Tuesday 12 December 2017

The voters want to see real leadership not novelty socks and lazy PR stunts

Editorial Comment

Our View

The honeymoon period for new Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has proved to be a short one with the first opinion poll since he succeeded Enda Kenny showing support for his party has actually dropped since he took charge.

During the Fine Gael leadership battle between Mr Varadkar and Simon Coveney the party - buoyed by a mountain of positive media coverage extolling the virtues of both men - enjoyed a surge in the polls.

A Red C tracker poll in late May showed Fine Gael at their highest point in six months having soared upwards to stand seven points clear of Fianna Fáil.

What a difference a few months makes. Now - less than a month after he became Ireland's youngest ever Taoiseach - Leo Varadkar has seen his party's support fall back to within just three points of Fianna Fáil.

It is an astonishingly quick turnaround.

Typically the appointment of a new leader - especially a young 'new broom' like Mr Varadkar - will see a government party enjoy a bump in the polls for a few months.

What has changed and how has it happened so quickly?

Well one obvious answer might by the new Taoiseach's predilection for photo opportunities and headline grabbing, but twee, sound bites.

The recent visit of Canadian Prime Justin Trudeau - and the attention lavished on Mr Varadkar's novelty socks - as well as his misjudged opening remarks about romantic comedy film 'Love Actually' on his first state visit to Downing Street were two particularly cringe worthy examples of this.

But are there deeper problems with the Varadkar brand?

The election as Taoiseach of the young, gay son of an immigrant understandably made headlines around the world.

It's nice to see the world acknowledge that "staunchly Catholic Ireland" has grown up but the real evidence of Ireland's new found maturity isn't Varadkar's election.

It's the fact that most Irish voters don't give a damn about the Taoiseach's sexuality or background one way or the other.

Most austerity battered Irish voters are far more concerned about his conservative policies and since he became Taoiseach his stance on the gardaí; bin charges; alleged welfare fraud and judicial appointments have left a sour taste in many mouths.

There is another elephant in the room, Mr Varadkar's leadership rival Simon Coveney.

The vast majority of Fine Gael's rank and file membership backed the Cork based minister with Varadkar taking the party leadership thanks to support from colleagues in Leinster House.

It is entirely possible that much of that seven per cent poll bounce enjoyed by Fine Gael back in May was down to voters who wanted or expected Mr Coveney to win the leadership.

He might have won over his colleagues in cabinet but it seems Mr Varadkar has a lot of work to do if he wants to win over the public and his party's rank-and-file.

That will take more than novelty socks and sound-bites.


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