Bertie versus Enda: a masterclass in political boxing

If you didn’t see the big debate last night, you can pick it up here. Reactions on the blogosphere are mixed. Simon reckons the taoiseach is feeling very pleased with himself. Harry, accurately describes it as “a tense defensive battle”, that Bertie shaded on points, but in which Enda manages to look like a future taoiseach. Ahem, don’t think Damien was terribly impressed. Bloggorah has some insight into the tie situation. Shane Hegarty at the Irish Times, reckons that Bertie killed Kenny! And here’s what Simon really thought.For myself, whilst I think there is some measure of truth in the idea that Enda is still in touch, it I’m more with Harry in the sense that neither of them really shone.

If these were two boxers, you would say Bertie stayed low, and Enda stayed high. Accordingly, it was the taoiseach who landed nearly all the light and sneaky body punches. And when Enda tried to counter attack he, cheekily, responded, “If you keep talking over me, I’ll have to keep talking over you”. None of the punches were hard, or match winning, and pushed in in an undertone but small, statistic packed and enough to keep ticking up the points.

Bertie did two things well. He navigated the Bertiegate stuff that has arguably been the dead weight on the early part of his party’s campaign, and then got the good news story of the prosperous last ten years up front again. What’s been strange about the campaign so far is that that undoubted good news on the economy has been sooo buried.

Maybe Fianna Fail are deliberately trying to live down ‘the spintimes’ of the last election, and PJ Mara’s fuzzy ‘It’s showtime!’ kickstart? Maybe they have over invested in showcasing the good news in Northern Ireland (always of limited short term political value in the Republic)? Or maybe they have just been buried down so many ministerial and policy mineshafts that they simply didn’t have time to prepare a single strong narrative for this election?

In addition, I think, he may also have blown the idea that Health is his administration’s poisoned chalice. The misanthropy of the Heath brief is hardly a myth, founded as it is in the reality of a rapid rise in demand from a system originally constructed largely out of an amalgam of church based philantropy, private health care, and financial input from the once meagre resources of the State. The growth in the economy, and the rapid shifts of population both from west to east as well as considerable in-migration have left it straining at the seams.

Last night Enda barely landed a blow on the health issue. Indeed there was little argument with the fundamental reforms effected by the Health Act of 2004, which set out to try and unify the state’s rag bag heath care system through the Heath Service Executive, or Mary Harney’s recent battles over pay. Instead much of it centred on the problems of A&E, which revolve smaller and smaller detail, that makes it hard for the opposition to score any obvious points.

Will make a difference when it comes to the polls next week? It should lift a few FF heads, and maybe convince a few outsiders that that 20 seat loss predicted by the Irish Independent on Monday can be reduced to between ten and zero. Or maybe not.


  • Niall

    It occurs to me there were two types of people watching the debates over the past two nights: people who had already made up their minds and were watching to see how their boys did, and undecided voters.

    The already decided will highlight the good points their preferred leaders made regardless, so the crucial viewers are the undecided.

    If at this stage you don’t know who you are going to vote for, would the last two nights’ debate really make any difference to your decision making?

    For the undecided voters, it really is impossible to tell from these two nights of political theatre which party has the best policies. If they are not clued in on each party’s policies already, then determining who ‘won’ the debate will almost certainly be impossible for them. Recognising that Bertie ‘caught’ Kenny on Garda stats or Kenny ‘outwitted’ Bertie on crime or whatever will be outside these voters’ capabilities unless they are familiar with the issues and with the parties’ policies in this regard. Presumably if they were they would not be undecided. So I think its a fair enough assumption to say that undecided voters are incapable of determining who won the debate.

    Which leaves the media.

    It doesn’t really matter who won the debate (can these ever be conclusive?); it’s down to who is perceived to have won the debate. Unfortunately, the media (including the blogosphere), with their respective partisan views, will determine this for floating voters. Bertie ‘won’ on tax; Kenny ‘won’ on health – does this mean FF’s tax policies are better or FG’s health policies are better? No, just that the leaders ‘appeared’ more convincing on these subjects, according to whatever journalist/commentator.

