This column first appeared on Broadsheet.ie on Monday Nov. 25 – 4 days before polling in the by-elections in Cork North Central, Wexford, Dublin Fingal and Dublin Mid-West. Here I predict two wins for Fianna Fáil (Wex and Cork NC) on each for the Greens (in Dub Fingal) and Ind (Gogarty) (in Dub MW).
Shortly after he was appointed Conservative Party chairman, Kenneth Baker was presented with internal polls showing the Tories facing near annihilation in the following year’s Local Elections (1990).
The Poll Tax recently introduced by the Tories was not just unpopular, it was hated. There were angry, mass anti-poll tax protests across the UK, in the run-up to the May 3rd polling day. The biggest, in London, turned into a riot with over 300 arrested and 113 seriously injured.
Against this febrile background and with the knowledge that the Tories were going to lose big, Baker set about putting one of the finer political skills into operation: he managed expectations.
This column first appeared on Broadsheet on Nov 4th, 2019 and looked at the weekend Fine Gael digital attack on Fianna Fáil which backfired badly and ended weak.
Being active on social media is not the same as being good at it. This is something Fine Gael learned yesterday morning.
At 9am it launched a digital attack claiming Fianna Fáil is not producing policies. Pretty basic stuff from a party in government, you’d have thought. Hard to screw that up. Attack the main opposition party for not doing enough. Claim they are just criticising you, trying to score points and acting like an… well… an opposition.
To be fair, Fine Gael got most of the basics right. They produced a decent digital video, loaded with graphics and charts and pumped it out across social media platforms. They backed it up with a press release in the name of Colm Brophy TD, hoping that the following day’s print media would pick up on it.
So far, so meh… yet, within barely an hour their digital campaign was not just misfiring, it was backfiring and going down in flames.
This column appeared on Broadsheet.ie on October 14th in the aftermath of the Johnson/Varadkar meeting at the Wirral to discuss Brexit. The two men were said to have spoken in private for 90 minutes without officials or advisers present. Did those talks focus on the specific details of the Irish border arrangements or were they more political?
Visitors to the Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ) presidential library in Austin, Texas get to have their photos taken against a life size photo of the 6’ 4” LBJ leaning over them, appearing – figuratively – to bend them to his will. It is called “The Johnson Treatment”.
The original photo featured LBJ’s soon to be US Supreme Court justice Abe Fortas. It is just one of many photos of LBJ applying the eponymous “treatment”, once described by the pre-eminent Washington political columnist, Mary McGrory, as “an incredible, potent mixture of persuasion, badgering, flattery, threats, reminders of past favours and future advantages.”
This column appeared on Broadsheet.ie on September 24th and looks at the current government’s ongoing issues with grasping the critical importance of data and data privacy to our continuing economic growth and development. While the governments response to the Data Protection Commissioner’s findings that it broke its own laws in expanding the scope of Personal Service Cards shows a cavalier attitude to data protection, the total inadequacy of the states response to real cyber-security threats is frightening. The State must immediately given the Defence Forces a lead role in building cyber security capacity and give it the resources right now, including the ability to recruit and train the next generation of cyber security experts.
Twenty years ago (last Sunday) the first ever episode of The West Wing premiered on US TV.
Though anyone who has ever served in government can confirm that The Thick of It or Yes, Minister are more realistic portrayals of life along the corridors of power, The West Wing still represents the ideal, the way we would like to think it is.
This is due, in part, to the excellent characterisations, but it is mainly down to the quality of writing. The dialogue not only fizzed, it was informed by actual policy debates.
There were prescient. Much of it is still cogent despite all that has happened in the intervening two decades.
This column appeared on Broadsheet.ie on Sept 17th 2019 and followed the latest Red C poll which showed the two main parties neck and neck and on a combined total of 57%. At the 2016 general election the two parties were also 1% apart, but on a combined total of just 50%. I have thought for a long while that the two parties combined will poll around 60% at the next general election and, right now, I would predict Fianna Fáil to pull ahead of Fine Gael by anywhere between 2% and 4%
Conventional political wisdom used to say that the parties in government welcomed long Dáil recesses. Not only did they free Ministers up from having to hang around Leinster House answering awkward questions, on and off the record, from smartass opposition TDs, irritating journos and panicking backbenchers, they were a time for the government parties to get back on message and hopefully get their poll numbers up.
