I recently met a Fianna Fail supporter at a social occasion who left me speechless, which, as friends will tell you, is a rare occurrence. We were discussing the new government, and she started attacking them for the “disgraceful” cutbacks they were making. At first, I thought she was being ironic, but then realised that she was serious. A mere two months after leaving government, this FF supporter had mentally switched over and disowned the FF legacy of the last 14 years. In eight weeks.
The funny thing is that I doubt she is alone in FF. I have no doubt, and it’s confirmed by many (but not all) FF people I speak to, that a fair chunk of the party genuinely believe that Election 2011 is just a minor blip, an unfortunately harsh swing of the pendulum, but that essentially FF is sound and can just sit and wait for the people to swing back. There is, it has to be said, a certain degree of truth in this. There is a section of the country who believe any old nonsense that agrees with their permanent sense of grievance, and will vote accordingly. They voted Fine Gael, Labour and Sinn Fein last time, and will no doubt swing away from the two government parties when the government does not push unmarked used euro through their letter boxes, but not all those votes will return to FF. Many will stay with Sinn Fein.
Fianna Fail needs to realise that the bitterness towards Fianna Fail will eventually lessen to a degree, but that it is not enough to give people reasons to no longer not vote FF. They must have reasons to vote for Fianna Fail, and that debate has the ability to be either fascinating, if FF reinvents itself, or tedious as the waffle emerges. Phrases like “returning to the values of 1932” mean what exactly? FF is going to do its best to leave as many pregnant shoeless women standing at rural crossroads as possible? Admittedly, given the gender breakdown in the FF parliamentary party, that’s not an impossible task. But my fear is that the window for debate is already beginning to close, as the party’s inbred regard of debate as disloyalty stifles formal internal discussion of options, and reduces it to embittered whispers in shadows and pub corners.
There’s a lot that needs done, but given the comment above that inspired this post, I think that Fianna Fail at least needs to pledge itself internally to an economic policy that is based in reality. No more of the populist “the cutbacks wouldn’t happen under us” crap that got us to where we are today. Should FF, for example, consider establishing a publicly indentified independent panel, separate from the party, to cost its proposals and revenue sources? Fianna Fail needs integrity not just in voice but in action.
Of course, I could be wrong about this. I am not, after all, a member of Fianna Fail. But I notice that every time I offer an uncensored place on this blog for FF members (who contact me privately in large numbers, espc in the run up to the election) to voice their proposals for change, it is very, very rarely taken up, and that tells us a lot about Fianna Fail. There was a time when being gay in Fianna Fail involved accepting a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. Now, the question is: Does that policy apply to reformers within the party?