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Monday 20 August 2018

Terry Prone: I told you Enda's poll ratings would rise... but there's tough work ahead

Nobody should ever say "I told you so." It's smug, arrogant and just plain annoying. But just this once, let me say "I told you so" about Taoiseach Enda Kenny's opinion poll ratings. Because I did. I SO did.

For nearly two years before the general election, Enda Kenny's ratings were rubbish. Consistent rubbish.

Even when Fine Gael began to surge through the opinion poll charts, their leader's score sat like a child in a wet nappy, unmoving and apparently unmovable.

The comparisons were odious: Eamon Gilmore, in sharp and painful contrast, was only flying. The commentary was equally odious: if, even when his party was beginning to look like the solution to the nation's problems, Enda Kenny was still dragging along, wet nappy-style, wasn't it time he stepped aside and let one of the more popular Fine Gaelers take over the leadership? All the time, on one radio programme after another, and in one column after another, I maintained that as soon as Kenny became Taoiseach (assuming he survived long enough to get the chance to take on the job) his ratings would begin to climb. Admittedly, I didn't have the cop-on to predict that they'd jump by 26 points, but prescience goes only so far.

Every time I said it, I'd meet gently cynical expressions that indicated "Oh, she's only saying this because she does work for Fine Gael." Yep. I worked for Fine Gael. Just as I've worked for Fianna Fail the Labour Party, the Greens, the Progressive Democrats and others.

A brief contract with a particular political party doesn't usually bend your brain out of shape, and anybody with any knowledge of opinion poll history should have known that John Bruton's ratings were on their knees before he became Taoiseach and leaped like a salmon as soon as he got the gig.

It's just that people can't imagine the nagging whinge on the Opposition benches stepping up to the plate and becoming a good Taoiseach. What's fascinating about Kenny's current poll ratings is that they show a change of mind in the public, not in the man himself. He still talks pure West of Ireland. Still uses the same gestures, wears the same clothes, is driven by the same beliefs. He's undergone no make-over, and good luck to anybody who tries to do a make-over on him, because it's never going to take. What the people of Ireland have decided they like -- for the moment -- is a man who looks respectable, can handle the visits of overseas heads of state and can (unexpectedly) verbally trounce the best speakers from the Opposition benches.

If this is to be more than the briefest honeymoon, the Taoiseach and Government needs to be very, very careful.

They need to fend off the blandishments of PR advisers who warble on about the need to "give hope" and come up with cute little schemes designed to make some small group feel happy.

Creative

They need to be brutally honest. We're in an economic war zone. Trying to soften that reality won't work. They need to be fast, flexible and creative. They need to take decisions that will ensure some of them might never be re-elected. They need, in short, to do the right things, not the traditional things.

Opinion polls actually militate against that kind of honest Government. Most Government politicians, looking at today's poll, will like the experience, and become a little more wary of taking action that might speed up the decline in their poll numbers that's inevitable in the coming months.

Except, oddly, Enda Kenny. Who never paid a blind bit of attention to polls and who's not going to start now. Even if he's 26 points up.

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