Hmmm… So George Lee, the brightest star in Fine Gael’s firmament last year has gone. In his trail some degree of disarray, although the party now say they are backing Enda for the foreseeable future after a marathon love in at Leinster House last night. While Lee’s getting it in the neck for being nothing so much as a flaky public sector journo, Enda’s the one with the serious long term problem. Miriam Lord in today’s Irish Times notes the real problem for Fine Gael: the government is beginning to get out from under its own partly self inflicted pall:
The general health of Fine Gael was the live issue and in the corners and the corridors, little huddles of deputies anxiously weighed up the party leaders performances in the wake of Georges departure. The strain of the last few days told on Enda Kennys face. For the second day in a row, he looked tense and preoccupied. He appeared distracted.
Brian Cowen, on the other hand, was in very good spirits, a living embodiment of the God doesnt close one door but opens another school of thought. George gone. Inda Kinny on the rack. Whats not good about that? No amount of prodding from the Opposition could knock him off his stride. He also returned to his early habit of treating the Fine Gael leader like a half-wit.
In truth Enda’s problem amounts to what has his greatest strength in building his party back up. He’s a nice guy, but with zero instinct of a killer. His party feel beholden to him because he has built up it’s base with latherings of care and attention.
I have no idea why George Lee left. But it seems Enda was as unprepared for it as the rest of the country. His dithering for days after are what has given rise to to a frenzy of media speculation. Noel Rock (H/T Mulley), makes three credible suggestions for what might have filled the void:
1.We still have the best economic team in the country. Richard Bruton, alone, is head and shoulders above anybody else in terms of qualifications for running the economy.
2.George Lee joined this party for a reason: those reasons are still the same.
3.Without being in Government, George thought his services would be best deployed elsewhere. Fianna Fail are going to stay in their trenches until 2012.
Of course Gerard may be right when he suggests that he’s been handicapped by a team around him that simply wont let him be himself. But I’ve heard an early, long play version of Enda unplugged, so I have some sympathy with the caution of his media handlers.
More to the point, Kenny needs to heed his parliamentary party’s wishes that he return to the city farm at Leinster House not just to co-ordinate his party’s cross departmental attack on Government and develop consistent lines to ram home awkward truths to the government, ad nauseum. But he needs to keep a closer eye on his own troops too, and keep them better informed.
For instance, there were no shortage of Fianna Fail Senators to inform Slugger of just how little warning Enda’d given his own men and women in the Seanad before announcing his plans to abolish the upper house to the wide world. For all the talk of Lee’s journalistic background leaving him unprepared for the unglamorous life of a lowly Deputy in the Dail, that’s probably the single most important lesson he and his leadership must learn from this embarrassing episode.
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