Monday, May 28, 2007

Michael McDowell's exit from politics

The actor John Cleese starred in a series of hilarious sales training videos in the 1980s. In one such video Cleese was a weak salesman who nevertheless was warm and friendly to his prospective clients, and they in turn loved him. In one scene Cleese is sitting in an office with one of his prospects and the client is enjoying a big cigar given to him by Cleese. The client tells Cleese how much he enjoys his visits and loves chatting to him. The phone on the client's desk then rings and he takes the call from reception. He seems irritated. After hanging up he says to Cleese:

"I'm really sorry, I'm afraid I'll have to take leave of you now. It's so annoying, you are my favourite visitor. But I've got to see a right bastard down at reception who keeps selling me tons of stuff!"

If ever there was a summary of Michael McDowell as a political creature it might be that he was similar to the successful but detested salesman at reception in the above video. McDowell was not always liked, he could be arrogant, aloof, egotistical, impulsive even. But he was visionary, skillful, single minded, and he got results.

Michael McDowell successfully tackled the insurance compensation culture in Ireland, created conditions for reduced insurance premiums, started the Garda Reserve, added many tough laws on crime and the gangland culture as well as anti social behaviour measures. Not all in the conservative legal World agreed with his tough measures, but McDowell came from a strong legal background himself and knew what could be achieved. I've also written before on how right he was to try to extend the licensing laws to provide many more cafe bars in Ireland.

Even in defeat and departure from politics McDowell was controversial and impulsive. An all or nothing man in many ways. I had thought he would be a great leader in the PDs but in truth he was a lone but skilled maverick. He was not always good at warming to and motivating people, both in his party and with the electorate. He did seem conscious of this as time moved along and I detected he was slowly working on improving his image. I still believe he achieved more in his post as Minister for Justice than anyone before him. Irish politics has lost a powerful, energetic and colourful character who also indeed provided much entertainment for the media.

To borrow from Theodore Roosevelt "...his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat."


Omaniblog said...

There are so many things I like about this piece... Anyone who remembers John Cleese has got to be worth reading. Aren't the books Cleese wrote with his therapist wonderful?
I don't know much about McDowell: I suspect he made his biggest impression while I was away. Certainly since I've been back, I've struggled to understand what all the fuss was about: I couldn't find any inspiring intelligence in the man. But you have given him a lovely send-off.
I didn't know he tried to open things up for cafe bars. I must read your piece on that but, on first hearing of the idea, I'm in favour of anything that help prepare us for the long hot dry summer evenings that global warming promises.
I enjoyed the way he got under the skin of some bloggers but I did find him guilty of being a disproportionate propagandist for his own cause.
His departure opens up a fine opportunity for someone else to become the character of the next phase. So his moving-on is no more than a time for the next generation to come off the subs bench.

You sent me looking for another Theodore Roosevelt:
"The men with the muck-rakes are often indispensable to the well-being of society; but only if they know when to stop raking the muck."
I bet McDowell could have used that one to good effect if he'd thought of it, during the recent difficult time.

Paige A Harrison said...

Excellent reflections on the man, J of D. In the interest of balance, you could also say that McD seemed to have a complete disregard for the Irish Constitution by regularly knee-jerking half-baked amendments. He was also the Min for justice who leaked confidential information to one journalist to smear another and then had the audacity to threaten jail to any of the gardai who spoke to journalists.

You are correct to pointout his successes for which he doesn't get enough credit. Also he proved himself a bit too selfish to be an effective party leader.

John of Dublin said...

Thanks Omani and Paige for the great comments.

I agree with you both. There was much to admire and much to dislike about the guy, he had passion in both success and failure. That was why I threw in the Roosevelt quotation. Did you recall Bertie using the same passage from Roosevelt in his Haughey graveside oration?!

Omaniblog said...

I didn't spot that. Bertie has some fine speech writers.
I hope you read the Myers piece.