How to win when you lose
Brian Cowen was clearly going to win yesterday’s confidence motion. That was obvious when he tabled the motion, which he wouldn’t have done had he not been sure after talking to the TDs that he safely had a majority. But despite now no longer being in cabinet, Micheál Martin has perhaps benefitted most from the events of recent days.
We know that as well as Martin, Mary Hanafin and Brian Lenihan had misgivings about Brian Cowen’s leadership. Hanafin’s response when asked last weekend about her views on Cowen’s leadership, which suggested that she accepted rather than supported him as leader, was one of the events that put pressure on Cowen. She remained publicly undeclared through the vote. Lenihan publicly supported Cowen on the RTÉ News at One yesterday, allowing him to be portrayed as dishonest by John McGuinness who said that Lenihan had canvassed against Cowen before Christmas. Martin managed to refer to Hanafin and Lenihan respectively in code when asked by Vincent Browne why he spoke out when he couldn’t be sure of success, “You can’t hide behind a bush or pull back from your position”.
Perhaps Micheál Martin should have resigned before the vote and otherwise better managed his attack, even knowing he was going to lose. But as the only one of the challengers to Brian Cowen who clearly set out his own stall, he has placed himself best for the post-election leadership contest. He was the most likely anyway; Lenihan is rightly seen as responsible for the decisions on banking in the last two and a half years, and Hanafin will be lucky to hold her seat in Dún Laoghaire.
Despite being the only person contesting this election who was appointed a minister with Brian Cowen in 1997 by Brian Cowen, he will have the room now to distance himself from the Taoiseach and the election result. And it is already possible to see where his initial rhetoric as leader will be. He talked last night with Vincent Browne, and a few weeks before on The Frontline, of a willingness to support from opposition to a government which continued the broad economic outlook of the current Programme for Government. Depending on the balance of numbers between Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fáil, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Martin hint on the night of the results of cooperating with a minority Fine Gael government, what has been termed as a reverse Tallaght Strategy. It is almost unimaginable to think that Fianna Fáil would help Fine Gael to single-party government, or that Fine Gael would agree to govern under such a precarious arrangement, but even hinting at it would allow him to define a policy niche for Fianna Fáil.