There will be blood
God, it has been a frantic day. Fine Gael is in turmoil. That goes without saying. ?Whatever happens at the end of the week, the party will be damaged. Enda Kenny, if he wins, will lose. And even if he wins, will Richard Bruton also lose.
Politically, Kenny had no choice but to sack Bruton. He had failed to support the leader. That’s a plank-walking offence if ever there was one.
Also, there was the numbers game. Bruton and his supporters had planned a kind of bloodless palace coup. They were convinced they commanded the majority of the shadow Cabinet (there are 19 members in all). The plan was to say nothing until tomorrow’s meeting and then get the front bench members to tell Kenny, one by one, that they no longer enjoyed their confidence.
Kenny would not have carried the shadow cabinet at its meeting. So many of them went to ground today that it was impossible to canvass their views. But the fact that Bruton had told them not to say anything was taken as silent support for him. On that basis he had the backing of nine or ten of the nineteen.Kenny would then realise that the writing was on the wall and would walk. Their thinking: how could he possibly continue when eight of his Cabinet at the very least would resign if he didn’t resign.
Bruton would have controlled the agenda and had a huge psychological advantage if he could have forced the issue at this morning’s meeting. But Kenny, by acting precipitatively, headed that one off at the pass.
One of Bruton’s other strategic plans was that none would comment publicly before the meeting.
But Kenny’s supporters obviously did not share the same enthusiasm for that neat seamless scenario. They have mounted a high-octane and ‘in yer face’ campaign that has been designed to force the other side’s hand.
It has lead to a marked contrast between the styles of both campaigns. One has been like a Ben Elton rant. The other has been like a Trappist monastery on a quiet day.
The ‘omerta’ of the Bruton camp may have backfired a little. It concentrated all its efforts on the front bench and did not contact backbenchers. That may have given rise to a perception of an elite deciding matters without reference to them. And some of the backbenchers were annoyed today that nobody from the Bruton camp has contacted them so far.
By contrast, James Reilly and others were busy working the phones all day for Kenny.
My own guess at this stage is that Kenny enjoys more support among the wider parliamentary party. But the vote is secret so some of them publicly pledging their support for him might go the other way. But at the same time, some of those who support Bruton may get windy (including one or two members of the front bench). We polled TDs, Senators and MEPs. A majority have declared for Kenny or are seen as possible supporters. But Bruton could also command a substantial minority – reflecting dangerously high levels of dissent.
All day I have been reminded of the challenge that was mounted by Michael Hesltine against Margaret Thatcher towards the end of her premiership. Thatcher survived but was so damaged that her leadership limped on. Heseltine had shot his bolt. It paved the way for another rival John Major to ease his way into the leadership at a later date.
The same kind of scenario could unfold within Fine Gael with Bruton playing the part of a stalking horse for a younger ambitous pretender. Step forward Simon or Brian or even Leo?