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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: June 14, 2010 @ 9:49 pm

    There will be blood

    Harry McGee

    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?

    • Desmond FitzGerald says:

      Good grief – why would you say such a horrible thing, that Leo could ever be Fine Gael leader.

      Thing is if Enda Kenny really put people off voting for Fine Gael then why is it Fine Gael still manage to attract votes that far exceed his level of support. Also are the Bruton camp off their heads that they actually think a party leader today can get 40% or 45% of the available vote – even at the height of the boom FF never got 45% and even at the height of the Garret v Charlie years Fianna Fáil only got marginally more than 45% and that was with two and a bit parties.

      There are now 6 parties (FF, FG, L, G, SF, Ind/Other). The X Factor isn’t any less successful today because it ‘only’ gets 12 million compared to Morecambe & Wise’s 20 million – different time/apples and oranges.

      Also, Richard is an economist so he understands numbers and yet he ignores that even those who compiled the poll admit it is flawed and needs to be corrected so no one really knows what the accurate level of support is.

      I think Richard has made a monumental mistake – he had his chance in 2002 and he lost. His moment had passed – what is it with politicians that they all think they can be leader just because they have been good at another job.

      The next leader of Fine Gael should be from the next generation but the gene pool there isn’t exactly overflowing with talent and I would hope even Fine Gael isn’t so stupid as to rally for Alice Glenn as leader err I mean Leo Varadkar.

    • Harry Leech says:

      FIne Gael: The party of self-destruction. While Labour and FG should be focusing on the lame duck Taoiseach and the Honohan report, all the talk over the past few days is about FG and their infighting.

      The only party that can be happy in all this is Fianna Fáil, they must be wetting themselves. That essentiallly is the legacy of this move and it may end up firming more support for Labour and Eamon Gilmore, which may be no bad thing. I think this move could ultimately end up making FG the ‘little spoon’ in the next coalition government.

    • Colin says:

      He who wields the knife never wears the crown

    • robespierre says:

      Was talking to a friend in FF yesterday – he had changed his nappy at least three times from fits of giggles

    • Big Louise says:

      Please, Harry. Tell me Fine Gael will find way of shifting Kenny. I have never voted Fine Gaei and I am not particularly patriotic, but I still would feel personally embarrassed to have that man as the leader of the country. That voice. That mousy little face. Please, please, Harry, tell me they’ll get rid of him.

    • Sean Byrne says:

      Let us hope that if Richard Bruton ever becomes Taoiseach or Minister for Finance he will do a better job than John who was the only Minister for Finance who failed to bring in a budget and was probably the worst Minister for Finance since the foundation of the State.
      While John Bruton has as much finesse and charm as the bullocks that made both brothers millionaires, Richard has the charisma of a slug. They both represent the worst tradition of Fine Gael in terms of arrogance and indiffeernce to the the needs of ordinary people. They come from the Fine Gael tradition of James Dillon, who on the basis of owning a big shop in small town, gave himself the airs of a prince but who as Minister for Agriculture in the first Inter Party government was a dismal failure. His only achievement was to refuse to give agricultural labourers a half day!

    • topbanana says:

      If this was a test of Richard Bruton’s political acumen then he has failed miserably. I am no major fan of Enda Kenny but this is a complete disaster. I can’t see how this can end up in anything other tyhan a plit in the party. Richard Bruton has been extremely foolish ans he should be ashamed of himself. I will not vote for any party that he leads.

    • Westie says:

      Talk about snatching defeat from the jaws of victory! FG on the cusp of a major election victory decide instead to rip each other to shreds in what amounts to a rather embarrassing domestic dispute being carried out in the middle of O’Connell Street! Personally, I’ve never been so entertained in my life!

    • Jim Walsh says:

      I think Enda Kenny is a decent man and he has done service to Fine Gael but clearly a large proportion of the country do not see him as a Taoiseach and most likely would not vote for him. When it does come to the election this point will be hammered home again and again. It could potentially undermine attempts to unseat the current government.

      Lets face it, there’s never a good time to unseat a leader, assuming its successful. But its probably better to attempt it now, two years away from an election rather than closer to the date. It will give time for the divisions within Fine Gael to heal and the prospect of government will be a great healer. But Bruton (or whoever takes over) will be under a lot of pressure to deliver.

      Finally lets be clear about one other thing; no-confidence motions in Brian Cowen or his government are just a side show and have no real political relevance. Fianna Fail and the Greens are going to hang on to power until their fingernails are prised from it. Look at the way they have refused to hold by-elections.

    • Pat Weldon says:

      In this day and age , despite the very real problems facing the country, image and media friendliness are essential pre-requisites to jump from being party leader to leader of the country at large.To use the Blair-Brown example, Tony had the smile and the soundbites to make people feel chummy enough towards him to consider putting their trust in him , no matter how misplaced subsequent events would make one feel.Without the Blair factor , a Gordon factor would never have ushered in the phenomenen that was ‘New Labour’. Biffo and Enda ‘I was that soldier’ Kenny will never be loved, receive the confidence of the ‘Country’ at large or manage to dance away from blame and outright condamnation in the manner that someone like Bertie has managed to a great extent to do. FG would probably never optomise their electoral possibilities under Enda because fairly or unfairly he is not regarded as being a leader of substance. If change has to come , it might as well be bloody and now . Votes of no confidence with Brian Cowen in the cross-hairs are all well and good but in the longer game they are of no real importance and are merely minor moments of embarrassment for one of the most unpopular governments in the history of the State.

    • Ed says:

      Yup. What odds Simon Coveney to be FG leader by the end of 2011?

    • Martin says:

      Please, Harry, can you try identify if Garet, Sutherland ( the BP and Goldman disasters genius) and big brother John (another new corporate man) have pushed young Richard to run with this fiasco ? It has all the signs of a “free market” approach to lecturing the rest of us. All in an effort to engineer a FG and FF coalition after the next election.

    • Can it seriously be contended by any Fine Gael supporters that someone who was audibly prompted by his press officer during interview has the skill profile necessary to lead this country through what will undoubtedly be gruelling fiscal decision making. Surely a key criteria of leadership is underlying competence which is then leveraged to persuade and rally the troops and public at large, what hope if he needs to be whispered the answers ??? Enda Kenny while admirable in his industrious efforts to promote party interests is not being publicly accepted as the next Taoiseach. Deal with it people. Promptly and less acrimoniously. Richard Bruton has the necessary gravitas and offers a fighting chance at forming a palatable and much needed alternative government. He has thrown down the gauntlet in a professional reality facing fashion. Admire him and get behind him before its too late !

    • John says:

      For several years now every time one has a conversation around the topic of the next general election the most common refrain is “I’d vote Fine Gael if it wasen’t for Enda Kenny”. Everybodys heard it countless times up and down the country. Despite people saying he is a nice affable man in his private persona he does not display this in public. We probably have the most unpopular government in the history of the state and Fine Gael should be in a once in a generation position of being in poll position close to majority winning poll numbers. Enda Kenny claims he has been tested and performed well at every election. This is despite his leadership or lack thereof rather Thant because of it. He has allowed Eamon Gilmore to emerge as leader of the opposition. Now that the die is cast there is no other political option but for Fine Gael to make it clear to Mr. Kenny that it is time to go and for them to unite behind a new leader and radically hold the current Brian Cowen and Bertie Ahern and their cohorts to account, for leaving a mess that we will be paying for over the decades to come.

    • Lily White says:

      This whole sorry mess reminds me of a Greek Tragedy unfolding – et tu Brute

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