Finding net no good, Richard, when it's an own goal


FG’s real issue is a front bench full of wobblers and swapping one charisma-less leader for another won’t help that, writes SARAH CAREY

LADIES, HAVE you checked out the German manager with the porn-star good looks? Thick, shiny black hair, a chiselled jawline and that steel-blue T-shirt and jacket ensemble showcasing a well-toned torso. Every time Germany scored against Australia, and fortunately they did so regularly, the camera would flick back to him looking all masterful and determined. His name is Low – pronounced Luuv. Dr Luuv should silence any further female complaints about the World Cup.

You know what they say, sex sells. Not actual sex, but just enough to amuse. In politics we use the euphemism “charisma” to label that thing that makes us respond, even when we know we shouldn’t. Especially when we know we shouldn’t.

Now, I have to tell you – Richard Bruton ain’t got no charisma. I met him once, so I know.

Sometimes politicians don’t necessarily transmit this mysterious charm on television, but it hits you in person. Even Bertie Ahern, about whom I’ve never had a good word, was a much finer and handsomer man in person than on telly. But then, making ordinary people like you, winning them over – that’s a basic requirement of a politician.

When I met Bruton, I didn’t need to be won over – I arrived at our meeting full of goodwill. I had requested a briefing on his much-admired banking policies. We met in the Dáil visitors bar for an afternoon cuppa. I’m used to politicians and nerds. He’s both. What could possibly go wrong?

It was so odd. He was as pleasant as you’d expect, but his body language was really disconcerting. He couldn’t look me in the eye. He shrank away from me. He rocked and fidgeted. When I say he adopted a defensive pose I don’t mean that he simply crossed his arms but he was actually hugging his knee, drawing it up to protect himself. From what? He knows who I am for heaven’s sake.

And no, I don’t mean an Irish Times columnist. He knows I’ve Blueshirt DNA. I’m on his side. And even if I wasn’t, I am an Irish Times columnist! He’s supposed to be on a charm offensive. I tried to put him at ease and as I say he was perfectly nice, but the non-verbal dynamic was so at odds with the usual script that I left scratching my head.

I described his behaviour to a few male friends and each instantly offered the same explanation – “he’s nervous of women and you’re a hopeless flirt”.

I’m not above flicking the flirtometer to high if I think it’ll help me manipulate some poor crathur to my advantage, but I’m sure I had the settings at low that day.

Anyway, ever since then I’ve watched him closely on telly, and I don’t see any of the charisma which Enda reputedly lacks. As he folded in our simple meeting, I see him folding over and again.

He stumbles on his words, he looks nervous and he giggles under pressure. That’s sweet; but not in a taoiseach. There’s no doubt he’s on top of his brief and had he been in Merrion Street after the 2002 election, we wouldn’t be in the current pickle. But do I see him standing up to a good old Fianna Fáil slapping? Meh.

What’s the point in ejecting one leader whose doesn’t have the X factor for another similarly lacking? I’ve only met Enda Kenny a couple of times socially, but at least he’s extremely personable in real life. He’s the one putting people at ease with a joke for everyone in the company and a twinkle in his eye.

I’m not convinced that swapping a west of Ireland accent for a Dublin one will do it for Fine Gael nor that installing a Clongowes Wood boy and son of a big farmer will convince the people that Fine Gael is a party in touch with the common man. That’s playing right into the hands of the stereotype.

Even if Bruton prevails it won’t solve the fundamental problem of every Fine Gael leader since Garret FitzGerald – conveying an air of authority without actual authority.

Every single thing that’s been said about Enda was said about Ricky’s big brother. But when John – another graduate from the Clongowes School of No Charm – was made taoiseach by accident, all the doubts about his leadership skills evaporated.

There are special but rare men who can look important even if they’re not, but mostly you need power to look powerful. It’s not a problem for Labour because their leaders won’t be taoiseach.

As long as there’s a front bench full of wobblers and panickers confirming the electorate’s doubts about Fine Gael’s lack of bottle, whatever is said about Kenny will be said about Bruton in six months. Fine Gael’s problem is not its leaders, but a preponderance of pious Coveneys over bruisers like the McEntees. And a propensity to press the self-destruct button unnecessarily.

Ask anyone about Richard Bruton and they’ll tell you he’s nice, but if the wobblers think that’s an advantage they are mistaken. Cowen, Ahern, Reynolds or Haughey didn’t do nice. Dr Luuv might be gorgeous but I doubt if he’s nice to his ruthless goal-scoring German machine.

Bruton has taken his shot and maybe he’ll score. Too bad it’s an own goal.

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