Johnny Fallon

Irish Political Commentator

Archive for the tag “leadership”

The Leaders – A Party animal or a lonely wallflower?

As the Dail recommences all eyes remain on the party leaders. The traditional winter bloodletting season could make for a bumpy ride, but how are each of our leaders fixed? Here, I take a quick look at their standing.

Enda Kenny – The Taoiseach would seem to be comfortable enough at first glance. To be fair to Enda he has settled into the job and for most people the accusation that he would embarrass himself is a distant memory. He may not be inspirational but he at least appears like a decent and able enough chap. When he is making one of those big speeches with lots of rhetoric, people actually quite like him. It’s not easy to be Taoiseach but Kenny has managed the battlefield quite well. His main problem remains that despite trying to reinvent his image, he always seems no more than one wrong word away from destroying it all. There are two major problems looming that Kenny has to deal with. The first is the Seanad referendum. He has personally invested a huge amount of political capital in this. It was seen as a ‘can’t lose’ referendum, but while still quietly confident there are a few nervous glances towards the polls on the government benches. If the referendum is passed, it gives Kenny a confidence boost and also the chance to spread out some more talk of reforms and change over the coming years. He will see it as a legacy impact for his term. However, should the referendum be lost then make no mistake it will cause rumblings among many who will see it as a personal failure of the Taoiseach. He needs a Yes vote badly. The second problem facing him is the Labour question. So far Enda has managed to tie Eamon Gilmore up in knots and keep him boxed in at every opportunity. Deep down, he knows that Gilmore may come knocking and need help to save his leadership or else a new Labour Leader might start flexing muscles. You don’t walk away from the job of Taoiseach and Enda knows that if Labour got it into their head that they could walk away, then he would be forced to make serious compromises to keep them on board. If this occurred, it will lead to the traditional grumbling in the larger party of any coalition that the tail is wagging the dog and that the Taoiseach has started saving his job ahead of his party. If that talk starts, it only ends one way. However, the job of Taoiseach is all about such decisions and challenges, Enda knows that well. He has started to shift within the party to secure his base. Figures like Phil Hogan and James Reilly no longer hold the influence over the Taoiseach that they once had and Enda may yet play all sides, including the long term game with the Reform Alliance, just to keep everyone sweet enough.

Eamon Gilmore – The Tánaiste continues to hang in there. He knows that he needs something to claim from the budget in order to give him a fighting chance. It’s likely he will get it but it won’t be major. Most accept that rather than €3.1 bn needing to be made up in the budget, the figure will be about €2.8 bn. This could allow Labour claim some victory. The real problem is that Eamon cannot really recover his personal strength. He remains leader because no one else really wants to take the job right now. That can change. Labour could leave him in situ until after the local elections, but this may ruin any chance of even a 2 or 3% recovery to save a few seats. It also means that Labour would need to look at Gilmores leadership next May/June. This timing is poor with another budget looming the following October. Another scenario is that potential rivals go with Eamon on the upcoming budget but do so while still grumbling. The budget gets passed and before Christmas, potential rivals blame its worst parts on Eamon’s failures and remove him. Allowing them some hope of even a tiny bounce before the locals and still saying that the time is too short to blame the new leader for a bad result. It also allows sufficient time for the new leader to talk tough and even look to renegotiate parts of the programme for government in advance of the budget next year. No matter what way one looks at it, Eamon Gilmore is no longer a leader in the real sense. He is on borrowed time, a bit like Haughey in November ’91 to Feb ’92: Everyone knew he was only there by the grace of others and it was only a matter of when.

Micheál Martin – The FF leader continues to wrestle his party and grapple to turn things around. He has had some success and a mild but soft recovery in the polls has calmed some early nerves. Serious questions still present themselves. At times Martin seems to lack the decisive will to make things happen. He avoids risks, doesn’t like doing things quickly and seems to follow the same backroom as his predecessors. He hasn’t shown any drastic change. At other times he goes to the opposite extreme, stifling debate, seeking to impose outcomes and trying to dominate proceedings. The abortion issue was the latest in that kind of cycle. There was only ever one outcome for FF in that debate and it was worrying that the Leader or those around him could not see that. This has led some to say that Martin is weak or in a weak position. Martin is not weak but he doesn’t always pick his fights well and a lack of foresight is more the problem. His position is safe enough for now. There is no value to FF in changing leader. In fact Martin could still do a huge favour as a former minister in leading the charge for openness and answers on the activities of the last cabinet and what happened around the table. He is still the best placed to engage with the Irish people on what the hell actually happened. Unfortunately like his predecessor Brian Cowen, he wants to move on rather than dwell on the past. FF might find dwelling on the past might be the best thing they could do right now. The local elections will be a test for Martin. FF needs to be in the mid 20s to hold what they have at local level, more or less. They seem on course for that. A slight increase would be taken as a big victory. Should the party numbers fall though, questions may come quickly.

