Cowen, Garglegate and the grumpy little prince
With all the ‘ballyhoo’ surrounding Taoiseach Brian Cowen’s late night stunning performance and early morning abysmal one, some, though not all have missed the point about Cowen, the Government and communication.
A media interview should never be a test where you react defensively and dismissively. It must always be treated as an opportunity to communicate plans, strategies, visions.
Cowen’s response to his Minister for Finance’s hint that we may be in for even steeper budget cuts was this: ‘we will do whatever is necessary to ensure that fiscal stability is returned to the country over a period of time’.
So we get ‘non-answers’ or generalized defensive statements. It’s a tribal defensive response. The Taoiseach continually fails to grasp that he is the leader of all of the country, not just Fianna Fáil.
Despite a massive backroom team that includes scriptwriters, advisers and communications managers, the team appear bereft of any strategic communications plan for Cowen or on how he will articulate the Government’s vision guiding the country out of the economic crisis.
But Cowen’s current dilemma is less about Morning Ireland and Garglegate and far more about Cowen himself and the image he alone has chosen to portray.
So let’s take a look at this image – not the disastrous economic mess he haphazardly guided us into but the various opportunities he has granted us, through decisions, gestures or photo ops, for us to form an overall impression:
- Photographed swigging from the neck of a bottle of champagne on election night
- Photographed with a pint in his hand singing ‘out of tune’ off the back of a truck
- Rounding on the opposition aggressively stating that whatever the economic circumstances ‘things will be done my way’
- His constant use of dismissive unintelligible civil servant jargon when awarded prime media opportunities – a classic avoidance technique.
- Contrast the photo of Cowen playing golf in August while his Spanish counterpart Luis Rodriguez Zapatero announced the cancellation of summer holidays to concentrate on the economic crisis. Zapatero also ensured that he was photographed in the middle of the August holiday period reporting to King Juan Carlos on said crisis.
- Or contrast it with his decision to break for an unprecedented 86 day Dáil summer recess coupled with the extra week’s break over the Easter period. This move avoids scrutiny of Government actions, diminshes an already tarnished legislative chamber making Ireland one of the least-sitting democratic legislative institutions across Europe.
- Smokegate – once again the embarrassment of hearing that our Taoiseach had been caught smoking in a non-smoking area of Croke Park and the ignominy of being asked by an official to move.
- His foot-dragging and utter reluctance to move decisively and quickly when confronted with the John O’Donoghue expenses excess and in confronting the contradictions in former Minister Willie O’Dea’s statements.
- The failure to hold a Children’s Referendum despite the shocking revelations of clerical child abuse and the latest revelations relating to guinea pig drug trials on orphans.
- The outright denial of citizen’s rights by refusing to hold the three by-elections which is only attenuated by the decision to spend over €100,000 of taxpayer’s money on the impending court case which challenges his decision.
- His inability to even remotely challenge those who have wreaked financial havoc on the country
- Ultimately Cowen comes across as a tetchy, irritable man who avoids serious questions on the Government’s vision and future policy strategy for his people by resorting to vacuous jargon.
However a word of warning here for most Government Ministers, including the two Green ones, respond to serious questioning with standard generalised statements prepared for them by the Government Press Office to wit: soft landing, adjustments, manageable, less pain, protect the vulnerable, we’ve turned the corner, punching above our weight, we need to prioritise recovery, a green jobs recovery, a smart economy recovery, we have full confidence in the Taoiseach, etc…etc…etc.
If Cowen was a true leader he would show respect by preparing properly for public interviews, he would refrain from singing off the back of lorries, he would stop swigging from the neck of bottles and he would have used the 86 day Dáil break to study, plan, communicate and articulate a passionate but reasoned response to his people who live in fear of either never finding employment again, of losing their job, of house repossession and of the loss and breakdown of whole families and rural communities through wholesale immigration.
He has singularly failed to do this.