Two weeks ago, I wrote here about how if I was a member of Fine Gael, I would vote for Leo Varadkar to be the new leader of Fine Gael. There were a number of reasons for this but primarily because he represents my generation who are much more liberal, more tolerant, more open and want to see change happen.
Well, it comes as no surprise to many, Leo Varadkar won the election. He is now the leader of Fine Gael and is on track to become the next Taoiseach next week.
International media excitement
The Irish and the international media were very interested in the election of the new leader of Fine Gael precisely because Leo Varadkar was so different – he is openly gay, he is half-Irish, half-Indian and he is young at 38 years of age. It is an unusual mix for any politician. His sexuality not being a hindrance to his success is seen as an indication as to how far Ireland has changed and progressed.
It is highly unlikely that if he was heterosexual that the international media would be so interested in the election of a new leader of the main party forming the government of Ireland.
Things went awry…
As so many members of the Fine Gael parliamentary party declared that they would vote for Leo Varadkar, it was more or less accepted that Leo Varadkar would be the winner. It looked like the election was all over even before it happened. It was suggested that Simon Coveney was doomed from the get go and that he was considering quitting the race after just a few days.
Coveney and Varadkar debated the issues and the future of Fine Gael at four hustings across the south and midlands of Ireland – not in the north though. The hustings energised the Fine Gael members and it was the talk of media for two weeks. The reports from the hustings said that Simon Coveney did very well in the debates so that there was some hope that the election was not over yet and that it could be a close run thing.
So imagine the horror and shock for the media and for Leo Varadkar when Simon Coveney won 65% of the votes from the members of Fine Gael. If it were a simple election by the members, Leo Varadkar would have been routed by Simon Coveney. People would have been talking about Varadker being knocked out and devastated, unlikely to be in a leadership role again.
Coveney’s supporters were ecstatic about the membership vote for Simon Coveney. It was clear that normal Fine Gael members preferred Coveney to Varadkar.
Varadkar still triumphs
Notwithstanding the massive endorsement of his opponent by the members of his party, Leo Varadkar still won the election as the vote that really mattered was the vote of the parliamentary party. As Varadkar had prepared earlier and better than Coveney, he had far more support in the Oireachtas than Coveney had. It was these votes that gave Varadkar victory.
A transformative figure
Leo Varadkar is a unique figure and has already made history due to his background and his openness about his sexuality. He will become the youngest Taoiseach. I think that it is only fair that the most transformative person became the leader of Fine Gael even though most of his party members did not vote for him. The international media got past their moment of wobbliness following Coveney’s victory amongst the members. Varadkar gave a good speech saying that his victory shows that prejudice does not have a hold in this republic. It is true in many ways.
Already Varadkar is being spoken and written of in similar terms to Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron – young, cool political leaders. Varadkar will undoubtedly change Ireland even though I do not agree with his political philosophy.
It is too early yet to know what will transpire but I think that Leo Varadkar will definitely make an impact and change a lot of things in Ireland.