Greens have sacrificed principles for the illusion of power

Sunday Tribune 10 May

What’s that sound? Is it the thunder of hooves just over the next ridge? Hurray! It’s George Lee leading the cavalry (he’s the one on a Segway) to rescue us from the dole queue. Hip, hip, hurray etc, etc.
No matter how you look at it, Fine Gael has floored Fianna Fáil with its choice of candidate for the Dublin South by-election on 5 June. George ticks all the boxes: he’s sincere, popular and knowledgable. With the exception of FF, the announcement was loudly applauded. Too loudly. The reaction bordered on mild hysteria. George, while being very, very good at maths, has no political track record. He might be rubbish. Still, it said a lot about where we, the electorate, are at emotionally.
Lee’s decision may turn out to be a missed opportunity. Many would like to see a new party enter the fray. With George’s financial acumen bolstered by a couple of seasoned dissidents, we could have seen the birth of the George Lee Party. (‘George Lee’ and ‘party’: there’s three words you don’t see together too often.) In time, it might have become known as the Glee Party – ‘Spreading the message of gloom with Glee’. Now we’ll never know.
While George was throwing shapes over the economy, another man of principle, Eddie Hobbs, reminded us of Fianna Fáil’s culture of hard-necked cronyism. Hobbs resigned in protest from the National Consumer Association on Thursday. He had called for Bertie Ahern’s ‘ex’, Celia Larkin, to step down over the revelation that she was fast-tracked for a mortgage by Michael Fingleton. True to FF form, she refused.
The two ‘people’s economists’ aren’t the only men of principle taking pot-shots at Fianna Fáil. The Greens are at it too. The first rumblings between the Saviours of the Earth and Fianna Fáil came over the TDs’ bonuses debacle. Then John Gormley announced the scrapping of electronic voting, despite a Cabinet decision to defer it. Last Wednesday, Eamon Ryan really stuck the boot in. He told Newstalk’s Eamon Keane that he wouldn’t recommend Green voters give their transfers to Fianna Fáil in the upcoming local elections. He also said the Greens would be open to doing business with Fine Gael/Labour in a possible National Government. Principled Ryan spoke of “values”. He didn’t mention loyalty to his government partners, though.
FF played down Ryan’s disloyalty and revealed its grand by-election plan to defeat George Lee. It has chosen the late Seamus Brennan’s son, Shay, to run against him. Fine Gael is putting up a trusted economist, while FF is relying on sentiment. Economies are not saved by sentiment.
To compound the impression that Fianna Fáil is entirely clueless, Brian Lenihan said, disingenuously, that the three sets of elections on 5 June don’t constitute “a referendum”. This is rubbish. Fianna Fáil will be tested across the entire voting spectrum: local, by-elections and European. The outcome will reflect the public mood: 384,000 unemployed people are looking forward to letting him and his colleagues know how we feel. You only have to look at the election posters to see FF is really worried: the words ‘Fianna Fáil’ are microscopic. It’s like they’re trying to distance themselves from themselves.
Ryan’s comments, too, were designed to distance the Greens from them in the run-up to the elections. The question is: What will the Greens do when the elections are over? If Ryan was disloyal last week, imagine what he’ll be like when FF is really down.
There’s revolution in the air. The public is subconsciously preparing for a new government. As Seán O’Rourke was grilling Lee on Tuesday’s News at One, the speculation wasn’t whether he would win the seat, but what portfolio he would get in the next cabinet. Lee had leaped that hurdle and was already in a new Fine Gael-led government in the public’s mind.
The Greens realise this and that they face annihilation in a general election. They need to start building bridges, which may be why Ryan spoke about doing business with Fine Gael on Newstalk. This double talk, however, is giving weight to ex-Green Patricia McKenna’s assertion that they are hypocrites who have sold out.
George Lee has sacrificed his power as a commentator to follow his principles. The Greens have sacrificed their principles for the illusion of power. Their weasly behaviour is at odds with the image of a party with lofty ideals. They used to stand for integrity and plain-speaking. It’s taken them just two years to learn how to speak like Fianna Fáil. They are still politically immature though. Trying to be Machiavellian doesn’t suit them and is, frankly, a bit embarassing. It’s like watching the class nerd trying to act tough.
The response to Lee’s candidacy has shown that, psychologically, we are already on a general election footing. By failing to strongly endorse their partners now, the Greens are effectively undermining them. They are hinting that they’re having doubts. If they don’t act upon these doubts, they are finished as a party. It’s a dangerous game they’re playing.
The Greens can still show they have some principles left. They should jump ship now, before it’s too late, and nail their colours to a National Government mast.
It’s either that, or get nailed by a seething electorate.

