Monday, February 14, 2011

Dog Days Are Over - Enda Kenny Can't Be Caught

The cackling over the Fine Gael Valentine eMessage cards – appalling though they are – doesn’t matter. Broadband penetration is so poor in Ireland that two out of three people will never even see the damnable things. The reality is that the people have made up their minds. They want Fine Gael, and that’s that.

The hide Enda strategy was not as high risk as some people – your humble correspondent front and centre among their number – thought. If anything, it’s been genius and, after being hidden for so long, Enda may be about to come shining into the light this week. The Merkel trip today is the first step in that – a move that’s much more clever than it appears, because it broadens the scope of campaign and joins battle on a totally unexpected flank, as we shall see below.

An Spailpín doesn’t think Fianna Fáil face annihilation, but the weekend poll must have broken their hearts. There is a chance that the party will do better than expected, because of our inability as a people to properly understand who Fianna Fáil actually are – as discussed on this blog earlier this year – and because it’s possible that where Fianna Fáil used to get first and second seats in constituencies, they may now limp home in fourth or fifth place, for a variety of reasons.

A seat is still a seat, and Fianna Fáil will count their blessings while they may. The sea-change question will be decided at the next election, rather than this one. But as an option for Government, the people cannot forgive Fianna Fáil at this election.

If Fianna Fáil were to promise to turn the Hill of Tara into the Big Rock Candy Mountain itself, it would make no difference. The people want Fianna Fáil to do their penance and live off bread and water for a while.

The choice for the governance of the next Dáil, then, is Fine Gael or Labour. This now has less and less to do with minutiae of policy, but with broader strokes – pain now or pain later, private sector v public sector, and so on. Fine Gael have done their sums better and Labour are suddenly in danger of being outflanked by that huge collection of independents who are united by their difference.

There was general speculation in the press over weekend that Fianna Fáil and Labour will now form a bizarre alliance of convenience in a desperate effort to haul Fine Gael back to the pack, but while that would certainly make sense for Labour, who are now looking at power slipping from their grasp, it would not make sense for Fianna Fáil.

Even before he became leader of Fianna Fáil, Micheál Martin pledged to support the new government if they followed the broad outline of the Fianna Fáil four year plan. It would make no sense in that context to hobble Fine Gael with a Labour party who famously opposed the bank guarantee, as Joan Burton delights in reminding the nation.

Eamon Gilmore said yesterday that the people didn’t want a single party government, but he’s wrong. Strong leadership is exactly what went missing in 2008 and the nation have been crying out for. People don’t understand what’s going on, and that’s why the support for Fine Gael is strengthening now. People want certainly, and Fine Gael is the only party offering that certainty.

An Spailpín would prefer if Enda Kenny fought a different campaign and addressed the nation as a whole via the medium of television rather than in random bunches on the campaign stump, but it’s impossible to deny that the strategy is not only working a treat for them, but is surely going better than they could have hoped.

The nature of the electorate is such that any attacks on Enda Kenny’s competence are now likely to work out, in a remarkable and depressing irony, like the questioning of Bertie Ahern in the last election – personal attacks rather than legitimate inquiries on a question of governance. The leading from the back campaign isn’t terribly good for politics but for Enda Kenny himself and his struggles to hold onto the Fine Gael leadership over the years, it’s sweet redemption.

Fine Gael can’t be caught. The only question is whether or not they will form a majority government, a minority government propped up by independents or coalesce with a deeply grateful Labour party. The Angela Merkel visit tomorrow may turn out to be a masterstroke to overshadow a debate that most people won’t watch anyway, because it's too short a format for five voices.

The German visit may prove a masterstroke because Angela Merkel is leader of the Christian Democrat party in Germany, which is a part of the European People’s Party in Brussels. Just like Fine Gael themselves.

Expect a big thumbs up for Enda from Angela tomorrow and Enda returns to Ireland having planted an Irish flag at the heart of Europe, and having cut yet another rod with which to beat Gilmore after his ill-judged remarks about "Frankfurt's way" on TV3 last week. It seems that while Enda wasn’t there himself, someone must have shown him a tape. Ouch!