Thursday 17 October 2019

Polls say go now, Enda, and you will remain Taoiseach

A pre-emptive strike where they cut and run to the country could be Coalition's best option

Enda Kenny and Joan Burton
Enda Kenny and Joan Burton

John Drennan

Sometimes, in Leinster House, ideas which are not talked about publicly are most whispered about in private.

Such has been the fate of the suggestion by Eoghan Harris that the best strategic decision Enda and Joan could make is to cut and run to the country sooner rather than later.

In public, from Enda the line continues to be one of hanging on to the last minute of the last hour of the last day of the Coalition's mandate.

Intriguingly, a certain element of equivocation entered Enda's tone last week, but that presumably was just a slip of the tongue.

Anyway, we shall see.

Whatever about Enda in the corridors of Leinster House, the Coalition TDs and ministers too, even prior to last week's Irish Times poll, were starting to sample the concept of a hit-and-run election in the manner of a sommelier trying out a new wine.

They weren't spitting the concept into the bucket either.

It would, of course, be a very brave strategic decision were Enda to cut and run now.

After four years of dining on locusts, now the Coalition cartel have reached a spot where manna is dropping out of the skies on a daily basis, the general who tries to move his soldiers on would not be too popular.

But, sometimes in politics as in war, the sort of courage displayed in the French General Foch's observation in the second Battle of the Marne that ''My centre is giving away, my right is in retreat: situation excellent, I shall attack'' is advisable.

Cautious Enda, alas, is more of a Haig-style, 'slogging through the trenches' man who doesn't believe in any mad cavalry charges.

In the wake of last week's Irish Times poll though, he (and Joan too, for we mustn't forget Joan) could be forgiven if bad thoughts entered their heads.

When it comes to 'snap' elections, Charlie Haughey's fate in 1989 - where the then Taoiseach's decision to go to the country early ended up with Haughey being tied to the rocks of a PD Alliance - means that Irish politicians are far more suspicious of the virtues of early elections than is the case in other countries.

That view was set in stone by the unfortunate fate experienced by the Rainbow when their failure to hold their fire until the autumn of 1997 saw them being condemned to a longer exile than the Children of Lir.

By contrast, both Enda and Joan were keenly aware Bertie Ahern's decision to go to the wire saw artful Bertie come up with a full house of cabinet cards on each and every occasion.

The problem, though, with the Coalition cartel's current 'careful now' strategy is that if you fight new wars with tried and tested methodologies, your tactics may be obsolete.

And what must be torturing key strategists within the Coalition is knowing that in a year's time, as they reacquaint themselves with the opposition benches, the decision not to cut and run now was a vast strategic error.

The Coalition cartel is acutely aware that never again will there be such an opportunity to ambush the opposition.

More critically still, never again will they face an opposition in such disarray.

Never again will they face a Fianna Fail party in such disrepair. Never again will they have the luxury of facing two new political alternatives, Renua and the Independent Alliance, who are as of now still without candidates or offices.

Never again will they face a Sinn Fein party whose candidates and internal infrastructure so poorly matches their first preference support.

The ides are particularly favourable for Fine Gael.

Never again for Fine Gael will the circumstances, in terms of their preferred political strategy of making the election a straight fight between Fine Gael and Sinn Fein, be so good.

Never again for Fine Gael will they have a better chance of finishing off their tribal Fianna Fail enemies by making them their junior coalition partners should Labour not come up with the numbers.

Labour though, are not in the worst of strategic positions either.

They may still be bouncing between Green meltdown country and respectable survival.

And they may genuinely believe a long war might serve them better than a short campaign.

But, when it comes to waiting until 2016, they might do well to remember that there can be many an Irish Water or mortgage arrears slip between cut and lip.

As of now, Labour, particularly in Dublin, can dare to believe that far from being wiped out, most of the party will survive.

At 10pc they can be reasonably assured of keeping the seats of endangered political species such as Joan Burton, Pat Rabbitte, Kevin Humphreys, Joanna Tuffy and Aodhan O'Riordan.

Outside the inner pale Labour could even have a prayer of retaining the seats of those such as Alan 'the successor' Kelly, Ged Nash, Anne Phelan, Jan O'Sullivan, Sean Sherlock, Derek Nolan, Jack Wall, Arthur Spring and Kathleen Lynch.

Given the experience of Bertie Ahern, which shows government support can go up as well as down, the interests of Fine Gael could also be served as they attempt to get towards the 60-seat barrier.

If they run now, with a full tide and a scattered opposition Armada, a host of vulnerable new first time TDs become salvageable.

Suddenly, rather like the ball bouncing around - seats such as those held by Aine Collins, Tom Barry, Enda Kenny, the two seats held in Cork South West, James Reilly, Brendan Griffin, Anthony Lawlor , Simon Harris, Kieran O'Donnell, Sean Kyne and Regina Doherty all become salvageable.

Kenny and Burton will be all too aware their own troops are not in the best of fighting order.

But it would take little, barring the addition of a few token female candidates, for Fine Gael to turn around and get its best team on to the pitch within a week.

And as Simon Coveney so kindly revealed, the manifesto - in so far as those things count, and they don't - is virtually ready.

By contrast, such is the wretched state of poor Fianna Fail they are having to hold boot camps to see if they can attract a few female candidates from somewhere or anywhere.

The cautious roundheads of the Coalition are, alas, not courageous when it comes to daring acts, such as a pre-emptive election strike. If they fail to act now and it all goes pear-shaped in 2016, they can't - as in 1997 - blame us for their tactical failings.

Sunday Independent

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