A slick new ad from the Government party right here, explicitly designed to stoke fears that Fianna Fáil would bankrupt the country if trusted with power:
Everyone should watch this video. Has Fianna Fáil learned nothing?
— Fine Gael (@FineGael) September 8, 2019
The core criticism here is perfectly fair, to be honest. Fianna Fáil have, indeed, promised money for everyone to the tune of €24million a day. They have, indeed, failed to explain how they will raise the money to pay for it.
The problem with the FF spending plans laid out here is also true. There really are only so many ways you can pay for all this – you either tax more, or you borrow it. And borrowing shouldn’t be an option when every child in the country is born owing €42,000 in Government borrowing.
The problem is that whatever about the message, a party that has wasted billions on projects like the Children’s hospital doesn’t have a lot of credibility to deliver it. Fine Gael going after Fianna Fáil for irresponsibility with the public purse is a little bit like a dog telling you not to get a cat because “you’ll have to take it for walks all the time”.
The target market for the ad is, of course, those people in Ireland who already pay great wallops of tax on their income. The top rate of income tax kicks in, in Ireland, at around €35,000. By contrast, in the UK, it kicks in at £49,000, or Germany, where it takes effect at nearly €55,000.
A great many families in Ireland find themselves in a situation where both spouses are working, and earning decent incomes, but find themselves struggling anyway. These people usually receive very little support, in terms of direct payments, from the state, while at the same time facing high mortgage or rent payments, and a whole range of additional direct and indirect taxes that squeeze them further. The prospect of paying more tax so that the money can be given in further supports for the less well off is not appealing to them, whether they admit it or not.
The battle over public spending in the next election will be a direct fight between those competing for the votes of those who benefit directly from public spending – nurses, teachers, people on welfare, pensioners, etc – and those who are competing for the votes of those who pay a lot of tax already and fear any prospect of being asked to pay more. And then you’ll have Sinn Fein and the rest of the left, pitching a story about raising taxes on corporations or the super-rich.
The problem for Fianna Fáil is that it will, in such an election, find itself in an uncomfortable position of having to decline to raise corporation tax because of the risk to jobs, while at the same time proposing more spending in order to appeal to the voters it is targeting. And so the question of where the money is coming from is going to prove very awkward indeed.
The problem for Fine Gael, on the other hand, is that it is trying to fight an election campaign on ground where it is very vulnerable to criticism. You can’t very well pitch yourself as a good custodian of the public’s money while you have a health department that has, effectively, wasted tens of billions of euro in extra spending while ending up with more people waiting on treatment than ever, or while you’re under fire for continual disasters in public procurement. The idea that Varadkar and Harris can’t be trusted with your money should be a very easy attack line for any competent opposition.
The problem for Fianna Fáil here is that Fine Gael, at least, has a fair idea of who their voters are, and what might appeal to them. The opposition party, on the other hand, is simultaneously trying to pitch itself to voters worried about taxes and voters who want more spending. For every spending commitment it makes to the latter group, Fine Gael will be there, ready to pick up reluctant voters from the first group.
Fine Gael can do this, of course, because it has absolutely no political competition for the votes of people concerned about the amount of tax they pay, while Fianna Fáil has significant competition from its left from those who will always make bigger and better spending commitments than it can.
Bring back the PDs. Even if you didn’t agree with them, even if you hated them, they kept the two big parties honest.