DANIEL MCCONNELL: Which Leo Varadkar would we see as leader?

Varadkar is being uncharacteristically cautious which begs the question would he maintain this
stance as leader or return to his fearless and maverick ways, writes Daniel McConnell.

WHAT a disgustingly indulgent position we find ourselves in.

The events of the week have told us that Fine Gael, as a party, is happy to allow Enda Kenny’s feelings take priority over the good of the country.

After a week of bluster and hyperbole from rebels, Kenny went in and silenced his critics in less than eight minutes.

Kenny said the country needs him to go to Washington and that the country’s fate hangs on his attendance at key Brexit summits.

We have been told that it was right for him to defer setting a firm date before he goes to America to avoid being a lame duck leader in his engagement with Donald Trump.

But the truth is, Kenny is already a lame duck.

He has been a lame duck since he lost the general election last year.

Transport, Tourism, and Sport Minister Shane Ross, despite the sharp criticism he got for saying it, was spot on in describing Kenny as a political corpse.

All we have heard since Wednesday night is that he deserves time and space to leave on his terms, that he is owed that.

What is he owed?

We have heard an awful lot about Enda Kenny’s service to the State, but let us all remember the State’s service to Enda Kenny.

He has been paid €1.2 million in salary since becoming Taoiseach in March 2011 and is eyeing up a pension pot of between €3m and €4m on his retirement, given his 42 years of service.

He has lived a first-class lifestyle while Taoiseach.

Which Leo Varadkar would we see as leader?

Ferried around in the Garda cordoned bubble from morning to night, VIP travel around the world and all at the expense of the taxpayer.

Maybe the fear of losing those luxurious trappings of office and an egotistical obsession about his legacy are driving Kenny’s desire to cling on.

What we now have is Kenny in place until at least the beginning of April and maybe until the beginning of May.

Such a scenario will allow Kenny become the longest serving Fine Gael Taoiseach in history, overtaking the record held by John A Costello, on April 19, of six years and one month.

But that desperate desire to cling to power has all but put Government business on hold, as Juno McEnroe and I reported earlier this week.

This was reflected in the absence of any legislation going to the Seanad this week, the incredibly light agenda at Cabinet and word that secretaries general have all but stopped the flow of new policies for the fear of a snap election.

The position we find ourselves in now is almost similar to where we were in the dying days of the Brian Cowen-led government in late 2010 and early 2011.

As I recounted in my recent book, Hell At the Gates, the government engaged in a desperate policy of clinging to power despite the country screaming for an election, particularly in the wake of the gargle-gate incident in September 2010.

Policy formation stopped, ministers became consumed with dragging out the show as long as they could for they knew impending doom was looming at the polls.

It eventually took Micheál Martin to confront Cowen in order to force the issue.

While Cowen won the subsequent leadership vote of confidence, he was gone from office 72 hours later following his botched Cabinet reshuffle.

Martin, having moved first initially lost his Cabinet seat but won the war two weeks later, beating the previous front runner to the job, the late Brian Lenihan.

In 2017, we see a similar reluctance on behalf of ministers to rock the boat or stand up to Kenny because, one suspects, as many as five of the current Cabinet could lose their jobs in a change of leader.

But, it could also be argued that both the leadership contenders, Simon Coveney and Leo Varadkar, missed a golden opportunity to seize the agenda by moving on Kenny, like Martin did.

Which Leo Varadkar would we see as leader?

But, both have become incredibly cautious, given one false move could see them miss out on the holy grail of the leadership.

As I have written previously, Coveney is by far the more cautious of the two men by nature.

Varadkar is by instinct a more impulsive politician and has won many admirers by breaking ranks from his own fellow ministers.

But as we reported yesterday, Coveney currently enjoys a marginal lead over Varadkar, and this is amid doubts as to what kind of Varadkar we will get as leader.

As one of his main admirers told me during the week: “The old Leo would have moved decisively, said to hell with it and taken his chances. He would have cut Kenny to shreds and this would have been sorted by now. But now Leo is far more cautious, second guessing himself and reticent to move as he would have done previously.”

As often is the case, this was a casual conversation along the corridors in Leinster House, but it was as revealing as any analysis I have heard of the current political environment.

Varadkar can still win the leadership race but to my mind he has more to prove than Coveney.

People are asking why would we plump for the guy who is pretending to be a cautious, careful leader, when his main opponent is that by his DNA.

It has also been asked what kind of leader will Varadkar be. Can he be the maverick he has been if he becomes Taoiseach?

Most feel you can’t and this could go against Varadkar when push comes to shove.

Undoubtedly, he has a degree of an X-factor that Coveney doesn’t and it is this unique charisma that his supporters will see him achieve success.

But, while that appeal works among the liberal wing of Fine Gael and many of the Dublin-based media, severe doubts remain as to how his appeal will carry to the Blueshirt enclaves in Munster, the midlands and in the West.

We will, as we know, have the benefit of a three-week campaign including regional hustings in which the candidates will have to prove their worth to the grassroot members of the party.

But, the members’ decision has of course a greater significance than just choosing a leader of the party, as whoever succeeds Kenny will become Taoiseach.

Varadkar too has already been forced to address the issue of his sexuality following a rather stinging comment piece in the Irish Independent during the week which explored the benefits of political spouses.

Varadkar has said his personal and family life should not be an “issue” in the Fine Gael leadership campaign.

He said the leadership race should not be about personalities but “people’s vision for the future of the country”.

“I am not going to make my personal life or family life an issue in any campaign and I hope and trust others won’t do either,” he told reporters.

Ultimately, the race as we know it is now on but the indulgence of Fine Gael risks pulling the whole dysfunctional show of government down before they would wish.

If that happens, they only have themselves to blame.

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