Oliver Callan: particularly cruel about Fine Gael leader

Following a TV3 poll which showed that the public is still struggling to warm to Enda Kenny, RTé's satirical Nob Nation show broadcast a sketch where Michael Noonan broke the news about the poll to his party leader. It went out on radio on Friday and was repeated on RTé's Playback yesterday.

The Kenny character responded to Noonan: "The time for drastic action is now. Forget about Brian Cowen on Morning Ireland. First thing Monday morning I am going to be off me trolley on Tubridy... Get me the tins of Lilt. I am going in heavy or not at all."

Nob Nation and Today FM's Gift Grub sketches both ridicule Kenny to such a degree that there is a view the public perception of the Fine Gael leader is tainted by the satirical 'Inda Kinny' character. Nob Nation's Oliver Callan is particularly cruel about the Fine Gael leader, depicting him as a vain and preening egotist with a penchant for wearing women's clothing. "Who's your sexy Daddy?" is his catchphrase.

So as we get closer to a general election and Eamon Gilmore looks like the 'Teflon Taoiseach-in-Waiting', what can be done to solve Kenny's image problem? How can 'Inda Kinny' become a credible taoiseach in the eyes of the public?

Gerry Stembridge, one of the writers of the hit 1989-91 Scrap Saturday satirical radio show, claims that some politicians are "impervious" as they can be satirised in any way but the public's view of them does not change.

"Haughey was a good example of this from my era. People's opinion of him was such that satire did not change it – they either loved him or hated him already," he said.

Stembridge believes that Bertie Ahern got an easy ride from satirists over the last decade while Kenny and Brian Cowen are constantly ridiculed.

"Now because people are angry, they are looking for their satire to be razor sharp again and as a result Kenny is targeted and the stuff on Brian Cowen is vicious.

"The public perception of Enda Kenny cannot change. It is the 'Kinnock Factor'," he said, a reference to the former British Labour party leader Neil Kinnock. "You have the majority of people wanting to see an alternative government but enough people can't see Enda Kenny as taoiseach. The satire has not caused it, but it has kept the pot boiling all the time and it is doing the same to Brian Cowen. They are both hugely suffering from ridicule."

While Kenny and Cowen are both targets, Stembridge said that "there is no easy way of getting at Eamon Gilmore. He has a very sympathetic persona.

"Pat Rabbitte had that 'Smart Alec' quality that some people disliked and this gave satirists a way of getting at him. Joan Burton has that moaning, wailing voice and the perception that she is always miserable but Eamon Gilmore is so hard to get at," he said.

"Kenny is just asking to be satirised. He is like the actor with notions of being in Shakespearean plays who should be playing minor parts in soap operas even though he does have a lot of qualities."

Veteran campaign strategist Senator Eoghan Harris said: "A public consensus about a politician is nearly impossible to change. It is like a slow setting concrete... In Kenny's case, his image is set in stone. He comes across as an intellectual lightweight and he looks physically fragile. It is within anybody's capacity to restore their reputation, but Kenny would have to do something quite extraordinary.

"As an example, he could re-open the Croke Park agreement and cut public sector pay and pensions. He would take the chance of winning over the private sector at the expense of the public sector. It would take something dramatic and huge to strike a chord with the public. You have to get blood on your shirt to change a consensus."

Citing Kenny's role in the Fine Gael resurrection since the disastrous 2002 election, journalist Eamon Dunphy defended Kenny and said, "Opinion polls are only beauty contests and Kenny is not beautiful, but he does win elections and that is all that matters.

"Kenny doesn't have great communication skills, but if you look through history you will see that Clement Attlee was a great prime minister. He had no charisma and no communication skills yet he was a great prime minister. If Sean Lemass was living in the modern era he would be in a similar position to Kenny."

According to PR guru Terry Prone, whose Communications Clinic has worked with Kenny, said "John Bruton would have had a matching public perception before he became taoiseach. But within weeks of him taking over as taoiseach, the public decided they were happy with him. Kenny's public perception is partly as a result of him being in the leader of the opposition role for too long."

Political analyst Noel Whelan added, "Enda Kenny has been a leader for eight years so it makes it harder to be the change candidate when angry voters in volatile times look for something different. Kenny hasn't been able to articulate the electorate's frustration in the way that Gilmore has.

"The manner in which Kenny resisted Richard Bruton's heave entertained the public, raised his standing among commentators and politicians, but now, three months later, the public just see a leader about whom they hold the same reservations that they have long held."