Sunday 26 May 2019

Revealed: Fine Gael's top secret poll on election

  • 'Let Leo lead on' - slogan revealed in research
  • Mr Varadkar has warned TDs to be ready for possible snap election
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Fine Gael is actively polling the public mood in anticipation of a general election, testing slogans such as 'Let Leo Lead On'.

In recent days, senior party figures commissioned a poll asking whether people believe an election should be called on the issue of Brexit.

And Leo Varadkar wants to know whether voters care most about the economy, health or housing.

The Sunday Independent has seen a top secret questionnaire which gives a revealing insight into the Taoiseach's strategy ahead of seeking a fresh mandate.

The research by Red C was conducted at the same time that Mr Varadkar was privately warning his TDs to be ready for a snap election in the coming months.

Fine Gael's slogan during the 2016 election - 'Keep the recovery going' - was widely panned as being out of touch, so unsurprisingly the party is now testing a series of alternatives.

Among the options under consideration are:

■ Let Leo Lead On

■ Securing our Future

■ Forward with Leo's Team

■ Prudence over Promises

Party sources confirmed these are only "a sample of the ideas" being teased out.

Interestingly, the first option is a direct copy of Fianna Fail's 1965 election mantra: 'Let Lemass Lead On.'

After his election as Fine Gael leader, Mr Varadkar said he took inspiration from Sean Lemass who he described as a "modernising and reforming Taoiseach" who had "transformed this country".

He keeps a portrait of the ex-Fianna Fail leader in his office at Government Buildings.

Voters were asked to state whether each slogan suggested Fine Gael was a "party that truly stands out", "really appealing" or "out of touch".

Views were also sought on how people would react to Fianna Fail if Micheal Martin's party used a tagline such as 'A Shared Prosperity'.

Mr Varadkar has repeatedly stated that he wants to negotiate the confidence and supply arrangement with Fianna Fail over the summer months.

However, today's revelations show that election planning is at a very advanced stage.

Fine Gael has candidates formally selected in 22 constituencies while dozens more are lined up to run up at short notice.

Mr Varadkar's poll asks how the public would react to an election based on Brexit or a collapse in the confidence and supply arrangement.

"Fine Gael should seek an election to strengthen its mandate in the event of a collapse in the Brexit negotiations on the Irish border" is presented as one option.

The alternative is: "Fine Gael should seek an election to strengthen its mandate in the event of a failure of FF to commit to extend confidence and supply."

The potential for a left-wing coalition also features in the extraordinary questionnaire, with participants asked whether they would be more or less likely to support the Labour Party if they were to suggest doing business with Sinn Fein.

The set of questions tabled makes it clear that Mr Varadkar is trying to find a balance between personality politics and policy topics.

The forum was asked to describe Mr Varadkar, Micheal Martin, Mary Lou McDonald and Brendan Howlin.

Among the optional answers were "gets things done", "intelligent", "caring", "arrogant", "honest" and "likeable".

People were told to rate how important they believe it is to have "a strong leader capable of being a good Taoiseach". Red C also collected data on what issues people believe will affect their vote.

Those who took part were shown a scale from one to seven and asked to rate the importance of the Government being strong on crime, improving the affordability of renting, proving childcare supports and tackling climate change. Other scales focused on reducing hospital waiting lists, enhancing regional development and championing gender equality.

Participants were also asked to rate how important it is to "protect and reassure women affected by the health service screening issues".

Another section notes there has been "a lot of focus on housing as a major issue for the country".

But Mr Varadkar wants to know which element of the housing crisis voters are most concerned about: homelessness, rising prices, lack of development, restrictions on mortgages or the shortage of social and affordable housing.

Sinn Fein yesterday withdrew its threat to place a motion of no confidence in Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy before the Dail's summer recess.

Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy

Mr Varadkar told a private party meeting last Wednesday that if the motion was tabled it could lead to a snap election.

Since then sources in Fine Gael have tried to dampen down speculation about an election - but ministers and senior Fianna Fail politicians all accept that an autumn election remains a distinct possibility. The emergence of the polling is likely to irritate Fine Gael's top brass who have not even informed key ministers it was being carried out. It is understood only a small group of advisers who are "extremely close" to Mr Varadkar are aware of the research.

When asked for comment, a Fine Gael spokesman told the Sunday Independent he had no knowledge of any polling.

Yesterday, Richard Colwell of Red C said: "During the last month we have conducted over 50 different polls/studies for various commercial clients, and interest groups. Each of our clients has a different client team internally that looks after that account and their interest. As we work for many different clients, we of course cannot comment on any work conducted for any individual client that had commissioned work privately, as their confidentiality is paramount."

Sunday Independent

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