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Labour doesn’t just need a new leader – it needs a new attitude

Eamon Gilmore is a decent man who has done the decent thing.

Instead of clinging on as Labour leader when most of his TDs had lost confidence in him, the Tanaiste chose to exit stage left with as much dignity as he could muster.

Now it’s a case of the king is dead, long live the king or queen’ - but Labour are fooling themselves if they imagine that a new boss will automatically solve all their problems.

As soon as the first ballot boxes were opened on Saturday morning Gilmore must have known he was finished.

The collapse of Labour’s vote to a humiliating 7pc means that virtually all of their TDs are in danger of extinction at the next general election.

Tellingly the motion of no confidence submitted on Monday afternoon was signed by ambitious young deputies 
such as Ciara Conway and Aodhan O Riordain - who had no intention of allowing an unpopular leader to drag them down.

Of course Labour has had disastrous elections before and always bounced back.

This time, however, there is a big difference. Not only is their working-class support being gobbled up by a hungry Sinn Fein, their middle-class support may also be under threat from the rejuvenated Green Party.

So who will be Gilmore’s successor? If Labour goes down the traditional route and chooses another cabinet minister, then Joan Burton is the obvious frontrunner.

weakness

As well as being media-savvy and popular with party members she has been dreaming of this moment ever since Gilmore refused to give her the cabinet post she really wanted in 2011.

Burton’s biggest weakness is that at 65, she does not exactly represent the sort of generational change that Labour desperately needs.

The same goes for Brendan Howlin, who is seen by some as a possible compromise candidate.

The haughty Wexford man certainly has enough brains for the job but losing two previous leadership races suggests that he lacks the right personality.

For this reason, Labour should strongly consider electing a younger leader from the junior ministerial ranks. Barrister Alex White, bruiser Alan Kelly and baby-faced 
Sean Sherlock all have the potential to emerge as formidable contenders.

Labour went down the same route back in 1982 when they opted for an obscure 31-year-old called Dick Spring - who went on to become their most powerful leader in history.

Whoever gets the keys to 
Gilmore’s office, he or she will certainly have a daunting 
in-tray.

He or she must immediately sit down with Enda Kenny and draw up a new Programme for Government, setting out some eye-catching policies for the coalition’s final two years.

They also have to plan a cabinet reshuffle that promotes Labour’s younger talent and gets rid of the dead wood.

However, Labour does not just need a new face on its posters. It also needs a much tougher approach to the business of government.

mess

Eamon Gilmore did not become a hate figure because of his personality, but because he failed to fight hard enough for Labour values in Government Buildings.

A stronger Tanaiste would have ordered Enda Kenny to sack Alan Shatter long ago and stopped the issue of water charges from developing into such a terrible mess.

He would certainly not 
have tolerated the scandalous medical card review that has caused so much suffering to vulnerable children and their families.

Eamon Gilmore is now history. If Labour does not choose the right person to replace him, it could soon be headed the same way.


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