Tuesday 25 June 2019

Fine Gael want Enda not Leo to lead party into next election

Today's opinion poll should give Varadkar, a young man in a hurry, pause for thought

Enda Kenny and (inset) Leo Varadkar
Enda Kenny and (inset) Leo Varadkar
Jody Corcoran

Jody Corcoran

Today's opinion poll shows that more people would like Leo Varadkar (17pc) than Enda Kenny (11pc) to lead Fine Gael into the next general election.

Which is a bit like saying more people would prefer a dog than a cat for Christmas, but that both can expect to end up abandoned.

While the headline finding may set aflutter the racing heart of the dashing Minister for Health, a young man in a hurry if ever there were one - he will be 36 in January - this poll will give him pause for thought.

Because that headline finding is not to say that more people would actually vote for Fine Gael if Leo were to replace Enda as party leader and Taoiseach.

In relation to the leadership of Fine Gael, the real meat in the poll is the level of support Enda Kenny has where it matters most - among the party's committed supporters.

A massive 44pc of Fine Gael supporters would prefer Kenny to lead the party into the election than Varadkar, who remains stuck on 17pc.

Now translate that commanding lead into pressure brought to bear by the membership on TDs, senators and MEPs in a leadership contest confined to parliamentary party votes.

But you'd never know with Fine Gael; it has a history of panic in the face of poorly-analysed opinion polls and then overthrowing the leader, as if that will solve the problem.

Ask Labour - it doesn't, not in the current climate anyway, if it ever did.

So you would imagine a sensible man like Frank Flannery will take a look at this poll, realise the game is up for his favourite and tell Leo to get on with the day job, which is to sort out the administration of health.

Flannery would also be first to spot elsewhere in the poll further evidence that Fine Gael supporters are quite satisfied with Enda Kenny, thank you very much.

In fact, a decisive 79pc are satisfied with the leadership of the man who has led the party to repeated electoral success and harbours the ambition to do so again whenever he decides to call the election.

Indeed, a mere 17pc - that number again - of Fine Gael supporters say they are dissatisfied with the leadership of Enda Kenny, which makes him comfortably the most popular leader among his own, more popular than Joan Burton (61pc) is with Labour voters, than Micheal Martin (69pc) is with Fianna Fail supporters and even more popular than the cult-like Gerry Adams (73pc) is among Sinn Fein supporters.

Which begs the question - what next for Leo?

Well, should Enda Kenny ultimately be unsuccessful in his bid for two-in-a-row, the distinct possibility exists that Simon Coveney will blindside Varadkar in the succession stakes.

The Agriculture Minister, at nine per cent, is voters' third favourite to lead Fine Gael into the election; but is closer still to Varadkar among Fine Gael supporters, just two points behind at 15pc.

None of which is relevant at the moment. What is relevant is what Fine Gael should do now that the public has turned its back on the party as it has on all the mainstream parties.

In the end, the outcome of the next election will come down to the transfer of votes from Independent candidates, or the sensible ones, likely to top the poll all over the country.

Eventually, those votes will trickle down to the likes of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, which will contest the final seats in a real cliffhanger.

There is no doubt Leo Varadkar is popular among younger voters and women voters, who like his openness, truthfulness and - for example - his position on abortion as set out last week.

If Enda Kenny is to be re-elected, the truth is he needs Leo Varadkar. So the two of them really should kiss and make up.

Sunday Independent

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