This appears to be what happened: Several cabinet ministers did not want to run in the election – particularly once they knew they’d be doing it with Brian Cowen as leader. So he wanted to replace them with fresh new faces, presumably in the hope that voters would fool themselves into thinking they weren’t looking at the same old Fianna Fáil.
The Greens were less than happy with what they perceived as the conversion of the cabinet into an electoral window display. They said they would pull out of government rather than accept the appointments. As that would precipitate an election, Cowen instead shared the portfolios out among the remaining cabinet members, and finally chose the election date – March 11th – in the hope that this would stay the Greens’ hand. (We’ll see.) His backbenchers meanwhile were busy explaining to the press that they wouldn’t have accepted cabinet posts anyway. They now perceive that their best hope of holding onto their seats lies in distancing themselves from Cowen as far and as quickly as possible.
So Cowen’s attempt to assert his authority and remain leader has unravelled. If there is any surprising part, it’s that the man who is inexorably steering his party into its greatest election defeat ever thought he had any authority to assert. No doubt he sees himself not as the man responsible for his country’s woes, but as the man to lead us out of them. The problem is though, that as the Taoiseach who gave us the ruinous blanket bank guarantee and Minister for Finance throughout most of the economy-wrecking property bubble, he is the man most responsible for his country’s woes.
At least, of those still around. Which isn’t quite fair on him of course. More of the blame for the bubble belongs to his predecessor Bertie Ahern, just as responsibility for the party’s corruption under Ahern really belongs more to his predecessor. (It’s easy to imagine that the failures of modern Fianna Fáil can be traced back to character flaws in DeValera himself; flaws which were minor then but have been cultured within the party over decades.) Though this might as well be Cowen’s political epitaph, his going makes little difference. The leader is just the bit stuck on the front. The problem with Fianna Fáil – and of the wider political culture – go right to the roots and require far more thorough changes than one of mere leadership.
The coming election is the first real hope we have ever had of that change.
- Micháel Martin looks decent and honest and innocent? Remember, we thought that about Bertie Ahern once.