Sunday 25 September 2016

Leo the petulant teen embodies FG's hubris

Enda Kenny and Co might want to consider a change of tack about feeling like the only party fit to govern

Published 10/01/2016 | 02:30

Hubristic Minister for Health Leo Varadkar Photo:Gareth Chaney Collins
Hubristic Minister for Health Leo Varadkar Photo:Gareth Chaney Collins

Not for the first time I find myself thinking, 'You know. Dan O'Brien could be right'.

  • Go To

We'll come back to Dan. But first Leo. Leo Varadkar has now transcended just being a slightly smug middle-class metrosexual doctor with a sense of entitlement. Last week, as we battled with another annual trolley crisis that was entirely predictable, Leo seemed to morph into some version of a truculent south county Dublin teenager. "I cannot pretend to personally manage all emergency departments," was one standout quote. "I cannot invent nurses where they don't exist", was another. Leo, clearly, would like us all to get off his back.

We are annoying him with our constant griping about doctors waiting hours to get a trolley so they can do lumbar punctures on people suspected of having meningitis.

We are boring him with our droning on about how people with chest pains are having to wait around in chairs with their pesky suspected heart attacks, our stories of OAPs on trolleys for 50 hours.

What do we expect him to do? Magic up nurses? Run the bloody hospitals himself? Leo has always made it clear that he is as dismayed as any other man on the street about the state of the health service. What more do we want of him?

It doesn't give me any pleasure to be having a go at Leo. Like lots of you, I liked Leo. I liked the way he was one of the few politicians to openly stand up for the middle classes, pointing out that they are the ones who pay for social protection and all the other worthy causes, and also that they are the ones who keep the economy going ("Millionaires spend their money on yachts, the middle classes spend their money in shops," was his pithy summing up of that).

There was a time where Leo's honesty seemed refreshing. Like when he stood up for the Garda whistleblowers, when he stood up to Gabriel Byrne, dismissing him as a crush of some women of a certain age.

Leo even admitted that while he himself was a member of the front bench of the Government, that the Government has too much power over the Dail. For a while, we dared to think that Leo could be a new type of politician.

But more and more he seems to be becoming infected by a particular cranky kind of arrogance and entitlement that is endemic in Fine Gael. Increasingly, Fine Gael seem to believe that they are the only ones with a right to govern this country, that they are the naturally entitled party of government. And we all know the kind of arrogance that breeds, don't we?

There is a certain patrician air developing in Fine Gael, where they slightly talk down to the rest of us, and where they bristle when anyone questions them.

They now seemingly firmly believe, as do many people, that there is no alternative to them, that they are a dead cert to form the next government, possibly even on their own. Apparently the only real question that needs to be solved in the election is who Fine Gael will deign to allow into government with them.

This sense of entitlement is based on a few simple notions.

One is that Fianna Fail ruined the country and are, in Enda Kenny's words, not fit to govern. This has been Enda Kenny's main point throughout his administration. He moved on from it for a little while but now, as he gears up for an election, he seems to be moving back to it.

His Unique Selling Point is, 'We are not Fianna Fail. We never had the opportunity to ruin the country'.

A second premise is that Sinn Fein and independents would cause economic and general chaos if they were in charge. No responsible citizen in their right mind would vote for them.

And the third premise is that this Government saved the country and offers stability, so back to the alternative being chaos. Any voter who doesn't agree with this is ungrateful or deluded or both.

The message is very clear. Fine Gael have no respect for anyone except themselves, and no respect for any poor deluded fool who votes for anyone else.

Which is a nice simple message, except it does have a touch of arrogance about it. It also makes a large part of the electorate out to be idiots. Idiots who will, at the election, come to heel and vote for stability over the certain chaos that would ensue if anyone is allowed to run the country who is not one of the anointed, one of Fine Gael.

And then we come to Dan O'Brien, who questioned the notion of the flight to stability in Thursday's Irish Independent, arguing , and citing a certain amount of evidence and precedence to show that, "If Ireland follows the patterns of the other bailed-out countries in the forthcoming General Election, rather than the pattern the pundits expect, the three main parties would lose support rather than gain it during the campaign."

O'Brien is going against all the conventional wisdom of the pundits on this one, so there is a good enough chance he may be right. And you suspect that the more Fine Gael present themselves as the only possible government, the more damage they may do.

There might be another way. Rather than merely dismiss voters who are drawn to, for example, independents, Kenny might do better to try and understand why they are. For example, while various Government ministers have "done a Bertie" and donned wellies and baseball caps and gone and stood out in the floods, did you hear what independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice was doing?

We know this not because Fitzmaurice himself told us but because Seamus Naughton from Athleague mentioned it on Morning Ireland on Thursday morning. Mr Naughton said that Fitzmaurice arrived down at Mr Naughton's house on December 27 and 28, and essentially saved it. He organised equipment, pumps and sandbags and mucked, in manning the pumps and manhandling the sandbags.

Fitzmaurice had also, Mr Naughton mentioned in passing, spent another two days trying to dam the source of the water that threatened to engulf the house. When the slightly incredulous reporter Cian McCormack asked Mr Naughton if he knew Fitzmaurice, Naughton replied that he had met him a couple of times, but they weren't friends. Now, he said, he would count him as a personal friend.

The message of stability started looking increasingly silly last week as the Government seemed unable to take decisive action about flooding. Enda Kenny promised a Minister for Flooding, but only if he is re-elected.

The annual trolleywatch scandal didn't help either. Is that more stability and certainty? There is, you'd have to admit, an element of certainty to it, as in we are fairly certain it reoccurs every year and we are fairly certain that Leo will casually shrug his shoulders and wash his hands of it.

It would strike you that Fine Gael would want to start being a little less sure of itself. Conventional wisdom is nearly always wrong, so the election might not be the slam dunk they are expected. And it might not be a great strategy to petulantly dismiss anyone who votes for the Michael Fitzmaurices of the world, because, whatever you think about Fitzmaurice, maybe those people think Fitzmaurice is a man you can trust in a profession that is inherently untrustworthy.

None of us like being told we have no choice. And we tend to rebel against it.

Fine Gael may wish to soften its cough somewhat in how it approaches the people in this election. A little bit of humility, and a little bit of gratitude might work better than veiled threats and entitlement.

There were other governments for many years before this one and there will be others for many years after them.

Sunday Independent

Read More