And they’re off! A date for the twenty-six counties general election has finally been set – Friday March 11. Let the shouting, elbowing, gouging and kicking begin. So far, Fianna Fáil have set the pace for abuse, denouncing poor leadership, failed strategies and an inability to relate to people’s real concerns. Unfortunately they’ve been talking, not about other parties, but themselves. In the last three days we’ve had Micheál Martin directly challenging his party leader, Brian Lenihan being critical of his party leader and Mary Hanafin tying herself in knots to be critical and not critical at the same time. Meanwhile last night we saw Conor Lenihan, Brian’s brother, declare that the leadership issue was far from over, that he was calling again on the Taoiseach to forget about his win over Micheál Martin the other day but for the good of the counry and the party to step down and let a better man or woman take the party reins and gallop into the election campaign. This morning Willie O’Dea is saying, as things stand, March 11 could be to his party what the Ides of March were to Julius Caesar.
Surrounded by enemies, why are Fianna Fáil putting the boot into each other instead of those outside? Because they figure the party brand has, for this election at least, been irreparably damaged, that the electorate have taken a terminal dislike to Brian Cowen, and if they don’t put clear green water between him and themselves, they’ll go down. The French have a term for that condition: Sauve qui peut – every man for himself. Meanwhile, Fine Gael and Labour are disputing which of them will be the bigger party in the coalition they’ll form after the election. The Greeks have a term for that condition: hubris – the arrogance that precedes a fall. Most commentators stress how few seats Fianna Fail will gain; they’re probably right. Most commentators stress how many seats Fine Gael and Labour will gain; they’re probably wrong.