(Originally Published on Corkstudentnews.com in June 2010)
It has now been just over two weeks since Richard Bruton directly or indirectly, whichever way you want to look at it, challenged Enda Kenny’s leadership of the main opposition party, Fine Gael. While it might have been an important enough event to write about at the time, I felt that it was better to wait until some time had passed so that an assessment of the fallout from the ruckus within the ranks of Fine Gael can be made. It seems now that in the two weeks since the failed coup, Kenny has emerged victorious and even the polls point to this. However, this much is obvious. Things are far from settled in the seats of the opposition in Dáil Éireann and the Irish public has a notoriously short memory when it comes to politics.
In the days leading up the leadership challenge, rumours were rife that Bruton, Fine Gael’s Finance Spokesman, was going to challenge Kenny for the leadership of the party within the confines of a party meeting that was due to take place the next day. This was simply due to a recent poll which showed that Kenny’s support among voters has consistently slipped despite the fact that it should be at a phenomenal high given the continuous failures of the Fianna Fáil led government. Bruton and his fellow ministers realised that Fine Gael under the leadership of Kenny is a non-starter. Simply put, people will not vote Enda Kenny into the office of Taoiseach. In order to pre-empt this attempted coup, Kenny sacked Bruton from his position as Finance Spokesman and initiated a confidence motion in himself, that was to take place 3 days later, in order to secure his position as leader. This took not only myself by complete surprise, but also most of the country. Kenny sacked the person who was probably the most competent member of his party.
In the meantime Kenny has emerged victorious and is now the firm leader of Fine Gael, for the moment, but where does this now leave the future of the party?? No matter what line the party members tow, its future as the next party in government is somewhat precarious. Consider the fact that nine of the party’s frontbenchers came out in support of Bruton’s leadership challenge. Most of, if not all of these people were appointed to their posts by Enda Kenny yet they know that the party is going to fail under his leadership. Due directly to his incompetence as a leader, the Labour Party is now ahead in the polls and this is something that is quite frightening. The fact that Joan Burton could become the next Minister for Finance is something which must not be allowed to come to pass. If this involves sacrificing Kenny at the altar of popular politics, then so be it. Up until recently I would have considered him as a good and honest politician despite his obvious failings when it came to representing himself in the media. But now the main issue is that he is not a leader and leadership is something we need in huge amounts in this country right now.
This is currently beyond the comprehension of the Kenny supporters at the moment. Even today a Fine Gael deputy, Phil Hogan, has lauded Kenny’s “resilience and calmness in a crisis, and added that people have always underestimated Mr Kenny’s capacity to lead the country.” I wonder, would he say the same for the leader Fianna Fáil? Is Brian Cowen resilient, calm and have people underestimated his capacity to lead the country? Or is he in fact completely contemptuous of the wishes of the majority of the Irish people in the same way that Enda Kenny is when it comes, not only to the wishes of the Irish people, but also to the wishes of his most senior ministers. Kenny has not shown himself to be a leader. Instead what Kenny has done is portray himself to the country as being completely ruthless. This is a massive mistake on Kenny’s part. He had to face down Bruton yes, but this could have been done behind closed doors. If he had lost the confidence motion, then we would have been left with a good leader in the shape of Bruton and the whole thing would have been finished up after a number of days.
While it can be argued that he had to act as ruthlessly as he did, surely what I mentioned in the above paragraph would have been better. If he had lost the confidence motion he would have come out of it in an honourable position and even more so if he had won. What we are going to be left with now is an opposition party that will be fighting among themselves for weeks or even months to come. Labour will be left as the main challengers to Fianna Fail and that is a battle they won’t win. Kenny has ruined his own party and the public’s already tenuous perception of him. In the meantime the party has risen in the polls by three points but this is merely window dressing. Fine Gael should be untouchable by the other opposition parties in the polls but this is not the case. Instead, Labour is a very real and present danger to any future Fine Gael government in waiting but this doesn’t seem to resonate at all with Kenny supporters. They should be untouchable but they aren’t. The one person who realised this and tried to challenge the status quo within the party was sacked by Kenny. It’s cronyism at its very best and it sums up the conservative nature of Irish politics rather succinctly. You’re either with us or against us and there is no in-between.
For the moment Kenny, on the outside at least, appears rather safe in his position. He has faced down, without any qualms, the leadership challenge and will continue to lead the party for the momentary future. I say momentary because I cannot see Fine Gael getting into government with him as leader. People will not vote for him to be their next Taoiseach and therefore, they will not vote for Fine Gael. There are two years between now and the next general election if the current government rides out the worsening storm. Two years is a very long time in politics where anything and everything can go wrong. It is quite likely that Kenny will be usurped from his current position as leader of Fine Gael or Fine Gael will somehow manage to lose the election and he will be forced to resign in the aftermath. No one has told Kenny that he is actually stark naked despite the pretence of his apparent new clothes.