Monday 19 August 2019

Niall O’Connor: A frenzied game of hunt the leak has taken hold of Labour

Tanaiste and Labour Leader Joan Burton (right) hugs Rose McKinney (age 77 from Cabra) during a visit to the 'I Believe' Christmas Village in Dublin
Tanaiste and Labour Leader Joan Burton (right) hugs Rose McKinney (age 77 from Cabra) during a visit to the 'I Believe' Christmas Village in Dublin

Niall O’Connor

Labour has become a political party gripped by paranoia since the details of an internal analysis of the upcoming General Election was published in the media.

TDs, senators and party officials have for the past 10 days been embroiled in a frantic and forensic Sherlock Holmes-style investigation in order to establish who was behind the alleged leak.

The analysis itself, which was detailed in this newspaper as well as others, claimed that party figures with a direct role in its election strategy fear losses of more than 20 seats are on the cards unless Labour's fortunes improve. This conclusion has already been deduced from the party's national poll rating. Labour currently stands at 7pc, according to the latest opinion poll published last week.

But such was the level of frenzy running through the party as a result of the media coverage that the issue dominated the weekly meeting of TDs and senators last Wednesday night.

The Christmas bonus, the economy and credit unions were also discussed - but none of these topics attracted as much attention and interest as the source of the alleged leak.

The hysteria continued to sweep through the party on Thursday and even into the weekend.

Some deputies and senators were reluctant to take phone calls from journalists after being warned to "think before you speak" at Wednesday night's meeting.

One Labour politician said she now feared being seen in the company of certain journalists in case she was "ex-communicated".

Others said the reports had caused more "hurt" and "damage" than any other media coverage over the past five years.

Within the party, the finger was firmly pointed at deputy leader Alan Kelly and individuals close to the Tipperary TD. No evidence was ever given to support this assumption. Mr Kelly, the director of elections, has denied categorically that he was behind any alleged leak.

In Dublin yesterday, Tánaiste Joan Burton said both she and Mr Kelly "deplored" the leak - clearly suggesting that she does not suspect her deputy leader of being responsible. She said she never received any concrete data to back up the analysis.

"I have been talking to Alan and I think, like everybody else, he has deplored whoever was responsible for doing that. It's difficult to know the motivation for whoever was doing that. I don't know if it is a single source... or if it is a number of sources," Ms Burton said.

"But it's difficult to make out what their motivation was. Because they certainly weren't helping themselves. And they were certainly not focusing on getting Labour Party people elected - at a time when Labour has been a major part of the reason this economy has recovered."

Opinion polls aside, there is no doubt that Labour members are experiencing a warmer reception on the doorsteps in recent months.

The vitriol levelled at the party during the local election campaign has disappeared somewhat.

That in itself has given the party reason for optimism.

However, many voters now seem to be reacting to Labour canvassers with a feeling of indifference at best. They are a long way off giving the party their number one - and not enough, from the party's perspective, are likely to reach that point this side of the election.

It's understandable for any politician to react badly if they learn that colleagues fear they will lose their seats.

However, Labour politicians would be better advised to focus on selling their message effectively, rather than taking on the role of detective.

Irish Independent

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