dkenny@tribune.ie

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One way to solve the economic crisis – get Blottoed

Sunday Tribune, 12 April

It is Easter Sunday and I bring you tidings of great joy. That’s right, ‘great joy’, for tomorrow night there will arise from our midst two new millionaires. Hallelujah. On Tuesday morning, when everyone else is glumly listening to Mourning Ireland, two lucky people will be chuckling away under their respective duvets thanks to the National Lottery’s Millionaire draw.
Have you bought a ticket? Don’t worry if you haven’t as I’ve even better news for you: I have a plan to make us all a few bob and rescue the country from the knacker’s yard. It’s this: we hold a big raffle. A VERY BIG raffle. The WORLD’S BIGGEST RAFFLE EVER, in fact.
Last Tuesday, Brian Lenihan announced that he’s buying a load of useless land and half-finished buildings on our behalf. He calls them “toxic assets”. Every day, their value is getting smaller, but someday, someone, somewhere may buy them. That’s what he’s hoping for, at any rate. My plan is, instead of leaving these “toxic assets” lying idle, we (drum roll, please)… raffle them. As this brilliant idea came to me after a few budget-free scoops, I propose to call this land Lotto, the ‘Blotto’.
Here’s how it works: Brian is blindfolded (nothing new there) and chooses one toxic deed from the pile in his office. Let’s say it’s for an unfinished street. This is then put up for the Blotto. Tickets are sold worldwide, priced at €50 each. As there are 80 million people who claim Irish ancestry, that’s a guaranteed €4bn already. Then there’s the Chinese – they love a gamble and there’s a billion of them. There’s loads of Africans too. See the potential? Some lucky Blotto player will win a (half-finished) street for €50. They can then sell it back to the developer at a reasonable price and he can finish it off using cheap Irish labour. The state, the winner and the developer all make a profit. The houses are then sold at pre-boom prices. ‘Blotto! It could be you!!’
There’s even a precedent for Blotto. In 1984, horse trainer Barney Curley raffled his Middleton Park mansion, selling 9,000 tickets at £200 each. Last October, Tony Browne from Corbally, Co Limerick, decided to do the same with his €352,000 home (he reckoned 800 tickets at €500 each would do the trick).
The authorities have played Blotto before as well. In November 2002, Cork City Council raffled 40 homes to 600 people. The pathetic state of the affordable housing scheme was highlighted when the council put the applicants’ names in a hat and offered to sell a cut-price house to the first 40 out.
But why stop with toxic assets? We could Blotto places we don’t like and are costing us money. Like the gang-ridden ‘Island’ area of Limerick where the cost of policing is outrageous. We could market it as “a disarming corner of the Shannon estuary with abundant wild life”.
Once a month, we could buy special ‘Madonna Blotto’ tickets, with the winner getting adopted by that nice old lady. Well, what’s Malawi got that Ireland hasn’t? Apart from more money, of course.
Why not Blotto the entire country? Maybe not – the Germans might win us. Any road, that’s my rescue plan. Now consider the government’s plan.
The plan is to bleed us dry with new levies and rescue their wealthy friends by buying up their “toxic” land for €90bn. Some of this land may never be eligible for planning permission. What then? Does the government plan to force permission through?
The government believes it’s “fair” to spend €90bn cleaning up their friends’ mess and then levy people on the minimum wage. That’s €18,000 a year. To put that figure in context, during the first 10 months of 2008, €23,000 was spent on serviettes and crockery at Leinster House’s catering facilities.
While we are being screwed, the drinks and racing industries are left unscathed. You can’t get a job or pay your mortgage, but you can drink yourself to death or gamble your house on the horses. That’s an interesting message to send the electorate.
Where were the incentives in this
budget? Why wasn’t VAT lowered? If even 1% was chipped off, it might have encouraged those who have money to spend it. As for jobs, if the government manages to dispose of “toxic” land, the only employment generated will be in the construction industry – the same industry that got us into this mess.
Social problems are rising and last week the gardaí said that cutbacks are hampering their ability to respond to calls for help. The government that failed to protect us from the bankers is now failing to protect us from criminals.
Brian Lenihan’s bludget is brutal in every sense of the word and, like the regime that spawned it, is utterly devoid of any original ideas. It’s the final proof that we need a National Government – fast. It makes the Blotto Plan look positively inspired.
Here’s an idea: let’s Blotto Lenihan and see how many tickets we sell. I bet we’d shift more if we Blottoed one of those paintings of bare-chested Brian Cowen.
Either way, you’re looking at the ultimate booby prize.