Sunday 17 December 2017

Campaigns matter and leaders have to be flexible

Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

By their nature politicians are always prepared for an election but the real test is not the best laid plans.

Very often the true success of a campaign is whether those involved are big enough to acknowledge that the plan needs to be changed mid-stream.

For Theresa May this was a one issue election: Brexit. While announcing the snap vote, she said it was necessary in order to quell dissent from the opposition benches and the risk of being undermined from within her own.

But even before the terrorist attacks things were starting to go awry for the prime minister, leaving her looking forlornly rigid.

She hadn't planned for Jeremy Corbyn having a personality or a manifesto that offered a radical vision for the future of Britain.

Her message of 'Strong and stable' government was a beaten ticket compared to Labour's 'For the many, not the few'.

But the Tory machine was unable to readjust. Its strategy was flawed but it stuck with it.

Read More: Weak Tories offer chance for a better Brexit - Varadkar

It's a lesson that Fine Gael knows only too well after its experience with an unhappy electorate last year.

After the exit poll was released on Thursday night, the chairman of Fine Gael's National Executive Gerry O'Connell tweeted that "If the Tories blow this tonight it'll make 'Keep the Recovery Going' look like John Kennedy's 'New Frontier'".

Of course 'Keep the Recovery Going' was actually based on the Tory playbook, as has much of Fine Gael's election planning in recent times.

It was beaten by Fianna Fáil's 'An Ireland for All'. Are you seeing the similarities yet?

Bill Clinton's thesis that elections are based on 'the economy stupid' was right at the time but if Trump, Brexit and Corbyn prove anything it's that much of the world has moved on.

Irish political parties would do well to wake up to the new reality. Our 'new politics' is positively progressive compared to what is happening in the UK but it's not sustainable. Within two years we will go to the polls again but the debate will be very different from last year. Leo Varadkar has already been painted as a right-wing conservative by his colleague Simon Coveney, while Fianna Fáil is still on a "journey" away from the economic collapse, according to Micheál Martin.

If they don't get their acts together, find a saleable message that speaks to a mass audience and counteract the wave of electoral revolution, Ireland could follow in the footsteps of Britain and America.

Given the fact that either side of the Dáil can pull the shutters down at any moment, Varadkar and Martin must already know what would be on the posters if they had to be erected tomorrow. But the lesson from overseas is that campaigns matter. Political winners are those that can react fastest to soundbite debates, admit when they are losing and show the courage to change their game plan.

Irish Independent

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