News John Drennan

Tuesday 30 September 2014

So, it's all hail King Enda – for now

FG came out the winner in the Millward Brown poll, but there are forces lurking in the shadows, writes John Drennan

Published 18/08/2013 | 05:00

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Taoiseach Enda Kenny in his office

As WE approach the meridian of the Coalition, today's Millward Brown poll indicates that Fine Gael and Enda Kenny are the clear winners when it comes to who has survived the first half of the Coalition's term.

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Certainly, as Fine Gael sits prettily atop the political dung-heap, the mood within the party will be one of 'all hail King Enda and his not- so-merry men'.

Sadly, today's poll does not suggest the rest of country is united in hailing good King Enda, the not so benevolent monarch.

What it does reveal, though, is that Fine Gael has been the winner in a particularly turbulent political year and is well set for future success. Though Fianna Fail, with 28 per cent, is just one percentage point behind its old Civil War enemy, one senses a greater solidity is attached to the Fine Gael share of the vote.

Fianna Fail will also know all too well that 29 per cent for FG in the mid-term of a Government is no bad feat and that FG support is more likely to rise from that point.

Today's Millward Brown poll, however, also indicates how fine the margins are between success and failure in Irish politics.

At the start of the year, FG, at 25 per cent, was edging towards the abyss of a Michael Noonan-style meltdown where, if an unfortunate accident occurred, Fine Gael was poised to lose up to 40 seats from its 2011 total.

In contrast, today's poll means FG is at the tipping point of winning 60 seats at the next general election. Such a total would be a long way short of overall majority country but it would make Fine Gael firm favourite to form, and dominate, the next Government.

There is plenty of other good news for Fine Gael in this poll for it is clear that the post-electoral Sinn Fein/Independent surge has been halted.

King Enda is, despite his own unpopularity, also likely to see the result as vindicating his personal ruthlessness in the pursuit of petty objectives.

A great deal of fuss may have been generated over 'autocratic' Enda's expulsion of Lucinda Creighton over that abortion thing.

If anything, however, Kenny's 'Ne Temere' style expulsion of the FG rebel five appears to have solidified the Taoiseach's position with the electorate.

As was the case in the second coming of Charlie Haughey, Enda's friend 'Paddy' apparently still likes the occasional smack of firm governance.

Of course, some clouds are, alas, darkening the supposed eternal sunshine of King Enda's court.

The unpopularity of all party leaders and the fact that two-fifths of the electorate support no party (or even Independents) suggests Irish politics is heading towards its greatest existential crisis since the Fifties.

This endemic distrust of government also means that the alleged 'power grab' involved in the abolition of the Seanad is struggling to get past the wary eyes of the disillusioned voter.

In truth, losing the Seanad referendum might not be the worst thing in the world for 'Dear Leader' Enda. There would be no better man in the case of a defeat than Enda to start spoofing about how, "I put de Valera's dusty old Seanad before the people and I welcome the decision of the people to back Enda's people's Seanad."

However, the sort of disillusion where essentially two-thirds of the voters want a banking inquiry, but, only one-third want politicians to hold it is another example of the distrust in which an apathetic electorate holds the current political class. Such a scenario suggests that there is a real market in the gap for a new political party and within the current Dail there is no shortage of loose horses running around that might yet coalesce together to form a new political stable-yard.

For now, though, the 'Dear Leader' is in that state of bliss where his grip on the FG party, and the Cabinet, is absolute to such an extent that even not-so Cute Old Phil is, courtesy of the soft hands of Michael Noonan who rescued Phil from the property tax, making a comeback.

The strength of the Taoiseach's political revival is even epitomised by the nature of his relationship with the once-feared media.

The current docility of certain elements of the press may not have reached the level of the time where the Irish Press would ring Charlie Haughey to ask the then Fianna Fail leader on what page would he like his photograph to be placed.

But it has, on occasions, been a close run thing.

Enda is, of course, vaguely aware he is not loved by the work-shy or the welfare classes but so long as FG continues to have its hands gripped around the throat of the votes of middle-class Ireland, King Enda can live with that.

Amongst this feast of plenty where 'the hay is in, and FF is bet' there is only one hint of blight that is darkening the Taoiseach's pastel- style, pastoral political landscape.

Fine Gael may be thriving, or at least starting to recover, but, its Labour partners are wilting.

The more blue-blooded wing of Fine Gael may celebrate Labour's status as the sick man of politics. But the few thinking members of the Government should be wise enough to realise that the debilitated status of their ailing 'partners' is a not a source of celebration.

In war, as Germany found to its cost, there is nothing worse than a weak ally for it will either drag you down, or if cornered, like the scorpion, it will sink its fangs into you in the hope that this will facilitate some escape.

For now the policy of the Labour Croppy Boys when faced by the barking FG dog and its media acolytes appears to be one of lying down and taking it in the hope that if they do not make too much of a fuss, maybe the dog won't bite.

The problem, alas, with that policy is that the nature of dogs does not change and if a dog is allowed to worry one poor Labour sheep without chastisement, it will eventually destroy the entire herd.

Such precedents did not stop Labour, with the exception of a couple of brave voices, from standing fearfully, idly by whilst FG spinners, with the enthusiastic complicity of certain aspects of the media, attempted to cut down Joan Burton, who is far too tall a poppy for Fine Gael's liking.

In truth, the attack may not have displeased certain elements of Labour, but, if the party thinks the not-so-cute old rough men of FG will be satisfied with the head of Joan, they are sadly mistaken.

Fine Gael, despite John Bruton's brief period of good behaviour, only knows one way when it comes to the treatment of Coalition partners, and if it is allowed to place Joan on a pile of wooden faggots and set a match to it, it will move on to the next most popular member of Labour; if it can find one.

Intriguingly, in one regard, despite the current travails of poor Labour, the neck-and-neck status of the Civil War parties in today's Millward Brown poll may offer a route for Labour out of Gilmore's Garden of Gethsemene.

As the old Civil War parties of FF and FG vie for supremacy, Labour may yet, if it can regain some support, find itself being courted by both.

All that, of course, is predicated on the question of whether the many loose horses in and outside of the political process decide to screw their courage to the sticking place, slip through the gap in the market and establish a new party.

Should Lucinda, or some such other figure who is not Michael McDowell, arrive, the apparently eternal reign of the Fine Gael Tweedledumbs and the Fianna Fail Tweedledumbers may be less secure than they think.

Sunday Independent

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