My take on Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore’s dilemma from The Evening Herald Thurs Sept 8th – see online here
THE much-missed RTE journalist Gerald Barry gave his name to possibly the one basic rule of Irish politics.
It states that “every leader of the Opposition is the worst ever leader of the Opposition”. Not only does it still apply, but our “new” politics seems to dictate that it be expanded to apply to Tanaistes.
As Eamon Gilmore is learning, being the deputy can be a thankless job. President Franklin Roosevelt’s vice president, John Nance Garner, described the job as “not worth a bucket of warm spit”. Though being a rough Texan, it is likely he put it a bit stronger
President Reagan’s VP, George Bush Snr, put it a bit more delicately, saying the job involved a lot of quiet diplomacy, possibly a reference to the number of state funerals he attended during his time.
Gilmore’s current stint in the doldrums is almost inevitable. He came into Government promising most, and with the highest public approval ratings. Remember the Gilmore For Taoiseach posters? If only I had held on to one! He could never deliver on these high expectations, given his lack of experience in office.
In Opposition, Gilmore outshone and outclassed Kenny. He was the one who seemed more capable and focused. He was better able to capture the public mood. His pithy and apparently off-the-cuff contributions contrasted with Enda’s heavy long-winded scripted ones. Those days are now long gone. The Taoiseach now outpolls the Tanaiste, as ex-FF voters see him more in tune with their concerns.
The cracks in the Gilmore edifice first began to appear in the leaders’ debate between Eamon and Micheal Martin. Contrary to expectations, the new Fianna Fail leader faired well, while Eamon seemed over- prepared, even defensive.
Looking back, it may have been a foretaste of Eamon’s difficulty: changing from Opposition mode into governance mode.
His weakening situation was compounded by taking the job in Government often seen as the most remote from everyday life at home — foreign affairs — and by his choice of ministers.
He appointed a team with both experience and youth, yet he has uniquely managed to rub many of his backbenchers up the wrong way –particularly those who served on the front benches before the election only to find themselves passed over in favour of relative newcomers for junior ministries.
This leaves him caught in a bind. On one side he is being daily eclipsed by his more experienced colleagues, Quinn, Howlin and Rabbitte — while on the other he is being sniped at by disgruntled backbenchers.
A situation not made any easier by the fact that he is not a “gene pool” Labour Party man, just a “stickie” blow-in.
Small wonder his polling numbers have fallen amid stories of his less-than-impressive contributions to Cabinet.
I was hearing these during my recent trips to Brussels as local officials spoke of how pedestrian his performances had been at EU meetings.
His dilemma is now threefold, at least.
First, his platform in Opposition was that we needed to tax more and cut less. That is not the view of the majority voters now.
Second, if he had taken a more central big-spending department he risked exposing his inexperience, so he chose to play safe.
Third, if he was more aggressive and assertive, we would be lambasting him for damaging the cohesiveness of the Coalition and putting party politics above national interest.
In these circumstances it is possible to almost feel sympathy for his plight … but only almost. He alone is the architect of his current misfortunes.
They may ease a little if his candidate fares well in the presidential election, though October 27 is a distance away and a Labour victory is by no means assured.
That would at best prove a temporary respite as already unhappy backbenchers grapple with the consequences of cuts in social welfare and services.
Gilmore’s place is secure for the moment, but all bets (and gloves) will be off come the mid- point of this Government’s term if his role and input into Government has not improved significantly.