Sunday 20 October 2019

Starting gun fired on what promises to be a very long election campaign

Editorial Comment

The race for Leinster House is on. While a polling date hasn't been announced, with his comments in Cork in the past week Leo Varadkar has fired the starting gun for the next General Election.

While Fianna Fáil would appear to favour a slightly earlier election it now looks almost certain that we'll be going to the polls sometime next May.

Though Brexit should and will be the chief focus for the next few months - probably until the end of January - we can expect to see a lot of unofficial electioneering going on the background for the next eight months.

Of course, the election could still be called earlier, some ministers are understood to think an earlier vote would be preferable if the UK does quit the EU at the end of October, but the smart money looks to be on May.

This would, hopefully, allow time for the worst of the Brexit fallout to pass. As an additional bonus, Mr Varadkar and his ministers would also be able to enjoy at least one more St Patrick's day jet-setting around the globe.

Politically speaking there is also a more pragmatic reason that Leo Varadkar will be tempted to go the people in May.

As the wiliest of Irish electioneers Bertie Ahern proved on two occasions, two of Ahern's record three back to back election wins came in May and Mr Varadkar will be keen to capture a little of Bertie's electoral magic.

There are prosaic reasons for favouring a summer poll. There isn't a politician in the land that wants to go canvassing on a dark, dreary, wet and weary winter's night.

The longer hours of daylight allow for door knocking well into the evening and people do tend to be more receptive and in better form as the summer looms.

Then there's the most important aspect of all when it comes to an election, voter turnout on General Election day tends be far higher in good weather.

As Mr Varadkar says, May might be the "right moment" for an election - for Fine Gael at any rate - but eight months is a long time and there are certain to be crises that will put a dent in the Government's vote.

Government parties tend to do well in summer elections but with Fianna Fáil's popularity growing, it looks as though it will be a close fought battle and, in the end, it could be the resurgent Green Party that emerge as the kingmakers.

Whether they would choose to crown Mr Varadkar or dethrone him and give Micheál Martin the reins of power remains decidedly unclear.

In the meantime, we can expect plenty of shadow boxing - particularly in the run up to the budget - as the political battle heats up behind the collegiate facade of the confidence and supply agreement.

In politics, winners know to keep their friends close and their enemies even closer.

For Mr Varadkar and Mr Martin the confidence and supply deal does exactly that.

Enniscorthy Guardian