White drops 'last woman standing' attack in bid to save ministerial career
Published 23/06/2014 | 02:30
The Labour leadership race is regarded as all over with Ms Burton winning comfortably, even though there are still two weeks to go and nearly 2,000 members have yet to vote.
Mr White is now battling to ensure he at least gets promoted to Cabinet by getting a respectable vote in the leadership race.
Labour sources say if he was to flop in the final vote, Ms Burton would not be obliged to promote him to the Cabinet.
"He knows he's not going to win but he's trying to put himself in as strong a position as possible," a senior party source said. Ms Burton's cabinet changes in Labour are expected to include replacing Eamon Gilmore, Ruairi Quinn and Pat Rabbitte, although there has been some speculation around Mr Rabbitte's future this past week.
Mr White has the advantage of being from southside Dublin, where the triumvirate of former Labour leaders are also based, so there will be a gap there to be filled.
But his cause was not helped by a bizarre attack on the party hierarchy at the leadership debate in Cork, when he suggested Ms Burton's "generation" was past it.
Mr White pointed out 14 members of Labour served as ministers when the party was last in government in 1997.
"Of those, eight have since left the Dail. One of those eight is now President; another, Toddy (O'Sullivan), is with us here this evening. Of the remaining six, three have since been party leader; one (Emmet Stagg) last expressed an interest in being party leader a quarter of a century ago; and one, Brendan (Howlin), decided not to seek the leadership a few weeks ago. The "last man standing", or rather the last woman standing, is the person I have the honour of sharing the stage with in these election hustings.
"Sooner or later we will have to look outside that class of '97. There will simply be nobody left.
"The question for all of us, now, is whether to return for one last time to that generation, or whether to move on now," he said.
The comments went down badly within the party and were seen as a direct attack by the 55-year-old southside barrister on Ms Burton, who is 65.
At the latest leadership debate in Portlaoise at the weekend, Mr White made no reference to "that generation" – despite a large presence of young members in the audience at the event hosted by Labour Youth. Instead, he reiterated his offer to be a "bridge" to a new generation.
"In 10 years' time, this party – and our social democratic project – will be led by a new generation of men and women. I believe the change we need must start now, and I want to lead that change – to be a bridge to that new generation of our party," he said.