Tricolour-Union Flags

Ireland and Britain are politically very different – different electoral systems, different parties, different issues. And yet, for the past two decades, we and our neighbours have seen extraordinary political parallels.

In 1997, both countries got youthful new leaders, who brought about fundamental change in traditional party attitudes – Tony Blair changed Clause IV of the Labour Party Constitution, which committed the party to public ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange; Bertie Ahern changed Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution, which laid claim to the North.

Both men won three elections in a row, before resigning office with their reputations in tatters – Blair because of the Iraq War, Ahern because of revelations about his bizarre personal finances.

Both men were succeeded by their finance minister, vastly experienced figures who were seen as men of substance who would avoid the superficial spin of their predecessors.

Unfortunately, both Gordon Brown and Brian Cowen were to discover that superficial spin has its uses, and both saw their careers and their government implode under the pressure of the economic crash and their own inability to connect with the public.

Both Britain and Ireland got new coalition governments committed to bringing the public finances back under control – or, as many people saw it, inflicting austerity.

Both Enda Kenny and David Cameron sought re-election based on their economic record; both saw their coalition partners – Labour and the Liberal Democrats respectively – destroyed; and both were returned to power.

Of course, the parallels were not exact – Cameron’s Tories comfortably won an overall majority; Kenny’s Fine Gael only clung to power in a minority coalition with Fianna Fáil support.

But both men made it clear they would not lead their party into the next election. Cameron has discovered that once you say this, you may not be able to go at the time of your own choosing; Kenny may well discover the same.

And both had to give major hostages to fortune in order to get back into government: Cameron promised the EU Referendum which has now destroyed his reputation; and Kenny had to agree to an unusual type of government where the Independents inside the Cabinet, and Fianna Fáil outside it, have considerable power over him.

Most of his problems in the past week or ten days are down to this arrangement.

So now Theresa May has managed to succeed Cameron by beating two male candidates seen as the front-runners to win the top job.

As Home Secretary, Ms May’s Irish counterpart was Frances Fitzgerald, who may now be wondering if the parallels between Irish and British politics will continue.