It was entirely reasonable for An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to suggest, as he did last week, that he would ideally like to see the next General Election taking place in May of 2020.
Entirely reasonable, but still problematic. We’ve all known for some time that an election is not that far away. An election, in truth, could happen at any time, uncertainty over Brexit notwithstanding.
However, once a date, or in this case preferred date, is named, the political dynamic tends to change. No blame attached to Leo; he’s entitled to put his view out there. Maybe he’s trying to apply pressure on Micheál Martin and FF, trying to ensure that if an election happens before May the blame will fall squarely on that party.
But, by publicly alluding to May, Leo has pretty much strayed into Fergie territory. Remember when the great Alex Ferguson announced many years ago that he was going to leave Manchester United at the end of the season? It had a disastrous short-term effect at the club, creating uncertainty and rendering Ferguson a ‘lame duck’ for a while (he decided to stay in the end, and the rest is history).
By talking up May, Varadkar has arguably kick-started the election campaign already. A mood shift has occurred since Leo said his piece. FG and FF Deputies spent much of the weekend sniping in the media. The gloves almost off, this despite the fact that FF are propping up the Government.
On Tuesday night, Micheál Martin was – kind of – dragged into it, getting little digs in at the Government when pressed by Matt Cooper and Ivan Yates. Yes, in a normal week or month, FF & FG exchange jibes, but just now, there is a danger that we are entering an eight-month campaign.
The fear is that the election campaign, even subconsciously, is virtually starting. And if FG, FF and the rest really do start electioneering this early, will much constructive work actually be done?