old enemy Communism, where its leaders had tried so hard to prove an extremist left wing position that their people eventually could take no more. However, some of those old communists might also have a smug smile in recent times as eventually the right wing extremism of Thatcher and Regan would see many western populations suffering and their policies questioned. It was a time when politicians felt that they had to talk and act tough. Compromise of any sort was seen as a weakness.

Margaret Thatcher did achieve much in her career. She viewed her role purely through the prism of economics. From that point of view she helped to stabilise matters in the early ‘80s and to lead Britain through tough recession. Ironically one of the main reasons she achieved this was through, raising taxes and also having a 90% tax on oil extraction from the North Sea, neither of these policies seemed in line with her ideology but they were necessary. She took over a country that had become accustomed to a lack of competitiveness and inefficiency. She completely reformed the state sector and her policy of privatisation led to much greater efficiency in the British Economy. All of this came at a price however. She was not one to try negotiating or changing over time she was more of a sledge hammer than a surgeon’s blade. The pace of reform caused problems even for the private sector and customers.

Thatcher produced one of the most divided societies in the world. While some policies may have looked good on a macro level she brought untold misery to many families in Britain. Certain sections would benefit, but working class Britain was hit hard, she destroyed many services and cut funding in many areas that was to Britain’s disadvantage in the long term. The policy of deregulation and free markets was something that attracted business and encouraged investment in the short term, however as the world began to follow suit the effects of government backing off in such areas as banking are now being felt. Unemployment was higher in Britain in the 80’s and 90’s than it ever was in the 50’s or 60’s. Thatcher may have briefly halted the rise in Government Spending but she did not really reduce it and that was a particular failure. The same economies that followed her thinking suffered worst in the financial crisis and now carry huge deficits.
In Ireland, Margaret Thatcher will mostly be remembered for her intransigence. She showed absolutely no understanding of the issues in Northern Ireland and was one of the most divisive figures ever to appear in Anglo Irish relations. Her policies not only caused more pain and suffering but they also prolonged the conflict in Northern Ireland and led to even further loss of life. It is no surprise that it was only after her departure when John Major took a far more pragmatic view, that peace became a genuine hope in Ireland.

If Thatcher was to be admired for something it should be that she was clear about what she wanted to do and never hid from it, that she was decisive and strong. She was, however, far too attached to an ideology. She was completely unable to understand alternate view points. She seemed to have an innate fear of changing tack or seeming weak. This meant that she was completely unable to empathise with many of those that her policies hurt, at home and abroad. The good that her policies did was lost in the havoc caused by the means of getting them through.

Her name will spark debate all over the world. Love her or hate her, Margaret Thatcher was a politician and a leader that will never be forgotten.

Labour, Crisis and Heaves – what happens next

The Labour party is in the midst of an internal storm. A storm the leadership is trying to control. We are not used to such events in the Labour party, associating them more with their partner FG and even more with the heyday of FF. However, heaves are not easy to organise or execute, just ask Richard Bruton and Leo Varadkar. It’s a game that requires huge political tact.

So the first thing to ask is why are Labour in this position? That’s simple, firstly they over promised at the election, the buck for that stops with the leader. Secondly, the perception is that Labour are being rolled over by FG. Eamon Gilmore has done himself no favours by being so determined to always show a united front with End Kenny. Distance and the odd falling out can destabilise governments but it is much better for your leadership.

The next question to ask is how serious are the rumours of a possible heave? They are pretty serious. I said at the start of the year that Eamon Gilmore was in a spot of bother and things have got worse since that. Labour are losing far too many personnel. The grassroots are feeling sidelined and angry. Now, we all know that in the normal course of events party grassroots don’t make the big decisions, however, once they start to get agitated they have enormous power as TDs feel the pressure and start to listen to people they are close to on the ground about the implications for their seat. All of those who have walked out of Labour parliamentary party are gone unless the leader changes. The only way to heal a rift is to move on from it and to do that, a leader must be changed. This is even true when a heave occurs. An FF leader never lost a heave vote. It’s what happed after that caused problems. Equally I have always maintained had Richard Bruton and Leo Varadkar and others not agreed to return to the FG front bench and held their nerve, Enda Kenny would not be Taoiseach today.

Labour are starting to realise that the only way they can convince people they are going to change and get tougher is if they start with a new face and perhaps also remove some others at cabinet. Pat Rabbitte and Brendan Howlin will be most certainly in the firing line.

