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Let's hope FG governs as capably as it campaigned

As Enda Kenny looks set to become our new Taoiseach you could argue that the attempt to oust him as leader of Fine Gael last June was the best thing that could have happened to him.

It recast people's perceptions of Kenny as a wily operator with a steely determination. It also softened the cough of those frontbenchers who had failed so miserably in their heave attempt, meaning there wasn't a squeak of criticism out of them subsequently.

Enda's seeming inability to take insult (either he has no ego as he claims, or it is an indestructible one) meant they were able to build quickly back into a team.

It is no coincidence that it all came together so well for Fine Gael over these past few weeks.

Just after that leadership victory last summer an election planning committee was established. Insiders say while the party used to operate far more on gut previously, this time around they majored on research, focus groups and the like, relying heavily on the advice of leading US pollster and political strategist Stan Greenburg, before unveiling their policies.

The by now famous Five Point Plan started life as being "Five points to recovery", but it was felt that sounded too much like it was part of an addiction recovery programme. The sense they got from many voters in the past few weeks was that they didn't care all that much for the finer detail of the FG plan, but were simply happy that someone had a plan.

They've also had almost 40 volunteers working around the clock on new media, using Twitter and Facebook and all the other recent technological ways of fighting elections, focusing on the rebuttal.

I'm writing this just after casting my own vote so have no idea of the outcome, but there is an inevitability about a Fine Gael success, the scale of which I do not yet know. In our Dublin South Central constituency, which has three FG candidates, the party dropped in a leaflet yesterday morning with detailed instructions on exactly what to do with our "critical" second preferences if we were going to give all three candidates a vote.

Later, watching nursery rhymes on YouTube with my four-year-old, there was an annoying ad, which popped up with each new song, telling us to "Vote for the Fine Gael team in your constituency".

It's been relentless but effective. The sense is that people have voted for FG as much for what they want them to be in Government, as for what they actually think they are.

It's also been expensive. The party has spent €1m at national level and €300,000 in individual constituencies, mostly raised, they insist, through the party's national draw. Incredibly they say they will have the election bill paid for by the end of the year.

Now that is the sort of accounting efficiency that we could desperately do with as a State.

The surprise in this general election campaign is that it was a campaign of so few surprises. At a time when we could have expected seismic developments on our political landscape, relatively little will actually have changed by the end of today.

It may not seem that way as we bid adieu to so many Fianna Fail TDs around the country but no matter how you look at it there will be an element of us swapping one crowd for another.

Nothing that resembles a new political force, or even the beginnings of one, has emerged. There are a number of reasons for that but not least that we are an inherently conservative, you could even say sheep-like, electorate.

The other big factor that influenced where the pen was pointed on ballot papers yesterday was vengeance on Fianna Fail.

Those representing the left did not help themselves in this election with their "to hell with the IMF" attitude because the Irish public who may have been tempted to more radically change their political allegiances recognised this as a daft strategy.

But whatever the election result, we are looking at a new beginning for the country. The majority of votes in a general election are cast in hope, and never more so than those slipped into the ballot boxes all over the country yesterday.

For FG's part, winning this general election could be looked upon as a bit of a booby prize. In time to come there may even be days when Enda wishes that heave last summer was successful.

While you'd still have doubts about Enda's intellectual capacity (his very poor performance in a TV3 interview with Ursula Halligan broadcast on Monday night being the latest example), you have to give credit where it is due for an excellent campaign and that hardly happened by coincidence.

Without knowing the result it is far more difficult to come to any kind of a judgment on Labour's campaign.

That party is somewhat sore at what they believe the Fine Gaelers have gotten away with. They've successfully sold a story, they say, that deficit reduction is painless.

It should be gotten over with quickly, and simply requires the elimination of waste from the public finances -- not least by getting rid of faceless bureaucrats and making changes to the ministerial car system. The latter would be a hugely popular move but the equivalent of throwing buns at an elephant in terms of what it saves, sneer the Labourites.

Labour is just hoping today that the numbers stack up so that they are needed as coalition partners, or that Enda Kenny, even if his party has enough seats, could still bring them on board for further stability, and as a way to share the blame.

We must hope that FG brings some of the professionalism and slickness of its campaign to the running of the country.

Irish Independent