THE tipping point is all the rage in intellectual circles. This insight, by author Malcolm Gladwell in the book of the same name, seems to explain a lot about the world and, in particular, how change happens.
The idea is very simple. It says that things remain stable and then change quickly. An example would be the Soviet Union.
For years the soviet state seemed unassailable while the little failures ate away at the fabric of the system. Then, when change came, it came like an avalanche and in a couple of years the system collapsed.
In Ireland we had the fall of the old Irish Party in 1918 when Sinn Fein won a landslide.
The tipping point reflects a moment when the popular imagination, or feeling, or understanding changes and then change itself happens.
The term itself comes from medicine to explain how epidemics work.
It could be said that the power of the Catholic Church reached a tipping point about four or five years ago when the child abuse scandals finally robbed it of its political influence.
What other tipping points might be approaching? Well politically the existence of Fine Gael could well be reaching crisis point.
What does Fine Gael stand for? What is the point of the party?
For a long time now, the best that could be said of Fine Gael is that it wasn’t Fianna Fail. Under the Bruton and Noonan leaderships the party developed many policy documents which were excellently thought out. But they never reached the popular imagination because there is no popular understanding of what Fine Gael is about.
Of course, if Fine Gael is to collapse there needs to be an alternative. And so the Labour leadership of Pat Rabbitte becomes critical.
From where I’m standing Pat has it in his hands to make the Labour Party the main opposition party here. Things are lining up in his favour.
The coalition has, under the stewardship of Charlie McCreevey and Mary Harney, embarked on a Thatcherite journey. It’s up to Pat to offer the social democratic alternative.
He needs to come up with around five solid policies to offer an alternative to the government.
Social justice and fairness are not busted flushes. A huge number of people are sickened by the rat race economics pursued by Fianna Fail and the PDs.
Pat has a tricky job ahead of him. Before he replaces Fianna Fail in government he must replace Fine Gael in opposition. He must be ruthless. Fine Gael is wounded and weak. Pat has to go for the jugular.
He has four years to do the job. Four years to take on Fine Gael nationwide and offer a popularly understood alternative for Irish politics.
He has to get it right on the economy, on the environment, on the north, on Europe and on health and education. Then he can approach that tipping point.