Tuesday 15 October 2019

Kevin Doyle: 'Election pressure mounts as leaders try not to mess up'

Veteran: Micheál Martin on the campaign trail in Tipperary. Photo: Conor McCabe Photography Ltd
Veteran: Micheál Martin on the campaign trail in Tipperary. Photo: Conor McCabe Photography Ltd
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Elections are usually lost rather than won.

The result tends not to come because one side ran a brilliant campaign - but simply because the others weren't as match fit.

Enda Kenny led a disastrous Fine Gael canvass in 2016. He refused to talk "economic jargon" with the uneducated punters and called people in his own constituency "whingers".

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Even though Fine Gael made it into power, the sheer scale of its recovery from a being busted flush meant Fianna Fáil was the winner of that day out.

The 2014 local and European elections saw the Labour Party devoured due to Eamon Gilmore's inability to convince people austerity would be worthwhile in the end. He became a lightning rod for public anger.

In 2011, Micheál Martin effectively gave up the hustings such was the public hostility towards Fianna Fáil.

So deciding who is categorised as the biggest winner and loser on May 24 will come down to who has foreseen the potholes in their campaign rather than who has produced the grander promises.

It means the pressure is very much on Leo Varadkar, Micheál Martin, Mary Lou McDonald and Brendan Howlin to perform.

Having wisely sat out the presidential contest, this is the first campaign for Varadkar since he took over at the helm of Fine Gael.

"It kinda feels different," he told a woman on the canvass in Co Meath last week.

The Dublin West TD has enjoyed almost unanimous support from his TDs and senators since becoming leader.

The constant whispers of discontent that smothered Kenny have been absent, but recent opinion polls are causing anxiety.

Senior party sources are concerned that his TV persona isn't translating into 'real life'.

So far he has faced two big questions on the trail. His handling of the controversy over the mortuary at Waterford Hospital led people to see him more as a 'smart alec' than smart.

And farmers have branded him a vegan, even though he eats meat on an almost daily basis. Everyone knows it's not true, but it's now a running joke.

By contrast, Martin is now a campaign veteran. He has two general elections as well as a round of local and Europeans under his belt, admittedly with mixed results.

He has lived the importance of local elections more than his competitors. Twenty-two councillors became first-time TDs for Fianna Fáil in 2016.

This time around he has 152 new council candidates which is impressive - but just 87 of its 415 total are women.

So far Martin has steered clear of trouble, although that's easier to do from Opposition.

Another way to stay out of trouble is to stay out of the way. We've seen very little of Sinn Féin's Mary Lou McDonald lately.

She has been heavily focused on Northern Ireland, where the party held its ground in the local elections.

But the pressure is mounting. The party's decision to challenge Michael D Higgins for the keys of Áras an Uachtaráin was politically misjudged. It gained 105 seats five years ago, so the room for improvement may be limited. Yet any loses will raise leadership questions.

As for Howlin, his party is in survival mode. Labour subjects leaders to a confidence motion after each election. If he doesn't regain some of the massive 2014 losses, Howlin could be in trouble.

The race is on and it looks like Micheál Martin is the least weighed down.

Irish Independent

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