Thursday 27 October 2016

Has Labour's 'AK47' finally gone and shot himself in the foot?

Published 31/10/2015 | 02:30

Alan Kelly is at risk of alienating his party and cabinet colleagues, including Tánaiste Joan Burton
Alan Kelly is at risk of alienating his party and cabinet colleagues, including Tánaiste Joan Burton

"We have been successful in Government. We have not been successful in politics."

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Alan Kelly's words from his final plea to the Labour Party, at a meeting in the Mansion House in June 2014 as he attempted to secure the position of deputy leader. He was right, of course, the Labour Party has been consistently politically outmanoeuvred by Fine Gael in this administration. However, having succeeded in securing the position of second in command at Labour Party HQ, Kelly has done little if anything to change that reality. Indeed, he may now be compounding the problem.

With all the airs of a man possessed with some secret brilliance known only to himself, he carries on regardless like a master of his own little universe. In recent days, he has used various avenues of the media to assign blame and ascribe responsibility to anyone but himself for the calamitous state of the housing crisis.

I am not sure why, but I strongly suspect that Alan Kelly revels in his moniker 'AK 47' - a nickname assigned to him not by his critics, but by his own party colleagues. 

It was designed initially to reflect his predilection for coursing invective and a lack of finesse when addressing 'Sir Humphrey types' in the manner to which they have become accustomed. Increasingly, however, rather than emulating a slick, no-nonsense assault rifle that brutally gets the job done, the Minister for the Environment has become somewhat of a 'weapon of mass destruction' for this Government. 

In a curious interview last weekend, Mr Kelly portrayed himself as being like some outsider spy who was in possession of all the secrets but devoid of many solutions to the problems. It was a far cry from his rousing speech to the Labour Party ard fheis in February, when he was almost carried shoulder high by the masses as they heralded him as their new saviour.

In his speech to that conference in Killarney, he regaled delegates about his master plan to tackle the problem of housing head on by introducing a comprehensive housing 'framework' to deal with the growing crisis.

Furthermore, he said he would introduce new regulations and legislation, if required, to tackle the problem of unscrupulous landlords who were increasing rents. In the wake of the tragic death of Jonathan Corrie not too far from the doorstep of Leinster House and a growing realisation that the mortgage crisis was getting worse, Kelly seemed in control and impressive in his new brief.

Things have changed utterly and now the Taoiseach and Tánaiste have to step in to cobble together some semblance of cohesion. With the minister talking of himself in the third person, we have well and truly passed through the looking glass and have entered Alan's wonderland of blame and bluster.

His most recent onslaught centred on the Central Bank, the civil service and Phil Hogan - oh and anonymous press officers.  None of whom are likely to retaliate in any public or meaningful way now, but memories are stored up for other days.

Dismantling relationships and demeaning officialdom makes for great headlines but also creates great headaches down the line. He may pretend to be a man with a plan that he is just not allowed to implement, but his insistence that he is not ultimately responsible is entirely wrong. It is at best naïve and is churlish in the extreme.

Blinded by incoming fire, Kelly has developed a tendency to portray himself as an observer, rather than policy maker, a disorder which seems to be contagious and is infecting other members of this Government. 

Leo Varadkar also has a penchant for pretending he is in A&E, rather than someone who is charge of it.  By constantly telling us what is wrong and describing horrendous conditions, he avoids answering any real questions. 

We know what is wrong, Minister. We only have to take a trip to any hospital in the country or turn on 'Liveline' to know what is wrong. We want you guys to fix it please.  That's how it works. 

We elect you; you are responsible. End of.

If Mr Kelly is to achieve his political objectives, he not only needs to retain the confidence of his cabinet colleagues, but he will also need buy-in from stakeholders.

Whilst all is fair in love and political warfare, his considerations must go beyond his own needs. He must also think of collective cabinet cohesion and a further diminution of the Labour Party's base support if the perception that it has lost again becomes a reality.

One might be forgiven for drawing comparisons to a certain swashbuckling Premier League manager across the water. Kelly is our very own Jose Mourinho of sorts. When first appointed as Minister for the Environment, he was full of promise. In all probability, he is good at telling others what to do and managing them. But can he be a team player?

At first, he was a very welcome antidote to the puerile senseless doublespeak which now passes for political discourse from the "populist cowards" (his term) who occupy our political system.

But now for Mourinho and for Kelly, their once refreshing commitment to "tell it like it is" is running out of road fast.

Kelly is right; many political leaders are short on original thought and sadly lacking in style. However, he is losing his own dressing room rapidly and destabilising a Government of cabinet colleagues who intend to put themselves forward on a platform of cohesion and co-operation.

He is in danger of giving out mixed signals. If he wants to be leader of the Labour party, he better learn very quickly about the art of translating government success to Labour Party support.

Playing footsie with a critical housing crisis could be a dangerous game of political football that is way beyond his control.

Irish Independent

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