Despite its Trump tactics, SF is likely to be the big loser after Budget 2017
I found myself thinking about the Lego Movie as the entrails of the Budget were being pored over this week. It’s ok, as father to 8 and 10 year old boys I’m now allowed to watch these movies openly. But more particularly it was the insanely catchy song from the movie – ‘Everything is Awesome’. I’m humming the damn thing as I type. Now this thought process wasn’t a response to Government or Fianna Fail deputies selling the upside of the Budget too aggressively off a well-managed Budget communications plan – they know the public won’t tolerate pre-2008 levels of hubris – but more a response to the unsurprising reaction of Sinn Fein. It occurred to me that if Sinn Fein decided to reboot the Lego Movie franchise it would give it a moody, DC Comics vibe and the title song would re-emerge as ‘Everything is Awful’.
Now, everyone knows there are still huge amounts of work to be done to rebuild our communities and the many lives shattered by the crash but a Budget was just announced where €1.3bn had been put back in to the economy. Tax cutting as a share of the total was 23% – even lower than the 25% committed to in February – and the gains were capped at earnings of €70k. The balance of 77% went on extra spending on services with more teachers, special needs assistants, gardai and nurses now being recruited. There are more people at work, our deficit has almost been eliminated and thankfully our big debates are now framed around what do we spend additional resources on rather than what do we have to cut. But, no, everything – I mean everything – is still awful from the Sinn Fein point of view.
As I tried to get that song out my head it then struck me; this type of approach to politics isn’t that new, in fact a paler version of it often pervades Opposition politics of any colour (those incentives I mentioned in a previous article) but there is a much more obvious reference point to understand Sinn Fein’s tactics. Donald Trump has played on voters’ fears, insecurities and disaffections with government generally to run one of the most toxic, dishonest and dangerous political campaigns in history to bring himself and his moronic nonsense to the brink of the Presidency. The binary nature of the US Presidential choice plays in to Trump’s hands as all he needs is for people to dislike Hillary more than they regard him but the comparisons between both campaign styles bears further scrutiny. Both Trump and Sinn Fein:
Insist that EVERYTHING is going to hell, no progress is being made on anything – even though simple factual sources can disprove the thesis – and only a vote for them can save the country or fix YOUR problem,
Don’t like their history being scrutinised, but still trade on a version of that history to play to target voters,
Declare themselves to be passionate defenders of the ‘ordinary’ voter even though one was born in to wealth and privilege and the others are apologists for terrorists who murdered ‘ordinary’ people and destroyed the communities of ‘ordinary’ workers,
Have no interest in detailed plans or policies that can be implemented but prefer to campaign in broad brush strokes that play to existing fears and frustrations without ever thinking about the impact of their pronouncements, and,
Both Trump and Sinn Fein would have a devastating impact on their countries if they got in to government.
This is the most important aspect of the Trump/Sinn Fein approach to politics. It’s combined ‘bullying and bullshitting’ style might win coverage, hoodwink a certain number of voters and put them close to real life decision making in government but we know it works out badly for the very voters that have been hoodwinked. Does anyone really think that Trump or Nigel Farage and his little England Brexiteers really care more about ‘ordinary’ workers? Or Sinn Fein’s Greek cousins in Syriza who won the votes but are still seeing their economy, jobs and incomes shrink.
That’s why the centre has to hold in Irish politics. And in a potentially good sign for those who want the centre to hold, Sinn Fein could be the big losers out of Budget 2017. Not because the broad sweep of the Budget ticked a lot of boxes. And it did. And not because the tax/spend split was along the lines promised in the last election and resulted in much needed investment in social services, though it did. And not because the hardship caused by having to balance the books again after the crash has been replaced by Budgets that are putting money back in to pockets and in to services, though that too has happened.
No, the reason that Sinn Fein are the potential longer term losers after Tuesday’s Budget is that the centre ground in Irish politics has found a way to do business and to get Budgets passed. The government along with Fianna Fail have worked out an inelegant, but pragmatic, way of doing business together. It isn’t that pretty, it is far from perfect and there are some poor and contradictory policies in there. But, for all that, they got a Budget through that nudged forward a lot of important agendas and avoided another messy General Election with another uncertain outcome.
Both larger centre parties now have an incentive to talk up – at least not to talk down – the successes of the Irish people and that means less air time and profile for Sinn Fein’s constant rejection of any of the progress made by the Irish people.
If the government partners and Fianna Fail can hold their nerve, keep the recent economic and enterprise policies broadly intact, and deliver two more restoration Budgets, the next election may take place in a very different environment to the last one. A degree of stability and incremental progress versus uncertainty and more Trump style campaigning from Sinn Fein. Let them knock lumps out of each other in time and see who comes out on top, but if the centre can hold over the coming period, an inelegant and hopefully temporary political solution may just do the country some service.
This article first appeared in the Irish Independent newspaper on October 20th, 2016.