Irish Examiner offers sound advise and analysis

General Election 2011 – Judge the party not the leader
Monday, January 31, 2011
IF yesterday’s Sunday Business Post/Red C poll proves anything it is that far from being the “sophisticated electorate” politicians assure us we are, we are a fickle, tribal, close-minded population who, despite the crisis eating away at this society, does not learn history’s lessons.

It shows too that we too easily and quickly divorce the man, especially an affable one, from his record. This blindness, this unquestioning fealty, is also an indication of why “we are where we are”.

The opinion poll recorded that just four days after his successful putsch Micheál Martin is the preferred choice as Taoiseach for 31% of the people surveyed. Eamon Gilmore recorded 26%, Enda Kenny 19% and Gerry Adams has, thankfully, the support of just 7%. The only thing that changed in those 72 hours is that the party that presided over this country’s destruction traded in a leader with an unlovable public persona for one with a far silkier presence, someone who naturally massages the microphone in a way that oozes empathy and possibility. It traded in a man made unsupportable by failure and circumstances for a man with virtually an identical political record, but one who seemed more an avuncular grandfather in the making rather than a bully in denial. In the lexicon of celebrity Mr Darcy replaced Dirty Harry.

But, until after the polling booths close, none of us should forget that Mr Cowen was deposed because of the threat he posed to the very existence of Fianna Fáil not because he had, in a number of roles, so mismanaged the country that we have lost our economic independence. We cannot forget either that Mr Martin supported him and his predecessor every step of the way along our road to perdition.

This fickleness, this dichotomy, is confirmed as the very same poll that gave Mr Martin a 5% lead in race to be Taoiseach put his party at 16%, less than half of Fine Gael’s 33%, and just a point ahead of the independents.

Fianna Fáil’s rating was confirmed in a second poll and remains a sobering judgment for the party that, if it is to be judged on its performance, must face a very grim short-term future.

The poll inevitably raises questions for Fine Gael too. Enda Kenny has successfully rebuilt his party, but the fluency in public performance needed to convincevoters that he might be a good Taoiseach remains a mystery to him.

Mr Martin’s strong showing is a mirror of Mr Kenny’s clumsiness in communication, by his frequent unconvincing — and that is being kind — public performances, especially while under sustained pressure. This is, of course, the Achilles heel Mr Martin targeted when he tried to set the agenda on television debates.

History shows how easily we have been seduced by promises of the impossible, but this would be a good moment to change how we decide who we will vote for. Charm or tribe cannot be the criteria, instead we should look for honesty, substance and possibility allied to imagination and performance. On that basis Fianna Fáil, even if it is led by their own Mr Darcy, can only have a support actor’s part in our immediate future.

This appeared in the printed version of the Irish Examiner Monday, January 31, 2011

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