Labour Party: Kelly knows division push for government would cause

Some believe Tipperary TD has matured and is less likely to bulldoze party to his view

The turning point for Alan Kelly, and his colleagues' perceptions of him, came at a meeting of the Labour parliamentary party in Drogheda in September 2018.

It had been over two years since the Tipperary TD was denied a run at the party leadership by his TD colleagues, who refused to second his nomination papers, thereby electing Brendan Howlin to succeed Joan Burton.

Between that point in 2016 and the autumn 2018 pre-Dáil think-in, Kelly issued a number of warnings that Howlin needed to up his and the party's game. TDs, senators and councillors were in attendance at that Drogheda meeting, which saw Kelly say: "We are the Labour Party. We are not the Liberal Party. "

Yet those in the party say Kelly reconciled himself to Howlin’s leadership from that point on and focused instead on his own longer-term prospects.


Instinct for power

Those who didn’t back Kelly for the leadership in 2016 but did so in recent weeks said they had changed because the former minister for the environment had. While his natural instinct, said one supporter, is still for power, he has matured and is less likely to try and bulldoze a party around to his point of view.

Many in politics, not least those in Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, assumed that a desire for power would mean Kelly would lead Labour towards coalition with the Civil War two. That view was perhaps based on the Kelly who in 2016 said that power is a drug, not the Kelly who had to change to win over his party.

On RTÉ's Morning Ireland on Tuesday, he firmly indicated that he does not want to enter government, although he seemed to leave open the prospect of offering some support from opposition.

Even if Kelly wanted go into government, his margin of victory over Aodhán Ó Ríordáin in the leadership contest which concluded last week indicated that he may not have been able to easily impose his will on the party. The result – at 55 per cent to 45 per cent – was closer than many expected.

Liberal wing

Kelly's victory was a defeat for Labour's liberal wing, yet the election of Rebecca Moynihan to the Seanad, along with the returning Ivana Bacik, means that O'Ríordáin's supporters are still a strong presence in the parliamentary Labour party.

Many in Labour look at the growth of Sinn Féin, the Greens and Soc Dems and fear the consequences for Labour of a term in power with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.

The Tipperary TD had campaigned for the leadership on rebuilding Labour and told his TD colleagues at a meeting as recently as last week that Labour’s post-election position that it should go into opposition should not change. Nor is there any evidence that he is preparing the ground internally for a volte-face.

Kelly, after weeks of campaigning for the prize he has just won after years of ambition, knows more than anyone the dynamics of his party, and the division a push for government would cause.