Friday 21 October 2016

The spin zone: Enda roadshow being steered off course by Taoiseach himself

Published 16/02/2016 | 02:30

Taoiseach Enda Kenny gets ready to enter one of the labs at APC Ltd as the company opened its new state of the art process research facility in Cherrywood, Dublin. Photo: Fergal Phillips
Taoiseach Enda Kenny gets ready to enter one of the labs at APC Ltd as the company opened its new state of the art process research facility in Cherrywood, Dublin. Photo: Fergal Phillips

Somebody needs to sit Enda Kenny down and tell him we're not there yet, but it's just a little further.

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Crankiness is being blamed for the Taoiseach's response to questions about his potential post-election bedfellows at Fine Gael's manifesto launch on Sunday.

And in some ways that's understandable. It has been a frantic two weeks that has seen the Kenny roadshow roll into 12 counties and shake thousands of hands.

Along the way there have been visits to a concrete plant in Westmeath, a gin distillers in Leitrim, a Cork water pump manufacturer, pharmaceutical companies in Galway and Dublin and a farm in Carlow.

Then there is the obligatory round of local radio interviews and national TV debates to fit in.

It is exhausting for everybody involved, both politicians and the journalists who follow them.

But this is the short, snappy campaign that Fine Gael wanted. They set the pace and, being the outgoing government with a huge majority, they also had the luxury of setting the tone.

Mr Kenny and his advisors decided they wanted to fight the election on two things: the economy and stable government.

So the last thing you would expect the Fine Gael leader to do in the days before he dissolved the Dáil would be to engage in a game of cat and mouse with the media about whether he would look to somebody like Michael Lowry for support in the event that the Coalition didn't win 80 seats.

There was a simple way to close down the debate, a one-word answer that would satisfy not just the media and the Labour Party but also his own nervous candidates.

It took 10 days of word games before he categorically ruled out Mr Lowry.

In the intervening period he did massive damage to the stability message, especially as Joan Burton said Mr Lowry would be a red-line issue for her party.

Then, within hours of calling the election, he got on the wrong side of the economic message when he either couldn't or wouldn't explain the 'fiscal space'.

Asked if Fine Gael's estimates for how much money will actually be available over the next five years were credible, he said the question related to "economic jargon which the vast majority of people don't understand".

The obvious answer would have been to explain the jargon, to break it down into terms that the men with two pints that Mr Kenny meets on his travels would understand.

Instead it was clear he thought if he kept saying there was a need to "keep the recovery going", Finance Minister Michael Noonan would actually deal with the hard questions.

Those early mistakes were to some extent forgiveable. You can blame nerves or a lack of match practice.

However, we're getting into the home straight now or, as all the political advisors will be telling their candidates, the point where any slip-up can be fatal. There is very little time to pick yourself up and get back in the race.

By allowing a full 24 hours of the election cycle to pass with conversations that don't involve Fine Gael and Labour offering a stable government, or the idea that Fianna Fáil can't be trusted on the economy, Mr Kenny has weakened his party's standing.

We are at the point where Fine Gael planned to instil fear about the alternative on offer to voters but instead Mr Kenny has created fear about his own ability to handle the uncomfortably repetitive questions.

A week is a long time in politics so three weeks is an eternity. From this Thursday onwards those 'undecideds' that everyone is chasing will start to make up their mind.

And at that point there is no going back.

Irish Independent

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