So why, oh why, have Fine Gael self-imploded so spectacularly? As Sean O’Rourke put it so succinctly the other day, on timing alone, surely Richard Bruton has questions to answer?
At a crucial point in the life of this Dáil when questioning, accountability and keeping the Executive under pressure was never more needed, Fine Gael public representatives have now been found seriously wanting. With a rush of blood to the head, they have caved in under their own self-inflicted pressure.
Kenny’s media performances have been exemplified by his failure to provide straightforward answers to often obvious questions. This inability, added to his frequent solo runs – the announcement of the abolition of the Seanad being a glaring one and the knee-jerk response to the banking reports with his call for a Vote of No Confidence in Cowen, have left many scratching their heads.
Why the Seanad? Even the most rudimentary examination would reveal that the majority of people could not care less about it. It’s a non-issue. And while some may think that the confidence motion in Cowen was designed to put the Greens under pressure, the Greens have proved that they are not for moving. Any half-baked political strategist would have advised that the no confidence motion would have the opposite effect and only galvanise backbench support behind Cowen. FF backbenchers are the real target as they’ll be the ones to eventually decide the fate of Cowen and the Government.
Just where is Kenny getting his advice from ? His pronouncements cannot be the work of one man alone. Please, not Phil Hogan? And who is advising Richard Bruton? Could it be former Taoiseach and new IFSC tsar, John Bruton? Whoever it is needs his head examined. To have mounted this coup in the midst of a no confidence motion and within weeks of the Dáil summer recess would be comical if it were not so damaging to the organisation as a whole. Richard Bruton and the disgruntled TDs could have gone about its business quietly during the summer recess, built the numbers and presented their case, ensuring a silent coup in preparation for what has become the annual September party get-togethers in advance of the new term.
And therein lies the problem within our political culture. Our TDs are independent republics and loyalty to the organisation comes way down the pecking order. In essence a politician’s first commandment is ‘defend thy seat’ at all costs. The bigger parties particularly need the oxygen of competent ‘ steady hand ‘ leadership complimented by a consistently good return from the polls. Party leaders also rely on highly paid, professional and sophisticated communications teams to research, polish and present the leader and organisation’s message. Well, you could have fooled me, I hear you say.
And who is to say Richard Bruton will fair any better? No doubt he has a commanding grasp of his once economic portfolio but his performances in debates with Cowen have not always been commanding ones. Secondly, while Kenny may be a poor performer media-wise, anyone who has witnessed him work a hall or room, will tell you he has excellent interpersonal skills. Bruton too is a proven vote-getter and exudes integrity but he does not possess the charm factor that Kenny seems effortlessly able to pull off. Finally, the big unknown quantity is whether Richard Bruton can provide the vision, poise and gravitas that will be essential in pulling up to and away from Labour. Surely the ghost of the short-lived Noonan /Mitchell partnership must haunt the corridors of Fine Gael strategists?
All in all, the last week has been a disastrous one for Fine Gael and another cruel blow for the image of the body politic.
Ultimately, Brian Cowen and Fianna Fáil have been let off the hook at a crucial juncture. The Greens too can be relieved at avoiding accusations of supporting a banking probe that will not cover critical Government decisions and of supporting the manipulation of the democratic process by refusing to hold the by-elections.
There are no winners in this Fine Gael leadership battle because the eventual leader will have achieved a pyrrhic victory standing atop a party split, divided and with a severely tarnished and badly bruised image. And after eight years hard slog, Enda Kenny, the dead man walking, must be wondering how it all went so wrong.