Only a fool would attempt to predict the future. Hear me out, says Donal O’Keeffe.
Well thank God that’s over.
Horace Rumpole once said of Christmas: “I have often thought that if the Son of Man had known what he was starting he would have chosen to be born on a quiet summer’s day when everyone was off on holiday”.
And now onto the New Year. Allow me to look ahead with – to steal a terrible joke from Joe Duffy – 2020 vision.
“I don’t make mistakes,” Murray Walker said, “I make prophecies which immediately turn out to be wrong.” This column pretends no special talent for prophecy, but is prodigious when it comes to being wrong.
The final report of the Mother and Baby Home Commission of Investigation is due in February. It will be harrowing, and its contents will shock the Irish public. We live in a country which placed more than 190,000 women and children in institutions.
The report will compound the grief of survivors and relatives, and will add strength to the growing voices demanding justice. It remains to be seen if the Catholic Church and the Irish State can continue their shared policy of waiting people out till they die.
2020 will be politically busy, but outcomes are far from predictable.
2016’s confidence-and-supply arrangement confounded expectations and survived till now, but with Brexit temporarily at bay, and mutual loathing growing between the two big parties, expect a general election by Easter at the likely latest. Housing, health and insurance costs will likely dominate.
With Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael polling neck-and-neck, Leo Varadkar hopes to lead an unprecedented third consecutive FG-led government, but while the safe money currently predicts a FF-led rainbow coalition, it’s impossible to predict whether Micheal Martin, having rebuilt a party radioactive after the crash, will avoid the ignominy of becoming the first FF leader to never be Taoiseach.
Martin isn’t the only leader facing a make-or-break election, and questions about Mary-Lou McDonald’s position will only grow louder if Mark Ward’s surprise Dublin Mid-West by-election victory proves a blip for Sinn Fein, sliding from relevancy in the Republic since its disastrous performance in May’s local and European elections, while it abstains in Westminster, and Stormont lies in limbo.
With the Greens hoping to be resurgent kingmakers after the election, it will be interesting to see whether they have better luck with the distasteful, red-in-tooth-and-claw business of power second time around.
Labour is praying for recovery after 2016’s near-wipeout. Brendan Howlin looks ever-more a man longing for retirement, so expect a mad panic in Labour if Alan ‘AK47’ Kelly decides he might like another crack at a Sindo interview. Or the leadership.
The socialist micro-parties, the various People’s Comradeships of The Split, will struggle without the weaponised rage of water charges to propel them this time.
The Social Democrats managed to lose a co-leader, Stephen Donnelly, or, if you like, a third of their TDs, to FF in 2017, and it remains to be explained exactly what it is they are, apart from not being Labour. Still, Gary Gannon is a good guy, and I wish him well.
And then there’s the Independents. Oh God I can’t be arsed.
One election prediction which can be made without fear of contradiction is something already noticed by many during the recent by-elections: we’ll miss the warm, gruff, wise tones of Noel Whelan, barrister, journalist, and a constitutional crusader who left his country far too soon but better than he found it.
Next door has seen a Tory landslide, with Corbynistas explaining now it was all the fault of absolutely everyone except St Jeremy. Variously it was the Tory media, ‘the Jews’, Tony Blair, Brexit and – of course – the electorate which caused Labour’s worst defeat since the 1930s.
Interestingly, the main concern on the doorsteps was not Brexit but rather the future of the National Health Service. Corbyn had made a plausible case that the first chance Boris Johnson gets, he’ll flog the NHS to Donald Trump. Johnson is a man so untrustworthy that he once called the children of unmarried mothers ‘ill-raised, ignorant, aggressive and illegitimate’, while being literally unable to say how many children he himself has fathered.
And still lifelong Labour supporters in places like Redcar and Blyth Valley decided they trusted Johnson more than Corbyn.
Johnson, a carefully styled Beano bully, hit the jackpot with what Fintan O’Toole called the ‘torturer’s slogan’ of ‘Get Brexit done’. The cartoon character who spent years making British politics toxic rode to power promising to make politics go away. After a decade of Conservative austerity, any half-competent Labour leader would have made mincemeat of that blubbery punchline. Instead Johnson now has an 80-seat majority. A Continuity-Corbyn Labour leader will ensure a further decade of Tory misrule.
If you think Johnson will hew now toward a soft Brexit, you probably thought Trump would govern toward the centre, too. This will be worse than Thatcherism. For all her empathy-free free-market mania, Margaret Thatcher was a conviction politician. Johnson is a narcissist who believes only in himself. He will do anything to hold on to power. Tory grandee Ken Clarke last week telling Johnson to ‘stop campaigning and get on with governing‘ rather missed the point.
Trump has spent the past three years campaigning, and there’s every chance he’ll give a repeat next January of the ‘American carnage‘ inauguration speech so memorably described by George W Bush as ‘some weird shit‘.
I fear Trump will go down in history not just as only the third US president to be impeached, but as the first to be re-elected after impeachment.
Andrew Johnson was impeached in 1868 and narrowly avoided conviction in the Senate. He failed to secure the Democratic nomination that year, and left office in 1869. In 1974, Richard Nixon resigned rather than face almost-certain impeachment and removal from office.
Bill Clinton was impeached (and acquitted in the Senate) in 1998, half-way through his second and final term, that term-limit mandated by the 22nd Amendment. Clinton’s impeachment backfired on the Republicans, who suffered in the 1998 and 2000 elections. The same may happen now to the Democrats.
Fans of The Wire will recall Omar Little’s advice: ‘You come at the king, you best not miss‘. Trump will almost certainly avoid conviction, with Senate majority Republicans unlikely to vote against a president who has remade the party in his image. Impeachment can only galvanise Trump’s base, already delighted with his stacking of the courts with anti-choice judges. With no obvious, strong Democratic presidential candidate, it’s hard not to expect four more chaotic years of Trump.
On a personal note, I’d like to wish Avondhu founding editor Liam Howard every happiness and success – I hesitate to say ‘in retirement’ – for the future, and to thank him for publishing this column for the past four years. The paper’s in good hands with his sons Declan and Kevin, and it’s inspiring to see what hard work made from a few photo-copied sheets 41 years ago.
I’ll leave you with a favourite quote from Alfred Lord Tennyson:
“Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, whispering, ‘It will be happier’.”
Thanks for reading.
Happy New Year.