What is it about the position of chairman of the smaller party in government that makes them think they are the deputy leader of the opposition?
Labour’s parliamentary party chairman, Colm Keaveney is not a wet day in the job and already he is showing signs of the delusion.
He disowns government actions and policies like a member of the opposition while enjoying the privileges perks and access that being in office bring.
I call it “Dan Boyle Syndrome”. While the avuncular Cork man was not the first to exhibit the symptom, the condition reached such a virulent pitch during his time as the Green party chairman that he came to define the condition.
The most noted previous sufferer of the condition, one Michael McDowell, did occasionally present with chronic symptoms, including a slight political tourettes, but seemed to affect a recovery.
It is like a form of “Stockholm Syndrome”. In that; the subject comes to identify and sympathise with their captor, In “Dan Boyle Syndrome” the person loses any sympathy or attachment to their partners and projects themselves into the role of in-house opposition.
Deputy Keaveney’s angry reaction to the
latest round of health cuts, suggesting that it could precipitate an early election may have uttered with the intention of convincing the public that he was still on their side, but it only served to suggest that he still does not understand how government works.
Rather than convincing his voters that he is still on their side, they want him to convince his senior colleagues in government to start taking measures
The public is not impressed by politicians repeating their own concerns back to them. They want their representatives to reflect their views to those in authority, not reflect them back to those who hold them like a possessed hall of mirrors.
The public get the difference between government and opposition. They understand the fundamental truth of Mario Cuomo’s famous maxim: “you campaign in poetry but you govern in prose”.
Doubtless Deputy Keaveney is getting a lot of hassle and criticism from people he meets on the street. As a first time Deputy; sitting on the government backbenches; he may gaze longingly at the Fianna Fáil benches wishing he were there opposing and criticising the tough and unpopular choices that government brings, but he would do well to remember the words of Mary Harney: “Even the worst day in government was better than the best day in opposition”.
Though it may not seem like it to Deputy Keaveney now, Harney’s counsel is right, but only if you believe politics is about changing things and improving society.
Having worked in government and opposition, I know and understand the strains and pressures of both. I am not totally unsympathetic to Deputy Keaveny’s plight, but being sympathetic is not the same as supportive.
If he seriously believes that he will firewall himself and his party colleagues from the approaching barrage of criticism and unpopularity, then he is in for a bad surprise.
Just google “Dan Boyle” and “election results” and he will see how his tactics failed. While other Greens, like Trevor Sargent and Eamon Ryan saw their vote collapse by between 40% and 50% last year, Boyle’s already low vote (he had lost his Dáil seat in 2007) dropped by almost 70%.
If Deputy Keaveney truly finds it impossible to reconcile the platform he was elected upon with the policies his party is pursuing in office then he can follow the example of his three former colleagues: Willie Penrose, Tommy Broughan and Patrick Nulty and resign the Labour whip in the Dáil.
They were not the only three Oireachtas members elected on a labour ticket missing from the five star Carton House think in. as reported here last Wednesday, three Labour senators also stayed away.
A sign to Deputy Keaveney, perhaps, that if he still around next year he may be chairing an even smaller gathering.