Do you remember Gyles Brandreth? He was an author, TV game show panellist and one time Tory MP. One of his great claims to fame was his put down of the former UK Deputy Prime Minister: John Prescott, whom he accused of “using the English language as a Rubik’s cube.”
The one-liner came to mind as I watched Minister Pat Rabbitte on the Sunday’s Week in Politics. Not that I would ever accuse Pat of abusing the language. Far from it. Pat has a deserved reputation for verbal dexterity and quick wittedness. His dismissal, some years ago, of a former Limerick TD as “Willie O’Dea’s surplus in human form” may have been planned, but it was delivered with panache.
The reason I bring all this up, however, comes from his use of that torrid little phrase “we inherited this situation from the last government”. I expect better from Pat than using glib little clichés like this.
I am long enough around in politics to know that the Government will be using variations on this theme for a long time to come. When there is a change of government, particularly on the scale we saw last February, the incoming Government is naturally going to dump on the previous one.
It happens everywhere. In theUK, although he is well over a year in office, David Cameron starts off each reply to Prime Minister’s questions saying how he is trying to tackle the problems left by Gordon Brown.
Doubtless he will continue to trot out the line for a while more, though polls there are suggesting the British electorate are starting to tire of it,
I understand that the Taoiseach and his assortment of Ministers are going to spend the next year or more prefacing every utterance with the “it wasn’t me, it was like this when I got here” line of attack.
I just wish they would drop the “inheriting” hook and find a line that does not make them sound as if they are some unwilling group plucked from obscurity and press-ganged into taking on the Ministerial offices, salaries and cars against their will.
Most people “inheriting” a situation have found themselves in that space despite their wishes, not because of them. As far as I know you cannot legally inherit from someone you have helped to do in, even when that someone was already doing a good job of doing themselves in.
This government came into office knowing the situation they faced full well. They set it out clearly in their election campaigns and went to the people asking them for their mandate to tackle the enormous problems we face.
The two parties now holding the levers of power have every right to talk about the size of the problems, the need for difficult decisions and to throw a few belts into the outgoing government for good measure.
They should not, however, be talking as if this all something that has taken them somehow by surprise. They also forfeit the right to lash their predecessors on every single issue by effectively taking the same policy approaches.
The health issue and the fate of local A&Es is a good case in point. There is no credibility in the Health Minister (he’s the one who looks like a cross between Capt Bird’s Eye and Brian Blessed) outbidding the outgoing Government by writing open letters to the voters in February saying “Fine Gael undertakes to retain the emergency surgical, medical and other health services at Roscommon Hospital”, only to reverse that commitment a few weeks later.
The Taoiseach only adds salt to the wound by offering the defence that when Dr Reilly “…was contesting the general election he was not in possession of the information about the difficulties surrounding the recruitment of non-consultant hospital doctors.”
Are we going to hear these words again on other issues? Will it turn out that the Taoiseach himself was not “in possession of the information about the difficulties” on June 16th when he absolutely ruled out any increase in income tax in December’s Budget. I hope not.