Monday, 10 November 2008

Death By Whimper

The British Labour Party's 1983 election manifesto was once described as the "longest suicide note in history". In the event, Labour were thrashed, but managed to survive. The demise of the Progressive Democrats was a much more protracted affair than one ill-advised document, but ultimately is has been final and conclusive. The PDs are at an end.

At a special conference held at the weekend, the party membership gave their seal of approval to the leadership's previously stated position that the PDs were no longer viable and ought to be wound up.

There were some dissenting voices though. At the end of a four-hour debate, some 161 delegates wanted to keep the party going, compared with 201 who voted to see it put out of its misery. However, with party leader Ciaran Cannon, former leader and Health Minister Mary Harney and founder Des O'Malley all wanting the axe to fall on over two decades of operation, any attempt to keep the life support machine running was about as likely to succeed as a campaign to get Sarah Palin appointed Secretary of State in Obama's new administration.

The erasure from existence of the Progressive Democrats will create some headaches for Fianna Fáil. I think it's fair to say that the PDs took a lot of the flak for some unpopular decisions made during successive administrations, particularly with regard to health, thus shielding the senior coalition partner from much of the public censure. Mary Harney has signalled that she won't be returning to join her original party, Fianna Fáil, but will be going it alone. Assuming she loses the Health portfolio on account of her no longer having any numerical clout in the Dáil at her disposal, and Greens aren't stupid enough to take on the role, the responsibility will fall to Fianna Fáil to appoint a Health Minister from within its own ranks. This carries with it the burden of having to take often unpopular decisions, particularly given that they've chosen to adopt a slash-and-burn approach to healthcare provision.

The party is over for the PDs, but it's Fianna Fáil who may suffer the hangover.

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