The most recent Red C poll surely came as a relief to Fianna Fail. After the week’s humiliations, the fact that they can nearly get one in five votes must surprise even them. There’s been speculation, by me and elsewhere, that they were heading for a Canadian style wipe out, and whilst there’s no doubt that they are heading for what will be their worst ever result, historically, 17% by any party in an Irish election is a survivable result. Labour spent much of its history dreaming of getting figures like 17%.
What is interesting is what would FF learn from such a result? My fear, and the fear of many FF supporters and long time voters who contact me is that they will learn next to nothing. That 25-35 of them will limp back into the Dail, shut up for 18 months, and then start all the usual FF carry-on of attacking the cutbacks outlined in their own 4 year plan, and traipsing off to various vested interests looking for money off them.
Is there room for a New Fianna Fail? Given the huge majority the new government will have, the answer is yes. There will be FG and Labour TDs elected early next year who will only ever see a single term. Indeed, there are guys out there, scratching their bums and looking out the window today, who have no idea that in seven odd weeks they are going to be members of Dail Eireann. So the opportunity will be there.
What should they do?
They could start by considering electing a new leader from outside the paliamentary party. Whomever gets back into the Dail, there is no guarantee that a figure of intelligence, vigour and integrity will be amongst them. So what? As Gerry Adams has shown, it is a Leinster House Bubble fallacy to believe that the Dail chamber is where the nation makes its mind up about people. Just look at the viral effect of Pat Rabbitte’s Week in Politics outburst, or Morgan Kelly’s article earlier. Often, the Dail chamber is the last place to make one’s name. that is, unless you’re going to tell someone to go f**k themselves. That leader can contest the next general election as the party’s nominee for Taoiseach.
Next, they should say sorry. Someone summed it up to me recently by saying that they need to be deCarrCommunicated. As the “There’s No Bailout” debacle showed, the old style “clever” FF way of saying nothing or splitting hairs or mouthing “My position is well known on that issue” guff is finished. Say sorry. Admit that FF did not deliberately set out to wreck the country, but it happened on their watch and it is their fault and yes, they are humiliated about it and will carry it to their graves with them. Admission is the first stage of rehabilitation.
Thirdly, appoint an independent above reproach academic to prepare a report on what FF did wrong in government. Take the medicine, and use the report’s launch as the last act of contrition to begin to at least draw a line in the sand. The arrival of the IMF is Fianna Fail’s blueshirt moment. They will never be let forget it, but they have to at least try to get past it.
Fourthly, commit to state funding of elections, genuinely reforming the political system, and appoint an independent ethics czar (Again, a person of public virtue) with the power to expell people permanently from the party regardless of their position. The New Fianna Fail must be squeaky clean, with real ethics standards even higher than the coalition.
Fifthly: Ideas: Nothing has damaged FF more internally than its inability to self-criticise, which resulted in good people humiliating themselves defending dumb and just plain wrong decisions. FF needs to learn that open debate is not a sign of weakness. They should consider setting up an at-arm’s-length think tank to generate policies for the party, and critique the party’s policies but to also allow talented non-FF people to participate. It should have a board which will have a majority of members who are not party members, and pledge loyalty not to the party but to the party’s values. And to show that this is the New Fianna Fail, open to all, it should be named after a great Irishman: The Michael Collins Institute.
Finally, remember that there is one part of Ireland where FF is not hated: The North. FF should now, in opposition, start to look at contesting elections in the North as a means of showing it can grow, and that it is still a national organisation. It should also begin to form a relationship with Sinn Fein, who will be FF’s most likely future coalition partner. Perhaps time for an FF-SF forum on the steps to an agreed United Ireland?