Gerry Adams – It’s been another interesting year for Gerry. From his entertaining, if strange, twitter account, to the SF poll battle people continue to ponder what his future might hold. SF is doing well in the polls. If they got 19% in a general election it would be a massive achievement and major step forward. The problem is they are struggling to understand why they are not even higher, especially given the FF figure. My answer to that, as always, is organisation. SF is still building up theirs. Many do suggest however that Gerry is not the man to lead SF in this battle. He has struggled to impose himself on southern politics and to really show a genuine grasp of the debate. SF has been much better served by Doherty, Tobin and McDonald in this regard. SF may need the injection of new leadership to bring some impetus to the project. This carries two problems; the first is that SF needs to retain its strong link with the North. Can a southern leader do that? Secondly, SF still has to decide its path. The party is struggling to define its enemies in the same way as FF did many years ago. It does not really know whether it should be attacking its traditional rivals FG, or whether it needs to hit FF hard to stop any recovery or strike out at Labour to eat into their vote. SF is fighting battles on every front and eventually will have to pick a side and deal with each one by one. A new leader will be forced to accept that. Gerry helps them avoid it for now although even he seems increasingly uneasy about it. I don’t see SF changing leader this side of a general election unless they start to fall back in the polls and I don’t think that’s likely at this point. There is a problem for the general populace in identifying with Adams however. He reminds me more and more of De Valera in the 1950’s: there are stronger leaders in the ranks below, people perhaps better prepared for the new age, but he is a hero within the party, seen as a patriot and an icon and therefore nobody is really able to bring themselves to criticise him or say his time might be past. De Valera stayed a decade too long, will it be the same for Adams?

Government plays same games as predecessors and has lost trust

Many people will remember the politics of the 1980’s. It was a turbulent time and one of the key issues was that of trust. Charles Haughey led the largest party but there was always a question mark over whether people could trust him or not. There was a theory that Haughey was the problem, he was what Garret Fitzgerald described as a ‘flawed pedigree’ and what Dick Spring viewed as a ‘cancer’ on the body politic.

The problem was much deeper than just Haughey though. The reason his party remained so strong was that his opponents were not trusted either. Whether that was economic trust to handle the issues or whether it was the fact that once in government people saw no real difference is a matter for debate. Des O’Malley was expelled from Fianna Fail and went on to set up the Progressive Democrats. The mood suggested the time was right for a new party. Of course like many such endeavours it had profile but no roots or organisation so its expansion, after the first wave of enthusiasm, was stunted.

Charles Haughey departed the scene and Albert Reynolds took over, but he, Alan Dukes, John Bruton and Des O’Malley all failed to capture the public imagination and all failed to win the trust of the people for different reasons.

Then came the era of Ahern, Bruton, Harney and Spring. There was a feeling that perhaps Ireland had moved on and we could trust people at the helm again. One can only wonder now if that is just symptomatic of a country when it starts to get more prosperous rather than one in recession.

Ireland has a problem. We desperately need leadership but we are struggling to trust anyone enough to follow them. We are not a belligerent people. Ireland has demonstrated a desire to be led, a willingness to take pain and tough economic measures if we can just be assured that people know what they are doing. So why is it so difficult to find that true leader?

People were burned badly by Bertie Ahern. He was a nice guy, a very ordinary unassuming chap. He was also a highly skilled politician, acknowledged by friend and foe. He did not seem into money or trappings of power, he just seemed to love what he did. In recent years that shroud of comfort has been torn away from us. A man we trusted turned out to have the most inexplicable personal finances possible and worse was to come. While we trusted him to have the measure of everyone, it seems he was really just gambling on what the guys at the top of the banks told him.

Brian Cowen was a man people felt was trustworthy too. A man who at least seemed to have none of the weight of dodgy personal finances or political funding hanging over him. He was strong and determined. Yet we then found out that he too was just going with what the bankers said, and he displayed an alarming lack of anger at where they led him. Then he crumpled up in the job of Taoiseach and lost all the vigour and ability to speak that people had liked him for.

It’s hard to keep trusting. Yet, in 2011 we gave our trust to a new government. It was seen as a final acceptance that FF and the PDs and all that was said about them was true. The Greens were collateral damage for having been seen as naive. The new government was given the greatest mandate of public trust that any government has ever held. Two years later and they would not be re-elected in the morning according to Opinion polls. This no doubt will be blamed on the ‘hard decisions’. No doubt that plays a part but the real issue is that hard decisions have double the impact when accompanied by a lack of leadership. A tax on your home is due by tomorrow, yet again people have shown they are willing to pay, but nothing in the approach of Phil Hogan has suggested to the people that they should trust him. Nothing in the approach of James Reilly has suggested that people should trust him in health and nothing in the approach of Alan Shatter will convince people that he is to be trusted either.

These were Enda Kenny’s closest aides when he was faced with a leadership challenge. Yet these are the ones letting the government down the most. There is nothing in the approach of this government to suggest that it treats issues of trust any differently to its predecessors. The same old rules are at play. The opposition do not cover themselves in glory either with FF stumbling around on the Abortion issue due to an outdated view of leadership and SF still determined to say everyone else is wrong on absolutely everything. Previous governments eroded public confidence in the system, they appeared arrogant, dismissive and concerned only with survival. Previous governments seemed obsessed with keeping their job and their colleagues in a job rather than facing up to the rights and wrongs of an issue. That is a major reason that previous governments were led to electoral Armageddon. This government had a chance to observe and learn and react differently. So what answer did they give us? Pat Rabbitte.

The government has proven itself less about leadership and more about playing the game. Less about considering the issues and more about bragging rights and forms of words. It is every bit as much about retaining power as its predecessor and in the public eye it seems remarkably similar to its predecessor in being peopled by Ministers that have no intention of having to return to their job after the next election and instead are already focussed on what legacy they might like to include in their memoirs. Trust is key. Whoever can win public trust will win big, but that will not be achieved by standing over the same old point scoring and the same lack of honesty that we have always seen. This week the government will tell us the debate on Alan Shatter is a distraction, which has always been a great defence. Like a sword of Damocles over the people, warning them that if they keep asking questions they will suffer more because the work they need done wont be done. It seems Ministers are incapable of answering questions and doing their job at the same time, they have a very limited ability and attention span. They are easily distracted and upset and we are to blame. Maybe gender quotas will be the best thing to ever happen politics here, because god knows, we really seem to lack the ability to multi task.

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