This election is, or perhaps was, Fine Gael’s to lose – and they’re certainly doing their level best to test that presumption. I’m not a political insider but I have to presume Kenny is surrounded by a team of people to help him and Fine Gael plan and win this election campaign. The question is – are these people just incompetent or actually stupid?
I don’t think Kenny’s an idiot but nor would I attribute a depth of intelligence to the man. He’s a grafter for sure but he lacks the necessary skill of keen strategic political judgement. While he gained a lot of respect for the impressive defeat of the attempted heave last summer, the reality is that Phil Hogan masterminded most of it. I struggle to remember any other flash of political brilliance during the last year of the Dáil.
And now, at the beginning of the election campaign, the party who seemed a shoe-in to run the next Government are making some of the most basic mistakes imaginable. First, they allow Fianna Fáil and Micheál Martín put them on the back foot over leaders debates last week, Jan 27th. They should have swiped that away. They should have been direct and on message that Martín, as co-leader of possibly now only the fourth largest party, had no business demanding debates with anyone. That Martín can’t sweep the last fifteen years under the carpet. That Martín sat in cabinet and has collective responsibility for the shambles of a state we are in. “Who the hell does he think he is?” they should have asked.
But they let it run and the story gathered pace. By the time the weekend came and went, Fine Gael and Kenny just looked scared and stupid. Their handling of the situation was incompetent. At the start of the week, Kenny should have just come and stated that he’d debate with any leader any where and that he’d be happy to remind Martín and the public of Fianna Fáil’s record in Government.
He didn’t. And now we’re onto a whole other farce today. Vincent Browne is hosting a three way leader’s debate on Tuesday next and Gilmore and Martín have accepted. Browne announced he’d go ahead with an empty chair or cardboard cutout in place of Kenny if needs be. Imagine how that image would play to the electorate? Imagine the fun Martín and Gilmore would have with it? This is the incompetence I speak of – how did they let it come to this? What good can come of this? It’s just extraordinarily stupid.
And you’d like to think that’s the end of it. But unfortunately not. Last October Vincent Browne suggested that Kenny should go into a dark room with a gun and a bottle of whiskey at the end of his political show Tonight with Vincent Browne. I saw it live. I laughed out loud. It was said in the context of dismal personal ratings in a poll in the next day’s paper for Kenny and it was delivered well. No one in the panel argued with it. There was some “political correctness” nonsense the next day and a complaint to the BCI (which was deemed resolved on the basis of TV3’s and Browne’s apologies – including a written one to Kenny). To be clear – Browne was not advocating suicide and nor was he diminishing the tragedy of suicide. Nor, as I recall, did Kenny make a big deal of it at the time.
Then today, when explaining his decision not to appear on Browne’s debate, he said: “I have been in hundreds of homes around this country where the tragedy of suicide inflicted pain and stress on many families and I will not participate on any programme that Vincent Browne has anything to do with.” Are Fine Gael and his handlers so afraid to put Kenny in a debate that they knowingly and willfully take a throw-away acerbic comment from Browne, wrap it up in a new context and exploit the actual tragedy of suicide to avoid him? Is this the New Politics Fine Gael are advocating?
I’m sure there’s more than one of Fine Gael’s candidates wondering if it’s really too late to replace him still.