To the great unwashed, I am just an ordinary voter. The prospective councillors, TDs and MEPs knock at my door and convey to me their determination to stand shoulder to shoulder with me on whatever view I have on the current situation. And I promise them my wholehearted support and tell them they can count on me on polling day for my number one vote and they go away happy and I get back to the washing up.
Few of them realise that the mild-mannered man clutching a tea-towel was once the leading political guru in Dublin 15, the king-maker supreme.
Nevertheless, it is true. I was the Clark Kent of politics in Dublin 15, the puppeteer par excellence. Let me explain.
I was always interested in politics, even as a foetus. Most expectant mothers are thrilled when their babies kick. I used to pretend to shin up lampposts and put up election posters, much to my mother’s discomfort. And when her womb eventually lost patience and expelled me from the party, the midwife held me up and announced, “It’s a cabinet minister.”
Unfortunately, it soon became apparent that my passion for politics was only matched by my complete ineptitude at the art. As the saying goes, every time I opened my mouth, I put my foot in it, an admirable talent for an acrobat in the circus but a fatal flaw for one with dreams of high office. I was completely talentless, the political equivalent of David van Day.
However, I was undeterred in my love of politics and resolved, from an early age, to become a political guru. To this end, I haunted constituency clinics, I made the acquaintance of senators, spin doctors, advisors and chairpeople of local residents associations. Not only did I live politics and sleep politics, I frequently danced, dined and indulged in intimate liaisons with politics, though not necessarily all at the same time. I took night courses in Political Guruism in Hartstown Community School and participated in the era-defining Political-Gurus-against-the-Bomb marches of the late seventies, which paved the way for the safer world we live in today.
Emerging as a fully-fledged guru in the early eighties, I was distressed to find that the bottom had fallen out of the guru market. Throughout the country, gurus were scouring the evening papers looking for jobs that simply weren’t there and lining up at unemployment centres, swapping tips on the horses. Many retrained as accountants and bankers. I have to admit that in the darkest hours, I sometimes felt like following suit, but I had a vision after eating some funny mushrooms in which St. Thérèse of Lisieux advised me to stick with the guruism.
Coincidentally it was a woman of similar attributes that gave me my first big break, though I like to think I helped her just as much as she helped me. At the time, Joan Burton was starting to become somewhat disillusioned with politics and one day over a cup of hot chocolate at the kitchen table, she confided that she was thinking of giving it all up and travelling to America to become one of Lionel Ritchie’s backing singers.
“Joan,” I said, offering her another hobnob. “You have a wonderful singing voice but do you really want to perform “Dancing on the Ceiling” every night for the rest of your life? Would it not be far more fulfilling to be the Dusty Springfield of Daíl Eireann?” I can still recall now the tears of gratitude in her eyes as she reached across for the biscuit tub. She took my advice and the rest, as they say, is history. We often laughed about it afterwards, though not in each other’s company.
Throughout the late eighties and the early nineties, my reputation grew. In those days, of course, gurus weren’t allowed to advertise, but word of mouth was such that a steady stream of political wannabes beat a path to my front door, which was great, as I’d always wanted a path.
I remember one rather senior politician phoning me up in an agitated fashion one night, wondering if he should run for president or not. I’ll call him Brian to protect his anonymity, though that was actually his real name.
“Brian,” I said. “You’ll be a shoe-in and you’ll make a damned fine president. Just don’t give any interviews to Fine Gael post-graduate students and make sure that your recollections are always mature.” He was greatly heartened by this and offered me the job of his election agent but unfortunately Boris Yeltsin had invited me over to his dacha in Yalta to discuss seizing power from Gorbachev and I had to refuse.
In the latter years of the century, I remember opening the door one evening to a young lad in a hoodie and torn jeans. “Heowerya bud,” he drawled. “Are you the geezer what does the political thing, like, y’know? Can ya teach me some stuff, like, cos it seems a deadly buzz?”
I brought him inside and sat him down and gave him a crash course in politics. How I remember his little eyes widening in awe as I explained balancing budgets and the IMF and corporation tax. He looked completely nonplussed, the way Brian Cowen would do years later when I whispered Brian Lenihan’s name in his ear. Before he left, I gave him one final word of advice.
“Leo,” I said. “Do yourself a favour. Buy yourself a nice suit. Oh and maybe take a few elocution lessons.” Naturally, his is the first Christmas card that comes through my door every year.
Some of my best successes have been completely inadvertent, like the time a year or two ago when I mis-addressed two packets that I was sending out. Thus my nephew was somewhat taken aback on his fifth birthday to receive a thirty page step by step guide on how to become President of the United States, while a young senator from Illinois was correspondingly bemused to receive a DVD of Bob the Builder.
I am semi-retired now, content to watch my former seedlings flowering and bearing fruit. Occasionally I get questions from candidates in the local elections, asking my advice on which is their better side for the election posters or should they fly a hot-air balloon above their house to advertise their candidature, but most of the young whippersnappers fail to recognise the political heavyweight that answers the door to them, tea-towel in hand. And that is exactly how it should be.