Thursday 27 July 2017

And so the battle begins: Here's how we scored Coveney and Varadkar at the first Fine Gael leadership hustings

Simon Coveney and Leo Varadkar go head-to-head at the first hustings

Minister Leo Varadkar and Minister Simon Coveney at the Fine Gael hustings
Minister Leo Varadkar and Minister Simon Coveney at the Fine Gael hustings

Kevin Doyle, Philip Ryan and Niall O'Connor

Simon Coveney and Leo Varadkar went head-to-head last night at the first hustings during the campaign to find the next Fine Gael leader.

Housing Minister Coveney took aim at early favourite Varadkar's carefully planned bid to be the head of their party.

He told the audience: "I think it’s better I don’t say too much about the preparedness for this campaign.

"That preparation was going on for about 12 months from what I understand.”

Mr Varadkar replied: "If you can't prepare in three months, when it comes to a general election we might get a lot less votes than that."

Here's how we scored the two candidates' performances during the two hour exchange:

Minister Leo Varadkar and Minister Simon Coveney at the Fine Gael hustings
Minister Leo Varadkar and Minister Simon Coveney at the Fine Gael hustings

1) Delivery

Mr Varadkar’s delivery was calm and measured but underwhelming at times.

As has been the case during all of his recent public appearances, he stuck closely to a pre-prepared script.

The delivery had all the hallmarks of someone who knows he is out in front in this leadership race.

He attacked Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin with ease – but his opening performance lacked gusto.

If Mr Coveney has privately thrown in the towel, his delivery certainly didn’t show it.

The Cork South Central TD was passionate and engaging from the start, rarely relying on his script.

Minister Simon Coveney
Minister Simon Coveney

His opening contribution was determined and personable, giving the Housing Minister an early lead on his rival.

He even delivered humour.

Coveney: 9 Varadkar: 6

2) Leadership Pitch

“Underdog or not, I intend on carrying a powerful message.

What you see is what you get.”

Mr Coveney’s pitch for leadership was one that will prove inspiring for many Fine Gael voters.

He accepted that despite being on the back foot in this contest, he was not prepared to give up.

Mr Coveney tried to differentiate himself from Mr Varadkar, depicting his rival as someone who will drag Fine Gael to the right.

Minister Leo Varadkar and Minister Simon Coveney at the Fine Gael hustings
Minister Leo Varadkar and Minister Simon Coveney at the Fine Gael hustings

Mr Varadkar’s pitch for leadership focused on portraying himself as a candidate of the future.

He took a swipe at Mr Coveney’s ‘Just Society’ policy document, which he said lacked any focus on issues such as disability.

“It’s not about left and right anymore. It probably never was in Ireland anyway,” he said.

Coveney: 8 Varadkar: 6

Read More: Home truths: Leadership battle leaves housing in limbo

3) Taoiseach Pitch

Leo Varadkar used his opening address to set out his experience and journey to becoming a candidate in the Fine Gael leadership contest.

His address was more focused on what he could do for his party rather than what he could do for the country.

Simon Coveney and Leo Varadkar
Simon Coveney and Leo Varadkar

He highlighted how he bounced back from election failures and hoped to use these skills to get other TDs elected.

Mr Coveney’s opening address was more vision focused, although for large parts of the speech he attacked Mr Varadkar’s policies.

However, Mr Coveney’s used his speech to described how his Fine Gael leadership would be used to make Ireland a less divisive country.

Coveney: 7 Varadkar: 5

4) Audience Response

Leo Varadkar got the first big applause of the night when he said he was the leader to take on Sinn Féin.

He also outlined what he meant when he talks about focusing on the people who get up in the morning.

Simon Coveney started off strong, telling the audience:

Minister Leo Varadkar at the Fine Gael Hustings for the leadership of the party at the Red Cow hotel in Dublin. Picture: Arthur Carron
Minister Leo Varadkar at the Fine Gael Hustings for the leadership of the party at the Red Cow hotel in Dublin. Picture: Arthur Carron

“This is the party I want to lead” to a rapturous applause.

Members also applauded loudly when he subtly attacked Mr Varadkar’s performance during Government negotiations.

“Someone who knows to keep a minority government together because he helped to put it together,” he said.

Throughout his introductory speech Mr Coveney was warmly received.

However, Mr Varadkar was well received when he attacked Mr Coveney’s failure to prepare for the leadership contest.

Coveney: 8 Varadkar: 7

Read More: Now take your pick - do you want 'caring Simon' or 'up-early Leo'

5) Content

Simon Coveney understandably concentrated on attacking his opponent.

He did not directly address Fine Gael members’ concerns.

He kept his message to a catch-all inclusive – “Just Society” – arguing that Leo Varadkar wanted to address the coping classes only.

Leo Varadkar spoke directly to this section of the electorate, the 21,000 members who have 25pc of the vote.

He identified with the members, attacked Sinn Féin and sought to insist that Fine Gael’s heartland is people who work and contribute.

Coveney: 5 Varadkar: 6

Overall scores

Coveney: 37/50

Varadkar: 30/50

Read More: Coveney on attack over Varadkar's lean to right

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