Fianna Fail split down the middle by dithering

By Brian Feeney (for Irish News)

One positive development to emerge from all the indecision and dithering and ‘mutual and respectful” stabbing in the front during the last week is the formal admission of the faith politicians place in opinion polls.

In his not-resigning statement on Sunday challenging but not challenging Brian Cowen, Micheal Martin made it clear Fianna Fail’s 14 per cent showing in the Red C opinion poll was what finally spurred him into action.

Other senior Fianna Fail figures said the same. They didn’t care how often or where Brian Cowen met bankers or what they talked about: it was the 14 per cent.

Quite simply that meant their seats, most of them, were at risk. So the next time politicians come on TV to answer about opinion polls and give their stock lying response, that they d on’t pay any attention to polls, followed up by, ‘The only poll that counts is the one on election day’, the interviewer can always ask why Fianna Fail politicians take them so seriously.

Are they more stupid or gullible than other politicians? Hardly. No-one ever accused Fianna Fail sleveens of being stupid.

Of course the reason they all majored on the terrible polls is that they couldn’t give the real reason for challenging Cowen, namely that he is beyond awful. There’s an eerie congruence between him and Gordon Brown. Both succeeded premiers of unprecedented electoral success and longevity in office, both finance ministers who presided over an economic boom which exploded in their faces as soon as they became head of government.

Both ill-tempered and unable to attract women voters. Both unable to communicate in the modern media and resentful of the demands of24-hour news on them.

Both with personal popularity ratings below any known scale and dragging their parties inexorably with them as an election loomed.

There’s another similarity. Both presided over cowardy-custard cabinets full of long-serving political hacks most of whom no longer had any ambition left or were too old to challenge their disastrous leaders or both. If you remember, there were several inept heaves against Gordon Brown as the opinion polls showed he was leading Labour to doom.

Probably the one that took the biscuit was led by Geoff Hoon and Patricia Hewitt. It failed before their supporters even knew it had begun leaving the conspirators figures of tun. Micheal Martin’s move was equally ham-listed and amateurish-looking.

Martin is a noted ditherer. He’s been a minister in various departments but the joke among Dublin politicos to describe him is, ‘My indecision is final’.

So it was that he offered his resignation but did not resign. It later transpired that he hadn’t even written a letter of resignation, just told Cowen he would, ‘if necessary’, but he didn’t.

He then told RTE’s Sean O’Rourke that he was voting against Cowen but not leading a challenge and wouldn’t be working the phones to gather supporters.

As a result, Martin seemed taken aback on Monday when several TDs came out against Cowen but, with his characteristic indecisiveness, Martin left them to their own devices.

By dithering over his move so long and leaving it so late Martin has managed to split Fianna Fail down the middle.

The lateness enabled Cowen to say quite correctly that he would have to remain as taoiseach because Fianna Fail doesn’t command a majority in the Dail any more and the Greens have said they won’t support a third Fianna Fail taoiseach without a general election.

Therefore a new leader couldn’t be taoiseach.

Of course Micheal Martin knew that perfectly well.

His move wasn’t about snatching a poisoned chalice from Cowen. It’s about what happens after the election when Fianna Fail are out of government.

Martin knew he couldn’t be taoiseach with the present Dail arithmetic but you can bet your bottom dollar that private Fianna Fail polling showed that even with the partysplit down the middle its candidates couldn’t do any worse in the election than they would with Brian Cowen continuing as leader.

What does it all mean for the north?

Absolutely nothing because Fianna Fail will be out of government on March 25 and in any case Cowen was the most partitionist taoiseach since the awful John Bruton.

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