I suspect that it is obvious at this point that the possibility of a change at the top of FG has increased in the last 48 hours and I suspect, despite the way things are being played in the media, the likelihood of this change over being a smooth and relatively bloodless one has increased too. I believe that Enda Kenny knows that his race as currently constituted has been run and a significant change in approach is needed. It would seem plain to me that neither he nor the party at large simply can’t overcome the incorrect perception of him that has fixed itself in the mind of the electorate. I say this as a fan of the man, I believe he would be a superb Taoiseach but too large a portion of the electorate can’t see that and no matter what we do we appear to not be able to make the electorate see that. So the key question then becomes what do we do about it?
In part this mis-perception is to due to the media backlash after he took over the party as many people in the media were somewhat affronted that this guy from the west about whom they knew little had become leader of the main opposition party. Moreover, some of them were appalled that FG didn’t have the decency to disappear and to give them the simplistic left right politics they so desperately ached for, Fintan O’Toole in particular appears to feel this hurt in a very personal way. Enda Kenny kept the party from relegation into irrelevancy and obscurity but the work to do so meant that most of his time was spent with the organisation the length and breadth of the country and not in Dublin wining and dining with the media insiders. This crucial 18 months when he saved the party has probably damned him in the eyes of the media.
He was exactly what was needed to save the party, but we should remember that Moses never got to the promised Land. For those who say that Enda must be supported in all circumstances come what may, I would ask two simple questions.
a) Do they accept that there is a problem with the public’s perception of his abilities? Not with his actual abilities but with the public’s perception of them. If they don’t then they must be blind or delusional.
b) for those in full command of their faculties who accept there is a problem with that perception then the next question is what do we do about it? If there is something we can do about the perception itself then I wish to Christ we could hear it from them cos keeping it as a secret weapon to be deployed just when we need it most has gone on far too long. Alternately, if there is nothing more we can do about that perception then either we accept that the party’s support will stagnant into the future at a time when the electorate is in complete flux or they see that a change is necessary.
Those are the three options available, (i) demonstrate immediately a convincing plan to right the public’s perception of Enda Kenny (and explain why this has not happened before now), (ii) accept stagnation of the party’s support or (iii) remove the perception problem by removing the man the incorrect perception is of. I’m open to people telling me of other options, but right now those are the only ones I see.
By moving quickly tomorrow to lance the boil that is the public’s perception of him Enda Kenny can still take the point position in the debate against Brian Cowen, and he can challenge him to match his actions. Enda can profess that the situation has been changed so much by the banking reports that the people need to believe and be convinced that the next Taoiseach will be in completely in command of the economic issues and not be open to being lead or being hostage to the civil service as it is now so plain Brian Cowen has been, and that FG needs to be strong and seen to be strong in this area in order to ensure that the siren call from Labour to the electorate that there is some easy and painless way out of our economic situation is resisted.
Labour have done well convincing people that we can avoid public sector spending cuts, that we can somehow find significant extra taxation without it impacting on anyone or slowing down the recovery of the economy. Certainly, there are areas where tax allowances on pensions say can be reduced but you can only do that the once.
We need to find 3 billion this year and then an extra 3 billion again the next and more again the year after that, not the same savings being done again but additional reductions in spending or increases in taxation. If we can get more people in work, then tax revenues will raise and public spending in the form of social welfare reductions. But where will the money come from to fund this work? If the state were to provide it, we would be borrowing even more which we simply can’t do. That is to relive the 80s all over again. Even if Labour doesn’t remember the 80s Fine Gael does and the country does not need to go through that again.