WHEN British Prime Minister Theresa May cast aside her assurances that she would not call an election, her opponents, and a growing number who are happy to be numbered in their ranks, accused her of trying to stage a coup.
At that moment, the polls indicated she would be swept back to Downing St with an almost unprecedented majority. Only a disorganised, unhappy opposition stood between her and that ambition. Today’s polls tell a different story.
A resurgent Labour is snapping at her heels and though her election call may not turn out to be as disastrous as David Cameron’s EU vote promise, her coronation may not be as triumphant as she had hoped. Events, dear lady, events.
Though it is unlikely she considered the option for even a second, she might have asked Fine Gael’s new leader and Taoiseach-in-waiting Leo Varadkar about how to secure power. His slick operation, his campaign to win his party leadership, was more like a blitzkrieg than anything we have seen in recent political history, certainly more so than anything Fine Gael’s genteel loyalists have experienced.
His opponent Simon Coveney was reduced to a dignified rearguard action almost as soon as the starter’s pistol formalised the leadership race. In reality, the race had been won at that point. Even so, Mr Coveney emerges from the process with his credibility enhanced. He may, in the fullness of time, have an opportunity to apply the hard lessons he undoubtedly learnt during the process.
That process seems to concentrate too much power in too few hands. The party’s parliamentary party controls 65% of votes, councillors control 10%, and foot soldiers just 25%. There may be the usual Byzantine justifications for this but it hardly celebrates the simplest, most unambiguous expression of level-field democracy — one man, one vote; one woman, one vote, but those are issues for another day.
Mr Varadkar should savour the moment because it was the easiest victory he will have for some years. His predecessor may have inherited a bankrupt country but he becomes Taoiseach in a divided, increasingly hostile world where we will have to box well above our weight just to stand still.
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