Now, back up the horse, because all is not lost for Eamon Gilmore. He is rumoured to be talking to TDs. That’s a wise move, he needs to know what he’s dealing with then he needs a strategy. The first stage of this would be to try calm fears, and avoid an all out vote against him. Heaves are useless and get no where unless one of your front bench moves to support it. Gilmore can rest assured that he has strong support from his ‘old boys’ he has one weak link, Joan Burton. He needs to stop Joan making any attempts in the short term and just buy some time.

Joan has her own issues. She knows there are limits to what Labour can achieve. If she were to take over then she would certainly be expected to take a tougher line with FG and be far less chummy with them. That’s fine, she also knows that FG are desperate to remain in power and avoid an election so she could get a few big wins on that basis, but it would require brinkmanship and that will weaken the government. In reality such a strategy may start to halt the Labour decline, even gain them a few points but it wont be huge (a few points could be at least 10 seats saved though). However it’s unlikely the government would last full term, she would be looking at an election in 12 -18 months. Timing would be everything. She may well prefer if Gilmore could remain for another year and she could face such a strategy and timescale from next year. However, the opportunity may be presenting itself in the coming months. Timing is everything in such a strategy. This helps Gilmore as he may be able to keep Joan onside for the next while.

That’s valuable breathing space but then he needs to figure out how to use it. He needs to talk to Enda. The chummy façade needs to stop. FG need to realise that they are better off with Gilmore than whomever might replace him, therefore they need to find an issue that they can publicly disagree on, let it carry on, argue, and then allow Eamon a decisive victory that will shore up his support. It may hurt FG but its better than the alternative and if FG are really smart then they can surely find an issue that they know they can afford to lose on but matters to Labour.

That would allow Eamon Gilmore escape from his current predicament, but he’s on the ropes right now and there are a lot of ‘Ifs’ in that strategy. Those in Labour hoping for change need to be far more organised and need to know who they support. No matter how you look at it, Eamon Gilmore is now only Leader at the behest of Joan Burton, she can decide to loyally follow him until its too late (a bit like Micheál Martin did with Cowen) or she can ensure he is removed now and give Labour a fighting chance of showing a new image. The question is does she want the job? Such heaves require a certain steel, an ability to stand by what you do and accept the repercussions, they can even end your career. It needs enormous conviction. All sides will be tested in the months ahead

10 Lessons politics can teach your business

What did the Romans ever do for us? What can politics ever teach business? We hear a lot about politicians needing to act or work like a business but its equally true that if you look deeply you can learn some valuable lessons for politics that can be applied to any business, especially if you are starting out…

Lesson 1 – Don’t promise what you can’t deliver

If Politics has taught us anything it’s that politicians love making promises in the desperate hunt for votes but that they often end up paying dearly for these. For any business it is a cautionary tale. When we are desperate for some sales or some revenue it is often tempting to promise anything and everything and to get so focussed on landing the client that we wrap ourselves up in knots to please them. Just remember that at some point you will have to deliver and if it proves beyond your capability or resources you will have a very disappointed client who will probably not wish to work with you again.

Lesson 2 – You need friends, avoid isolation

It can be tempting for political parties to attack everyone else, but the reality is that when it comes to counting the votes you will need transfers from somewhere. Therefore, you need friends. Fianna Fail lost many an election due to being the enemy of all. SF is stagnant in the high teens in polls partially because they are obsessed with serving in government alone and winning overall majorities, they want no friends. Equally in business it’s easy to become stagnant and limited in what you can offer. It’s important to be open to new ideas and to working and co-operating with others in order to give a better offering to customers. Networking is a key part of this and it is vital that any small business does not find itself trying to do everything alone.

Lesson 3 – Organisation is everything

Successful political parties and campaigns are all based on solid organisation where each piece knows what it is doing. A business must have the same approach, it must have clearly divided tasks where people know exactly what they are meant to do, it must have routes of supply and to market that are free of complication and confusion.

Lesson 4 – The value of communication

In politics you will fail completely if you are unable to communicate. Voters need to know and understand your message. A customer of any business needs to hear from that business. Customers need information and they must be able to understand the benefit of your product or service. The difference it makes to their lives must be communicated or just like a voter they will get apathetic very quickly.

Lesson 5 – Trust is key

For all the talk of ideology and policy in politics, the majority of people remain open to changing their mind on a topic or changing their opinion given the right arguments. However, crucial to that is whether you trust the politician. If you do then you are far more likely to hear their message and take it on board, if you don’t then you are likely to immediately oppose whatever they say. A politician who has lost trust is a lame duck. If you are in business and a customer trusts you then they will come back. They will be likely to try different products or services and most importantly to take your advice. Trust is earned over time and must be proven time and time again but it should be highly valued.

