Tuesday 21 October 2014

Joan's path to Labour top job a cakewalk

Burton has air of candidate treating leadership campaign as a warm-up act

Published 22/06/2014 | 02:30

Joan Burton. Photo: Gerry Mooney

It's Joan. Barring an utter miracle in the final fortnight of the Labour Party leadership contest, Joan Burton will be crowned leader and Tanaiste on July 4.

There'll be no fireworks on Independence Day as the outcome has gone from being predictable to a cakewalk.

At this stage, Alex White is merely saving face and he's not carrying out that exercise in a terribly dignified manner.

"Alex is 'introducing' himself to a lot of people. No one is saying anyone is standing out. There is an assumption it will be straightforward. There doesn't seem to be any sense of a shock happening," a party source said.

The IMF says it will be Joan. Jack O'Connor says it will be Joan. Not even her greatest detractors believe Ms Burton won't win the leadership.

From the off, she has handled her campaign in a collected manner – not over-promising and giving any hostages to fortune that will be undeliverable once she gets in the job. Burton has the air of a candidate who is simply treating the Labour leadership campaign as a warm-up act to the main event.

Last week, she exited from Leinster House to rush across the plinth in a flustered manner. When a wag suggested the pressure of the race was getting to her, she commented: "I'm concentrating on what's after."

Burton is already preparing for becoming Tanaiste. Her kitchen cabinet is being lined up. Her existing team of policy adviser Ed Brophy, press adviser Paul O'Brien and political adviser Karen O'Connell will come across.

Burton has also drafted PR man and Labour activist Pat Montague to help with strategic oversight on her leadership campaign and he is expected to take up a role in the new administration.

She also plans to draw upon outside economic expertise from Karl Whelan, Professor of Economics at University College Dublin.

Burton is an admirer of Prof Whelan but he is not expected to join the staff.

She will also continue to get advice from Brendan Lynch, a former adviser to Ruairi Quinn when he was Minister for Finance in the Rainbow coalition in the 1990s, and a personal friend and confidante of Burton.

Mr Lynch is currently the Head of Research at Health Insurance Authority and there is some speculation she will try to coax him into Government Buildings.

"Joan's way of operating is to consult widely. She has an old network of counsel that goes way back," a source said.

Her staff has already been using back channels to communicate with the Taoiseach's officials.

Enda Kenny's advisers have made it clear there won't be any full renegotiation of the Programme for Government.

Ms Burton's side is not concerned.

Opening up the entire agreement between the coalition parties will merely result in too many fresh items being put on the table, which can't produce concrete results in the life of this Government.

"There is much less time that people appreciate," a source close to Burton said.

However, a special focus on a number of key policy areas will be explored.

The parties have identified housing, mortgage arrears, political reform, including the justice sector, tax, including low pay, and jobs as the priorities.

Plans with targets to be implemented every month will be put in place, to be supervised by the Taoiseach, similar to the Action Plan for Jobs.

"There will be a tacit understanding that there won't be a renegotiation of the Programme for Government. What will be worked on is prioritising on key agenda areas, using the template of the jobs plan," a senior Government source said.

The fault line between the parties is expected to come on tax, low pay. The balance between tax cuts and less reductions in expenditure will also be a source of contention.

Burton has committed to reaching the deficit reduction target of 3 per cent of GDP next year.

She has spoken broadly about an end to austerity but hasn't pinned herself down on a figure for the size of adjustment to be undertaken next year.

The tough talking will come down to the use of whatever spare resources are available for 2015.

Sunday Independent

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