Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Treat celebrity politicians with care

As the prospect of more celebrity politicians looms on this side of the Irish Sea, with the likes of Esther Rantzen staking her claim to parliamentary seats, I have sad tidings to report from my old constituency of Dublin South in Ireland. George Lee had gained a name for himself as an incisive critic of government economic policy on RTE during the boom years. With the collapse of the Celtic Tiger, he acquired secular sainthood, so it was quite a coup when he agreed to stand for Fine Gael, the main opposition party, in a parliamentary by-election last June. He won a spectacular 52% of the vote and his victory cemented Fine Gael's national poll lead (Fianna Fail has remained in third place behind Labour).

Of course, George thought he had gone into the Dail not just to win a spectacular by-election victory for Fine Gael but so that he could speak truth onto power by taking charge of his new party's economic policies. Instead, he found himself sidelined by the party leader Enda Kenny as the head of the sort of useless economic forum that oppositions create to keep their supporters busy, while the regular politicians continued slagging off the government as if nothing had changed. All this clearly upset Boy George. With the result that yesterday he announced not only that he was leaving Fine Gael, but that he was quitting his Dail seat. Conveniently his RTE job is still open to him should he wish to resume his punditry.

I'm sure there is a moral in this tale somewhere about the need to treat celebrity politicians with kid gloves. But let's just say Fianna Fail's hapless leadership can't believe their luck. And Kenny is reduced to seeking loyalty pledges from his shellshocked backbenchers. Nobody ever said that Irish politics lacked drama.

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