Sunday 8 December 2019

Leo looks a clear winner for FG activists - but wider voters have a soft spot for Simon

Taoiseach Enda Kenny
Taoiseach Enda Kenny
Fionnán Sheahan

Fionnán Sheahan

On some Sunday nights in the Shearwater Hotel in Ballinasloe, a fella called Michael Collins headlines the 'social dancing' from 5pm to 8pm.

Give or take a few, about 618 fans of a better-known Michael Collins turned up on Saturday night to the hear the next flag-bearer of their party make their pitch.

(The crowd was counted employing the Semple Stadium block estimate system, so is highly accurate, lest any Blueshirt try to claim there was 6,000 there.)

The Leo versus Simon Show has a buzz about it now, even though it won't affect the outcome of the Fine Gael leadership contest.

Leo Varadkar is going to handily win the TDs, senators and MEPs block and the councillors too, so victory is in the bag.

Actually, the most telling comment of the night came from the Dublin West TD, when he said: "For six years, every time I have visited a county, I have made time to meet with councillors."

His campaign for the leadership is going back way further than the past three months.

The membership is still up for grabs. Here, Simon Coveney is making a far stronger play than expected.

There's a lot of auld hokum about a failure to win all three camps undermining Mr Varadkar's authority.

A win is a win. Just ask Donald Trump.

Fine Gael has missed a trick by banning a televised debate between the contenders. At best, just over 3,000 members will have attended the hustings.

The party melodramatically claims 100,000 watched the first debate on Facebook. No.

In a sanitised and sterile internal political system, a bit of robust debate doesn't go astray.

Look at the alternatives.

The Labour Party - normally the most open to healthy dissent - actually blocked a genuine candidate from contesting the leadership.

The next leader of Sinn Féin will be picked by what we shall mischievously call the 'Army Council' of the party hierarchy. And the Fianna Fáil leader is telling his frontbench to stop leaking disagreements as its damaging the party.

Read More: So let the voting begin - Varadkar has passed the hustings test

Hilariously, this was then leaked.

The Social Democrats can't agree on having a leader, let alone who it should be.

And the AAA/PBP/Solidarity think it's too bourgeois to have a leader. Besides, their best candidate for the job is Clare Daly, but she's outside their ranks.

The groupthink of the Celtic Tiger era is partly to blame for the collapse, so challenges to the consensus and heated discussion ought to be encouraged.

Besides, there's not that much difference on the ideological front between Varadkar and Coveney.

There's no Bernie Sanders or Jeremy Corbyn revolution going on here in Fine Gael.

The debates haven't done the party any harm at all.

The process has also displayed how Fine Gael's communication with the public was hampered for so long by Enda Kenny's utter inability to engage in debate.

The sniping between Varadkar and Coveney has largely been a bit of ribbing each other about their ministerial or electoral records. Handbags.

The pair don't fundamentally disagree on the economy, jobs, infrastructure investment, the EU, public services or even abortion.

The style has been different to the substance.

Read More: Minister must come clean over the reasons for his departure from toughest job in politics

Varadkar has been laser focused on the actual electorate in this contest. Everything he says is honed for the Fine Gael audience.

His flip to the right is not out of character with his views on politics over the past 20 years.

Notably, he has toned down his rhetoric over the past week as a narrative was building up of him being distinctly right-wing.

However, he does still want the party's position in the market to be defined as representing "middle Ireland, the coping classes, the people just about managing".

He also offers more of a threat in terms of taking on Fine Gael's opponents.

The view from Varadkar supporters is the bounce in the opinion polls is down to the overwhelming view he will take over as leader of the party and Taoiseach. Let's see.

Viewed from a diehard, pure Fine Gael activist perspective, he is the superior candidate with his play for reforming and organising the party.

However, Coveney has showed up a debating weakness of his opponent where he can appear dispassionate and lacking in humanity.

As the frontrunner, Varadkar has doubtless tempered his language and learned to bite his tongue. He did still blurt out substantial changes to the funding of local councils and private treatment in public hospitals.

Coveney has done well to rally the troops by running and giving them a chance to have their say. His pitch has been more all-encompassing on a national level.

His standing has improved following his disastrous start where the parliamentary party declarations left him too far behind to win.

Across the four debates, from an outside the party perspective, the Cork South-Central TD has probably been the better performer and certainly more energised, which would certainly not have been predicted from the off.

Lagging behind, he has had to go for it.

He's going to lose, but has made it an interesting fight.

Fine Gael parliamentary party endorsements for leader

The Fine Gael parliamentary party makes up 65pc of the total electorate.

That makes each of the 73 members' votes worth 0.9pc of the total ballot.

Of the remaining electorate, 230 party councillors account for 10pc, while the remaining 25pc is rank and file members.

Leo Varadkar
Simon Coveney

Total: 45

Total: 19

Ministers: 17

Ministers: 5

TDs: 16

TDs: 5

Senators: 11

Senators: 8

MEPs: 1

MEPs: 1

Richard Bruton -MinisterSimon Harris - Minister
Frances Fitzgerald - MinisterDamien English - Minister
Michael Ring - MinisterDara Murphy - Minister
Eoghan Murphy - MinisterDavid Stanton - Minister
Sean Kyne - MinisterMarcella Corcoran Kennedy - Minister
Joe McHugh - MinisterKate O'Connell - TD
Helen McEntee - MinisterMaria Bailey - TD
Charlie Flanagan - MinisterSean Barrett TD
Paul Kehoe -MinisterHildegard Naughton - TD
Patrick O'Donovan - MinisterPeter Fitzpatrick - TD
Regina Doherty - MinisterTim Lombard - Senator
Mary Mitchell O'Connor - MinisterJerry Buttimer - Senator
Paschal Donohoe - MinisterPaudie Coffey - Senator
Heather Humphreys - MinisterJames Reilly - Senator
Pat Breen - MinisterColm Burke - Senator
Catherine Byrne - MinisterJohn O'Mahony - Senator
Andrew Doyle - MinisterPaul Coghlan - Senator
John Paul Phelan - TDGabrielle McFadden - Senator
Noel Rock - TDDeirdre Clune - MEP
Tony McLoughlin - TD 
Alan Farrell - TD 
Michael D'Arcy - TD 
Tom Neville - TD 
Josepha Madigan - TD 
Pat Deering - TD 
Jim Daly - TD 
Brendan Griffin - TD 
Ciaran Cannon - TD 
Colm Brophy - TD 
Peter Burke - TD 
Fergus O'Dowd - TD 
John Deasy - TD 
Joe Carey - TD 
Neale Richmond - Senator 
Catherine Noone - Senator 
Paddy Burke - Senator 
Martin Conway - Senator 
Michelle Mulherin - Senator 
Maura Hopkins - Senator 
Ray Butler - Senator 
Frank Feighan - Senator 
Maria Byrne - Senator 
Joe O'Reilly - Senator 
Kieran O'Donnell - Senator 
Brian Hayes - MEP 
Enda Kenny - Outgoing Party Leader *Martin Heydon - Party Chairman *
Michael Noonan - MinisterMichael Creed - Minister
Bernard Durkan - TDSean Kelly - MEP
Mairead McGuinness MEP  

* Outgoing leader Enda Kenny and party chairman Martin Heydon will not make an endorsement

Irish Independent

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