Wednesday 7 December 2016

A leader's end should be in sight but out of reach

Published 10/08/2015 | 02:30

'The well-meaning deputy’s comment that Enda Kenny is as durable as a Duracell bunny serves no political purpose. It does, however, give an insight into the way those close to the Taoiseach are thinking'
'The well-meaning deputy’s comment that Enda Kenny is as durable as a Duracell bunny serves no political purpose. It does, however, give an insight into the way those close to the Taoiseach are thinking'

Espousing the longevity of a party leader's tenure is a tricky business, as chief whip Paul Kehoe has learned to his cost. The well-meaning deputy's comment that Enda Kenny is as durable as a Duracell bunny serves no political purpose. It does, however, give an insight into the way those close to the Taoiseach are thinking. Deputy Kehoe will not be thanked by the party hierarchy for his musings. Fine Gael's single biggest challenge in these final months is to maintain control of the date of the general election; any development which upsets its equilibrium is unwelcome in the extreme.

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The timing of the election remains at the discretion of the Taoiseach for now. But as the deadline draws closer, his options are enclosed in ever-decreasing circles. Politics aside, practicalities like St Patricks Day, Easter and 1916 centenary commemorations all must be factored into the equation. One thing he must avoid at all costs is the John Bruton "bounce" of 1997, when sheer pressure from the opposition forced an unstoppable momentum and the Government went to the country in May when they could have waited until much later in the year and taken advantage of a more favourable economic landscape. Alas, Bruton jumped ship too soon and the rest is history.

There is a secret to success for an incumbent leader to avoid mutinies mid-voyage. It is to articulate medium-term plans without defining any long-term strategy. Like the horizon, a political leader's end should be always in sight, but forever out of reach. It is this mirage that keeps the crew in line, and under orders. Essentially, there is always hope ahead and the target remains within reach, but is always moving. A well-worn tactic that provides much-needed hope for colleagues with longer-term ambitions. Few get it right and there have been some spectacular faux pas by even the most astute political operators over the years.

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