Saturday, 2 May 2015

What Miliband might learn from Gen. Mulcahy

General Richard Mulcahy commanded the IRA during the War of Independence. He was elected as TD for Dublin North-West in the 1921 General Election, and retained it in the 1922 General Election eleven months later. When Sinn Féin split in 1921, Mulcahy supported the pro-Treaty side, and after the assassination of General Michael Collins at Cork, the Provisional Government appointed him Minister for Defence and gave him command of the National Army.

Mulcahy was a butcher, doing more than any other man to bitterly divide a nation fighting a civil war which saw brother fight brother. He had seventy-seven anti-Treaty prisoners of war put to death, which led to him being despised amongst the anti-Treaty supporters across Ireland. He resigned as Defence Minister in 1924.

In the 1923 General Election, he moved to Dublin North, winning the seat as a Cumann na nGaedheal representative, and retaining it in both 1927 General Elections, and the 1932 and 1933 General Elections. In 1937, he lost the seat to the legendary Labour TD Big Jim Larkin, but was appointed to the Senate and won his seat back in the 1938 General Election. In the 1943 General Election, he lost it back to Larkin, and was re-appointed to the Senate. 

When former President WT Cosgrave resigned as leader of Fine Gael in 1944, Gen. Mulcahy succeeded him as leader despite not being a TD. Leading the party from the Senate, he appointed Blueshirt founder Thomas O'Higgins (brother of assassinated Vice President, Kevin O'Higgins) as the FG leader in the Dáil. He became a TD again, this time for Tipperary, in the 1944 General Election, and took over as the party's leader in the Dáil and their candidate for Taoiseach.

The 1948 General Election produced an inconclusive result, and Mulcahy soon started negotiations. It was clear that Fine Gael, Labour, National Labour, Clann na Poblachta and Clann na Talmhan together would be able to lock veteran Fianna Fáil leader Éamon de Valera out of Merrion Street (to use a rather resonant phrase) if they would be able to persuade seven independent TDs to vote alongside them. 

As leader of the largest party by far in the coalition, Gen. Mulcahy would have been the natural choice for Taoiseach. But his role in the Civil War executions made him politically unacceptable to Republicans, and Clann na Poblachta leader Seán MacBride intimated that the Clann would refuse to join a Mulcahy-led government, leaving the coalition short of a majority by 17 seats. 

Labour leader William Norton suggested that Mulcahy remain as leader of Fine Gael, but step aside as their nominee for Taoiseach to ensure the coalition got off the ground, and Mulcahy reluctantly stepped aside in favour of the Attorney General, John A. Costello, who as Taoiseach declared the Republic of Ireland in 1949, brought Ireland into the OECD, and took the republic into the Council of Europe.

In 1954, the exact same thing happened again - the second Inter-Party Government was led by Fine Gael, but Mulcahy was unacceptable to the other parties as Taoiseach. He stepped aside again for Costello, and became Minister for Education.

Mulcahy's unhappy experience (he never became Taoiseach or President, and left the Dáil a sadder and wiser man in 1960) ought to provide food for thought to Mr Miliband. The fact that Mulcahy had the confidence of Fine Gael was neither here nor there so long as he did not command a majority in the Dáil - just as the fact that Miliband commands the confidence of the Labour party is neither here nor there if he cannot command a majority in the Commons. 

If Ed Miliband is 30 seats short of a majority in the Commons, and the National party has 50 or more seats, Miliband could find himself outmanoeuvered. He cannot become prime minister without a majority, and he cannot get a majority without the Nationalists. And he has pished on his chips by already ruling out any sort of deal with them.

Miliband may well have every intention of putting the Tories into government to punish Scotland for voting against Labour - but will his MPs accept this? For many of them, this will be their last chance to be in government. And Left-wing MPs will certainly not accept their party refusing to work with the National party is the price is another Conservative-led government. 

If the Liberals collapse as expected, and the Tories can't form a governing majority with them; and if Labour can't get a majority other than with a National party with whom their prime minister-designate has refused to work, then doesn't the parliamentary arithmetic indicate that another Labour-Conservative Grand Coalition is the only workable administration? It would seem that way. 

And will Labour MPs accept Osborne back at the Treasury and Duncan Smith back at Pensions as the price of their leader - whom they overwhelmingly voted against, don't forget - indulging in a fit of pique and a last-gasp effort to rescue a Scottish branch office which can't provide half the numbers towards a government that the Nationalists can? I don't think so.

If Miliband falls short of a majority and the SNP is able to make up that shortfall, my prediction will be that he is the victim of an internal heave, and that a new, pragmatic Labour prime minister-designate will state that the unprecedented number of Nationalist MPs is a game-changer, and besides, we already work with the Social Democratic and Labour Party who are committed to breaking up the UK, and, well, it's either us working with the Nationalists or another Tory government, and Miliband was speaking on a personal basis which didn't commit the Labour party, and he's still the party leader of course, but it's not possible for him to be prime minister because of the parliamentary arithmetic and...

Of course, rather like the Liberals did in 2010 to poor old Gordon Brown, it might be that because of Miliband's behaviour in the election campaign, a precondition for parties to begin negotiations with Labour is that Miliband is not their prime minister-designate. How it would satisfy me if National, Green, SDLP MPs and maybe the smattering of Liberals left wrote to Labour MPs and said "we're willing to put you in power and lock the Tories out of Downing Street. But we'll only do it if you sack a leader you voted against anyway". 

Miliband has painted himself into a corner. He's made himself unacceptable to too many people. And he may live to regret that. He could have been a truly great prime minister, but his fit of pique, and ill-thought-out tantrum on Question Time on Thursday may have just cost him any chance he had of ever getting the top job. 

Poor Ed. So charmingly gormless, and so inept that he's managed to fall at the last post when all the other horses have already given up. 

No comments:

Post a Comment