30% vote may not be enough to win Cabinet seat

Alex White may not be in the running for a senior ministerial position after picking up less than 30% of the vote in the Labour leadership contest.

The junior health minister, who has overseen the medical card debacle, had been playing catch-up throughout the campaign to Joan Burton.

When it became clear that the leadership was out of reach for the 55-year-old Dublin South TD, he aimed to get a strong enough vote to secure a Cabinet place.

His campaign got off to a bad start when his fingerprints were all over a leadership heave on the Monday after the party’s appalling local election results, which was overtaken by events when Eamon Gilmore chose to announce his resignation.

A group of backbench rebels said they had the support of a junior minister in penning a letter calling on Mr Gilmore to quit, and were eventually forced to admit this was Mr White.

From the outset of his campaign he set about marking himself out as a leader who would stand up to Fine Gael. In the first of a series of hustings, he said “parity of esteem within the Government” is something he would “insist on as tánaiste, as leader of the Labour Party.”

As part of this strategy he picked a battle with the Taoiseach over the resignation of former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan.

“I will not stand over a position where the Taoiseach looks to fire the commissioner of the gardaí without as much as a phone call to the leader of the Labour Party,” he said in a letter to the membership.

While he would not rule out going into government with Sinn Féin, he pledged to “relentlessly expose the facile nonsense that passes for Sinn Féin policy”.

Like his leadership campaign, his potential elevation to Cabinet will not be helped by his continued defence and denial over the past year of the withdrawal of discretionary medical cards from the most vulnerable.

His position, as one of few options available to Ms Burton in the Dublin area, might be an advantage. But he did not endear himself to her supporters with his often negative campaigning based on her age.

During the leadership debate in Cork, he suggested that there needed to be a shift away from her generation. He made the point that, of the 14 members of Labour who served as ministers when the party was last in government in 1997, eight have since left the Dáil, one is now President.

The question now and one that Alex may well be asking himself is whether his leadership campaign has helped his elevation to Cabinet or prevented him from getting there?

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