Lesson 6 – Doing what’s right

Now in politics this is the hardest argument to get across. The idea of being decisive and doing what you believe. It sounds simple but it is far from it in politics. This is because many politicians measure success by longevity rather than what they actually do. Noel Browne was not Health Minister for very long, but he is well remembered and respected? Why is that? Sean Lemass had a shorter term than De Valera or Lynch but compare the legacy, Bertie Ahern lasted much longer than Albert Reynolds yet which would you rather be for a day walking down the street? In business the answer comes easier. You do not stay in a business that is failing and losing money just because you want to say you did it for 20 years. You need to be decisive to make it work and survive. Doing what you believe right has been proven time and time again in business where belief in a project and the right skills has built empires. Just like in politics there is no point compromising just because it seems easy, you have to believe in a project and you have to know in your own mind that you are comfortable with it.

Lesson 7 – Don’t b blinded to faults

Political parties have a tough battle to always argue their case against opponents. When you are in the sphere it is important to always keep putting the best face out and defending the position. However the problem is that people can become blind. Saying you reject your opponents attack should not be the same as not heeding it. One of the great weaknesses that enter any political organisation is the inability to heed criticism and advice instead dismissing it as just people being biased against you. To be successful in politics you must heed such criticism and act to rectify it whatever else is said. When a customer or a competitor is pointing out a weakness in our business it is tempting to dismiss their claim or to get insulted by it. This doesn’t work. You have to ask yourself why an opponent might feel they are able to make such a claim or ask why a customer feels criticism is valid. Even if you disagree then you must deal with the perception. Always accept that any business will have faults and once they are pointed out you can deal with them and improve.

Lesson 8 – Never believe your own hype

Selling a message in politics is not easy. In order to get it across against constant attack it sometimes requires you to use hyperbole and fantastic claims. ‘If only you elect us everything will be perfect’, ‘’Things are only this bad because the other fellas are so corrupt and self cantered or incompetent, decent guys like us wont make such errors’. That’s paraphrasing the message we hear, the problem is you can never afford to really believe it. IF you fail to rate your opponents or think that the matter is ever so simple then you are in for a nasty shock. Selling a product or service can involve the same thing; it can mean we tell people constantly why we are better than our competitors and why our product is so revolutionary. That’s fine, but don’t start believing the hype that nobody else can do what you do or lose respect for rivals. If you do you will make some serious errors.

Lesson 9 – Get the right team and Advice

Governments and political parties have a huge range of things that they need to keep their eye on. A politician or a Taoiseach is only as good as the team they are able to assemble. One great person with a poor team is useless. You must surround yourself with capable people who know what they are doing. Often overlooked of course is the need to avoid groupthink and have people there who are not afraid to challenge you or to stand up to you. Business should follow the same rule, you need good people working with you, people you can trust and know that they will do their job. Good accountants, good lawyers and other external advisers are also important. Never be afraid of the person who challenges you and debates with you on a decision, you will face those questions from your public anyway so best to have someone who can do it and is on your side first.

Lesson 10 – Enjoy it

Working in politics is often stressful and can take a big toll on your life. The people who do it accept this because the love the work. It’s called having the political ‘bug’. Its hard to explain but it means people give up an extraordinary amount of voluntary time at the bottom and at the top, despite the stresses and strains and constant attacks that few other jobs carry (with less pay than many such jobs would offer) the politicians still want to do it. The cynical will say it’s for power or personal gain, but whatever it’s for it is clear that those involved like doing what thy do. Once they stop enjoying it its easy to seem them become grumpy, unhappy and increasingly unpopular. If you are in business or starting a business it can sap a lot of life out of you and take up huge time, arguments and problems are always there. However, once you enjoy it you will be good at it, the effort is not quite so much of a sacrifice and service with a smile always tells.

Transparency & lack of opportunity behind public anger at media salaries

There has been much talk recently about salaries in the media and how much our top TV stars earn, particularly in RTE. This is not surprising when the public are facing reduced incomes and higher TV Licence bills. Still, a job is a job and deserves to be paid accordingly so its understandable that top TV and radio personnel are pushing to earn the best salary they can get, they have families too and a duty to maximise their potential.

