This race is done and dusted: FG's young guns will bring Leo to power
On February 18 - 13 weeks ago - I wrote in the Irish Independent: "I believe its Leo's to lose… I would be shocked if Leo does not win". I was accused of supporting and spinning on behalf of Leo. Not true. I simply listened to the class of 2011 - the surge of newly elected Fine Gael TDs who would determine the future direction of the party. I now believe the race is virtually done and dusted. My best guess is Leo will win by 63pc to 37pc.
Predicting who will win the imminent Fine Gael leadership contest amounts to an exercise in adding the sum of the parts together. Even with a 50pc turnout of party members, it is impossible to know how more than 10,000 grassroots activists will vote. The best indicator of their intentions and those of 232 councillors is most likely to be reflected in how the 73 Fine Gael parliamentarians vote.
It's apparent in many constituencies that TDs/senators will do their own thing - irrespective of supporters' views. However, as a crude rule of thumb, it's not unreasonable to assume that each TD has confidence of around a dozen councillors and 300 loyal members. When we get visibility on voting intentions of the parliamentary party individually, you can apply a multiplier effect on the ground. The key to accurate punditry is ascertaining 50 TDs' intentions.
The respective campaigns of Simon Coveney and Leo Varadkar can be best described as personalised, good natured, assiduous, nationwide, and civilised, relatively devoid of negativity. Predominantly face-to-face - in private. There were never any other campaigns. No third candidate had any prospect of getting sufficient traction to even be nominated.
The crucial initial target is to obtain 40 public declarations of support. This is the defining benchmark, given that 65pc of the electorate is comprised by the parliamentary party. It effectively means the 'path to victory' for a rival becomes insurmountable.
Most important is the momentum effect of such a critical mass of votes. It's a career game changer for TDs to ensure a mutually positive relationship with the leader. It's all about jobs, ministerial jobs. If you're offside with the new boss, it's likely backbench misery. This scenario creates "weather-vane" TDs, who hold back until a certain result emerges, then jump on board the winner's bandwagon.
Anyone who doubts the gravest consequences of backing a loser must have a very short memory. Enda Kenny's ministerial appointments in 2011 were direct consequences of the unsuccessful heave against him in 2010. Former frontbenchers who opposed him were banished to exile. There aren't enough jobs to go around in any event. For more vulnerable candidates, there's added victimhood of being screwed in your constituency, out of favour with both boss and party HQ.
Hence, in constituencies with two or more parliamentarians, if one TD declares a preference, it creates a reactionary ricochet on the other.
Examples abound: Dublin Bay, South - Eoghan Murphy (leading Leo's campaign) versus Kate O'Connell (on Simon's team); Dublin Fingal - Alan Farrell (Leo) v Dr James Reilly (Simon); Louth - Fergus O'Dowd (Leo) v Peter Fitzpatrick (Simon); Wicklow - Simon Harris (Simon) v Andrew Doyle (Leo); Dún Laoghaire - Maria Bailey (Simon) v Mary Mitchell O'Connor (Leo), to name but a few.
While constituency competition is constant tension in all leadership battles, across all parties, it's not universally the case.
In Meath, Helen McEntee, Regina Doherty and Senator Ray Butler support Leo. In Wexford, Michael D'Arcy and Paul Kehoe support Leo. In Carlow/Kilkenny, Pat Deering and John Paul Phelan support Leo. In Cavan/Monaghan, Heather Humphreys and Senator Joe O'Reilly support Leo. In Roscommon, senators Maura Hopkins and Frank Feighan support Leo. In Mayo, Senator Paddy Burke and Michelle Mulherin back Leo.
With 50 Fine Gael TDs in 40 constituencies, the majority of deputies are sole representatives, so this rivalry doesn't arise. Political geography affinity becomes a factor of choice. Leo represents Dublin; Simon represents Cork - additionally the non-Dublin (anti-Dublin) rural option.
Dubliners supporting Leo are: Paschal Donohoe; Richard Bruton; Josepha Madigan; Noel Rock; Senator Neale Richmond; Colm Brophy; Senator Catherine Noone; and MEP Brian Hayes.
Some ministers didn't publicly declare their position, out of respect for Enda Kenny. It's suspected that this Dublin factor will ultimately tilt Dublin ministers towards Leo. These include Frances Fitzgerald and Catherine Byrne.
Conversely, it's from beyond the capital Simon has his baseline support: Dara Murphy (Cork North-Central); David Stanton (Cork East); Senator Colm Burke (Cork North-Central); Senator Tim Lombard (Cork South-Central); Deirdre Clune MEP (Munster); Damien English (Meath West), who is campaign leader; Marcella Corcoran Kennedy (Offaly); Senator Gabrielle McFadden (Longford/Westmeath).
A cohort of undecided parliamentarians could ultimately go either way. Some are veterans, independent of career considerations - TDs like former minister Bernard Durkan - and others include Martin Heydon (chairman of the parliamentary party, part of the election oversight team); Senator Jerry Buttimer (has publicly declared for Simon as constituency colleague, but his paper probably needs inspection); MEPs Mairead McGuinness and Sean Kelly; and Agriculture Minister Michael Creed.
For non-political anoraks, interested in speculating on the blood sport of next taoiseach, perhaps the most reliable, independent guide to the outcome are the bookies' odds.
Paddy Power had Leo at 10/11; now he is a prohibitive 1/10 favourite with Simon at 11/2 - representing a greedy profit margin. Personally, as a former bookmaker, I think the betting is over.
How has Leo done it? He's meticulously cultivated FG electors since 2014: by personally calling defeated candidates; with beer and pizza or dinner and wine; and intimacy. Schmoozing works, especially with councillors. There have been nationwide constituency meetings and ministerial set-piece PR events. He's been asking for votes and securing affiliations over the past year.
Methinks he's not far off the magical 40 declarations. If correct, Simon faces an epic battle. Don't rule out the campaign not going the full distance of three weeks. A Tony Blair/Gordon Brown settlement deal today looks improbable, but may ultimately emerge. It's called "party unity".
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.
|Richard Bruton -Minister||Simon Harris - Minister|
|Frances Fitzgerald - Minister||Damien English - Minister|
|Michael Ring - Minister||Dara Murphy - Minister|
|Eoghan Murphy - Minister||David Stanton - Minister|
|Sean Kyne - Minister||Marcella Corcoran Kennedy - Minister|
|Joe McHugh - Minister||Kate O'Connell - TD|
|Helen McEntee - Minister||Maria Bailey - TD|
|Charlie Flanagan - Minister||Sean Barrett TD|
|Paul Kehoe -Minister||Hildegard Naughton - TD|
|Patrick O'Donovan - Minister||Peter Fitzpatrick - TD|
|Regina Doherty - Minister||Tim Lombard - Senator|
|Mary Mitchell O'Connor - Minister||Jerry Buttimer - Senator|
|Paschal Donohoe - Minister||Paudie Coffey - Senator|
|Heather Humphreys - Minister||James Reilly - Senator|
|Pat Breen - Minister||Colm Burke - Senator|
|Catherine Byrne - Minister||John O'Mahony - Senator|
|Andrew Doyle - Minister||Paul Coghlan - Senator|
|John Paul Phelan - TD||Gabrielle McFadden - Senator|
|Noel Rock - TD||Deirdre 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 - Minister||Michael Creed - Minister|
|Bernard Durkan - TD||Sean Kelly - MEP|
|Mairead McGuinness MEP|
* Outgoing leader Enda Kenny and party chairman Martin Heydon will not make an endorsement