Leo Varadkar’s thumping victory comes with a small asterisk

Dublin West TD’s team put a large bet down on carrying the parliamentary party and it paid off

Dublin West TD Leo Varadkar has been elected the next leader of Fine Gael with 51 members of the parliamentary party, 55 per cent of the councillors and 35 per cent of the party membership. Video: Enda O'Dowd

 

In the end, it was both a stronger and weaker victory than had been expected for Leo Varadkar.

Stronger in the sense that he swept to an even more convincing win over Simon Coveney among his peers in the parliamentary party than was anticipated, but weakened by a loss among the party rank and file.

Nevertheless, the final result in the electoral college that decides the Fine Gael leadership says the Minister for Social Protection won by 60 per cent to 40 per cent.

By any electoral measure, that is a thumping victory, even if this comes with a small asterisk alongside it.

Credit should go to the manner in which Varadkar’s team ran their campaign. They put a large bet down on carrying the parliamentary party and it paid off.

Heading into today’s vote of TDs, senators and MEPs, Varadkar had the declared support of 46 from a possible 73. As the votes tumbled from the ballot boxes in the Mansion House, it became clear that he had added an extra five to his column from a possible six undeclared.

Coveney, who went into today with 21 members of the parliamentary party publicly behind him, gained just one vote.

Given the system that decides the Fine Gael leadership - with 65 per cent of the voting strength going to the parliamentary party, 25 per cent to members and 10 per cent to councillors - it pushed Varadkar towards 60 per cent.

Coveney and his supporters will take heart in his 65 per cent to 35 per cent victory among the party rank and file, and it surely provides him with a strong argument for the position of Tanaiste.

If nothing else, it is a vindication of Coveney’s decision to stay in the race. He gave party members a say and they rewarded him for it.

During the hustings, Coveney also said he would continue to argue for his ‘Just Society’ beliefs within Fine Gael, even if he lost.

He can now cast himself as the voice of the members, if he chooses to do so, and could attempt to temper what he had portrayed as Varadkar’s right wing views in some areas.

But the victory is Varadkar’s. The process of electing a new Fine Gael leader has reenergised the party and a young Taoiseach has the potential to reshape politics.

He will speak with Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin and the Independent Alliance over the next week, before he is expected to be elected Taoiseach by the Dail on Tuesday week.

For so long something of an enigma, Varadkar will then take on an awesome responsibility to shape Ireland - and will have to prove that he is up to challenge.

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