So why is it such a bugbear? Is it just begrudgery? Sadly its not. There are very real problems in how the media organises itself and this lack of transparency plays a significant role in the public anger. The first problem is with general media debate. Now, it’s rare to find a rabid right winger determined to eradicate all welfare entitlements, and talking about fraud, who is themselves surviving on welfare. Equally it’s difficult to find a radical left winger believing in higher taxes for the wealthy among high earners. Ideology is often just a comfort blanket we wrap around ourselves to disguise a very primal instinct, protect what we have. The problem in the media is that during a tough recession a presenter who has never experienced long periods of unemployment or particular hardship is bound to find it difficult to empathise with those who are now suffering. If you truly understood what they were coping with then drawing a salary of hundreds of thousands becomes a very difficult thing to do when those same people pay for it.

We all criticise politicians and they too have issues about their pay level. Mind you, even our top politicians earn far less than our top media stars. There are plenty of columnists earning a similar living to a TD. The problem is that questioning the earnings level of a politician or a Taoiseach is almost impossible for someone that earns far in excess of that amount themselves. Questioning public servants pay levels is equally impossible and unfair.

However, let’s be honest each job is a difficult one and involves very special and rare talents. Presenting on TV certainly looks easy but it requires a presence of mind, personality, professionalism and level of organisation and research that very few have the right mix of skills to deliver. These people are highly talented, we should not overlook that. The same goes for radio presenters and newspaper columnists. Most people recognise this and readily admit they could not do the job, so then surely that’s the end of the matter? The pay isn’t ideal for questioning others but it is deserved? No, that’s where the transparency issue comes into things.

Hardly anybody in the public is able to see how such persons gain their job in the media. They are used to seeing the same faces presenting the same things and rightly question if it’s all just a closed shop. We have almost half a million people unemployed in this country. Some of those are young graduates from the top media courses in our colleges. Many have written for papers, presented college radio shows and made show reels and yet they remain on the dole or at best hoping to get a job making coffee somewhere close to the action. The absence of open transparent screen tests in our media is a problem that is inexcusable. The top media stars need to realise this. How can we tell if the salaries are justified if there is no opportunity, particularly for young graduates, to challenge for a post or for new emerging talent to be uncovered? How can we say this is the best presenter when we have never even given an off air test to others? For all we know our stars may be worth twice what they get, or equally there may be people out there currently unemployed who could do the job better for half the salary. We really don’t know. Even within organisations there is a problem. There is an abundance of reporters or researchers looking for an opportunity, yet if someone is off on holiday or a stand in is needed for a night what do we do? We go out and find some retired politician living off a good pension to stand in. Perhaps we ask some well paid Newspaper columnist to take over the reins for a while. Now I’m not suggesting that our media should send out people who may freeze up and are completely untried but they must establish a system that people can access to showcase their ability off air so that when or if an opportunity arises the stations can ask them if they would like the chance if it thinks they have potential.

This may all seem a bit unimportant. But in a time of deep recession with so many unemployed, with lower level staff in the media suffering deep income cuts and struggling, it is immoral for us not to at least be trying to uncover new talent. It is equally immoral for any of us, in my opinion, to take up two or three roles and several income streams where one is more than sufficient and where we are denying others an opportunity. We have too many young people whose talent is being wasted to justify such practices.

Labour- Act now or become Diet Fine Gael

The Labour party is learning some hard lessons about government at the moment. It is strange that this should be the case for a party that unlike the Greens is not particularly new to such an experience. Their current predicament has its roots in several errors and they need to start addressing these and stop the waffle about staying in government for the good of the country and imagining what life would be like if FG were there alone.

Labour has been losing its identity for some time. This was a trend started under the leadership of Pat Rabbitte. Smaller parties should never become the side kicks of larger ones. The so called Mullingar Accord made Labour look like just another crutch for Fine Gael. Its leader would even address the Fine Gael National Conference. This strong left wing party was reduced to the position of a child thrilled by the attention of its stronger, bigger right wing brother. While dealing with the realities of what the electorate might want Labour should have made clear its disdain for both FG and FF and left the door open to either if they changed their policies and tack. That is always the best way to keep larger parties doing what you want and desperate to please you.

You do not enter politics to make friends. It’s a rough game. I was part of the ‘larger’ party back in 1992 when Labour went into government. Now that was a very different government. Dick Spring never hid behind the charade of being bosom buddies. He may have become friendly and even gained enormous respect for those he worked with but his tone and body language was always that of a man who saw this as his job, his coalition partner was never his life long ‘best friend forever’. That was clear with Reynolds, and even while John Bruton liked to play the happy smiling best friend game, Spring always looked more reserved and a tad uncomfortable if it went too far.

