Daniel McConnell & Aoife Moore: Alan Kelly was never seen as being ‘Labour enough’

Daniel McConnell & Aoife Moore: Alan Kelly was never seen as being ‘Labour enough’

Alan Kelly can be impatient.

His brusque manner has made him many enemies but was also seen as one of his great strengths as a political operator.

The 46-year-old Tipperary TD had made it known in 2016 he wanted to contest the leadership following the party’s disastrous General Election which saw it fall from 37 seats to just 7. He felt he was the man for the job, because if you don’t back yourself, who will?

No one, it seemed. As none of Kelly’s parliamentary party colleagues backed his candidacy to stand at that point and he was powerless to stop Brendan Howlin from taking up the mantle.

Howlin was not a successful leader and he too failed to deliver the renaissance he promised and following an equally difficult 2020 General Election, his goose was cooked. The party dropped another seat to six, leaving many to question its long term viability.

Kelly was the leading choice to be leader on paper. Combative but effective, his no-nonsense style was seen as the perfect antidote to the more reserved manner of traditional Labour grandees.

His big problem, was and still is that the “traditional Labour” faction within the party remained uncomfortable with the prospect of him being leader.

He was not one of them. Seen more as a Fianna Fáiler in Labour clothes, many have remained suspicious of his idealogy and style. As he said himself last night, if it came to fixing the world and fixing the Labour Party, the world might be easier, but he made a go of it anyway.

Not one to shy away from controversy he decided to lean into the concerns his members already had about him, admitting to being “no bastion of the left” and was further not regarded as “true Labour” at all. Those within the party have whispered that Alan’s home constituency had held him back from being full-throated on so-called “urban” issues which could cost him votes, including the controversial row over funding for greyhound racing.

His most memorable interview remains the infamous sit down with the Sunday Independent where he said: “Power is a drug”, completely oblivious that his own party seemed completely strung out.

The opposing figures within the party who looked at Kelly with disdain sought for Aodhan O Riordain to challenge him, which he did, but unsuccessfully. O’Riordain didn’t cut it with the older membership, keen to swing the party too far on certain social issues, they felt safer in the hands of the man from Tipperary, and tradition won out.

Launching his campaign, Mr Kelly promised to “make Labour sexy again”, (to much cringe from the public and anyone with sense), and a return to basic principles.

However, it appeared the public had forgotten what Labour’s basic principles were, and the party weren’t very effective at reminding them.

His first act as leader was to make clear Labour would not be taking part in any Programme for Government talks in the summer of 2020, saying the party had no mandate to do so.

His strategy, as articulated was to position Labour as a credible party of opposition, distinct from Sinn Féin. However, it became increasingly clear for anyone who paid any attention to the Dáil chamber, that Labour’s entire songbook for debate seemed to be: “We thought of this first.” They became political hipsters that no one found very cool. Kelly’s speeches every week noted that government might have adopted some convoluted version of something Labour had suggested beforehand, with no one really bothered to go back and

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