Sunday 25 September 2016

Roll up, roll up, the election circus is coming to town

Published 18/07/2015 | 02:30

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Minister Ged Nash
Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Minister Ged Nash

Next week, the Taoiseach will lead his band of merry men and women out of their natural environment in government buildings, as the Cabinet takes to the hills to hold its weekly meeting in Lissadell House in County Sligo.

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Announcing the summer sojourn, Deputy John Perry, Fine Gael TD for Sligo, proudly revealed it is the first time that a cabinet meeting will take place in the county.

He warmed to his theme opining that historic Lissadell is a fitting location for our political masters to recognise the role played by Countess Markevicz, formerly Constance Gore Booth, ahead of 2016.

Forgive me for being just a tad suspicious! Nothing screams election like an Irish government going on tour.

Game on.

Cabinet meetings held in external venues secure a lot of media attention locally, with many national media outlets travelling to areas that they would not normally frequent of a Tuesday afternoon. So, for candidates and their constituencies, cabinet meetings have potential for lots of exposure. This caravan of love starts next week in Sligo.

In that very house, WB Yeats wrote of Constance and her younger sister Eva, "Two girls in silk kimonos, both beautiful, one a gazelle".

Expect an announcement of news value and maybe sweet nothings from Enda to the ladies in government.

I suspect it's much more about politics than poetry.

There are only 37 weeks before an election must be held. It may seem like a lifetime, but for sitting TDs, the end game is nigh.

Although things may seem quiet on the political front publicly, things are a lot different behind the scenes. They are frenetic. Preparations are moving at warp speed as ministers, TDs and election candidates prepare to scour the country like Brillo pads. Don't be fooled by national distracting news stories like water charges, this election campaign has started and it is coming to a town near you.

This summer, backroom teams in government parties will spend their last politically quiet time preparing campaigns slogans, literature and those all-important constituency visits.

For every self-respecting "West Wing wannabe", it's like getting ready for Christmas in Santa's grotto. Fun times. The clever little elves among them will realise that their key priority is to get their main players away from the nasty D4 media types and down the country where they can be truly appreciated.

In doing so, they may secure some positive local press coverage and garner votes for prospective candidates to boot.

As the countdown to the election accelerates, the prospect of a Taoiseach or a minister visiting your area has just increased by about 50pc. In securing a constituency visit by a cabinet minister, it doesn't really matter if the candidate is in the middle, in the mix, or on the margins, everyone wants a visit.

For wannabe candidates, a visit from a serving minister can mean only one thing: announcements. No self-respecting minister would ever visit a constituency empty-handed.

Like a long-lost cousin you haven't seen in years (since the last election), ministers will come to town and bring you presents. They will take the local coverage, slap your back, kiss your baby and get some selfies with candidates for their party website. Then they are off to the next constituency, quicker than you can say, "I'm a celebrity get me out of here".

Occasionally, there is more than one candidate in a constituency. This scenario can lead to serious injury from sharp elbows as rivals vie for supremacy and a place in the picture. Time slots are spooned up as carefully as caviar. Every moment is precious as your party colleague becomes more of a threat than your opposition rival.

A picture with the minister is what matters to the candidate, because it says to his constituents, "I matter".

Which brings us to our next phenomena of the pre-election period: the photo-opportunity. No political visit is complete without one. Essentially, a serving minister surrounds themselves with lesser-known party candidates, to enhance political exposure for the newbies. The hope is that by simply being around the minister while he/she is making an official announcement, they will bask in the glow and become engrained in voters' minds as the key architect for delivery in their area. In doing so, votes will be bagged.

It works for the Americans. Here, we haven't quite mastered the art just yet. For the most part, in Ireland, such set pieces to camera end up looking like a lot of middle-aged men who have lost their pints and wandered in to a GAA victory speech wearing their suits and ties.

Whether you look forward to a visit, or are as excited about it as a visit from the water meter installation team, spare a thought for the politician who is out of his/her natural environment, in places like Lidl, Aldi, and even on public transport.

They are only following orders and sticking to the script. It is not unique to this Government or any political party. In fact, every political party has done it in the past and they will do it in the future.

Prepare for visits and protests, announcements and recriminations from visiting politicians from Government and opposition parties.

It's all part of the plan.

Roll up, roll up, the circus is coming to town.

Irish Independent

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