Friday, June 18, 2010

Kenny has proven himself

This week's events in Fine Gael have shown me one thing; Enda Kenny is tough enough to be Taoiseach.

Up to now, it's always been my concern that Kenny, though clearly a very capable organiser, has just been too 'nice'. I've heard otherwise - party insiders say Phil Hogan is his hatchet man - but all the evidence has suggested that he is a manager, a nice guy, a somewhat unconvincing schoolteacher from the Wesht.

But he's not the longest-serving TD in the Dáil for nothing. In Fianna Fáil you would never see the leader's constituency colleague trot out to defend him, and mean it - as Michael Ring did, a number of times this week.

This week, Kenny has shown himself to be a very able dealer. His approach to the leadership heave left no room for niceties - when the crisis was upon him he confronted it head on and dealt with it.

His refusal to even countenance speeches at the front-bench meeting on Tuesday meant that there was no time for waverers to be courted, and his courting of them so assiduously over the following days meant that the Bruton camp really did have no idea what hit them in the end.

The perception that they are an elite, that they are an urban, middle class, silver spoon gang, didn't help; that's not true for all of them, but there's certainly a large contingent who fit into that category. Simon Coveney stuck out this week - the son of a Cork merchant prince stuck out his neck in a big way, and that will almost certainly come back to haunt him. While Kenny has been magnanimous in victory, and is certainly too intelligent to offer a slight that will harm him again, he will also have a long memory.

While I've met and interviewed both Kenny and Bruton, I have to say, I agreed with Sarah Carey in Thursday's IT that Bruton, of the two, particularly lacks charisma. As she put it, he "giggles under pressure". Not very statesmanlike. His grasp of economics is second to none in the Dáil, but this does not make him leadership material.

I've been thinking a lot about Machiavelli's the Prince this week, and one quote particularly comes to mind: "The first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the men he has around him." 

While Kenny is not an economist, or a doctor, or an accountant, he has surrounded himself with people who have those qualifications; his job is to lead them, to shape his party, and to get on with the business of running Fine Gael and of representing Fine Gael. He is not meant to be Miss World.

He has come through a major challenge, something that could have completely destroyed Fine Gael, looking better and coming across more impressive. Bruton, on the other hand, has completely discredited himself - unfortunately, because he is "a nice guy". He has said it would be hypocritical to serve on Kenny's front bench again. And he won't be leader. So what's left? 

Skilful manoeuvring, a willingness to tackle a challenge head-on, and a magnanimity born of pure political nous, in victory. Enda Kenny has proven himself.  

Friday, June 4, 2010

Turning corners in a maze

We may have turned a corner, but there are plenty more awaiting us in what’s going to be a long and winding road to recovery.
The Wall Street Journal this week extensively praised the ‘belt-tightening’ measures taken by the Government, and advocated that the rest of Europe follow suit.
Fair play to us – international approval, begorrah! Sure isn’t it great that the Yanks are happy with what we’re doing; we must be getting it right if they think so. After all, aren’t they doing great; unemployment of only, um, 9.5 per cent; a deficit of only, er, $82.69 billion. Obviously an example we should be following – free market capitalism all the way.
But, just when we were all cosily adapting to the idea that this poverty thing was a temporary blip, Fianna Fáil have got it right, and we’d all be back in our jeeps by next January, along came the Live Register for May.
The Live Register increased by 6,600 in May, the largest increase since last August. Larger even than January, a  month most of us will remember with a shudder. The unemployment rate is now 13.7 per cent.
And the figure doesn’t take account of emigration. While it’s not a hardship for many, as Mary Coughlan was pilloried for saying earlier this year, choice is always a plus, and most emigrants haven’t got one. They may be surfing on Bondi but perhaps they’d rather be in Ballycotton; they don’t have the luxury of choosing. There are rather a lot of them scattered throughout the world; more of my college friends live in London than in Limerick, where we went to college, and there’s no prospect of them coming home.
One, who visited last weekend, wistfully asked me did I think there were any jobs in Cork in her industry; her mother is ill and living alone, but she can’t afford not to work, and if she moved home to be with her, that would be the case.
The idea that we’d turned a corner now looks a bit like e-voting; embarrassing, and costly in the long run. And before you start adding up job loss announcements in your head - Pfizer, for example – remember that they’re not gone yet. The jobs lost last month are just more of the steady leaching of employment that don’t involve headlines, or major announcements, or Government commitments to apply for EU funding to retrain workers and replace jobs.
The congratulations of the Wall Street Journal, while a good sign in some respects, have to be taken with a pinch of salt. The same august newspaper cheered wildly as the debt bubble expanded. It’s the newspaper of big business, owned by Rupert Murdoch and read by the type of big businessmen who’d eat our crowd of builders for breakfast.
Every newspaper caters to its readers, and it’s in the interests of WSJ readers to cut budgets, bail out banks, and ignore the low-level suffering of people living on slashed welfare payments, people waiting for cancer diagnoses and people who can’t move home to live with their lonely parents, to keep talking up the economy. We may have turned a corner, a couple of corners even, but there are plenty more ahead.