The idea was that Dáil sittings broadly tend to favour the main opposition parties when it comes to opinion polls, as their insolent haranguing of the Taoiseach is featured nightly on the TV news. Dáil recess means no Dáil TV coverage and no Dáil TV coverage means less of a platform for the opposition to catch the news cycle.
The high visibility, and audibility, of the Taoiseach over the summer would suggest that his team subscribe to this wisdom. He was seen to be out and about. His appearances at the Kennedy and MacGill Summer Schools and the West Belfast Féile an Phobail went down well.
This article first appeared on Broadsheet.ie on July 30th, 2019. Any optimism that existed in my previous article from a week before was, by now, gone
This day last week Boris Johnson became the new leader of the Tory party. Profiling him here I described Johnson as the incoming Prime Minister of the slowly disunifying United Kingdom.
A few days later the SNP leader at Westminster, Ian Blackford MP, described Johnson in even starker and bleaker terms hailing him as the last Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
Comments over the last few days suggest that Blackford may well be close to the truth.
Last week I hoped that Johnson might use his admiration for Churchillian rhetoric to define – for the first time ever – what Brexit means.
Johnson had a very small window in which to set out a deliverable form of Brexit and give Britain a transition period during which it could have the best of both worlds. It would be fully out of the political and administrative institutions of the European Union. Out of the Parliament, the Commission and the Council, but would still have the economic benefits of membership while it negotiated the terms of its future arrangement.
This article appeared first on Broadsheet.ie on July 9th 2019. It again looks at the problems faced, caused and posed by the hapless Junior Minister for Defence
A few weeks back I discovered online that one of my favourite London pubs, the Coach and Horses on Greek Street in Soho is about to change hands. The pub is both iconic and historic – and not just because I’ve been swigging pints there on visits to London since the early 1980s.
It has been the watering hole of Dylan Thomas, Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Louis MacNeice, Graham Greene and countless other journos, actors, artists and Bohemian hangers-on. The pub is just across the street from the offices of the British satirical magazine, Private Eye, and has hosted many of the Eye’s infamous off-the-record lunches in an upstairs private dining room.
The design and layout of the main bar was immortalised as the set for the play based loosely on the life of one of its most infamous denizens, the notoriously unsober Spectator and Sporting Life humourist, diarist and columnist, Jeffrey Bernard.
I have written several times about the developing crisis in Irish Defence policy-making and the impact this is having on morale and retention in the Irish Defence Forces. In this Broadsheet post from June 11th, 2019, I suggest how swapping ministers of state might help in the short-term to start the process of addressing this crisis.
It takes a rare political talent to make the Irish defence brief controversial, yet the hapless Paul Kehoe appears to have somehow managed it.
Stories of declining morale, chronic low pay, skills shortages and personnel retention problems fill the airwaves, and still the crisis worsens. Defence force strength which should today stand at 9,500 has been hovering perilously below 8,500 for months.
The 9,500 figure is itself misleading. The 2000 Defence White Paper set the number at 10,500. The reduction in 2009 to 9,500 was only intended as a temporary measure, yet it has entered the political psyche as some fixed upper limit.
While very little of the blame for these crises attach personally to Kehoe, realpolitik dictates that the time has come for him to move on. Kehoe must go.
This column appeared on Broadsheet.ie on May 21st, just a few days before Limerick, Waterford and Cork cities voted on having directly elected mayors. Only Limerick voted in favour.
On Thursday voters in Northern Ireland go to the polls to elect three members of the European Parliament. Given the dominance of Sinn Féin and the DUP the focus will be on the contest for the last seat between the SDLP’s Colum Eastwood and Alliance’s Naomi Long. While a win for either will be a win for progressive politics, many at the top of Sinn Féin are hoping Long makes it, though their voters may not agree.
On Friday, voters down here will find themselves confronted by three ballot papers when they get to the polling station.
Not only do we get to choose Ireland’s 13 MEPs (two of whom will sit on the reserve bench until Brexit is resolved) we also get to elect 949 City and County Councillors from the almost 2,000 candidates on offer across the State.
And, as if all that responsibility was not heady enough, most voters (i.e. Irish citizens) will also get a third ballot paper, asking them to approve or reject two specific changes to the constitutional provisions on divorce.
But wait, there’s more.
Some very lucky voters will get a fourth ballot paper. These are the voters residing in Limerick, Cork and Waterford, who are eligible to vote in the local elections. They will get to vote in local plebiscites on whether those cities should have directly elected mayors from 2022.