Well, we've had our first week of campaigning and it's been... interesting.
Even Bertie nods. I don't particularly like Ahern (not a personal dislike, I only ever met him once) but I always had the impression that he was a master of the business of politics and electioneering. He doesn't look it now. His bizarre early-hours dash to the Áras last Sunday to dissolve the 29th Dáil robbed Fianna Fáil of a properly staged dissolution. His performance at FF's launch later that day was short and not very sweet but the real shock was his refusal to take questions afterwards. Even his decision to call the election last Sunday is odd; it would've made more sense to call it a week earlier - he must have known that either the Mahon tribunal would start again this week or, if that was held off (as it was), the press would ask the tough questions anyway.
All this has left the Soldiers of Destiny running around like those headless chickens. FF won big time 5 years ago due mostly to the selling of Brand Bertie. But with the Chief reeling from bad press, his party looks more than a little punch drunk. And Bertie sure was swaying on his feet. I've never seen him deal with the press so badly - at times his irritation was palpable at the constant questioning in regards to his finances. On top of all this, today the PDs are more than distancing themselves from FF; they're holding a meeting to discuss these pressing issues. There's a good chance that they might walk out on the government.
Meanwhile, Fine Gael are flying. In fact, their campaign reminds me of Fianna Fáil's of the last election. Kenny is kept moving, moving, moving and doesn't say much of substance. This is a sound political practise - most times we end up with the last clown standing for Taoiseach, so for goodness sake, Enda, whatever you say, say nothing.
Labour are doing ok too. The media love Pat Rabbitte; the man's always good for a quote. Neither is the man shy of publicity stunts - today, himself and Ruairi Quinn had a barbecue where they roasted a list of the government's broken promises.
Nice idea but, just like the soundbites from Enda Kenny, this type of campaigning pisses me off. Village magazine this month has that same list of broken promises and it makes for compelling reading. Let Labour call a press conference and simply read out this article and the point is made with clarity and a bit more class.
Hard to say how Sinn Féin are doing. Today's poll in the Irish Examiner has them trailing. You know, Northern Ireland still doesn't register too highly with a lot of people in the Republic, shameful as that fact may be, and SF's success in NI doesn't guarantee the same south of the border.
According to many pollsters, the Progressive Democrats are in real trouble - one pollster puts them as having zero chance of returning to government. Their campaigning has been very negative, with attacks on the Green Party in particular. The Greens frighten the PDs - both parties are niche and if one goes up, it'll be to the cost of the other. However, much as I'd like to see the back of them, do not rule them out. This time 5 years ago, they looked to be dead and buried when Herr McDowell climbed a lamp post and stuck up that genius 'Single-party government? No thanks' poster. Many, many voters, distrustful and resentful of Fianna Fáil but unwilling to rock the boat, flocked to the PD banner on the back of that.
Still though, McDowall can't make the same claim again. He was presented with the chance to live up to his promise last autumn when the questions first arose about Bertie's finances but he chickened out. Hopefully, the voters will remember that.
Personally, and I know I'm biased, I feel the Green Party did the most substantive campaigning this week. They launched a superb economics package that was in no way anti-business but still goes towards helping the less well off.
Trevor Sargent was the only party leader to really stand up and ask Bertie to clarify his finances now, instead of after the election. Enda and Pat are still shy of explicitly doing the same. Partly due to a understandable wish to not get knocked off of their own message but mainly because of what happened last autumn - Bertie bounced back in the polls last time while the opposition leaders got burnt. Yet I am adamant that that wasn't so much a result of public sympathy to the Taoiseach but more a result of Enda and Pat's dithering over what to do or say. No such fear from Trevor Sargent.
I truly hope the Green Party get into government this time. The going consensus, for what little it's worth, is that the Greens will pick up more seats in this election. The global concern for the environment and the party's now realistic views on certain things like live exports has set them up well. But a strong vote for FF and Labour could well see them swamped and left with less seats than they have now. I read that some pollster on TV3 said that the best thing the Green Party could do is do as little as possible. I understand this idea but fuck it, politics should be more than just keeping your head down and hope you offend as few voters as possible. Let them speak their minds. Let them show us their plans. Let them fight a good fight and let the cards fall as they may after that.
So, there we have the first week. Today's polls say that the government parties are neck and neck with FG and Labour. I'd imagine there's a lot of undecideds out there to be won yet - those votes could well be mopped up by the smaller parties and independents.
Fianna Fáil might have started awful and there's no let up in the questions on Bertie's money but I still think they'll pull it off. Vincent Browne's grilling of the Taoiseach (it was the business) on Thursday probably did Bertie the world of good. And he's still got three big events of state ahead of him - addressing the house of commons, the opening of the Assembly and Paisley's visit to the Boyne.
An interesting question that isn't been asked much lately is, who's leaking Bertie's transactions with Mahon? And thank you, whoever you are. Ahern's lies grow with every day and he is seriously running the risk of totally contradicting himself.
One final thought - here's a combination of parties that might make up our next government; Fianna Fáil, the Green Party and... the Progressive Democrats.