Stop, go. No, yes. Definitely, maybe. For a country that above all else needs certainty in its approach to politics and the economy, the events of the past 10 days have done nothing to lessen the widespread feeling that we are being run by eejits. Well-meaning perhaps, but eejits nonetheless. Eejits and cute hoors.

The mood in the country, however, is definitely not for unnecessary political conflict.

The Taoiseach, as we are all sick of seeing at this stage, is a lousy communicator. He does, however, write a good letter. His missive to Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore was sufficiently reflective on the duty of the body politic to turn itself inside out if necessary to meet the challenges posed by the national crisis to make the offer of a get-together one that the opposition couldn't refuse.

And so, however reluctantly, the "consensus" meeting is on. The surprise will be if the country's political leaders achieve anything meaningful.

It is deeply depressing for people already fearful of what they will lose in the next budget to know that, even before they begin the talks, each and every party leader is preparing a face-saving exit strategy. Both Labour and Fine Gael, as we all know, privately don't want to give an inch to those "f**kers" in coalition. They want an election because, perfectly reasonably, they believe the four-year plan demanded by Europe can only carry democratic legitimacy if it is put to the people first. They believe, given this government's performance, it is in the national interest that they trigger an election as soon as they can, and in any way they can.

The government believes exactly the opposite. Its mandate is until 2012 and hang on it will.

With polar political aims, Eamon Gilmore was not correct to say that the last thing the country needs is a "phoney consensus" that highlights our political paralysis rather than our ability to change.

Certainly, he is right if by consensus the government expects the opposition parties to buy into the budget. He is not right, however, if consensus means politicians of all parties working together to persuade the public about the scale of the problem.

No party, in opposition or government, has really succeeded in doing that – the government, because it is responsible for the depth of our mess; the opposition, because they want to maximise their popularity.

Although we are united in our anger, there is still a great deal of denial out there as to just what it will take to keep the IMF at bay. There's a lot of nimbyism over who should shoulder the pain. There is also divergence as to what sort of country we want to achieve as we rebuild over the next four years.

"A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus, but a moulder of consensus." The words were spoken by Martin Luther King Jnr to a Labour Leadership Assembly for Peace in November 1967, as the movement to end the Vietnam war became unstoppable.

That is the challenge facing all our political leaders this week: not to score easy points against each other, or to save face, but to help build a consensus that acknowledges the reality of our economic straits.

We all know that big number – getting the deficit down to 3% of GDP by 2014 – but nobody has a clue what that actually means in terms of the tax they will pay, the benefits they will receive, the services they will get in health, education or environment.

No party has painted a clear picture of where it wants this country to be in four years' time nor given us a clear idea of how to get there.

After the pain, which they all promise but will distribute in different ways, what will have been achieved? How will our society have changed and can it actually be for the better and fairer?

Will the role of the public sector be bigger or smaller? What efficiencies do they expect to be gained? Where will they hit and why? What consequences will follow?

Central Bank governor Patrick Honohan said last week that, despite the last two years of non-stop misery, this country still has to get to the point where we are persuaded of the scale of the problem. No plan, whichever party brings it in, will be successful unless the citizens of this country can buy into its ability to deliver recovery over its four-year duration. That has yet to happen.

This week's meeting, late in the day as it is, has to be the starting point. In power or out, this is a long haul. It is just as important for the opposition to build consensus about the length and difficulty of the journey we face, as it is for the government. It is in the national interest and there is nothing "phoney" about that.