Insights from the UK and beyond
Chastened Irish PM pulls off “masterful” campaign. Can it save him?
It’s amazing what a banking meltdown, a shrinking economy and opinion poll ratings near record lows can do for a prime minister’s sense of motivation.
Avoiding any hint of triumphalism, a straight-faced Brian Cowen appeared on the steps of his office in Dublin to declare victory in the Lisbon Treaty referendum while his supporters and opponents alike rushed to praise his handling of the campaign.
Declan Ganley, one of the most colourfully outspoken critics of the treaty, lauded Cowen for “a masterful campaign from a masterful politician who has made absolute glove puppets of the opposition”.
Ganley’s suggestion that the “Yes” camp had used Machiavellian tactics confirmed any suspicions his compliment was a back handed one but a beleaguered Cowen will probably accept all the praise he can get at the moment, however damning.
European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso, who had sportingly donned a green tie for the occasion, said he had been “genuinely impressed” during a visit to Limerick by the campaigning and the improved availability of information on the treaty.
It’s a stark contrast to last year’s referendum when Cowen, whose party has dominated Irish politics for decades, was accused of arrogance, complacency and of staging a lackluster campaign that was slow to respond to the “No” camp’s agile and energetic opposition.
Such a lackadaisical approach allowed arguments from anti-treaty groups to gain a fierce head of steam and put Cowen and his supporters firmly on the back foot for much of last year’s campaign.
Driving into Dublin from the airport on Friday I was struck not only by the quantity of posters calling for a ‘Yes’ vote but their quality. Gone were the faces of grinning and not particularly popular politicians to be replaced by clear, and in the current environment resonant, messages about the economic consequences of a ‘No’ vote.
The ‘No’ camp’s posters meanwhile seemed to have something of a desperate air to them. One sporting the wide-eyed face of a child against an apocalyptic background and warning of an end to Ireland’s short-lived independence seemed a particularly cynical and rather too obvious attempt to tug at the heart strings.
Adding insult to the injury already done to people’s intelligence, another warned the minimum wage in Ireland could fall from €8.65 to €1.86 if the treaty were passed. Posters from the ‘Yes’ camp directly countering the assertion showed how much more responsive and nimble pro treaty parties have been this time round.
Perhaps Cowen, renowned for his own brusqueness, has finally captured the mood of a pretty grumpy nation.
Certainly he will be hoping that just as last year’s ‘No’ vote marked the start of downward spiral for him and the country, today’s ‘Yes’ vote will mark the start of a recovery for him, his country and the weakest link in the euro zone’s economy.
The main opposition parties, who devoted so much energy to supporting Cowen’s ‘Yes’ campaign, may be feeling a little worried this evening.