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Leo Varadkar: The Bosses’ Lion

By D.R.O’Connor Lysaght

30 June 2017

During the drama of the UK general election, a farce was being played in the neighbouring state. The general election developed into an ideological contest of a kind that party leaders had been trying to avoid since 1983. The Irish saw instead a surrender of power from Tweedledum to Tweedledee. This does not mean that there has been no change. Rather, the change will be the result not of politics but of the different personalities of Enda Kenny and Leo Varadkar.

As has been shown on this website previously, Enda Kenny’s smiling face is the front for an archetypical tammany operator. It is true to say that he has no fixed principles other than that he should be Taoiseach, and beyond this, as becoming Taoiseach for life was too difficult even for himself, that he should win the record for being his party’s longest holder of the office. Everything in his career has been subordinate to this. The speech he made attacking the Vatican in the child abuse scandal would have been as courageous as the media claimed had it been delivered twenty years earlier, but then he could never have become leader of Fine Gael; as it was, it did no more than burst a long-accumulated wen. His only other firm stand was to preserve the Irish corporation tax rate, securing useful bucks for his intended re-election. Otherwise, he was happy to put a smiling face on the austerity policies accepted from the EU by his bovine Finance Minister Noonan. Lack of interest on his part complimented Noonan’s simple incomprehension of how their policies affected the majority.  This made them the dream team for neo-liberalism. It is typical that Enda should describe his Government’s original election as a democratic revolution. In his heart democracy is government of the people by Enda Kenny. Now he has had to bow to the reaction.

The said reaction has the face of Leo Varadkar. The media has taken pains to emphasise the new Taoiseach’s youth, Gayness and Indian born father. These are exotic qualities in Irish politics. They are also Leo Varadkar’s most endearing characteristics. Without them, he stands revealed as a mean-spirited beancounter. Unlike Enda, he is a conviction politician. The trouble is that his conviction is entirely ideological, and the ideology is that of the bosses.

Enda Kenny and Leo Varadkar recognise each other’s failings and dislike and despise each other accordingly. It is doubtful whether Kenny would think of a less satisfactory successor. His preference would have been for Frances Fitzgerald, a politician of his same kind; kites were flown for her but they did not go high enough. His party was left with Varadkar and Coveney. Though Simon Coveney was with Varadkar in the unsuccessful heave against Kenny in 2010, he has shown some sort of initiative within the admittedly constricting limits set by capitalist Ireland. His victorious opponent, Varadkar, is, like Kenny, ‘all talk’, but it is the wrong sort of talk: talk that reveals what would be in the talker’s interests to keep covered. Kenny cannot hold it against him that he was a pretty terrible Minister, since Kenny’s own ministerial career was positive only in its briefness. However,Varadkar’s ministerial career was remarkably mediocre. His five years in Health were marked by a steady increase in numbers of patients on hospital trolleys (and, as this writer has noticed first hand, on chairs), and by his refusal to interrupt his social schedule to meet campaigners for a cardiac unit for Waterford Hospital. His transference to Social Welfare was notable for his campaign against‘social welfare cheats’. The recent Marie Whelan affair seems to have been in part a poisoned chalice left by Enda to embarrass Leo.

Varadkar response was to rush through Whelan’s appointment with a certain indecent haste. He got away with it only because few people outside the Oireachtas cared and because Fianna Fail did not possess enough of the moral high ground to oppose forcibly. He can rejoice in the latest opinion poll giving his party a six point lead. Nonetheless his most recent speech betrays the probability that this is the expression of a delayed honeymoon period. He has stated that he is determined to cut income tax and make up the shortfall from unspecified schemes. For him, the high (by European standards low) tax levels penalise those who work. This is pure neo-liberalism: instead of bosses against workers, class lines are to be drawn between workers and‘working’ bosses against the unemployed (‘ spongers’).

As head of a ramshackle coalition, with resistance growing outside, he will not get away with it.

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