Silly season does not open until first leadership speculation story
Chatter about Boris Johnson and Tories not repeated in Ireland, writes Harry McGee
While there is speculation overBoris Johnson and Cameron’s Tory leadership, Enda Kenny has been an incredibly firm leader. Photographs: Ben A. Pruchnie/Getty Images and Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times
How safe is David Cameron as leader of the Tory Party?
As safe as houses, you might think, with the proviso that all political houses tend to be made of straw and sticks.
While Cameron has had setbacks and bruising encounters, his Government is stable and he seems to be in control (sure, the poll figures have dropped but that happens with every Government mid-term).
At the moment, it doesn’t look like there’s anything that will huff and puff enough to blow his house down.
Not if you read the Telegraph and other news organisations that tilt towards the Conservatives, there isn’t. In their narrative, Cameron’s leadership is a ‘hanging chad’ topic, subject of endless discussion, dissection and a bit of conspiratorial theorising. And his obvious successor?
For the Telegraph it’s unsurprisingly Boris Johnson, Mayor of London and a star columnist for the paper. Journalistically at least, beneath that shambolic image there is a Rolls Royce engine churning out preternaturally good prose.
But Boris as Tory leader? He is hugely popular in London, but you wonder how his extra-marital affairs and liberal leanings will go down in the Shires. His problem is that of Rudy Giuliani when he sought the Republican presidential nomination - popular in New York and California but without purchase elsewhere.
There seems to be a constant narrative in Britain surrounding leadership, not only Cameron’s but also Ed Milliband’s and Nick Clegg’s.
Here, it is not something that has really featured in a major way for any of the parties since the 2011 election. There is no leader whose position is remotely threatened at the moment. Nor will there be until after the elections next year, and possible not until after the next general election.
It didn’t stop a flurry of stories surrounding Fianna Fail’s Micheál Martin, with some members griping last weekend about cliques in the party and others muttering that there may be a leadership challenge in the offing.
All of this is furlough fantasy from disaffected members, with no strong basis in reality.
As a point of fact, Martin’s leadership seems more stable now than it did in 2011 when he took over a ruined party and he was tainted with the original sin of being a member of the previous government. Since then, questions about the future survival of the party have been settled and Martin seems to have largely overcome the legacy issues.
The last few months have been poor for him, with his failure to take the party along with him on abortion legislation and the bad memories evoked by the publication of the Anglo Irish Bank tapes. The Government’s strategically timed banking inquiry will not exactly be of great assistance to him.
But there are very few TDs or Senators in Fianna Fail (and certainly none of the modernisers) who will tell you that his leadership is in doubt or that he is on any kind of probation.
The heir apparent in Fianna Fáil is Michael McGrath, the party’s finance spokesman. His relationship with Martin is unusual because they are constituency colleagues in Cork South Central, which is being reduced from a five seater to a four seater ahead of the next election. It would be churlish to say there is not constituency rivalry between them. Does it translate into a tension at party level? Not publicly at least. However, McGrath’s decision to openly declare his opposition to the abortion legislation served as a shot across the bows to Martin, although it might not have been intended as such.