Jason OMahony - Irish political blogger, Irish politics, EU politics

Coalition lessons from Ireland.

Posted by Jason O on May 7, 2010 in British Politics, Irish Politics

Watching the footsy playing between the Tories, Lib Dems and Labour, I’m reminded of my time in the PDs during the very first FF/PD government. I wasn’t an active member at the time of the negotiation, but became active afterwards, and remember the acrimony within both the PDs and FF over the very first coalition. There are things the Lib Dems (and Tories) can learn from the Irish experience.

For a start, get ready for the backlash. It took the PDs years to recover from putting Charlie Haughey and Fianna Fail back in, during which hundreds of party members quit. I have no doubt that the Lib Dems will suffer a major haemorrage of members and poll numbers when they do a deal, mostly from people who just can’t grasp the reality of politics. But that’s what happens when you cross over from being a protest party to a party in power. The Greens are finding the same thing. You’ll get over it, and start attracting more pragmatic members who want to join a party that can actually get things done.

Don’t get too palsy-walsy with your coalition partners. The PDs initally kept their voters happy by making FF suffer in public, and then lost them when they became too comfortable with FF. Both the Lib Dems and the Tories will need to keep their respective voters happy by occasionally putting manners on the other bastards. Yes, by all means, deliver on policy, just remember that some people vote for you because they hate the other guys, and want to see you occasionally put the boot in. Both coalition partners should be professional enough to expect a bit of what Michael McDowell used to call “shouldering off the ball”    

Finally, remember this day. Marc McSharry, who is now an FF senator, said to me (we were in boarding school together) on the day the first FF/PD coalition was formed that “This time, the first time, will be the hardest. After this, people won’t give coalition with FF a second thought.” He was right. Now coalition is the norm in Irish politics, and once the Lib Dems do the deal, the public will get used to the idea and, more importantly, lose their fear of a hung parliament. In Ireland now, I reckon that the great majority of Irish people do not actually want a single party to run the country anymore, and like coalition parties keeping an eye on each other. I could easily see the British people getting comfortable very quickly with that concept.  


What a bizarre night.

Posted by Jason O on May 7, 2010 in British Politics

Cardinal Mandelson glides effortlessly behind the scenes, dagger poised.

Cardinal Mandelson glides effortlessly behind the scenes, dagger poised.

Whether it was Peter Robinson going down to the Alliance (wtf?) or Lembit Opik been given a cheeky bum’s rush (sorry) or just the fact that the Lib Dems have actually done badly, and Labour not as bad and the Tories not as good as expected, it has been a bizarre night. What’s actually quite funny is the look of hysteria on the faces of some of the journos. I’m surprised Sky haven’t got one of those forboding Fox News jingles to underline the horror of a hung parliament. A result like this on the continent or Ireland would result in a shrug of the shoulders and politicians rolling up their sleeves to figure it out, with a government quietly cobbled together. Only in Britain is there hysteria.

What’s particularly interesting is the Cardinal Richlieu role that Peter Mandelson seems to be playing, where he (this morning) refused to rule out Brown having to go as the price of a coalition. It was so cold one could almost hear the knife go between the shoulder blades.

For my money (and I was wrong on the impact of the debates and how well the Tories would do) I think that a Tory/Lib Dem “understanding” is the most likely outcome, because a deal with Labour will need the SDLP, Plaid Cymru and the SNP as well, and that just looks too grubby. But don’t rule out the massive difficulties both Clegg and Cameron will have selling any sort of deal to their parties. In short, another election in the next 18 months is not impossible.    

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