If politics occasionally puts you between a rock and a hard place, then that is exactly where Irish PM Brian Cowen finds himself right now. There is no joy whatever in the position he holds, nor the options that confront him.
I got to know him a bit when he was foreign minister in Bertie Ahern’s government during some of the most tense and difficult moments of the Northern Ireland peace process. He may not be the best-looking or the most charismatic politician on the planet, but he has a sharp mind, a good wit, and is pretty good at keeping calm in a crisis.
He will be needing all those qualities right now. The word crisis is one of the most overused in the political lexicon, but what Brian Cowen faces is a genuine crisis, and one with implications that go beyond his own shores or his own political future.
And of course even if the person at the head of the crisis management operation is ok at keeping the head, the chances of others losing theirs is high. He has a meeting of his Fianna Fail MPs tonight and already some are warning that nothing short of blood on the carpet will satisfy them.
Bertie Ahern’s autobiography is full of stories of what the Irish love to call ‘a heave’ – namely a sometimes subtle and often less subtle attempt to force the departure of the man at the top. Bertie survived a fair few, as did his mentor, Charlie Haughey. There seems little doubt Brian Cowen will be facing one some time soon, possibly right now.
As to whether it will help or hinder the crisis of the management, that is not certain. Clearly it suits the other parties to press for an election, with the almost certain departure of the government, and a new one coming in to make the difficult decsions required. And to those of his colleagues calling for his departure such a thing might seem blindingly obvious. But as to whether it will stem the crisis, or merely add fuel to its fire, is a more balanced call.