Wednesday 26 October 2016

Kevin Doyle: Varadkar needs to be wary of a 'Burton Bounce'

Published 12/02/2016 | 02:30

Leo Varadkar
Leo Varadkar

For months, Labour Party strategists have warned us to ignore the party and think about the personalities.

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It was an unusual line of defence from people who normally tell journalists to focus on policies and issues rather than individual candidates.

The argument went that while nationally Labour are treading water on anywhere between 6-10pc, Joan Burton, Alan Kelly, Brendan Howlin and others couldn't be that low. But now it appears the Tánaiste is not just fighting to save her party but also her own political skin.

The results of yesterday's Irish Independent/Millward Brown poll, that Ms Burton faces losing her seat, caused shock within her party.

If Ms Burton, who topped the poll last time, can't survive, nobody is safe.

However, it isn't time to press the panic button either.

In fact, some of her supporters believe the true picture of how much danger the Tánaiste is in will come at the perfect time.

Her supporters now have a new message to bring to the doorsteps of Dublin West.

They can go for the sympathy vote, saying: 'She's in trouble, give her a chance.' After all, Irish people love an underdog.

Or they can point out that without Joan Burton, this Government is very unlikely to be returned.

That approach will concern Leo Varadkar, who is in a head-to-head battle with Sinn Féin to top the poll.

While Burton is in a dogfight, her Cabinet colleague runs the risk of suffering from 'safe seat syndrome'.

If he is able to top the poll, Varadkar will have another notch on his political belt ahead of a Dáil term where the leadership of the Fine Gael is likely to come up.

But to make that happen, he can't afford to lose any of the 20pc he is currently getting. The figure is a long way off the 33-35pc that Fine Gael are hoping for nationally.

And now the Health Minister could lose some of the 'stability' vote to Burton.

She backed the transfer pact with Fine Gael and now she needs it more than anyone.

Enda Kenny and Burton could never be described as the best of friends but they are practical politicians.

They realised a long time ago that their best chance of getting back into Government Buildings was to stick together.

Mr Kenny would not fancy the prospect of negotiating a new programme for government with Alan Kelly, especially given the hassle he caused trying to hammer out a housing package with Michael Noonan last year.

Brendan Howlin is rapidly becoming the favourite to replace Ms Burton as leader of Labour but without her he would face a mammoth task to convince the party membership another stint in government wouldn't see them wiped out altogether.

There is time for a 'Burton Bounce' but her statement yesterday that she is "very confident" of being in the next Dáil is a complete hyperbole.

Irish Independent

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