Leaders of the Opposition
Enda Kenny and David Cameron met for just under an hour yesterday. It’s an interesting pairing (photo). As Enda told the Irish Times, they have the common predicament of being in opposition against a long-standing incumbent party. The actual common policy areas are tricky. As Guido Fawkes has emphasized, the un-Labour approach to coping with the global financial crisis is much closer to what Ireland has actually been doing over the last couple of months, in its avoidance of big public spending increases.
But Fine Gael and the Conservatives are closer to a similar position on taxes; the Irish government with tax increases imminent (the income levy) and Gordon Brown promising increases in national insurance (and VAT?) within a couple of years, while FG and the Conservatives are opposed to any tax increases. On the other hand, Lisbon is a bit of a landmine for Dave, as he surely hopes his promise of a UK referendum will be moot by the time he might be in a position to offer it, as it would be highly likely to generate a No result. Whereas FG have the luxury of an unambiguous pro-Lisbon position that allows them to outflank FF as the reliable Europhiles in Ireland. And on Northern Ireland, it can’t have much more of a tour d’horizon although Enda was perhaps curious to see what Dave might say at the UUP conference next week.
So all in all, there was probably more meat in the discussion of strategy than policy. Enda could certainly take note of Cameron’s approach in PM’s questions — one very pointed question at the start which then leads into a broader to and fro with Gordon Brown, with the hope of a soundbite that makes it the evening news. For example, I thought Cameron’s line about Brown giving the UK “the debt levels of Italy and the accounting practices of Enron” was not bad at all. Among the many questions prompted by comparing the two leaders, one perhaps stands out. Cameron has a rapport with many London voters and Boris Johnson shows that the party can overcome the image of buffoonish toffs to win elections there. But does FG have electoral buoyancy in Dublin? It’s hard to see an election win without it.