Brian Cowen’s surly U-turn over meeting with the opposition is yet another example of how the Taoiseach is struggling to deal with the realities of the economic crisis. In his mind, he seems to be still set in the old ways: We have all the power, and you the opposition have none. As with his U-turns on the number of junior ministers and Oireachtas paycuts, he stonewalls and then backs down, gaining none of the kudos and looking like he has been forced to do something by public demand.
He’s probably right that seeking consensus is a waste of time, but a bit of imagination could actually help him. His government will have to make actual cutbacks anyway, so why not just get the opposition in to force them to suggest their alternatives? What is he afraid of? That they might steal a cutback they really like? Worst case scenario, they refuse to actually come up with real proposals and look unserious. Or they could suggest something actually worth doing. What’s the problem? The Taoiseach needs to understand that politics is changing, and just because “that’s not the way things are done” used to be the argument in the past, that does not mean it stands now. We’re through the looking glass, people.