Thursday 14 December 2017

More Trump than Trudeau? Taoiseach Varadkar's big test is to prove he can unite his party

Leo Varadkar at the Mansion House minutes after being elected the new leader of Fine Gael
Leo Varadkar at the Mansion House minutes after being elected the new leader of Fine Gael
Simon Harris TD at the Mansion House, Dublin
Simon Coveney TD with his wife Ruth during the Fine Gael Leadership Election at the Mansion House, Dublin
Leo Varadkar with his parents Ashok and Miriam
Simon Coveney minutes after Leo Varadkar was announced as the new Fine Gael leader
Leo Varadkar at the Mansion House minutes after being elected the new leader of Fine Gael
Simon Coveney embraces Leo Varadkar at the Mansion House, Dublin
Leo Varadkar. Photo: Damien Eagers
Niall O'Connor

Niall O'Connor

Leo Varadkar's first real test as Fine Gael leader will be to set the scene for the tenure of the country's most talked about politician.

Within weeks of his likely election victory this evening, Mr Varadkar will have to show whether he possesses arguably the most important political skill of all: the art of collaboration.

Or in plain speak, the ability to work together. Does he have the capacity to unify, not just his party, but also a society that for too long has been underpinned by chasms and division?

But as we await the final result of an at times bitter leadership contest, even some of Mr Varadkar's own supporters remain unconvinced over the temperament of the man expected to become the country's 14th taoiseach.

While he models himself on politicians such as Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron, other far less flattering names have been bandied about in recent days.

Some within the party view him as 'more Trump than Trudeau', while comparisons have also been drawn between Mr Varadkar and Frank Underwood, the fictional US president in the hit series 'House of Cards'.

Enda Kenny (l) with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Photo: Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press via AP
Enda Kenny (l) with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Photo: Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press via AP

Read More: Coveney full of praise for O'Connell - despite her antics during FG battle

Underwood and Varadkar share the type of ruthless streak that has seen them both climb to the top in a relatively short period of time.

A staunch Varadkar critic, Willie O'Dea, put it bluntly that the Fine Gael politician is seen as being "nastier" than his soon to be predecessor Enda Kenny.

Mr O'Dea was responding to a description by Mr Varadkar of former taoiseach Bertie Ahern.

"The gutter is Bertie Ahern's natural habitat," Mr Varadkar said during his early political days.

Whether Mr Varadkar's leadership will be underpinned by nasty elements should become clear within weeks. His first job will be to heal the wounds that are within Fine Gael, a party more divided than it has been in years.

The leadership race exposed a serious degree of infighting and bitterness between the 73 TDs, senators and MEPs. Members of both camps resorted to a level of negative spin normally reserved for their political rivals, not their own friends and colleagues.

Read More: Coveney refuses to concede but Varadkar says he's 'confident'

It doesn't bode well for a party that could be back on the canvass trail at any moment.

And so, Mr Varadkar's ability to bring the party together will be on display in just over a week's time, when he unveils his new Cabinet.

Simon Coveney may have shown himself to be desperately poor at winning leadership contests.

But he remains arguably the most capable member of Cabinet.

By appointing Mr Coveney as Tánaiste, Mr Varadkar might well silence his many critics, some of whom predict his term of office will be short-lived.

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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