It’s not always what you say so much as how memorably you say it. On RTÉ’s ‘The Frontline’ last night, Sean Sherlock of Labour, a pleasant-looking lad, was trying to explain why Labour, who are opposed to the Finance Bill, are going to be voting FOR the same Finance Bill in the Dail later this week. It’s a tough one but he did his best. He’s a Corkman and Corkmen have a way with words, even in a tight situation. Then Pat Kenny asked Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty for his views.
Doherty has got beefier. Only a couple of weeks ago he was a slightly gawky, long-necked lad from Donegal. Now his face is fuller, his neck thicker – he looks like he’s matured physically. And politically? Well, if his choice of words is any indication, he’s a veteran already. When poor young Sherlock had sort of collapsed back into his seat after struggling to explain that Labour were opposed to and at the same time going to help pass the Finance Bill, Doherty responded. He said that Sherlock and Labour were now acting as they were because they’d got “a whiff of ministerial leather” and couldn’t wait to occupy their new government Mercs.
Young Sherlock spotted the problem immediately and tried to damp down the blaze by telling Doherty that such a remark was out of order, was a low blow, was unacceptable. The result of that was, the viewing public did a quick mental rewind, played again the “whiff of ministerial leather” remark and cemented it into their political picture. This was firmed up later in the programme when Pat Kenny AND a man in the audience repeated the phrase.
What’s so important about a “whiff of ministerial leather”? Because grasping political issues is hard work. Words are slippery things – that’s why political cartoons are often more successful than political columnists. So when a well-turned phrase pops up that seems to summarise something broad and complex – this time Labour’s reasons for acting as it did – then the public’s mind snaffles it up. “A whiff of ministerial leather” – it appeals not to our sense of sight or hearing, but smell. We all know that yummy pong of a new car, and better still an expensive new car, and better still an expensive new car that you get to use and don’t have to pay for. Suddenly all Labour’s high-minded explanations for not pulling the plug on the government fly out the window and are replaced by the image of Labour TDs getting all hot and moist as the smell of power spirals up their nostrils.
Not fair, maybe not even totally truthful. But unforgettable.