All around the world politics is becoming more Presidential. Leadership of parties is vital as the mainstream and other media use it as shorthand for the party ‘personality’.
This makes it strange then that the early days of the current general election campaign in Ireland have been marked by something of a leadership deficit.
Fianna Fáil felt leadership into an election was important to get right and so forced a change which has effectively given the stage (or perhaps in their case the gallows) to candidates such as Michael Mulcahy who are battling to retain a seat, and the many others who are throwing in the towel. Their subsequent, terribly polite, leadership tussle will eventually produce a new face but not one that is innocent of the perceived sins of the last 13 years.
Fine Gael have sent James Reilly, Fergus O’Dowd, Simon Coveney and Michael Noonan to fight their corner but this fractured approach has allowed putative new TD’s like Peter Matthews to take some of the limelight as well. Whether they are all singing the same party song around the economic crucible of this election is uncertain. On twitter there is an amusing but telling hash tag of #wheresenda that has the twittering cognoscenti bantering away.
Dan Boyle was always dancing his way to the spotlight anyway, though his comments last night about European Greens losing all their seats after a first taste of government before coming back stronger was perhaps his declaration for the actual leadership of that party anyway.
Sinn Féin’s campaign since the December has been marked by a witty and oratorically strong Caomhín O’Caoláin while Pearse O’Doherty has delivered on the good reputation he had as a speaker from his time in the Senate. Their own party leader may have misjudged the likely reaction of conducting interviews over the weekend from Belfast rather than Dundalk, while an interview on Morning Ireland this morning was also heavily criticized.
Of the five main parties then only Labour’s Eamon Gilmore has been to the fore and yet even he missed the Frontline special on the Dun Laoghaire constituency, perhaps wanting to maintain a national rather than a local profile.
Yes these are early days but the indications are that this election may be less centrally controlled and therefore more energising than any in recent memory.
It is ironic that ‘leadership’ was one of the key areas that people were looking for something new as recently as a couple of weeks ago. We do not have an Obama style candidate of Hope so why not let’s forget about leader’s debates. Let’s get the spokespersons on the issues in front of the camera and debate policy rather than personality. The Irish public is ready and willing to listen.