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.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty