Deeply unfair, you’d have to say:
A series of gaffes prior to and during the general election cost Fine Gael at the polls, a meeting of the parliamentary party has been told.
Ministers and Ministers of State held discussions reviewing the party’s general election performance on Tuesday ahead of a further meeting of the entire parliamentary party on Wednesday evening.
At the meeting, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar discussed Fine Gael’s timing of the election with sources saying he acknowledged the party could have maximised on its Brexit successes at earlier stages than February of this year, and perhaps called the election sooner.
Seán Kelly MEP is understood to have pointed towards a number of gaffes that were made before and during the election campaign as well the issue around the planned increase in the pension age and cuts to the disability sector. Sources present say that he also singled out comments made by former senator Catherine Noone about Mr Varadkar during the campaign.
Come off it. Was there a single voter in Ireland who was leaning heavily towards voting for Fine Gael but who changed their mind, thinking, “well Leo seemed like the right man for the job but now Catherine Noone has said he’s autistic, so it’s Mary Lou all the way as far as I’m concerned”?
Or, to put it a different way: If Catherine Noone had never said anything at all about Mr. Varadkar, do we think the result would have been different? Kelly’s not seriously trying to analyse the party’s problems here – he’s just looking for someone to blame for the thing going wrong.
The whole “everything was going fine until we made a series of gaffes” analysis rings hollow, too. A series of gaffes didn’t stop people from winning elections in the very recent past. Just think back to 2007, when Bertie Ahern had to go on the news to talk at length about how he had never had a bank account, and wasn’t trousering money, and that sort of thing, and won a whopping great victory anyway.
No – this is an exercise in self-comfort, not an analysis of why they lost.
Fine Gael lost the election, in truth, because they spent several years giving the impression that they cared more about balancing the accounts than they did about the lives of the voters (whether that’s true, or not). It was a series of events, not just one – from water charges, to homelessness, to raising the pension age. In an election where the voters were demanding an end to so-called austerity, Fine Gael was the party of austerity in the public mind, and their campaign tried to reinforce that perception, rather than challenging it.
The gaffes – from the RIC commemoration onwards – didn’t help, but they had little enough to do with it. Irish voters would more than happily have elected a Government they didn’t much like if they felt that it was working out for them personally. But the issue was that they just didn’t feel like they were reaping any benefit from having Fine Gael in office.
The Catherine Noone gaffe may actually have helped, not hurt, in that it gave the then Taoiseach a chance to look magnanimous and sympathetic, and made Noone into a national villain for a few days, with people saying things like “Leo didn’t deserve to be stabbed in the back like that”.
It certainly didn’t cost Fine Gael the election. She’s being hard done by, here, funny enough.