Varadkar’s lead will change the nature of leadership campaign

Front-runner is now likely to be subjected to testing interrogation

Leo Varadkar has not won yet but something huge has to change in the race for him not to win

Leo Varadkar has not won yet but something huge has to change in the race for him not to win

 

The rush to Leo Varadkar continued on Friday as the middle ground in Fine Gael sensed the contest had shifted decisively towards the Dublin West TD.

The early momentum for Varadkar has hardened into an almost unassailable lead. By lunchtime he had nailed down a majority of the 73-member parliamentary party, with big name endorsements from Paschal Donohoe and Charlie Flanagan and highly significant backbenchers including Waterford TD John Deasy and Limerick deputy Tom Neville – both previously thought to be nailed-down certs for the Coveney camp.

The move to Varadkar from the unaligned TDs keen to back the winner was the greatest sign the tide was moving overwhelmingly in his direction.

By late afternoon it was hard to find a Fine Gaeler who did not think the contest was over. The Coveney camp was utterly deflated. People were asking them if they were going to withdraw.

The state of the race right now is as follows: Varadkar has not won yet but something huge has to change in the race for him not to win.

Big changes do happen in campaigns. It must be remembered that several candidates in the 2011 presidential election were stymied by revelations in the media or during debates – right up until the very end when Sean Gallagher’s dash for the presidency was derailed by a fake tweet, a bit of badgering from Martin McGuinness and Gallagher’s own unfortunate response.

But such events are rare enough, and more rarely still do they overturn leads of the size Varadkar currently enjoys.

No vote is cast yet and people may change their minds. But they will need a reason to change their minds, and it would need to be a whopper of a reason. That’s not impossible, but it is unlikely.

Blistering start

Varadkar’s blistering start has now changed how the rest of the campaign will play out. Instead of a debate between the two candidates, it will instead evolve into an examination of Varadkar, his record and his suitability for the job. That will likely be a more searching process for him. It’s also likely that the media will become more muscularly involved in the interrogation of the expected next Taoiseach.

His record as a Minister – he has held three portfolios in the past six years – will surely be examined in greater detail than it has been before now. His time in the Department of Health – from which he extricated himself as soon as possible – will be especially closely evaluated.

His personal beliefs and their evolution will be discussed, including his position on abortion.

His well-advertised reluctance to do a deal with the Independents and Fianna Fáil last year – and what it might mean for the future of the Government – will also be subjects for interrogation.

His temperament – a central part of his ability to do a job unlike any other – will also be fair game for examination.

In the midst of all this Varadkar will be trying to articulate his plans for the future to the public and arrange an incoming administration. The rest of the campaign, in other words, is unlikely to be as enjoyable for the front-runner as the past two days.