As we face in to the winter of 2017, Insider cannot help sense that as each week passes we are much closer to a general election than many politicians and political parties would really like.
The result of the 2016 election saw the two big guns of the Irish political landscape cement their positions as the two top dogs again. No doubt both parties have their own feelings about that result with Fine Gael finishing with 50 seats and Fianna Fail getting 44 seats.
When you look back to the 2011 result, both parties, for their respective reasons, must have felt the electorate really do have short memories. That’s politics for you! Five years after an election earthquake that really shook Fianna Fáil to its core, the party had made a surprisingly good recovery. It certainly had luck in some constituencies, pulling a couple of 'two out of three seats' around the State. It will need luck again at the next election if it wants to repeat this. That will be hard.
Fine Gael was pulled back to a more familiar seat tally (eg, 51 seats in 2007; 47 in 1997; 45 in 1992; 55 in 1989 ). However, the reality is large swathes of the public are suspicious of Fine Gael in government, seeing the party as a bit too right-wing, and are unhappy when Fine Gael can push through its policies easily. If you think this is a biased political comment then just take a look at the election results any time after they have been in Government (loss of 16 seats in 2016; 19 seats in 1987; 12 seats in 1977 ).
Leo Varadkar is now in control and knows this all too well. It is not clear exactly why FG chose him as opposed to rival Simon Coveney. He was not, and is not, as popular with middle Ireland as the Corkonian. His own membership proved this. Maybe over time this might change. Certainly he is a very clever politician. Maybe that’s the reason. His belief in appearance and how things look is very important to him.
The recent setting up of the Central Communications Unit headed by Galway based, and former Fáilte Ireland head honcho, John Concannon proves this. Concannon is himself no slouch at presenting and more importantly fully understands the political world from the lowest office to the highest seat. Insider thinks he is a quality political addition to Team Leo. One begins to see the effect of this unit when Leo is Tweeting about where he was the day Diana died!
Vardakar also seems to understand that large numbers of the public are suspicious of Fine Gael in power, so he appears to have made a calculated political decision to try to firm up the middle and upper classes and forget about the rest of society. His recent comments surrounding the property tax cements Insider's view of this.
Traditionally the upper class and the better off in society are far more comfortable when Leo and his party have been in government. Have a look at the constituencies that voted FG very favourably in 2011 - many of them in the well-heeled suburbs of Dublin. So, there is no real effort required here to win them over. They are in the bag. The traditional working classes are not big fans of Fine Gael because they feel their needs are not top priority when FG is in office. 'Forget this category' appears to be the FG mantra.
So in essence, the ball is in the court of the middle class, the “people who get out of bed early in the morning”, the “person who pays for everything”. These two phrases only came in to political commentary in recent months. That is not a coincidence. Leo and his team are pretty smooth political operators and know that by repeating these two phrases, and similar ones, they will begin to appeal more to a constituency than traditionally heretofore. This is Fianna Fáil territory. Expect a kickback from FF on this.
However the real issue here is, that this is a “Trump Lite” move. Sure, it is far more subtle. The language used by all concerned will be refined and nice. The presentation of the policies,etc, will be nice. The colours will be nice. Because Leo is nice. In reality though, it is a move to get the middle classes to think “we do pay for everything” or “I am sick of working 50 hours a week”. This move by Leo and his team is a cold hard political manoeuvre with a view to increasing the Fine Gael vote in middle class Ireland via the means outlined, ie, dividing society. That old truism, divide and conquer, comes to mind. It is an extremely clever move. And if he gets away with it, as he has in recent weeks, without been checked, then Insider thinks it will work.
If Fine Gael can make reasonable increases into this category then they will win the next election. There is a big percentage of this class that can be Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael but are not hardcore on either party. They decide at every election for which party they will vote. They went FF in 2007, stormed in mass numbers to FG in 2011, and began to drift back to FF in 2016. This back and forth will continue. Insider believes wholeheartedly that this group of voters will get larger at each election. Politically this is significant and Leo knows it well.