Sunday, 7 February 2016

Election 2016 - Week 1 in review.

"Oh, a cutesie photo op... Must. Act. Human."

The wait for the date
So it's finally here. After months of foreplay, teasing and plenty of false starts, Enda finally got round to calling that dastard election on Wednesday last. He marched into Leinster House, announced he was heading to the Áras to request the dissolution of the Dáil and marched out almost as quick, with his frontbench and Tánaiste in tow. It was swift. The opposition were frustrated that they weren't afforeded a chance to offer their statements in the Dáil on the parliament's dissolution and railed against Enda for his lack of respect for the lower house. If they've been paying attention for the last number of years, they won't have been surprised. 

But Enda hadn't a care in the world as he bid Joan Burton a fond farewell on the steps of Leinster House while he attended to business."This is not goodbye" he reassured her graciously, as he shook her hand in what was totally not a photo op. Joan looked a tad bemused but dutiful; a good metaphor for her party's five years in office. While Enda had announced that he was dissolving the Dáil at Leinster House, he announced the date of the election on Twitter, of all places. Disappointingly, he didn't use any emojis. In fact Enda's lucky he announced it now and not in a few months by which time Twitter will have introduced their algorithm timeline; there's good chance nobody would have seen it then and all us politicos would still be here twiddling our thumbs.

Each week during the campaign I'll endeavour to update this blog as regularly as possible with half-baked political analysis, hapless predictions and low-brow jokes. I'll end each week with one of these reviews and at the end of it all, I'll have a review of the entire campaign. This is going to be the shortest general election campaign in Irish history but that doesn't mean we can't pack plenty in. By the end of the month, I hope you'll be as uninformed making your choice at the ballot box as you are now! 

Black hole in the Government's fiscal space
"And the two words the random jargon generator came up with were 'fiscal' and 'space'".

The sums behind Fine Gael's long-term economic policy being outed as wrong in the first week of the election campaign by, of all people, Sinn Féin sounds like the kind of nightmare that would wake Michael Noonan up in a cold sweat late at night. But it actually happened. This time last week I, like most of the country, had no idea what the incredibly vague term 'fiscal space' meant but now it's all too familiar. It's the money the next government will have to spend on stuff they promise in this election campaign outside of their current budgetary obligations and is dependent on the economy growing at 3% annually. Sounds simple, right? So why did it cause so much controversy? 

Well, to put it simply, the government parties orginally overstimated the amount of money they would have available to them by a cool €2bn. Michael Noonan, in his speech at the Fine Gael ard fheis last month said that the amount of money available to the next government would be, "€12bn over the five years from 2017 to 2021". Brendan Howlin, similarly, at his party conference said that the next government would have a "fiscal space of €12 billion".

That figure has since turned out to be baloney. 

The gross fiscal space available to the government, as calculated by the Department of Finance, is €10.6bn. Included is this figure is €2bn which would be available to the government if they do not index taxes over the next five years (The indexing of taxes involves adjusting the tax bands with the rate of inflation). Also included is €1.4bn which the government expects to be available to them once the EU relaxes its fiscal policy for countries over the next few weeks. The government, however, double-counted the €2bn available from the non-indexing of taxes. They seemed not to have realised that it was already included yet in the €10.1bn and added it on to make a fiscal space of just over €12bn. Bored yet? You should be. 

Of course, all this is actually quite important as if even the government parties can't calculate how much money is available to us to spend on tax cuts or increases in public spending over the next number of years, it doesn't bode very well, does it? Also significant is that Sinn Féin were the ones who called the government parties out on their double-counting. Deary me, can you imagine the consternation at Fine Gael HQ? The shinners schooling the blueshirts in economics. In their eyes it's like Michael D Higgins teaching Lebron James how to dunk. In the past, Fine Gael has accused Sinn Féin of engaging in "fantasy economics" while just this week Minister for Transport Pascal Donohue said that Sinn Féin's economic policies "read like checklist for destruction". 

