Tuesday 27 September 2016

Enda's forgotten eejit may rear his head again

The Taoiseach has tended to come across as childish about the election date. It doesn't bode well for a long campaign, says Brendan O'Connor

Published 11/10/2015 | 02:30

Dear leader: Enda Kenny after giving his Taoiseach’s address at the Fine Gael National Conference 2015 earlier this year
Dear leader: Enda Kenny after giving his Taoiseach’s address at the Fine Gael National Conference 2015 earlier this year

There is one very good reason for Fine Gael to call an election as soon as possible. That reason is Enda. If things go on the way they've been going for the last couple of weeks, there is a very real danger that people are going to remember how they used to feel about Enda.

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It can be hard to remember now, but there was a time in this country when Enda Kenny couldn't get arrested, never mind elected as Taoiseach, never mind for the second time. There was a time, very recently, when even Enda's own party had no confidence in him, when people used to say they would leave the country if he ever became Taoiseach.

That kind of thing has been largely lost in the mists of time now, mainly by a fairly stunning economic turnaround. While people don't tend to actively give Enda credit for this, they are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that he didn't stand in the way of it. Noonan is the man who mainly gets the credit. To many, he is our Churchill. Fianna Fail, of course, still point out that it was actually Brian Lenihan who came up with the plan. And of course the world played ball with us on it as well, on everything from oil prices to currencies.

But none of that really matters. Enda was the man in charge when unemployment started dropping and growth started getting growthier. And as we have slowly emerged blinking from the horror of the lost decade, it has been easy to forgive and forget. And we have become almost indulgent of Enda. He may act the eejit a bit, but he is our eejit, and once there were grown-ups behind him running things, we didn't worry too much about him running around high fiving and taking selfies. The indulgent view was that it kept him out of the way while other people ran the country.

And we discovered to our surprise also that Enda seemed to go down well with foreigners. They seemed to like him. It mystified us at times. But we put it down to that syndrome whereby seemingly dull and unattractive Irish guys often land really hot foreign girlfriends. And we didn't worry about it too much. Foreigners are important to our economy and if they liked Enda, well good for him and us. Each to their own.

So the view of Enda has been benign enough. Of course there has been anger over water charges and we have noted the fact that he would apparently shaft his granny if he needed to. But ultimately, he was carried along on the shoulders of recovery like the lucky general he possibly is.

But of course, an election campaign may not play to Enda's strengths, to put it mildly.

So far it's not looking good. The smirking and teasing about the election date has come across as quite childish at times. "I've got a secret and wouldn't ye love to know". It's almost as if he's been enjoying the attention. And let's face it; it's better than everyone asking you all the time whether you fired the Garda Commissioner.

And then, in the past week, it took a turn for the worse, when a perception arose that Enda was making Joan Burton look like a fool. Call me sexist, but stringing along a woman and making her look foolish is never a good look for a gentleman. And Burton started to look a bit foolish as the week went on and she assured everyone Enda had assured her he wouldn't let her down, while everyone around Enda was simultaneously leaking that he was going to call a November election. Joan may not be as popular as she was when she was Labour's leader in waiting, but people love a victim. And no one likes a bully. Enda shouldn't allow this whole saga to develop into a narrative where he looks like a bully, playing fast and loose with Joan. People won't be so indulgent of that.

On Friday, as Joan was forced to humiliate herself by shifting her position to say that obviously the timing of an election was a matter for the Taoiseach, there was a certain amount of sympathy for her. Enda was actually starting to make her look a bit desperate. He hadn't quite left her at the altar but he had certainly abandoned her on the dancefloor.

But then, Mark Mortell, and the others who have Enda's best interests at heart and who want to protect him from himself, may have to make a fool of Joan, precisely to prevent other bad narratives from developing. Because an election campaign in general could revive another damaging narrative about Enda - that of Enda the eejit. Never mind about homelessness and A&Es making the Government look bad between now and March. A five-month election campaign is not going to work for Enda and the people who have his best interests at heart.

Already their hearts must be in their mouths at the thought of RTE's two proposed leaders' debates. One would involve seven leaders and a potentially unpredictable crowd of punters down in Limerick. The potential downside there for Enda is enormous. Also, it won't be just the usual four main party leaders, but unpredictable lefties and Lucindas as well, so it could be a bit edgier than the usual Queensbury rules.

As they meditate on that, and visualise it in their heads, it must make Enda's people realise that the sooner this election is over the better. Given that we are already effectively in an election campaign, five months of Enda in play is just too much. The main accidents and emergencies that will scupper them will be nothing to do with hospitals and more to do with Enda.

This needs to be a short, superficial election campaign. Enda is a sprinter, not a marathon man. And even if it means abandoning the banking inquiry, you have to wonder if they haven't already decided that the final report of the Banking Inquiry was not going to be half as damning of Fianna Fail as anticipated, so they may be happy to write it off. The Banking Inquiry in general didn't really do the job it was supposed to do, which was blame Fianna Fail for everything. And anyway, people have slightly moved on from that particular narrative, now that the current Government has been in for five years. Funnily enough, the only one who still thinks it's clever to turn everything back to blaming Fianna Fail is Enda. And you can see that wearing very thin, very quickly in leaders' debates too. Definitely a sprint is called for here.

Sunday Independent

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