Friday 6 December 2019

John Drennan: Enda, a man of the people no more

Once upon a time, and a long time ago it was too, Enda Kenny was quite the enthusiast for the concept of a 'rate my teacher'-style report card where dilatory ministers would be called into headmaster Kenny's study and told to mend their ways.

Like many other things, once power was actually secured, the concept disappeared into that desolate tundra where inconvenient promises howl disconsolately over their banished state.

In fairness, even in opposition, when it came to the more challenging prospect of a 'rate my Taoiseach' card, Enda was more of an enthusiast for the De Valera 'looking into my own heart' school of self-regulation.

It was a wise move, as a report card on Mr Kenny last week would not have made for pretty reading.

Gerry Adams, as is his wont, was being overly optimistic in his claim that "it must have taken FF eight or nine years before the people had enough of them" but this Government had managed to secure this status in a year. However, Enda Kenny's performance in Athlone did provide us with another indicator of how the ground is beginning to shift beneath this Government's feet.

The Grumpy Old Men (and a couple of token women too!) are not in the same territory as Anglo Irish Bank in 2008 but they are perilously close to the scenario of 2005 for, in spite of ongoing impressive poll figures, their political liquidity, courtesy of impaired ministers such as Alan Shatter, not-so-cute Old Phil and Richard 'the lesser' Bruton, is starting to contract.

And though the Grumpy Old Men have retained a reasonable slice of their election-day support, in the long run they will not be able to quarantine party support from a stark 65 per cent dissatisfaction rating.

We, of course, have not reached the point where the Government's accelerating credit crisis cannot be nipped in the bud, but, outside of the electorate's unhappiness, the most unnerving feature for Fine Gael and Labour consists of the deterioration of the Taoiseach's post electoral triple-A rating.

He has not quite reached 'junk bond' status, but Kenny's star will certainly not have been quantitatively eased by his bull-in-a-china-shop performance in Athlone.

The Taoiseach might have begun his meet-and-insult-the-people walkabout with his

patented 'faux JFK' smile but this was swiftly replaced by Mr Kenny's lips-like-the-rear-end-of-a-duck visage when it was evident the electorate was not in a loving mood.

As the Taoiseach informed one man who had been self-employed for 30 years that "you could do with a day's work, I'd say" and then replied to another citizen's concerns about emigration by telling him "if you want to go and make a speech, you can go and do it outside", Mr Kenny's vulgar derision managed to surpass the worst examples of the Biffo school of seduction.

In fact, such a comparison is unfair to poor Biffo, who was far too terrified of the electorate to ever round on them in such a truculent manner.

It should be noted that Enda's bile was understandable, for it is never easy for a Taoiseach to stay connected with the humble voters. No matter how hard they try -- and plenty don't -- national leaders like bishops and supreme court judges do not live like ordinary people.

Mr Kenny, in opposition, may have made much play of his desire to be an "authentic" Taoiseach but when you live in a world of deferential mandarins, TDs, ministers, CEOs and best of all, celebrities, who find the airiest of thoughts from the man formerly known as Lite to be profound, such privileges change a man.

After sampling these delights, it is particularly difficult to deal with the negative energy surrounding poor, cantankerous, unemployed common citizens. Kenny's dangerously swollen ego has also not been eased by the ramshackle state of the FF/'Posh Boy' Barrett/Mick Wallace Independent Muppet/SF Alliance.

Good opposition keeps governments honest (just ask Bertie!) and it is easy to think you are a political Gulliver when you are confronted by a weekly B-list cast of 'an Idiot Abroad' Adams, FF's not so bright new curate and Richard 'Posh Boy' Barrett.

Last week, nothing epitomised the increasing degradation of the moral sensibilities of our Taoiseach more than Mr Kenny's 'nothing to do with me' stance on emigration.

It represented some sea-change from the high moral sentiment where an empathetic Kenny used to sympathise with parents in our "betrayed" Republic who, "are rendered speechless at the sight of their children boarding planes to countries where spring is autumn and our today is their tomorrow".

That was also a time where Mr Kenny also expressed tender concern about workers who "pray for invisibility as they queue for the dole", families who "worry that neighbours might see the St Vincent de Paul calling to the door and dread the postman dropping bills like stealth bombers into the hall".

Last week, fattened by a year in government, our 'dear leader's' attitude to such matters bore a closer resemblance to the Norman Tebbitt 'on yer bike' school of counselling.

Sadly, Kenny's woes extend beyond the obvious reality that a Lemass-style revival in national morale will not be secured if the Taoiseach, when challenged, behaves like a boorish variant of George Bush Jnr. Instead, any forensic 'rate my Kenny' report would reveal far greater failings, for, it is becoming increasingly clear that a government, whose template is set by the Taoiseach, does not, with a few exceptions, want to fulfil its promises to radically reform the State.

Rather, the Government's real desire consists of a Dad's Army-style nostalgia for normality as it was before this terrible troika business began.

They may have talked the talk in the initial heady weeks of governance but what this Government of the Grumpy Old Men, and in particular its Taoiseach, secretly lust for is the return of our previously safe state of bourgeois mediocrity, a state where we all know our place and there is a place for everyone -- who is in the right party.

Far from being elderly iconoclastic revolutionaries, it is increasingly clear that once the Cromwells of the troika are dethroned, our Grumpy Old Men are plotting to take the easy road of securing the restoration of our old semi-corrupt but mostly harmless Mediterranean-style state.

The only difference will be that FG rather than FF would be the permanent party of power.

Mr Kenny's sanguine absence of ambition is on one level understandable for he knows, too well, the Irish voters generally do not ask for much. Unlike those mad Greeks, we understand that whilst it might be socially desirable, random drive-by shootings of top banking CEOs 'pour encourager les autres' is not permitted by the Constitution.

But, in 2011 an electorate who, to quote the Taoiseach's own words, engaged in a "democratic revolution" did not, on this occasion at least, vote for a speedy return to Ireland's perennial colonial embrace of the politics of fumbling in a FG (as distinct to a FF) greasy till.

When it comes to Mr Kenny's apparent ignorance about this, the kindest thing any report could say is that whilst he is energetic, the Taoiseach shows little understanding that the fire of public dissatisfaction is getting hotter under his feet.

Instead, like the frog who was boiled so gently it didn't see its fate until fork and napkin were produced, our Taoiseach still thinks nodding, winking and getting out of the leaba at 6am each morning will revive the State's morale.

But if a capacity for early rising (and a lot of loud crowing) was the main template for the Taoiseach's job, we'd have put a cockerel in charge of the country.

There again, maybe we did.

Sunday Independent

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