Friday 20 October 2017

Sam Smyth: Kenny's publicity-shy boffin devised strategy that wiped out the Fianna Fail vote machine

Sam Smyth

WHATEVER about the public, very few party members would recognise the man credited with winning the election for Fine Gael.

Although his title is grand, director of policy Andrew McDowell seeks anonymity the same way that the politicians he serves crave publicity.

This reluctant Fine Gael hero enjoys his status as a backroom boffin, but he was responsible for the manifesto that swung the votes of former Fianna Failers.

And party strategists also acknowledge that the director of elections' vote management was "near perfection".

A senior source said: "Big Phil Hogan's strategy was as audacious as it was dangerous but it was vote management elevated to an art form, it was poetry."

Andrew McDowell "is a huge source of intellectual rigour and ideas, he is a walking policy machine", said Paschal Donohoe, who topped the poll in Dublin Central.

An economist imbued in the Fine Gael tradition -- like his first cousin once removed, Michael McDowell -- he joined Fine Gael in 2006 from Forfas, a government economic think-tank that his policy unit will probably recommend demolishing with other quangos.

In July 2009 he was promoted to head of research and advised the then finance spokesman Richard Bruton, and later Michael Noonan when he took up the portfolio.

And putting his old adversary into the most important position on his frontbench was a game winner for Enda Kenny last year after half of his team walked off behind Richard Bruton.

McDowell worked very closely with Noonan, whose carefully chosen language and easily understood policy statements were a steadying influence opposing a very shaky government.

Noonan did more than any other Fine Gael frontbencher to persuade the public to buy into his party's financial and economic policies.

Andrew McDowell wrote the policies but it was Noonan's delivery and phrasing that convinced a frightened electorate that the Fine Gael way was the least bad way.

After reasserting its position as the responsible party, Fine Gael came under enormous pressure to back Brian Lenihan's Budget last December.

But Noonan and McDowell came up with a variation of the four-year recovery plan yet stuck to the EU's target of 2014 to deal with the deficit.

The Labour Party never recovered from Fine Gael's charge that their putative coalition partners are a high tax party.

But neither Noonan nor McDowell can claim any credit for SIPTU president Jack O Connor's intervention in the election campaign that scared non-public sector workers to Fine Gael.

McDowell worked alongside Mark , the marketing whiz kid who was chairman of Bord Failte and who was given the job of overseeing the presentation of Enda Kenny.

The party leader's 'communications problem' was one of reasons why most of the younger members of his frontbench tried to dump him last year.

Phil Hogan masterminded the strategy that ended the attempted coup and then Mark Mortell was given the job of re-presenting him to the media and public.

They also took advice from US pollster Stan Greenberg and they all agreed that Enda should keep his appearances at leaders' debates to a minimum.

They were prepared to take media flak when he declined to appear on the first three-way debate on TV3 on the grounds they had much more to lose from it than gain.

Last year Greenberg and his team worked with an Irish research consultancy to craft an easily digestible five-point plan from their meat and potatoes policy document.

The five-point plan was repeated on every possible -- an even impossible -- occasion. Staying 'on message' was an article of faith for every Fine Gael candidate.

Irish Independent

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