Leo Varadkar to lead Fine Gael, says Frank Flannery

Leo Varadkar is favourite to be the next leader of Fine Gael and Enda Kenny’s "best before date" has already passed, according to ex-party strategist Frank Flannery.

Any early withdrawal of Labour from the Coalition would also be “collective psychosis”, the veteran spindoctor added.

In the second part of an interview with the Irish Examiner, he outlined his vision of who could lead the next generation of Fine Gael. He was also frank about how much longer Mr Kenny should remain as leader.

Mr Flannery said the circumstances in the country now were very similar to when the Cosgrave and Bruton coalition governments lost power in 1977 and 1997 respectively. “In each case, the country was coming out of recessionary times. People were way overtaxed and overcharged and were in a very resentful position. In each case, in particular 1977, the government got fucked out in a very comprehensive way.”

Mr Flannery said the Coalition now potentially faced the same dilemma.

“The present government went in on a belief and an expectation that by finishing the job, getting growth back in the economy and beginning to take the tax burden down a bit, that they would have done enough for the people to say ‘carry on, finish the job’,” he said.

“What they’re being assailed with is six years of hardship and people have arrived at the situation where the disposable income in their pocket is very small.”

Labour also had no choice but to sit tight until the next general election.

“The history of parties walking out of government in this country are sad, they don’t thrive.

“The pros and cons of going in 2016 outweigh the pros of going now. Going early would be collective psychosis.”

He said such a move by Labour would be akin to “the gathering of pigs”, a biblical reference to a herd of demonised, mad pigs rushing off a cliff edge.

While not ruling out the likes of senior ministers such as Frances Fitzgerald or Charlie Flanagan vying for the future leadership of Fine Gael, Mr Flannery sees hope for the younger members.

He says he always saw four contenders: Mr Varadkar, Simon Coveney, Brian Hayes, and Lucinda Creighton, the latter of whom has left the party.

However, it is Mr Varadkar, the health minister, who stands out, said Mr Flannery.

“Leo is a different kind of person, he’s younger, has the same life experience and is definitely bright,” he said.

“He’s a qualified doctor but he has chosen politics. He has options.

“He’s a tall, good-looking man, there’s a certain exotic feel to Leo because he’s half Indian, he’s half Irish. If you go back to [Eamon] de Valera, he was half Spanish, half Irish, he had a bit of American in him. Ireland liked that in de Valera and I think they like that in Leo.

“His commitment to Ireland is total but he has these interesting character traits. He has the capacity to speak in a very straight language.

“It’s hard to say, but my feeling from the public is that Leo would be ahead in a race.”

On Mr Kenny’s potential exit as leader, he said: “His best-before date has passed a while ago. If he wanted to exit the party in a good way, he should have gone after one of the European jobs that were available about a year ago.

“I suspect Enda will lead the party into the next election and if Fine Gael go into government, he’ll have to plan his exit after that. He’s the same problem then that Bertie had: How to you get out?”


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