    The reaction to the debate is what’s really important. So if the Irish Independent decides Bertie won, there is probably more of a likelihood that undecided voters who read the Independent will vote FF.

    In this light, the Indo’s headline this morning is a disgraceful piece of journalism – a personal opinion presented as fact.

    The whole episode is a debasement of politics. I can only hope Pat Rabbitte was right when he said most voters had made their minds up already prior to the debates.

  • Mick Fealty

    The anorak effect is also important though Niall. Regardless of who you think did win, my suspicion is that it has put a little bit of a spring back in the step of FF workers, who have been a little dismayed at the no show of ‘the boss’ so far.

  • dodrade

    Has any election debate, with the probable exception of Kennedy V Nixon in 1960, had a decisive effect on the outcome?

  • kensei

    “Has any election debate, with the probable exception of Kennedy V Nixon in 1960, had a decisive effect on the outcome? ”

    Carter versus Reagan 1980?

  • Nic

    Lot of ifs, buts, whenevers, seems-to-bes, coulds, possiblys and hard-to-tells in the reviews. In a word: inconclusive.

    My assessment: People would dearly love a change, they want rid of the FF taint, but they’re not sure if FG are the safe pair of hands the property market needs.

    In terms of campaign strategy, in football parlance Kenny has managed to negate the FF midfield so they can’t quality ball through to the attack, which hasn’t had a dangerous shot on target yet. This is enough to frustrate and unnerve FF and if he keeps it up long enough, they will start to doubt themselves and he may sneak an away goal on the counter.
    But he hasn’t shown any moves to take the initiative himself and dominate the game so on it trundles. At this rate we’re heading for a 1-0er decided on a dodgy decision or sloppy backpass or fumbled cross.


  • hovetwo

    Last night was remarkable – Bertie Ahern tore Enda Kenny’s manifesto apart, but appeared to be nit-picking over detail. Enda was confident and relatively composed, at least until he bristled over the fact he was contradicting his own Justice spokesman on crime.

    My wife was going to vote Fine Gael until she found out that our 15-month-old son would be six and a half before Fine Gael fulfilled their promise to have free GP visits for the under fives.

    Off the top of my head, Enda Kenny couldn’t explain how he was going to raid an existing fund to pay for 1500 hospital beds without reducing spending on other healthcare priorities. He couldn’t tally his promise to put 2000 more gardaí on the beat with the fact that 800 of them are already in training. He couldn’t explain why people earning €450,000 would pay the same PRSI as someone earning €45,000 under his tax proposals, and he couldn’t explain how €5.8bn of promises from Fine Gael and Labour would fit into a €2.9bn provision set aside for negotiation between the parties.

    Apart from that, he did fine.

    In hindsight, you have to ask what Bertie could have done to land a “knockout” blow, short of getting Enda to break down on television. Enda told stories with a conviction that showed he is a genuinely decent man, but he couldn’t defend his own manifesto or explain how it added up. Of course that’s detail, but then details are the sinews of modern government, in the absence of any great ideological divide. Just hope Richard Bruton is a good Finance Minister.

  • Greenflag

    Bertie beat Kenny
    Brian Cowan lambasted Bruton
    Mry Harney made Liz McGinnis sound like an oul granny !

    FF will be back !

  • sammaguire

    “The whole episode is a debasement of politics. I can only hope Pat Rabbitte was right when he said most voters had made their minds up already prior to the debates.”
    Don’t think so; FF up 5% on latest opinion polls as predicted by John Waters on Late Late Show. The debate exposed Kenny as a lightweight (as are the entire FG front bench apart from Bruton). Will be interesting to see if Rabbitte eats humble pie or resigns the leadership if we have an FF/Labour coalition.