by Kevin Meagher
There was a glimpse on show at the World Economic Forum in Davos over the weekend of how David Cameron intends to fight next year’s general election. It wasn’t so much to do with anything Cameron was announcing, it was more what Enda Kenny, the Irish Taoiseach was saying.
Batting aside rumours that he is set to replace Jose Manuel Barroso as EU Commission President or, indeed, Herman Van Rompuy as President of the European Council later this year, Kenny was instead eager to confirm he would be leading his Fine Gael party into the next Irish general election in 2016, to continue the task of “fixing” Ireland’s economy. Speaking to Bloomberg television, Kenny said:
“The mandate given to me [in 2011] was to take our country out of an unholy economic mess that we had inherited and sort out the public finances and get our country working.
“I’m very happy that our people have moved to a point where we had a clear plan and strategy to exit the bailout. We now have a strategy to follow through on that with the publication of a medium-term economic strategy.”
He added: “That’s my mandate. That’s the trust the people placed in us, that’s what we’ve got to do.”
The message is obvious:-”We took the right decisions, hard decisions, and now things are getting better. Give us credit for that and give me another five years.” Wary of predicting those infamous ‘green shoots of recovery’ too early, it could nevertheless be Cameron and Osborne speaking after another couple of quarters of UK growth.
Like Britain, Ireland is governed by an odd-couple coalition, in this case, Kenny’s centre-right Fine Gael party supported by the Irish Labour party. Like their British counterparts, the Irish government has been through rocky patches since it was formed in March 2011.
Kenny is now looking to make capital out of a palpable sense of Ireland having weathered a terrible financial storm. Last week, Moody’s raised Ireland’s credit rating to investment grade, sending a clear signal that investor confidence is returning following three wretched years of deep and painful austerity.
This weekend, Kenny was clear that Ireland still needed EU help dealing with the aftermath of its banking crisis, but he does so from a position of increasing strength as Europe’s poster boy for taking painful medicine. Quoted in the Financial Times, Peter Goves, a bond strategist at Citigroup praised Ireland’s “track record of reform – and commitment to reform.
“This growing narrative of economic renewal in Ireland is why Kenny is being linked with the top EU jobs. So much so, that the chief operating officer of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg, yesterday described Kenny as a “brilliant leader of a brilliant country”. To top it off, a brace of opinion polls out today shows Fine Gael maintaining its dominance of the Irish political scene.
As the British economy splutters back into life, David Cameron may well be keeping an eye on his neighbour to see if it is indeed possible to successfully turn dealing with economic adversity into electoral credibility.
Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut