This week’s events in Fine Gael have shown me one thing; Enda Kenny is tough enough to be Taoiseach.
Up to now, it’s always been my concern that Kenny, though clearly a very capable organiser, has just been too ‘nice’. I’ve heard otherwise – party insiders say Phil Hogan is his hatchet man – but all the evidence has suggested that he is a manager, a nice guy, a somewhat unconvincing schoolteacher from the Wesht.
But he’s not the longest-serving TD in the Dáil for nothing. In Fianna Fáil you would never see the leader’s constituency colleague trot out to defend him, and mean it – as Michael Ring did, a number of times this week.
This week, Kenny has shown himself to be a very able dealer. His approach to the leadership heave left no room for niceties – when the crisis was upon him he confronted it head on and dealt with it.
His refusal to even countenance speeches at the front-bench meeting on Tuesday meant that there was no time for waverers to be courted, and his courting of them so assiduously over the following days meant that the Bruton camp really did have no idea what hit them in the end.
The perception that they are an elite, that they are an urban, middle class, silver spoon gang, didn’t help; that’s not true for all of them, but there’s certainly a large contingent who fit into that category. Simon Coveney stuck out this week – the son of a Cork merchant prince stuck out his neck in a big way, and that will almost certainly come back to haunt him. While Kenny has been magnanimous in victory, and is certainly too intelligent to offer a slight that will harm him again, he will also have a long memory.
While I’ve met and interviewed both Kenny and Bruton, I have to say, I agreed with Sarah Carey in Thursday’s IT that Bruton, of the two, particularly lacks charisma. As she put it, he “giggles under pressure”. Not very statesmanlike. His grasp of economics is second to none in the Dáil, but this does not make him leadership material.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Machiavelli’s the Prince this week, and one quote particularly comes to mind: “The first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the men he has around him.“
While Kenny is not an economist, or a doctor, or an accountant, he has surrounded himself with people who have those qualifications; his job is to lead them, to shape his party, and to get on with the business of running Fine Gael and of representing Fine Gael. He is not meant to be Miss World.
He has come through a major challenge, something that could have completely destroyed Fine Gael, looking better and coming across more impressive. Bruton, on the other hand, has completely discredited himself – unfortunately, because he is “a nice guy”. He has said it would be hypocritical to serve on Kenny’s front bench again. And he won’t be leader. So what’s left?
Skilful manoeuvring, a willingness to tackle a challenge head-on, and a magnanimity born of pure political nous, in victory. Enda Kenny has proven himself.