Tuesday 24 October 2017

It's a tough job, but Burton may keep rivals instead of purging the Gilmore old guard

Pat Rabbitte. Photo: Tom Burke
Pat Rabbitte. Photo: Tom Burke

YESTERDAY, in possibly his last official engagement as Tanaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Eamon Gilmore hosted a breakfast in Iveagh House for Women for Election, with guest speaker Melanne Verveer, former US Ambassador for global women's issues. Pointedly, he said he was most proud of electoral gender quota legislation introduced during his term. Later yesterday, his party elected its first female leader.

Joan Burton is an experienced Labour party politician, whose victory in the leadership campaign was widely expected internally. That is not to say she was a shoo-in. Alex White has distinct credentials, not least his personal self-confidence and advocacy skills gained through many years in the media as a producer and as a senior counsel. He was a formidable opponent and by all accounts was a persuasive campaigner. Ultimately Burton's longevity in the hard graft of elected politics and popularity with the grassroots membership won out.

But simply "changing the face at the microphone" is not going to wash with voters. Unless the new leader can improve Labour's fortunes by a visible change in style and substance, the leadership change will have been in vain. The lengthy campaign appeared to outsiders as self-indulgent, particularly in a party of government. Following immediately on the carnage of local and European elections means that Labour TDs and ministers have been preoccupied by electoral survival and internal strife for several months now.

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