It can be argued that the best governments this country has ever had were not strong overall majorities or long term stable ones. The best governments were minority ones or shaky coalitions that existed under the constant threat of collapse. It forces new thinking and new ideas. The lazy option of just ‘forcing’ through whatever policy you think up first is not an option. You must bring people with you, you must ensure everyone can accept the decision and you must find new and creative ways to get around stumbling blocks.

Now back in 1992-’94 I remember the annoyance in FF with Labour. That government lived every single day under the constant threat of a walkout. It was a ticking time bomb. While some of the politicians became very friendly, others continued to simply plod from one row to the next always suspicious of each other and some made no secret that they hated each other outright. Policy wise it proved a very good government. Both parties desperate to get stuff done in a hurry because both felt the game could be up any day. Over time it taught me a lesson. Larger parties should be angry with the smaller one; they should feel that they are a thorn in their side and always worried about appeasing them. It is the only way to level the playing field; otherwise the larger party starts to do as it pleases. While at the time I would have moaned and complained about the way Labour acted in government it was purely out of bias, the reality was that labour were being highly effective in government and couldn’t be taken for granted. Now that was not a model government because it lacked any real trust but both parties secured a lot of what they wanted in a short time through high wire trade offs. Labour knew Reynolds was not afraid of collapsing governments and FF knew very well that Labour would not hesitate to walk out.

Bertie Ahern is blamed for many things. One that is often forgotten is one that he was most proud of himself, the start of long term ‘stable’ governments. The idea that nobody else can do the job except the current government and that they are staying in power for the good of the country. It’s no coincidence that the calls for Dail reform have grown during the last 15 years. Unlike some other countries we do not elect fixed term governments. The whole idea of our system of the executive holding so much power is based on the idea that the government needs to bring its entire party with it and navigate that Dail, it doesn’t have other houses blocking legislation because it lives with the threat of government collapse all the time. However, if parties become so determined to stay in power at all costs this system is turned on its head. The Dail is stripped of power. This is where back benchers need to hang tough and assert themselves.

Eamon Gilmore has become the chuckling best friend of Enda Kenny. The easy dismissal of Rosin Shortall proved that Gilmore saw Kenny as more of an ally than his own party member; even if he did let her resign it should not have been without a serious warning to FG and some demands. At every step Eamon has, instead, twisted himself into a knot in an effort to show just how well this government is getting along. He needs to remember that there is nothing wrong with having a row, fighting your corner, keeping distance from the larger party and even in a government collapsing. That is the only threat larger parties understand and react to. Indeed it is the only threat that even the troika react to, but that’s another story.

Brian Cowen was appointed a minister while in his thirties thanks to a serious blood letting on the FF front bench. Yet as Taoiseach one might never have guessed this. While FF was crying out for new faces and approach, he showed himself to be ultra cautious and always favouring age and experience. Even as the polls plummeted he could not see the need to even try to do something a bit more dramatic. When Eamon Gilmore selected his cabinet team he made the same mistake. Old dogs for the hard road. Joan Burton is the one Labour Minister who has a career that may still have another upward step on the ladder, all the rest are on their last lap before retirement. What is shocking is that none of these individuals themselves could see why this was wrong in a party that does have capable younger voices. None of these guys are going to rock the boat. That’s why they were selected. Like Brian Cowen, Gilmore has failed to select a team that could reflect the urgency of the situation and inject some vigour; instead relying on those that he knew would cause him least trouble.

Labour can now sit back and think about the problem all they want for it will do them no good. They need action and if they don’t take it words will get them nowhere. They made rash and foolish promises before the general election. The buck stops with the leader for this. Either he was naive enough to actually believe it or he failed to listen to those who were telling him, either way he must accept responsibility. FF dithered and waivered on Brian Cowen’s leadership until it was too late to make any difference, Labour cannot afford the same mistake. Either Gilmore changes radically now or he goes. Coalition government cannot continue to be the easy harmonious ride it has been for FG up until this point. The rhetoric about the country needing government and its success is nothing more than words. FF and the Greens used the same arguments while the troika were taking over. Its rubbish. There is nothing whatsoever wrong with an election or a series of them if that’s what’s needed to get both the government and the people to start singing from the same hymn sheet. Eamon Gilmore is fond of saying that Government is about tough decisions, he should remember that one of them is when to tell your partner to either tow the line or face a walkout. As things stand the electorate can’t tell the difference between FG and Labour and this is a disaster for the left wing party. When you can have the full fat, high caffeine, and full sugar option why on earth would anyone really choose the ‘light’ option? When any smaller party becomes the plaything of a bigger one then that is all they are. The labour (I can’t believe its not Fine Gael) Party.

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