Friday 18 October 2019

Brendan O'Connor: 'Leo and Kylie, and a rather surprising budget surplus'

The official welcome of an Australian diva to Ireland would make you yearn for an adult in the room

I SHOULD BE SO LUCKY: Why did Taoiseach Leo Varadkar go backstage to visit pop queen Kylie Minogue?
I SHOULD BE SO LUCKY: Why did Taoiseach Leo Varadkar go backstage to visit pop queen Kylie Minogue?
Brendan O'Connor

Brendan O'Connor

It was a bit perplexing. Why were we looking at a picture of the Taoiseach and his boyfriend with Kylie Minogue, an over-botoxed and filler-ed diva from yesteryear? And before anyone starts accusing me of various shaming, I have no problem if Leo and Matt and friends want to go to see Kylie. I have no problem with whatever Kylie chooses to do with her face, and I like a diva, especially when their career starts being repeated as comedy and tragedy. I have no problem with camp. I'm not looking down on disco, I don't mean to offend Australians and I'm not being ageist.

But why was the Taoiseach there getting his picture taken with Kylie Minogue? Presumably he wasn't there in an official capacity. Presumably we don't, as a matter of course, send our premier to go backstage at all mid-range gigs to greet performers on behalf of the nation. "Kylie. On behalf of the Irish people, I just want to tell you that we have loved you since you played chirpy mechanic Charlene in Neighbours, a woke feminist icon, ahead of her time, in a country that badly needed it. We followed you through all your various phases, even so-called SexKylie, when you raunched up your image during your relationship with the late Michael Hutchence. You gave this country great comfort in difficult times, and Better The Devil You Know has livened up many a dreary evening for us. Thank you for coming here."

Honestly. What was it about? Why did the Taoiseach go backstage to meet Kylie? It's not even really cool. It's slightly tragic. But then, after LCD Soundsystem, maybe Leo avoids the cooler acts. It was all a bit Love Actually at Downing Street, wasn't it? Seeing the fanboy there so pleased with himself. You really wanted to say, 'Ah grow up', man.

It turns out it was even weirder than that. The Taoiseach did in fact drop Kylie a note when she was originally due to perform in Ireland, saying to her that if she wanted to drop over to Government Buildings he would like to officially welcome her to Ireland. She then rang him and apologised for having to cancel that original gig, but said they would meet up when she came to Ireland, and have, obviously, a pint of Guinness. You literally could not make this up.

But, of course, it didn't end there. Because there was the row over who bought the Guinness in the end. Someone put it about on social media that the Taoiseach and some friends had enjoyed a free meal and drinks in the VIP area at Kylie's rescheduled gig last week, that when he took out his card to pay it was waved away. This wasn't true. It was only drinks and Leo paid, and he has the receipt to prove it. And we know that because he tweeted it, in response to the story going around on social media. Which again, he is perfectly entitled to do. But really, Taoiseach?

Leo claimed on The Late Late Show that he only got involved in denying the story because it wasn't just about him, his friends were involved. Quite how it was such a stain on his friends' characters that they might have got a freebie wasn't quite explained. But clearly they were very hurt by the suggestion. The key takeaway is that the Taoiseach is basically getting into tiffs on social media about what really happened at the Kylie concert.

It's all about optics, isn't it? And this Government is certainly all about the optics. So you think they'd be more careful about this kind of trivialising of the office of Taoiseach, by the Taoiseach. Politics right now is looking positively biblical, with talk that if Brexit doesn't collapse civilisation as we know it, then global warming will. And even though he is perfectly entitled to go out and enjoy himself, somehow it just looks bad that the Taoiseach is at Kylie, and that he's arguing with people online about who paid for the drinks. It's about tone, isn't it?

Right now, more than ever, people need to feel there are adults in charge of things. How else do you explain that, for all her calamities, there is a certain grudging respect for Theresa May. She is of that generation of doughty Brits who don't give up, even when they're in the trenches, surrounded on all sides. Here is a woman who is not seeking easy wins, who is sticking with the game long after it stopped being fun, long after popularity was out of the equation. Whatever you think about how misguided or not she is, it is the kind of thing mature adults do. There's barely 10 years between May and her predecessor David Cameron, but there is a huge generational divide between them in terms of tone. Look at May refusing to let go, through this old-fashioned sense of duty, versus Cameron whistling off stage-right having destroyed his country.

Sometimes you look around in this country and wonder where the adults in charge are. We are generally given the impression that Paschal is the safe pair of adult hands in the background, content to let Leo take the limelight while he does the serious business, his nose stuck in books. But you wonder how accurate that is when you see things like the accidental surplus that emerged last week. There's no doubt it is good news that we are going to have a surplus in Government finances two years earlier than expected. But the fact that it seems to be a complete surprise to the Government, and indeed that it seems to have happened despite the best efforts of the Government, is a bit of a worry.

We go to great lengths in this country not to take taxes from Big Tech and other FDI companies. Indeed, we are even prepared to go to the highest courts to protect our right not to take money from them. But, despite all our efforts, it seems they are finding ways to give us more money than expected. We took in half a billion in extra unexpected business tax last month, and business taxes are currently running 20pc ahead of the Government's target for the year. This news emerged on the same day that Seamus Coffey of the Fiscal Advisory Council was warning us about the imprudence of using exceptional, short-term income for excessive government spending. The Fiscal Advisory Council was an economic conscience we developed after the last crash. But now that everything is fine again, we are happy to dismiss them as naysaying cranks, a relic of a moment of weakness, when we had The Fear, during the boom hangover.

But hey, let's not spoil the party. The audience greeted Leo on The Late Late Show as if he was Daniel O'Donnell and Michael Buble rolled into one. Leo knows how to play a crowd, because remember that behind it all, he is much tougher and smarter than he often lets on. He managed to blather his way haltingly through homelessness and health and explained that he is active on social media because that's the way the world is right now. And "it probably annoys some of my political opponents because they fear it may be effective".

He had a light pop off Micheal Martin for not being as young as him, he was charming about getting better at small-talk, because, tellingly, "there is a certain persona that goes with the office of Taoiseach".

And he hoped that Love Actually will be shown this Christmas in the trendy expensive Stella cinema in Rathmines, where you can get your grub and your glass of wine delivered to your seat.

So far, with things like accidental surpluses, Leo has been a reasonably lucky general. Let's just hope if Brexit takes a turn for the worst, or the booming economy starts faltering, that a persona in charge will be enough.

Sunday Independent

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