Was he right?
After spending some time in the political wilderness after the demise of the Progressive Democrats, I felt the urge again to join a political party. Fine Gael was the obvious choice for me, and on the 5 May 2009, the day George Lee was announced as a candidate for Fine Gael for the Dublin South bye-election, I applied to join. I believe from hearsay that I was not the only person to do so that day. I did so because I felt it was an indication that the party was taking the economy seriously, the issue more than any other that needs to be addressed in this country. It was not the only reason I decided to join, but it did serve as the final push.
I am very disappointed then that he has felt that he was given no input into the party’s policy since his election in June, and that he has felt that the best thing for him to do was to resign. I had hoped that Lee might have been promoted in a frontbench reshuffle, perhaps as Spokesperson for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, held by Leo Varadkar. But this did not happen. Failing that, he could even have been appointed as a general front bench spokesman, without a portfolio, but with the assumption that he would speak frequently on economic issues.
Instead, according to Enda Kenny’s statement today, he was appointed to chair the Parliamentary Party’s Economic and Business Affairs Committee. To my mind, this does not in any way seem like the position he deserved. Of course most TDs must climb the ranks and are appointed to party positions on the basis of seniority. But in the case of clear talent, there should be exceptions. George Lee gave up a steady job in RTÉ to run for the Dáil, and had a right to expect a better party position than he received. He had a right to wonder if the party valued his expertise or his name.
I wish him well personally in the coming months, while I imagine that he will take some time to himself before deciding on the right course of action for himself.
Personally, I hope that this will prove as an impetus for the party to focus properly on the issues at hand. It should play less of the political game, and present clear ideas for the electorate. The party had a massive boost last year in polls, becoming by far the largest party in the country in terms of council seats (with more councillors than Fianna Fáil and Labour combined). This was, however, in no small part due to the unpopularity of Fianna Fáil. In the most recent Red C/SBP Poll (pdf), Fine Gael was still the most popular party at 36%, but had slipped in support, while Fianna Fáil had gained support to 23%. This is still a significant gap, but as the election does not need to be called until May 2012, the party will have to shape up, in terms of both presenting clearer policies and confident leadership, if it hopes to maintain that lead.
The Irish electorate would like to throw the rascals out, and the party that has led the country since 1997 deserves that. But the opposition need to prove themselves worthy of government. The best we can hope for is that today’s news serves as a catalyst for this.