It is always tempting to look back upon an event and form an egocentric view that those things that one did, or did not, do were crucial to the end result. Political parties have PhD’s in this type of post hoc confabulation. Take for example the Fianna Fáil response to the 2004 local election. They were disastrous for the party, or at least for the locally elected members of the party. The internal reaction to this defeat was to blame the councillors (and would-be councillors) for their failure to get elected. My recollection at the time was that the lack of support for the councillors was actually a manifestation of an unhappiness with the actions of the central party after the 2002 general election. Those within the party HQ quickly determined that the principal cause of the party’s poor results in the election was the failure of the local councillors to listen to the advice of the professionals in HQ. The party officials argued that strong party branding led to the party’s success in the 2002 general, but that the failure to maintain this brand cohesion in the 2005 local elections. The greatest aspect of this story for the HQers was its unfalsifiability. The result was what it was because HQ didn’t have enough power “Give us more power over the party,” they said “and we’ll give you the results you want.”
It pays to be wary of such self-serving storytelling, because they are the fonts of hubris.
I wonder if Fine Gael has been supping a little too much from this cup of hubris.
My sense of the last two general elections was this, that Fianna Fail & Co. won the 2007 election because Enda Kenny failed to present himself as a credible leader, and that in 2011 Fianna Fáil lost the general election because they destroyed the economy.
It is clear, from the academic literature, that there is no prescribed route to winning elections. Every election has so many attendant variables that every election is unique. Across countries there are so many cultural factors to be considered and factored in that the field of political science is merely a hodge-podge of just-so stories, where South American states are looked at from one perspective, western European states are viewed through another prism, Post-Soviet states are understood by looking upon them in yet another way. Within states elections happen so infrequently and against a background of massive social and economic transformations that it is impossible to discover and pattern to electoral success.
Professional political campaigners are as sailors at sea, who think that their actions will influence the wind.
The founder of the Behaviourist school of Psychological thought, Professor Skinner, conducted a wonderful experiment with pigeons. He would submit his pigeons to a range of stimuli, flashing lights, noises, buttons that would react when they were pecked at, and then feed the pigeons at random. The pigeons came to associate (and if you are not a behaviourist, possibly believe) that their actions influenced the likelihood of them being fed. They spontaneously developed complex rituals with the aim of receiving a food reward. They searched for patterns where there were none, and found them. This is a process which we are all vulnerable to, and leads to an obvious pathway towards superstition, if not organised religion, but that is a digression for another day.
Within this context so, as someone who has participated in many electoral campaigns to date, I’ve come to the opinion that elections (and referendums) are lost by those in power through some fuck up or other. The sailors as it were, cannot direct the wind, but they can sink the ship.
I suspect that when the Fine Gael insiders looked back upon the 2011 election, they came up with a story along the lines of: The country was lacking real leadership (after the mis-rule of one Taoiseach who was a mere manager, and another who was a mere drunk). Enda Kenny, as a leader, contrasted sharply with the hucksterism of Fianna Fáil leaders. So Enda Kenny won the election because he showed leadership.” This is a convenient myth, for the party insiders, because it allows them to take credit for Enda’s successes, as it was the backbenchers, and PR flaks that taught Enda (the back-country, mediocre, longest-sitting-TD that he is) to be leaderly.
All his actions seem to develop from this sense of being a leader, from his incessant extemporising at the cabinet table to his mis-handling of the Fine Gael rebels of conscience, he seems to have come to the opinion that being Leader (or Taoiseach, as Gaeilge) means never being wrong.
There are so many things wrong with this sentiment, that I doubt Dear Leader will ever manage to disentangle them.