Leo and his admirers

So much of politics is show, with last Saturday night being a good example. When Leo Varadkar finished his keynote speech at the Fine Gael Ard Fheis, senior colleagues (and a top EU man) flooded onto the stage to shake hands or hug or kiss him (sometimes all three)  as though they’d just listened to the most outstanding speech since ‘I Have A Dream’ (And yes Virginia, they all do it: Fianna Fail, the Labour Party, Sinn Féin, the lot.)

Sometimes outsiders are part of the show.  At the Fine Gael bash, the cameras picked out Manfred Weber, who’s tipped to be the next EU Council president.  It also took in Naomi Long and her husband. All three may have been involved in real spuds-and-cabbage discussion with Fine Gael, but they looked largely decorative. They were at the Fine Gael Ard Fheis but not of the Fine Gael Ard Fheis. When Leo said something really significant  (which was on average every 2.5 minutes), the audience clapped and occasionally cheered. Naomi and hubby sat impassive: no cheering, no clapping.  I suspect Weber showed equal applause restraint.

So what did their presence at the Ard Fheis tell us?  Maybe it was meant to remind the population that Fine Gael are a party that reaches across borders, be those borders Irish or European. Maybe  Naomi and hubby were a kind of counter-blast to Fianna Fail’s much-hyped hook-up with the SDLP, and Weber was there to remind the population what a blinder Leo’s been playing in the Brexit debate.

But Naomi and husband weren’t the only northern politicians there. We also got a glimpse of Claire Hanna. Claire, you’ll remember, totally rejected the SDLP’s faltering steps into the mouth of Fianna Fail. At the time I assumed it had been because Fianna Fail was considered too right-wing.  But here she was on a discussion panel at the Fine Gael Ard Fhéis, and aren’t Fine Gael generally considered to be far more blue-shirty than Fianna Fail?

The DUP’s Jeffrey Donaldson was also at the Fine Gael thrash.  Jeffrey is the good cop face of the DUP, but he wasn’t there purely as a decorative maneen on the Fine Gael cake. He was there to show that nobody likes Sinn Féin. One of the biggest cheers came when Leo  told his audience there’d be an election at some point and one thing they could rest certain of:  post-election: Fine Gael would NOT be going into coalition with the Shinners.

In a panel discussion at the Ard Fheis, Jeffrey made the opposite clear: he and his party couldn’t wait to get into political bed with Sinn Féin, and wasn’t it sad to see the Shinners so obstructive and negative, with their red lines and surly refusal to do the fandango with the DUP?

But the thing that really got the headlines was when Jeffrey issued an invitation to the south of Ireland  (or ‘Ireland’ as Jeffrey and Leo and other geographical illiterates like to call the southern state): what Jeffrey would like to see is ‘Ireland’ join with Northern Ireland   and re-enter the Commonwealth.

Woa there, Dobbin. That one didn’t get much positive reaction. Just about all Fine Gaelers still view the north as Badlands, metaphorically if not literally, and would cut off  their big toe and toast it for a snack sooner than go back into the Commonwealth. The north-east of Ireland being under Westminster jurisdiction, now that’s something they can live  with; but count them out in any talk about joining what is now known as the Commonwealth, and before that  was known as the British Commonwealth, and before that as  the British Empire.

All of which leaves us to grapple with a central question:  why did Leo say in his speech that, post-an-election, he wouldn’t be getting into bed with the Shinners? Are their economic policies too left? Or was it that he didn’t want to associate with a  party born out of violence?  (No, Virginia, let’s not talk about that big oil-painting that holds an honoured place in the Taoiseach’s office and shows a very very violent man, dressed in military uniform.)                                                                                                                        

They say politics is showbiz for ugly people. Perish the thought. Politics as displayed at the Fine Gael Ard Fhéis is  self-congratulation for hypocrites.  

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