Fine Gael have kind-of, sort-of back-tracked. They're now claiming the fiscal space is €10.1bn while Michael Noonan is bullish and adamant that he didn't even get his sums wrong in the first place. At the launch of Fine Gael's fancy new long term economic plan on Friday, Noonan said, "First of all, the comments that my figures don’t stack up, that’s not correct. I totally and completely stand over the figures." It's the Shaggy defence - while all the evidence might point to your being wrong, just deny, deny, deny. Oversetimating my fiscal space? Wasn't me.

The puzzling beauty of Alan Kelly

"But I suppose the best thing about me is my modesty."

Did you read Alan Kelly's interview with Niamh Horan in last week's Sunday Independent? If not, you really should. It's the stuff of dreams. The stuff of political correspondent's dreams, anyway. They know that as long as this fella sticks around the political scene they're not going to run out of headlines or copy. 

"Power is a drug... it suits me" was perhaps his most memorable and most quoted line but we were spoiled for choice really. From his Haughey-esque realist politics, "(Politics is ruthless. And anyone who wants to get to the top has to be") to his response to Horan's assertion that there is a Michael Lowry phenomenon in Tipperary ("I’m not sure there is a phenomenon. I mean, is there an Alan Kelly phenomenon?"), it was simply magnificent. One thing that I drew from the interview is that I can't see Horan, who usually writes lifestyle pieces, getting the chance to interview him again because the Pol Corrs are going to be all over the next one. 

He's been compared to Frank Underwood quite a bit in the past week, which is understandable (given he said that the only TV programme he watches is House of Cards), but there's also a David Brent-ish quality to Kelly which makes him so irresistible to me. I don't know if it's because he refers to himself in the third person or because I am now utterly convinced that he made up that AK47 nickname himself, but I see it. You can just imagine him gamely ambling into Leinster House one morning, finding the nearest aide or intern and whispering into their ear; "Did ya hear the nickname the lads at the party meeting had for me yesterday? AK47! Ha! Like the gun but AK cos I'm Alan Kelly! Gas, isn't it? Tell the boys in PR that they'll love it."

The Jordan Belfort of North Tipp, however, had a tough end to the week. As well as allegations that he gave Newstalk's Chris Donoghue a thorough dressing down after the presenter had a one-on-one interview with Kelly's constituency nemesis Michael Lowry before a panel debate between Kelly and other general election candidates from Tipperary, he also had to deal with a patronising put-down from Labour leader Joan Burton. Burton, with Kelly by her side, after the dissolution of the Dáil on Wednesday said in reference to the infamous interview, "He is an incredibly obedient employee.... colleague, I mean!" A freudian slip? AK47 was smiling on the outside but inside I'd wager he was fuming. 

Predictably, there was much hand-wringing and condemnation of Kelly's, ahem, frankness with Horan in the Irish media over the last week. He's trying to make it all about himself. He's a liability. He's a megalomaniac. All those things might be true but is it not true that he's also a bit of craic? I mean, Irish politics can seem so mind-numbingly dull to the layman and woman at times that you need someone like Kelly to come along and inject a bit of mayhem every once in a while. I actually enjoy Irish politics but I have not read a more entertaining interview with an Irish politician in a long time. Sticking it to the national establishment while keeping his own constituency happy has worked so well for Kelly's local foe Michael Lowry maybe Kelly is onto a winning strategy? Probably not but, hey, it'll be a fun ride.

Winner of the week
The people of Ireland. For now they get to see the democratic process in all its visceral beauty; middle aged men tramping from door to door in the pissing rain telling you about the roundabout their fella 'got' for you. Who am I kidding, the real answer is me. I felt like a winner after reading Alan Kelly's interview. I read it repeatedly as part of my Motivation Monday routine.

Loser of the week
Weirdly, Fine Gael. This campaign looks like an open goal for Ireland's biggest party in some ways; the economy is growing, employment is up, unemployment is down and Phil Hogan is still banished to Brussels. But this week was nothing short of a disaster. Besides the fiscal space fiasco, they had to deal with a trademark clanger from Enda. The Fine Gael leader refused to answer a question on economics from a reporter on Wednesday replying brusquely, "I'm not going to get into economic jargon here because the vast majority of people don't understand". Oh dear. If his advisors could muzzle him, they would. According to yesterday's Red C poll, they've seen a modest increase in support but they're still a long way off the overall majority Frank Flannery predicted at the end of last year  

No comments:

Post a Comment