Tonight we take one of our occasional trips south of the border, to ask the question that’s on everybody’s lips. Which is, of course, what in the wide world of sports does Enda Kenny think he’s playing at?
Sacking your deputy leader looks bad. When your deputy leader is also your finance spokesman, in the midst of an enormous economic crisis, and a finance spokesman with a high reputation for competence forbye, it looks worse. To then proclaim that you’re going to your parliamentary party with a motion of confidence in your leadership looks like one almighty balls-up.
It reminds me of John Major. Remember when Major got so pissed off with his right wing that he resigned as leader and announced a back-me-or-sack-me ballot of the parliamentary party? He did survive, but had to suffer the humiliation of a third of the parliamentary party voting for the Deadwood Sage. And, in comparative terms, Richard Bruton is a much bigger cheese than John Redwood.
It’s no secret, of course, that there have been rumblings from within Blueshirt ranks about Electric Enda’s leadership. There have been, of course, throughout his leadership. Enda may have fantastic hair, but you can’t get away from the fact that he has been in the Dáil a very long time – indeed, he’s the longest-serving Fine Gael TD – without making a great impact. It’s no secret either that there are those in the party who might have an idea who might be a better leader. When Coveney starts issuing appeals for party unity, one suspects this vision of unity does not include Enda in the top job.
If the RTÉ report is anything to go by, Blueshirt high command seems to have been seriously spooked by that poll showing Labour in the lead. To me that poll screams outlier, and it would surprise me massively were Labour to perform that well, or Fianna Fáil that badly, in a real election. But it is clear that there has been a collapse in FF support of historic proportions, and that the beneficiary of said collapse has not been FG but Labour. WorldbyStorm explains why:
Many FF voters would be – and this is to put it politely – disinclined to vote for Fine Gael. Acculturation operates in many and wondrous ways. Then there’s the small matter that Fine Gael doesn’t present or promote a programme that’s fundamentally different on many of the key issues from Fianna Fáil. Oh, I don’t doubt it would be a cleaner operation and with some good and useful policies, even from a left perspective. But it’s not a fundamental break with the ancien regime to vote FG. Whereas Labour is a break, and arguably more congenial to those who have hitherto voted FF.
Quite so, and I’d argue this is particularly the case in Dublin. A social-democratic Fine Gael in the mode of FitzGerald, or even God help us Dukes, may have done the business, especially if that social-democratic profile had been strong in the metrop. As it is, the Labour leadership do a better job of channelling the spirit of Sir Garret. Gilmore comes across as a reassuring figure, very slightly left of centre but not so much as to frighten the horses, and is good at giving the impression that he has a plan even if he won’t tell us what it is; Burton is often mocked for her grating delivery – and I’m far from finding her an inspiring figure – but she does ask good questions, and seems to have some mystifying appeal to the sort of public sector workers who used to vote FF. In a sense, it doesn’t matter what Labour stand for, it’s more that they don’t look like more of the same, while FG do.
And, remaining on the Dublin aspect, there’s not just the issue of how a leader from the wilds of Mayo can connect (or not) with the capital, but also what sort of profile the urban FG organisation presents to those defecting FF supporters. I am thinking in particular of the Leos and Lucindas of this world – and, even had George Lee stuck it out (he must be kicking himself now), it’s uncertain how broad his appeal would genuinely have been outside the wealthiest part of the state. Let us return momentarily to 1985 and the formation of the Progressive Democrats. Nobody knew what they stood for except for being against Charlie (it’s telling that O’Malley had been so long in politics with nobody knowing what he stood for); they had an air of freshness and newness and positive media coverage; and they had a great name, in that nobody didn’t want to be progressive or democratic. No surprise that the Desocrats rocketed to 26% in the polls. And no surprise that once they unveiled some actual policies – Thatcherite economics, total political correctness and a neo-unionist line on the north – they sank back to the 4% or so that was their natural level.
The point being, I suppose, that while the southern Irish electorate has never been leftist, it’s never really been rightist in an ideological sense either. Sub-Thatcherite ideology has always been a niche market. If Labour is to soak up the “down with this sort of thing” vote, it helps that it doesn’t really stand for much distinctive except in its branding. To the extent that FG does stand for something, that something is pretty rightwing. And Gilmore’s steady persona compares well with Kenny’s liking for dopey stunts like promising to abolish the Seanad. (Itself unpopular within a party that currently has a record number of county councillors, and therefore is poised to elect a record number of senators.)
And now Richard Bruton, the man who could easily have defenestrated Enda long ago had he had the killer instinct, is now placed outside the tent thanks to his belated refusal to respect Enda’s authority. At times like this one wonders whether Enda is actively seeking to join Dukes and Noonan in that circle of hell reserved for failed Blueshirt leaders. He’s surely going the right way about it.
And much more, of course, at Cedar Lounge.