There was a moment in the summer of 2018 when the British Government was in disarray. The Conservative Party was split in two over Brexit, Prime Minister Theresa May faced accusations of misleading the House of Commons, the public spending watchdog had issued a report critical of the Work and Pensions Secretary.
It was Wednesday lunchtime and the moment came for Prime Minister’s Questions. If not the chance of a hat trick, Jeremy Corbyn had an open goal opportunity to score against the Prime Minister. Had he chosen any of the expected topics, he would have struck home. Instead, he used all six of his alloted questions to ask the Prime Minister about bus passes.
Theresa May must have been delighted at the benign nature of Jeremy Corbyn’s questions. Of course, bus passes mattered to millions, but there was no opportunity of political advantage in using a national platform to ask questions about them.
In recent weeks Sinn Fein have had even more open goals than Jeremy Corbyn, and have squandered all of their scoring opportunities.
The housing shortages and the cost of living crisis gave constant opportunity for Sinn Fein spokespersons to batter the government. Every debate and news item might have been filled with damning statistics telling of a decade of government failure.
Instead, they pursued an ad hominem line, they focused upon the person of Pascal Donohoe, and they missed their goal scoring chances.
The story was absurd to anyone outside of the rarefied atmosphere of Leinster House. Donohoe’s personal integrity was challenged on the basis that he had not included in his election expenses the value of the labour of six men provided by a businessman to put up election posters.
The Government must have been delighted at the tactical mistake made by the Opposition. For days, the headlines were not of homelessness and poverty, but of the cost of six men and a van.
At the end of last week, the Government announced that a further statement on the matter would be made by Minister Donohoe on Tuesday.
‘Why are they doing that?’ I asked a Leinster House observer.
‘Simple,’ was the reply, ‘the Government will draw out the matter as long as possible. People outside think it is absurd and it means the Government avoid difficult questions’.
Not only has the tactic resulted in Sinn Fein missing an open goal, it has become a moment when they have put the ball into their own net. Undeclared expenses for the hire of venues have been admitted, their spokesperson has been put onto the back foot.
Days have been wasted in the discussion of sums of hundreds of Euro, when the discussion needed to be about the billions of Euro required for major building programmes.
It is hard to imagine that a party that is tactically naive can hope to win the next General election.