Friday, January 14, 2011

Confidence tricks

This afternoon Labour announced that they were putting down a motion of no confidence in the government in their private members time on 25/26 of the month. This comes a few days after the Sinn Féin led Technical Group's motion of no confidence in the Taoiseach which would not be on the order of business until some time in March. This is a significant move for several reasons.

Firstly, in the normal course of events, a Government takes the motion on their time in the house, puts an amendment that turns it into a vote of confidence and then passes that. It does it as quickly as possible to stop the story from lingering on for ages. However, the Chief Whip, John Curran, has indicated that the motion will not be taken until Labour's private members time. This strongly suggests that he doesn't think he has the numbers to successfully amend the motion from a no confidence to confidence one.

Bear in mind that no matter what happens in the next week or so there will be an election in March or early April as the Greens are leaving once the Finance Bill is passed. There is a school of thought that the motion should have been held in reserve until the Finance Bill is passed and that would either force the Greens to leave before the Climate and Donations bills get passed or renege on their promise to depart. Even if they didn't leave the three by-elections have been promised for the 1st quarter 2011 anyway and once they have been won by opposition parties (1 each for FG, L and SF probably) the game is up.

The pressure is now heaped on the potential Fianna Fáil rebels as they have to decide soon what their course of action is. I am not sure what the procedures are for electing a new leader in FF but I'm assuming there is a period of time for nominations while the existing deputy leader takes charge in a temporary capacity. Now, as I said yesterday I actually don't care who is in charge of FF, but the timing of the coup and how it plays out makes for entertaining viewing. There are a few ways the next little while can play out. If I have missed some please post them in the comments section.

  • Cowen goes up to the Áras over the weekend and dissolves the Dáil and we have a general election on 11th February or so. FF couldn't oust him in the middle of the campaign so Cowen would lead them into the election.
  • FF circle the wagons, leave Cowen intact, and survive the motion. This forces the backbenchers such as Chris Andrews and John McGuinness, who have recently been distancing themselves from Government, to publicly back the Taoiseach.
  • The heave proceeds but fails to oust Cowen. The Brutus character(s) (Martin, Hanafin or Lenihan) has to resign from Cabinet and this leaves a very damaged FF heading into the election. It also makes surviving the no confidence motion more difficult as the rebels may not vote to save Cowen.
  • The heave succeeds and Coughlan becomes acting leader. Based on Lowry and JHR's statements about not supporting another FF Taoiseach, Cowen has to stay in the job. The motion of confidence then requires FF TDs who voted against Cowen being in charge of their party to vote in favour of him running the country.
  • The heave succeeds and Cowen then heads to the Áras. The new leader is elected at the end of the first week of the election campaign and barely has time to prepare for the TV debates.

None of these outcomes are particularly good for the government parties and some are disastrous. On the other hand, they are all pretty positive for the opposition parties, especially Labour, who have to go on the offensive against both FG and SF to avoid being squeezed from both left and right. Therefore it comes as no surprise that Fine Gael have come out saying that this motion was badly timed and ill-advised. One only has to think back to the summer to see FG's track record on badly timed confidence motions though. During the run up to the motion of no confidence Richard Bruton made his ill-fated move against Enda Kenny. It seems unlikely that Joan Burton is going to launch a heave against Eamon Gilmore over the weekend but you never know - stranger things have happened.

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