‘X Factor’ Leo Varadkar launches shock and awe strategy

Shock and Awe, Blitzkrieg, total annihilation. That was the clear strategy from the Leo ‘X Factor’ Varadkar camp on the first day of the campaign to replace Enda Kenny as Taoiseach, writes Political Editor Daniel McConnell.

If you were to listen to Varadkar and even some reporters last night, you would swear they swept all before them and the race is already over.

If you were to listen to Varadkar and even some reporters last night, you would swear they swept all before them and the race is already over. The Varadkar Swagger was in full swing even before lunchtime.

It is of course far too early to be thinking that way but momentum seemed to be the buzz word of the day.

But total annihilation, Fine Gael style, which they hope will be very gentlemanly.

The day began with his main rival Simon ‘Not X Factor’ Coveney officially launching his campaign outside Fine Gael’s headquarters on Upper Mount Street, which is a stone’s throw from the Dáil.

He was there to lodge his nomination making him a certified candidate.

Flanked by Health Minister Simon Harris, who would not be Leo’s favourite person in the world, and a gaggle of TDs and senators, Coveney walked the short distance from Leinster House to announce his candidacy.

The Merchant Prince Coveney was also surrounded by ministers Marcella Corcoran Kennedy, Damien English and David Stanton, most of whom hail from Munster.

Present too were first time TDs Maria Bailey and Kate O’Connell, or the Fine Gael lovelies as they are referred to by some of the older guard Blueshirts.

As he was first out, the media presence was considerable. There is nothing like the smell of a campaign in the morning.

Radio journalists, newspaper journalists, newspaper journalists who had to film the event for online, TV reporters, photographers jostled for the best position.

Setting out his stall as wanting to be a positive leader, Coveney was from the off having to defend his lack of charisma.

He strongly hit back at claims he lacks charisma, saying a new Taoiseach doesn’t need an ‘X factor’ but needs to deliver.

Standing on the steps outside party HQ, he declared he was “fighting for the soul of the party”.

Coveney said he believes the new leader should not just manage an economy but also focus on making people’s lives better.

He said his manifesto will be an attempt to “re-balance this country away from the dominance of Dublin so that rural people and rural parishes can believe in their futures again”.

Asked whether he has the X Factor, Coveney said: “That depends on what you describe as the X Factor. For me it’s about honest, strong, deliver.

“I don’t think that a family living in a hotel room this evening is looking for a Taoiseach with X Factor. They are looking for a Taoiseach who’ll solve their problems.”

Coveney was asked just how many people are formally backing him.

“More than the eight required,” came the response. “Way more, we have 20,” said campaign manager Damien English. “We will release the list later,” he added.

The gaggle broke up with the feeling being there had been no foul-ups.

But as soon as we were moving away, word arrived to us that Dickie Bruton, the education minister, would not be running but was backing Varadkar.

Moments later, an email from Varadkar’s camp landed to tell us that 9 senators were coming out in support of him.

And sure enough they did, which was a surprise as the Coveney camp had been claiming they would edge the Upper House.

Led by Catherine Noone, the senators were at pains to declare how modern, inclusive and 21st Century the lovely Leo is.

A short time later, a group of 12 TDs including four junior ministers emerged to add their name to the cause.

The matter of his ‘X Factor’ once again dominated the exchanges during the press conference.

Dublin Rathdown TD Josepha Madigan referred to Leo’s indefinable, intangible quality which separate good politicians from great ones.

Sean Kyne, the impressive Galway junior minister spoke passionately as to why Leo’s Varadkar Swagger is justified.

No sooner had that press conference finished, came a statement from Mary Mitchell O’Connor declaring her support for Leo the Kaiser.

Her decision perhaps influenced by the fact her constituency rival, I mean colleague, Maria Bailey is on the other side. The two don’t get on, you see.

While a huge swathe of councillors in Cork and Kerry came out for Coveney late in the afternoon, Varadkar got another boost by the declaration of Arts Minister Heather Humphreys of her support.

The big fear that Leo will burn out too early and that his supporters will become arrogant and complacent, thinking that the game is up.

Such hubris would be a mistake.

At the end of what was a frenetic first day, it is advantage Varadkar. But the game is far from won.

© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved

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