It was, I think, Labour's Joan Burton who first drew our attention to the resemblance between Enda Kenny, probably the next Taoiseach, and Ashley Wilkes, a character in Gone With The Wind, who was played in the movie of the book by Leslie Howard. Burton was talking about the physical resemblance of Enda and Ashley, as portrayed by Howard; but as I watched the Fine Gael leader on The Late Late Show last weekend, it was clear that the similarities run to personality as well.
Kenny is, patently, a nice, decent and honourable man. His very ordinariness – his nextdoorness – is what sets him apart from the vulgar brashness of the Fianna Fáil years. (Which is not to compare Brian Cowen or Bertie Ahern to Rhett Butler; that would be taking poetic licence to unsustainable levels). But he can also be terribly indecisive, as Ashley was, apparently lacking in energy, and he sometimes seems a touch wimpish, to be cruel about it. People in Fine Gael point to the ferocious amount of work he put in taking the party from electoral humiliation to the brink of power in less than eight years, but out among the public, as Friday's Irish Times poll showed again, he has still to convince. Much of Fine Gael's support currently comes from people who can no longer bring themselves to vote for Fianna Fáil. Such doubts as exist about Fine Gael forming the next government stem from Kenny's ability to grab the electorate by the scruff of the neck and make them love him as they did Bertie Ahern, until they realised it was infatuation and not love.
Kenny's Late Late appearance was a chance for him to shine before a captive audience. But again he failed. He did well on the family stuff – how he met his wife, talking about his kids – but when it got down to policy, his fitness for power, his plans for government, he was all over the place. On several occasions, I found myself shouting at the television, telling him what to say – not because I'm some undiscovered political genius, but because what he should say was so obvious. But it apparently never occurred to him; he seemed unprepared, unbriefed, slightly surprised that anyone would pose these questions.
Ryan Tubridy asked Kenny why he wanted to be Taoiseach, three times if I remember correctly. At the end of it all I was no clearer as to the nature of his ambition to lead the country. Could he not have said something like: "I want to be Taoiseach because the country I love and have served to the best of my ability for decades has been ruined by a party and a philosophy which put profit and excess before responsibility and before its sovereign duty to the people who elected them. Before I retire I want the chance to be able to undo some of that damage and help to make Ireland a fairer, more just and equitable society which can provide jobs for all who want them". It might be a bit hammy, but it's a far sight better than the rabbit-in-the-headlights performance Kenny came out with.
Tubridy wanted to know about Fine Gael's lack of experience in government. The current cabinet had more than a hundred years of cabinet experience, he said, while Fine Gael's front bench could barely muster 20 years between them. At this difficult time in its history, could Ireland really afford to be led by such novices? The obvious answer is this: "With respect, Ryan, Ireland has been ruined by that hundred years of experience. Sometimes experience is just another word for weariness, for lack of imagination, for absence of inspiration. What Ireland actually needs now is a combination of youthful enthusiasm and energy, of new and modern ideas and policies implemented by people who had no hand, act or part in bringing the country to its current, sorry mess".
Yet again, last week, Kenny failed to seal the deal with the public. But perhaps he doesn't feel he needs to. Perhaps he feels the next election is there to be lost rather than won, and he doesn't want people to think he's getting notions developing a personality or a philosophy. Perhaps he looks at the US currently and sees how a leader's personality can only go so far. Perhaps he prefers the idea that leadership is about picking the best people for particular jobs and letting them at it. I hope he's right and that he gets a shot at power after the next election.
It would be a pity to see such a lengthy political career gone with the wind.
Media recovery: putting the boot into the minister
Newspaper coverage of Brian Lenihan's early January interviews – in which he vowed to fight his illness while continuing in his job – was a tad over-the-top as editors went out of the way to portray him as possibly the bravest minister in Irish history. It seemed in some publications that Lenihan's recovery had become tied up with Ireland's recovery, and you couldn't have one without the other.
To Lenihan's credit, he seems slightly embarrassed by all of this fuss and has specifically asked the opposition parties to continue to pursue him in Dáil debate, an invitation he presumably extends to the media as well. It was good therefore to see David McWilliams in the Irish Independent and Mary Ellen Synon in the Irish Daily Mail put the boot in during the week. Normal service has resumed, which is only as it should be.