Monday 25 March 2019

Varadkar's Monologue: My addiction to political drama

It seems genuinely lost on the Taoiseach that he is the very person creating all of this instability, writes Jody Corcoran

Is it the case that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has come to realise that his popularity has peaked? Photo: PA Wire
Is it the case that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has come to realise that his popularity has peaked? Photo: PA Wire
Jody Corcoran

Jody Corcoran

Great effort is being made to interpret the intention behind Leo Varadkar's writing, and release, of a letter to Micheal Martin related to extending the confidence and supply agreement between Fine Gael and Fianna Fail.

All of this effort strives to ascribe political logic to the Taoiseach's actions, the most widely accepted of which is that he is preparing the ground for a general election, possibly this November, but with the "blame" for the election to be laid at the feet of Fianna Fail.

Indeed, and on cue, Varadkar's actions have been described as "bold" and in one case within earshot "brilliant", the view apparently being that it is evidence of some sort of marvellous Machiavellian cunning, the like of which we have not seen before.

All of this fairly predictable analysis so far has overlooked what seems to me to be more and more obviously the case, however, that Leo is a bit of a drama addict. He just loves being at the centre of attention.

We all have such people in our lives, or know of them - people who seem perpetually addicted to drama.

Indeed, in the past, I could be so accused before I grew up there a few years back, almost unknown to myself; you know, basically matured a little, what with the vicissitudes of life and all.

Even when life is going well, indeed especially when life is going well, drama addicts tend to take actions - as though they can not help it - to throw everything up in the air and create a form of chaos in their lives and the lives of others, out of which they intend to benefit.

To themselves, such people tend to defend these actions in a somewhat narcissistic way: you might hear them say 'I have a low boredom threshold'; or alternatively in some manner that lets it be known that others, and not they, are to blame.

It also tends to happen with people who are overly focused on one aspect of their lives to the detriment of, shall we say, a more rounded life.

Leo Varadkar is 39 and has been involved in politics, local and national, all of his adult life. Nothing else, really: just politics. He is the complete political animal.

In such circumstances, when boredom sets in, like say, after a long, quiet summer broken only by speaking truth to a Pope, politics can become politics for the sake it. Political theatre, if you like.

Increasingly, a picture is emerging of a Taoiseach who, it seems to me, cannot live without such drama, that he is addicted to the pure political theatre of it all.

Not just any old drama, mind you, but political drama in which he is the one up front and centre, the main player in the theatre of politics in his own head: Me, myself and I.

Even when he is told (again) that Fianna Fail will not engage on confidence and supply until after the budget, Leo says that he is just going to keep asking, or just keep the drama going, in other words: The Varadkar Monologues.

He met Martin in July and asked for a two-year extension to the confidence and supply arrangement, and within hours leaked, or had leaked, the details of that discussion.

Within the leak, it was evident then that Martin was having none of it, that he was sticking to the current deal, which states that a review would be discussed only after a third budget in October.

Varadkar then asked his Cabinet ministers to forward to him proposals for a new deal, put them down in a letter, sent that letter to Martin, and then took to Twitter to reveal the details before - I am given to understand - he had even received a hard copy of the Fianna Fail leader's reply, although there may have been an hour or so in it.

Varadkar's released letter amounted to little more than an uncosted election manifesto - hence the ascribed political logic; and contained the view, in effect, that no government could be expected to operate on a day-by-day, week-by-week basis, that is, under such intolerable instability.

It seemed genuinely lost on him that it was mostly he, in fact - both last July and last week - who had fuelled all of this instability in the first place by demanding a two-year extension when he knew he was never going to get such an deal, and certainly not before the budget; all the while with Fine Gael spinning the threat of an election in the background: conventions fast forwarded, TDs getting poster photographs taken and so on.

He has form here: last year, for example, he almost walked the country into an election before Frances Fitzgerald eventually fell on her sword when everybody knew she had to. Even more seriously, however, has been the manner in which he has negotiated Brexit, which is to say, with an in-your-face approach.

His approach to the UK and the DUP has been so aggressive, to say the least, that in August the EU's chief negotiator, the mild-mannered Michel Barnier said there was a need to "de-dramatise" the backstop proposal in relation to Northern Ireland.

There's that word again - drama. But it is fair to ask, who has been most responsible for dramatising the backstop issue?

Even if we leave aside the drama addiction theory, there are alternative explanations for Varadkar's recent actions. With all this drama around, could it be that he fears the EU (with Ireland) and the UK will not reach an agreement by the March deadline and that the UK will crash out in the hardest of hard Brexits?

That will ultimately see the return of a hard border to Ireland, and serious damage to the economy here. Varadkar would be forever remembered at the Taoiseach who returned a border to Ireland. Such an outcome remains a possibility.

Or is it that Varadkar has come to realise that his popularity has peaked, and that people are not as content as a booming economy would, by now, dictate they should be?

This is some of what he is facing: massive resentment between urban and rural areas, whose post offices are being closed and to whom broadband has not reached; and huge divides between old and (urban) young, who are paying extortionate rents and are unable to buy a home.

Such are the grim personal circumstances behind GDP growth, so it should be no wonder that Varadkar wants to run to the country now in the hope that he will win a five-year mandate, before hard reality eventually hits home.

In all of this drama, however, he would be well advised to remember that, these days, it is easier to collapse a government than to form a new one that will last the test of time.

And who should be blamed then for causing such unsurpassed instability when Brexit runs up close to the bewitching hour? Whoever causes an election, of course, and the way it looks right now, that would be Leo Varadkar.

Sunday Independent

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