'Alpha male' Alex bouncing back after Leviathan Lee gave him a bad hair day


ON THE CANVASS:Dublin South has been marked as a two-horse race. Nothing we heard yesterday disproves that, writes MIRIAM LORD.

IT IS not widely known, but until very recently, Alex White’s hair was jet black.

He went grey overnight after hearing some crushing news about a man who used to be the economics editor in RTÉ.

(At least that’s the rumour, according to giddy Blueshirts.) One day, Alex was sailing along nicely, favourite to take the late Séamus Brennan’s seat in Dublin South. The next, he was gulping for air and floundering in a vicious backwash whipped up when Fine Geal launched a leviathan called George Lee.

When the excitement died down, a slightly disorientated White bobbed back to the surface, righted his election machine and reset the compass.

But the word among weathered old salts in the political world is that Alex will have to chart a new course to Leinster House, taking the long route around George Lee who is now expected to reach landfall in the Dáil before him.

The Labour Senator is steadfastly refusing to concede the race, even though he is often sympathetically greeted on the hustings as “Poor Alex ‘sorry for your troubles’ White.” It’s now 16 days since that morning, it was May 5th, when the surprise news broke that the nation’s favourite harbinger of doom was throwing his hat into the ring.

“Yes, we were taken aback by the announcement,” says the former frontrunner. “For a couple of hours on that Tuesday morning, we sat around just saying ‘Jaysus!’ It was mainly because George’s denials had been so trenchant, so when he was confirmed as a candidate, we didn’t expect it.”

From last year Alex White knew he was going to be his party’s candidate in the byelection. He started knocking on doors at the end of January, giving himself a head-start. That groundwork, he feels, will stand to him on polling day.

Yesterday afternoon, he was on the beat around Dundrum and Ballinteer. Writers routinely attach the word “leafy” when describing the South Dublin suburbs that make up the constituency.

Unfortunately, there were few trees about as he scurried to the gates of Our Lady’s National School to canvass the mammies leaving with their children. It was bucketing down, and despite a large umbrella, Senator White was soaked.

Few, understandably, wanted to stop and talk politics. They scattered to cars with their damp offspring, squinting through the rain at the bedraggled election workers.

One woman gave a little hope. “I certainly won’t be voting for George Lee – he won’t solve our problems.” To escape the rain, Alex and his canvassing team made for the nearby Ballinteer shopping centre. The sun came out, and so did his wife Mary, who said she tries to get out and lend a hand as much as she can.

Barrister Alex, who wears a navy pin-striped suit, stands outside the entrance. He is a rather diffident canvasser, not entirely at ease, one suspects, with the flesh-pressing and glad-handing aspect of campaigning. The voters smile and take the leaflets. Two women stop to talk, and promise him their vote as they leave.

Inside, away from the candidate, Breda Gregg says she’s in a bit of a quandary. She had intended to give her number one vote to Alex, because he seems a lovely man and she’s seen him around.

But that was before George came on the scene and started to scatter his gold dust. “I always watched George on the news. My husband used to shout in to me when he came on the television: ‘George Lee is on.’ I met him in Nutgrove yesterday. A photographer took a photograph of me and my young granddaughter with him.” Breda sounded conflicted. “It’s a bit like what happened to Brian Lenihan, when what-was-her-name won the election. He was going to win, and then she, yes, that’s her, Mary Robinson, came from nowhere and became president.”

Her sister Mona is in the same boat. She likes Alex too, and yet: “I’ll probably vote for George Lee. It all happened so quickly. . .”

Mona nods when Breda says one thing is for certain. “Fianna Fáil won’t be getting any votes this time. I think they’re making a shambles of everything.” The commentators have been saying for some time now that the byelection is a two-horse race. Nothing we heard yesterday disproves that.

This is middle Ireland. The people we met were pleasant to the candidate, if sometimes a little cagey about the destination of their number one vote. But it was quite striking, the way they had no problem volunteering their intention not to vote for the Government. Actually, nobody mentioned the Government. It was all Fianna Fáil.

Meece McLoughlin from Kilmacud said he was voting for George Lee. “It’s a refreshing change, and he’s an economist. What are the rest of them? Hopefully, he knows what he’s talking about.” He said he would give his number two to Alex, and stop after that. “I want to give him a vote because I think Eamon Gilmore is fantastic.” So it’s George and Alex, then? “Yes.”

Maeve Flaherty, who does a lot of voluntary work, told Alex she’ll be in the Dáil with a group of 15 children on Thursday.

“I’ll be there on June 5th,” he shot back, and his canvassers gave a little cheer.

Back on the doorsteps, Carmel Donoghue said she thinks George is “a bit false”. There are five votes in her house. “This was a big Fianna Fáil house. But I want to vote for a change.” Wherever he goes, though, Alex White is dogged by that name. George Lee this, and George Lee that.

One suspects G Lee, FG deppity to be, does not have the same problem.

Mary White battles away for her husband. You can sense that all this George talk is bugging her. “If people can get to meet Alex, they’ll warm to him. Women love him, you know.”

We suggest, timidly, that the ladies like Lee too.

“Alex is an alpha male,” she pointedly replies. He’s mortified.

The remark might be something to do with the moniker some of the younger campaign workers have given their rival – Harry Potter.

The alpha male heads away to have his mane trimmed. “Liz McManus told me I was doing great, but I had to get a hair cut. She told me in the nicest possible way. For Liz.” ’Nuff said.

Further mortification awaits in Ciaran Nevin’s hair salon in Terenure, where he is snapped having a trim. It gives Alex the chance to quip that he isn’t throwing in the towel. “Very, very far from it. Absolutely not.”