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'Burton bounce' is nice, but making it stick won't be easy

A Canadian politician once said that for women to be considered half as good as men, they need to perform twice as well. Joan Burton seems to have passed this test with flying colours.

According to the latest opinion poll, Labour's first female leader has doubled her party's support from 7pc to 14pc - proof positive that Eamon Gilmore was right to fall on his sword after last May's humiliating local and European elections.

While the 'Burton bounce' is certainly impressive, Joan would be wise to keep her feet on the ground.

BOOST

New party leaders always get a boost in the polls, since voters like fresh faces and are happy to give them the benefit of any doubt.

Even Brian Cowen once gave Fianna Fail a 'Biffo bounce', shortly before he became the most unpopular Taoiseach in history.

To stay riding high, the Tanaiste needs to start scoring some real policy victories.

Her predecessor saw the 'Gilmore gale' blow out so Burton must push harder for Labour values - while also being careful not to provoke the Taoiseach so much that their coalition comes to a premature end.

Joan's first big test lies just around the corner.

With eight weeks to go before Budget 2015, Michael Noonan is already boasting that the total adjustment will be much less than the €2bn originally scheduled.

In other words, for the first time in many years there should be some goodies to hand out - but which sectors of society deserve a break and which will actually get one?

Labour's early shape-throwing suggests that they may be on the verge of making a huge mistake.

Public expenditure minister Brendan Howlin has been dropping heavy hints about the possibility of reversing some public sector pay cuts of recent years.

If this comes to pass, it will be seen as a cynical attempt to buy back support from Labour's trade union allies - and the party's new-found popularity could fade away as fast as the summer sunshine.

Naturally, Burton wants her own fingerprints all over Budget 2015.

A smarter way to do this would be a reduction in the much-hated Universal Social Charge, benefiting all low and middle-income workers.

She could also restore Labour's image as a caring party by ensuring no more cuts to health, education or her own department of social protection.

For now at least, Labour can bask in the novel sensation of being led by a woman who clearly possesses the political X Factor.

Compared to the man she replaced, Burton is coming across as warm, capable and in touch with the concerns of ordinary people.

Before she was elected, party veterans Pat Rabbitte and Ruairi Quinn insisted that a new leader would not make a blind bit of difference - which helps to explain why they have now joined Eamon Gilmore on the backbenches.

Burton's biggest achievement so far is to make the 2016 general election look more unpredictable than ever. With Labour recapturing votes from all other parties including Fine Gael, any number of possible coalitions could now be mathematical possibilities.

The Government has had a lousy year so far, mostly thanks to its own blunders - but the lack of any real alternative from Fianna Fail or Sinn Fein means it is still in the game.

Joan Burton deserves credit for giving the Labour Party a new style.

To prevent her ratings from turning into a 'dead cat bounce', she must now prove herself to be a woman of substance.


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