Having just watched Brian Cowen resign as leader of Fianna Fáil, I’m tempted to say “Nothing in life/Became him like the leaving it”, but of course he’s not leaving political life, he’s going to be Taoiseach for the next seven weeks. Will he run for re-election in Laois/Offaly? It’s hard to say. Probably he will since he has a loyal following there, but if he does, it’ll be like the proverbial decapitated chicken, still walking because it doesn’t realise it’s dead.
Cowen says he has resigned for the good of the party. Given the level of contempt that has swirled around him in recent months, inside and outside his party, it’s a credible statement. He’s also credible when he says he has always done what he believed to be the right thing. But as he made his statement and fielded questions from journalists, I was struck by his overall demeanour: that of a plain, honest and intelligent person. If you think for a moment on the candidates in the running to succeed him, there is none who could have conducted him/herself with Cowen’s poise and dignity. Leave aside the question of whether he’s a competent economist or his policies make sense: he projects a self-belief and ability that is impressive. Hell, I’ll admit it: I like the guy. Create a mental picture of him, then place beside him his near-anointed successor, Micheál Martin. Do you begin to see how literally and metaphorically lightweight Martin looks, in contrast? In fact when I think of Martin, my thoughts go to a Fianna Fáil politician who had the same mild manner, the same soft-spoken style, the same inoffensive way with him. Will Fianna Fáil rue the day they elected as their leader a man who bears such an unnerving resemblance to Bertie Ahern?