Well, thank god that’s all over. The presidential campaign contained so much back-stabbing, sniping, rumour-mongering and character assassination that it should have been rated 18. So, while it’s great that Michael D has won, and reaffirmed some of my faith in the supremely fickle Irish electorate, this post will serve as a post-mortem for the election’s biggest casualty – Gay Mitchell’s presidential ambition.
The figures, for Fine Gael members, are truly scarifying. In Co. Mayo, where the party scooped an incredible four out of five seats in the last general election, Mitchell managed to secure a measly 9 per cent of the vote – a mind-boggling feat of such truly shambolic proportions that one has to assume there was some kind of concerted effort to offend would-be voters on the campaign trail. Maybe Mitchell and his team got the wrong memo and punched babies, instead of kissing them, although that alone wouldn’t be sufficient to explain the derisory numbers.
Similarly in Wexford, where Fine Gael was confident of bagging three seats until Mick Wallace reared his unruly peroxide head three weeks before the election, the party was on a miserable 6 percent. Equally egregious numbers were replicated all over the country, much to the horror of Mitchell’s director of elections Charlie Flanagan.
Hilariously, Flanagan – who, having lost his own seat in Laois/Offaly back in 2002, may not, in retrospect, have been the best person to co-ordinate, what became, the worst presidential bid in Irish electoral history – was still insisting on Friday night that Mitchell was a perfect presidential candidate.
Yes, perfect in every way but one – nobody wanted to vote for him.
In desperation, Flanagan then claimed that people wanted a non-party man in the office and that Higgins, the chairman of the Labour party until his win and indelibly associated with that party for his entire political career, was perceived to be more independent.
Other talking heads said that presidential elections are different from general or local elections and that party affiliation is no guarantee of party members’ support. Me? I’m not so sure about that. Surely previous voting records can be used as an indicator of how people intend on voting in the future? After all, if I ascribe to a certain socially conservative political philosophy, which is best espoused by the Fine Gael party, then why not just vote for its presidential candidate, in the same way that I vote for its general election candidates? Why would I rather vote for a bald reality tv star who, admittedly, also seems a bit conservative – not to mention decidedly amnesiac when it comes to the subject of envelopes.
So, it now seems the party is now going to blame Mitchell and Mitchell will blame the party but really, the luckless candidate was, in the end, done down by himself and his own bullish insistence on shouting everyone down during debates and back-tracking from his core constituency in a vain attempt to be seen as more attractive to people who, as a general rule, would rather set their own heads on fire than give him a number one.
Clearly seeing the writing on the wall, during a Newstalk debate hosted by Ivan Yates a couple of days before the election, Mitchell said that he wasn’t necessarily opposed to gay marriage and that maybe gay adoption was something he would also welcome. The trouble with this damascene conversion was left-leaning voters didn’t believe him and his own supporters, who like him because of his archaic conservative views, were appalled at his apparent betrayal.
Meanwhile, every time he was introduced during one-to-one interviews, or candidate debates, he sounded rude and angry. Now, of course it’s legitimate to raise concerns about the suitability of your opponents for high office but, as the saying goes, there’s no need to use a sledgehammer to crack a nut, or a presidential campaign. At any rate, Phil Hogan’s network of minions is so vast, and expert in the dark arts, that it shouldn’t have been let to Mitchell to do his own dirty work. He should have remained aloof from all of that unpleasantness and kept his hands clean, like Higgins managed for the duration of his campaign, and just occasionally intimated that he wasn’t very convinced by the other candidates’ CVs.
Regrettably, Mitchell, instead of taking on the mantle of seasoned political assassin, cooly eliminating his enemies, more closely resembled the riled-up bull that recently went on the rampage in a Co. Cavan bar – too much effort in far too confined a space with inevitably comic results.
Still he soldiered on, insisting, in every interview, that the country was on “the cusp of massive recovery”. While that contention has yet to be proven, the only thing that was beyond doubt was that he himself wasn’t within an asses’ roar of any kind of recovery and was instead on the cusp of a massive cliff.
The media, too, played its role in his downfall. As Mitchell was leaving RTE one day a gust of wind caught his hair in a regrettable manner and he was transformed into a mad professor character, immediately after electrocution, in the resultant photographs.
More unfortunate still was the decision of every single newspaper to use the, admittedly hilarious, pictures the next day - and every subsequent occasion they ran a story on Mitchell.
And so, an image of an aggressive, bumbling, maniac was born and Mitchell never managed to recover – only succeeding in becoming more of a parody of himself every time he was trotted out to tell us that we were on the cusp of massive recovery.
His strop, failing to attend Dublin Castle for the formal declaration, after the dire election results didn’t help to endear him to anyone either and made him look more like a petulant child than a bone fide presidential candidate.
While Mitchell can slink back to Europe and lick his wounds for a couple of years, the Fine Gael party have nowhere to hide and face many awkward questions about the kind of campaign they ran and the kind of candidate they chose. Having only been in office for eight months, it’s far too early for complacency to have set in and unless the party learns how to gauge the public mood with more accuracy, the presidential disaster won’t be the only bloody nose it will be dealt in the coming months.