‘Case history’ on how not to do coalition government.

Apparently the Irish people cannot have a general election any time soon according to the latest communication from the Green Party’s Dan Boyle. Why so?  Well to summarise – the Irish voters would put the Labour Party and Fine Gael into Government – two political parties the Greens’ deem unsuitable. Under any other guise this statement could be labelled totalitarianism!

This latest Bull from Boyle, is in advance of the vote of confidence in Brian Cowen next week, and follows assertions by opposition Whips
that Green Party bills will not be dealt with before the summer recess.

Next week’s vote was forced following the publication of the first reports on Fianna Fáil’s involvement in the Irish financial crisis. The latest poor poll results has provided even more drama for this grossly unpopular coalition Government.  The vote will be passed of course, leaving the Greens once again exposed as having missed another opportunity to go to the people with some shred of integrity.

The Greens will eventually be marked down as a must read ‘case history’ for all small political parties in Ireland and for Green Parties elsewhere on how not to do coalition government.  That is if the small party wishes to make long-lasting policy achievements during its term in office; avoids supporting policy that, under normal circumstances, it would be fundamentally opposed to; and have a future beyond the term of office in Government.  

So then why will they be a case history for how ‘not to do government’?  There are a number of reasons:

Firstly the Greens did not negotiate any strong, or trophy, policy gains before signing off on the first Programme for Government, e.g. stopping the Tara motorway. To the average voter, gaining two ministries and two senate seats is not delivering on an electoral mandate.
Secondly, the parliamentary party then made the disastrous strategic decision to show the world that it was a party of government and could be relied on not to cave in at the first sign of pressure.  This backfired spectacularly, with Green TDs and Ministers being perceived by the general public as bending over backwards to show their political peers that they could be safely welcomed into the ‘club’.
Thirdly, before entering coalition talks the Green leadership in a very deliberate manoeuvre, did not clarify or adopt any strong policy goals or bottom line positions.  As a consequence, the lack of any clear bottom line has, on too many issues,  left the Green Parliamentary Party floundering, frequently defending the indefensible and constantly playing political catch-up.
Finally, before 2007 the party put all its efforts into media through press conferences  and photo-ops.  However, and crucially, it neglected to develop strong internal leadership structures that would have served to protect the party and its principles.  This obsession with media and spin has continued to this day, leaving your average pundit having to carefully parse the various Green pronouncements in defense of their continuance in office.

To conclude, the coalition experience takes its toll on all small parties who find that all resources end up channelled towards protecting the parliamentary party, leaving little time and energy for the rest of the organisation.  Also it could be said that the Green Party’s focus on media prior to 2007 was understandable given the constant attacks on the party by Fianna Fáil and certain sections in the media. But while acknowledging these political realities as a defence, they do however also beg the question as to how prepared the Greens actually were for government in the first place.

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2 thoughts on “‘Case history’ on how not to do coalition government.

  1. Pingback: Shameful Government «

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