News Gerard O'Regan

Sunday 23 October 2016

Could Howlin prove Labour's LVG when they need Mourinho?

Gerard O'Regan

Published 28/05/2016 | 02:30

Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin Photo: Steve Humphreys
Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin Photo: Steve Humphreys

So we still muse over whether Brendan Howlin was a better choice than Alan Kelly to try and chart a new course for the Labour Party away from the waters of doom.

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And when it comes to selecting leaders and designing the future, as of this weekend there is an equally perplexing question from the world of sport. Will Jose Mourinho do the business at Manchester United now that the wolves have come and gobbled up Louis van Gaal?

When the Dutchman got the top job at the world's most famous football club, he was hailed as a kind of genius who could not but succeed. And indeed his pedigree of managerial achievement was almost without peer in the beautiful game.

But events have shown he was the wrong choice. Sometimes the figures don't lie. He simply failed to deliver when it came to the expectations of his masters. And so he has had to walk the plank with the inevitable round of recriminations and regret.

However, it's also another reminder that selecting the right person for a top job, despite the best efforts of all concerned, remains fraught with risk. More often than not, the passage of time will have to be the ultimate arbiter. The proof of the pudding must be in the eating.

There is also a kind of parallel when comparing the choice of Howlin over Kelly, and the selection of Mourinho to replace Van Gaal. In the first instance, those calling the shots plumped for steadiness and solidity rather than raucousness and risk. But in the case of the Man United job, the choice was the other way round. Desperate to try and find a resolution to the club's current state of torpor, the men in the suits have thrown caution to the wind. They are now willing to take their chances with that distinctive whiff of sulphur which surrounds the Portuguese firebrand.

The Labour Party, with only enough Dáil deputies left to fill the average sitting room, is like Manchester United, in a state of chassis. Perhaps at no time in their history has the choice of leader been more important for such diverse institutions.

After much soul-searching in both public and private, Labour finally plumped for the tried and trusted, as represented by Brendan Howlin, below, rather than the kind of 'bull in a china shop' approach intrinsic to the personality of Alan Kelly. The party's inner core as of now obviously feels it sure doesn't need any of the "sulphur thing''. Maybe those calling the shots were right. Maybe they were wrong. We will simply have to wait and see. Howlin is accomplished parliamentarian and in many ways was one of the stars of the last Dáil. He is tenacious, dogged and experienced. Rooted in the middle ground of the party, he is respected by both the trade unions and the world of business. He is the reasonable face of intelligent and moderate socialism, Irish-style.

And he has got the number one position in the party with, as so often happens in these situations, the opening presenting itself as if almost by chance. His elevation has crowned a 40-year career in politics. So it surely all makes sense. He must be the right man for the job.

And yet! And yet! The behavioural psychologists, not to mention sundry management consultant types who profess to know about such matters, might have their reservations. Does the inner fire which drives the quest for achievement still glow as fiercely as when Howlin was a younger man? It is an ageist comment - but the party's new guru has a lot of mileage on the clock. He has also tasted, in various ways, the sweet smell of success and has enjoyed much political fulfilment by holding various offices of State. At gut level, is he as hungry as Alan Kelly?

This week in the Dáil, Howlin tried to get some edge into his exchanges with former comrades in arms, guiding his fire from what seemed far, far away in the Opposition trenches. But has he the will to go for the jugular in a centre-ground political arrangement, made up of people with whom he has many shared experiences?

Meanwhile, much focus will also remain on Alan Kelly, and what role he will carve out for himself in the months ahead. Whatever the image consultants might tell him, he is surely best advised to remain true to his own instincts.

There may come a time when his Mourinho temptation to sail close to the wind may be just what his party needs.

The TD for Tipperary has spoken with some emotion in the past of the psychological trauma visited on his family when their home was gutted following an accidental fire. The destruction of photographs and other symbolic mementos left a void which has obviously been difficult to fill.

It's an experience which has no doubt fashioned the inner life of the man famously dubbed 'AK 47'. Maybe making judgements on his outward tough guy persona is too superficial all round. Like Jose Mourinho, there's much more to Alan Kelly than meets the eye.

Irish Independent

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