Daniel McConnell: Fine Gael suffering from failing to sell Leo for Election 2020

The first weekend of the campaign was always likely to turn on an opinion poll in a Sunday newspaper and sure enough, that’s exactly what happened.

Daniel McConnell: Fine Gael suffering from failing to sell Leo for Election 2020

The first weekend of the campaign was always likely to turn on an opinion poll in a Sunday newspaper and sure enough, that’s exactly what happened.

The poll from The Sunday Times dropped a bombshell when it was published late on Saturday night.

If it was to be believed, it had Fianna Fáil in a 12-point lead over Fine Gael and, were it to be replicated on polling day, not only would we have a change of government, it would mark the end of the Leo Varadkar project.

While senior Fine Gael figures would quietly concede that they are starting from behind, mutterings abound regarding the call to concentrate on Brexit so heavily in the opening days.

Campaign manager Paschal Donohoe said: “And we are simply making the case that, without a healthy economy, we can’t make progress on the issues that matter to many. We are arguing that we have made progress in housing and health. We acknowledge it’s not enough and we want to do more.”

The reality, from a Fine Gael perspective, is that it has failed to sell Varadkar as a Taoiseach of only two years’ standing.

Fianna Fáil has succeeded, along with the rest of the opposition, in cementing the idea that Fine Gael is nine years in office.

Another theme beginning to emerge is that Varadkar, as leader, is not connecting with voters.

At times he can be painfully shy, and has struggled to appear able to interact and relate to voters on the canvass.

“I am a real person too,” he quipped when meeting a member of the public outside Croke Park who said she had only seem him on the television.

Donohoe had to bat away questions yesterday about whether he would have to bench his own leader from the campaign.

Micheál Martin, the Fianna Fáil leader, was cautious to read too much into the numbers, having treated many polls, good and bad, with similar enough disdain since taking over as leader. He had good reason for many years, as they regularly made grim reading for him, but the real tests (2014 and 2019 local elections and the 2016 general election) have been happier occasions.

The significance of one poll can always be overstated and, certainly, the Fine Gael figure appears surprisingly after where they were in December.

It is significant, also, that the poll was conducted before the election had been formally called and in the midst of the RIC controversy. But the narrative has been established.

Fianna Fáil is in the driving seat but there are many twists and turns in a campaign. Martin, more than most, knows what looks certain on weekend one of the campaign can slip away from you in an instant.

Of significant interest was the release of the Dublin data from the poll: Fine Gael at 31% support in the capital, almost double the 16% for Fianna Fáil.

This is significant and Martin was right to say that the battles within constituencies across the country will decide who wins and who loses, as opposed to bold national figures.

After the first few days of opening shots and the campaign dominated by justice issues, this week will see the beginning of specific policy launches. Fianna Fáil will reveal its housing policy tomorrow; it includes a controversial SSIA-type scheme for aspirant homeowners.

Donohoe, as finance minister, did a quick tot-up of Fianna Fáil’s promises and said its figures simply don’t add up. Expect plenty more of that kind of talk.

Only 18 days left to go.

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