Cappuccino generation falls to those who eat dinner at midday
An Oxbridge education counted for nothing as Richard Bruton’s hopes ended amid visceral roars of ‘Up Mayo!’
“IT’S THE defeat of the cappuccino generation by the men who eat their dinner in the middle of the day.”
Wise words, spoken with quiet satisfaction by a streetwise deputy as he surveyed the scenes of restrained celebration around Enda Kenny, newly reconfirmed Fine Gael leader.
Enda’s jubilant supporters, up for the day from Castlebar, wanted to carry their man shoulder-high down the Leinster House plinth. They were gently dissuaded from this course of action by party handlers anxious not to further spook the Dublin vote.
As it was, they prayed the leader’s live television interview wouldn’t be punctuated by the same visceral roars of “Up Mayo!” that greeted the news of “Inda’s” stunning victory in yesterday’s leadership contest.
Given the scale of the challenge that faced him, this was Kenny’s finest hour. Many had written him off, given that his opponent was the urbane Richard Bruton – a man with a fine pedigree and an Oxbridge education to match.
You’d never get Richard doing cheesy impersonations of John F Kennedy on television and he could never be accused (despite his Meath farming connections) of being a bit hick.
One sensed that the younger generation in Fine Gael, the sophisticates, decided it was time to bring in a bit of “quality”. So they plotted among themselves and then presented the rest of their colleagues with a dog’s dinner of a heave, expecting them to go along with it.
As a result, they were doomed to failure. At least that’s what seasoned politicians from Fianna Fáil and Labour were saying.
So was the result a surprise? Not really. The signs were there from early on in this woefully inept attempt at a palace coup. The smart boys and girls in Leinster House were quietly calling the contest in Enda Kenny’s favour from the very start. They could see the problem as clear as day: if a self-appointed elite choose to put together a nice little palace coup for themselves, the people they decide not to keep in the loop are the peasants who will do as they are instructed.
A very large number of them took grave offence. Wily political observers were predicting from as early as Tuesday that the coup would fail, due to a mixture of arrogance, innocence, entitlement and inexperience.
After Bloomsday, Doomsday would fall for Richard Bruton and his Green Isle Nine of young (and not so young) bucks.
So it came to pass. As the spinning from Richard’s side became more fraught in the build-up to yesterday’s parliamentary party meeting, the old campaigners on Enda’s side seemed remarkably calm.
And there had to be a reason why Enda’s people looked you in the eye when they said they knew they had the numbers to win, but Richard’s didn’t.
As the nine rebels simpered modestly as they were described, and described themselves, as “the brightest and the best”, their backbench colleagues silently fumed and quietly pledged their support for Enda.
“What condescension,” snorted one rural Senator. “They were going to give Enda an opportunity to resign before taking him apart at the meeting. And they were even generous enough to give him the gift of a ministry for all his hard work. The cheek of them.”
The nine have shown they are not the brightest and the best. But neither are they stupid. They knew they made a hames of their ill-timed putsch, but it was too late to stop. Privately, they admitted this.
Enda Kenny and his lieutenants Phil Hogan, Paddy Burke, Paul Kehoe and John Perry outsmarted them at every turn. And the Green Isle Nine were both surprised (what did they think he would do?) and rather hurt by this.
Enda – and they were right, he’s going down like a lead balloon for them in Dublin right now – gave them a lesson in politics they won’t easily forget.
A large media contingent hung around the plinth all day for hope of a steer on how the contest was going. But little information emerged. When deputies had to leave for a vote in the chamber, journalists flooded on to the press gallery, searching for clues in the body language.
Enda and Richard made small talk, but they soon ran out of things to say. The female deputies allied to the Bruton camp looked very uncomfortable. Their candidate maintained a fixed smile, giggling nervously now and then. As they frazzled-looking Blueshirts returned to their party rooms in the basement of the Leinster House annex (with security posted nearby to stop the media from trying to earwig) the Kenny camp looked the most relaxed.
“Don’t you worry,” Enda told a reporter as he went back inside, “I’ll blow the roof off the place!” (We don’t know if he was referring to Senator Eoghan Harris’s contention that Irish politics needs real men who are “real farters”, as opposed to namby-pamby metrosexual types.) The building emptied as deputies and Senators from the other parties drifted back to their constituencies for the weekend.
“Today is a historic first for Irish politics,” declared a passing FFer. “It’s the first time ever that a majority of the Fine Gael parliamentary party has been here after lunchtime on a Thursday.” And still, no word. No blue smoke, as the wags had it.
The Mayo contingent arrived early in the afternoon and camped at the end of the corridor leading to the party rooms. Rumour abounded. But no leaks there came. At one stage, Richard Bruton left to go to the lavatory and he was followed down the stairs by a posse of reporters. Michael Noonan was similarly tailed, and he had to tell one female journalist that she couldn’t go any further than the door of the gents.
Enda Kenny’s driver, Liam Cody, waited anxiously for the news. He was joined by Enda’s brother Ciaran, who lives in Dublin. An assortment of councillors from Mayo filled in the time by singing their man’s praises.
“I played football with him years ago, and the speeches he gave at half time were inspirational. Only In-spir-ational,” said one. “He wouldn’t send you back out through the door, he’d sent you out through the wall!” (Afterwards, despite all the talk of cordiality and civilised exchanges, we hear Enda put all nine of his challengers metaphorically through the wall in his rip-roaring closing speech.)
Finally, just before 4pm, the Kenny supporters got the whisper they had been waiting for. The chanting started. And the tears. The delighted group spilled out on to the plinth and a sizeable crowd gathered outside the main gates. Even Charlie Bird appeared.
Finally, Enda Kenny came out to cheers from his supporters. He was surrounded by his parliamentary party, including some shell-shocked members of the Green Isle Nine. They got down to business for the cameras. “We had a wobble and we dealt with it,” said Tom Hayes, who had voted against. Simon Coveney, one of the rebels, pledged to work harder than ever for the party. “I’ll do whatever he asks me to do.” (“Jump off a cliff and call me Mary,” muttered a photographer.)
Enda was gracious in victory. He spoke of reconciliation and looked like a man reborn.
Richard Bruton stood to the back of crowd, but at the end of his press conference, Enda sought him out and brought him to the front. He clasped his challenger’s hand and raised it. Richard looked embarrassed.
Afterwards, he ruefully reviewed the past days. Time to move on, he said.
We fell to talking about a mutual acquaintance. Somebody who used to be in politics but has given it up.
“Too nice for politics,” Richard mused.
“There might be a pair of you in it, so,” we said.
“Yes indeed, I think there might.”