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Rabbitte and Kenny…a flawed strategy? September 14, 2006

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Greens, Irish Election 2007, Irish Labour Party, Irish Politics, The Left, Uncategorized.
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Reading in the Irish Times subscription required, about yesterday’s appearance at the Fine Gael think-in in Sligo of Labour Party leader Pat Rabbitte Miriam Lord put it rather well when she wrote; “Pat’s surprise appearance stunned guests. He strolled into the pre-dinner drinks reception, escorted by a beaming Deputy Kenny. No applause greeted this unexpected turn of events: the clatter of Blueshirt jaws hitting the ground was matched by the sound of James Connolly turning in his grave.” I was struck by how dismal an idea that was and just how badly this may play.

Yet there is the reality that of all arguments advanced against the present coalition the one about change is perhaps best. Fianna Fáil has been in power an extremely long time. In any democracy that can be a troubling issue. In this one particularly.

Still, why do I think the joint Rabbitte/Kenny idea is so dismal? I’ve noted before that these are two sincere and intelligent politicians clearly dedicated to gaining power. But to my mind they appear to be basing their strategy upon a mistaken assumption. They seem to believe that ‘change’ is the pivotal issue for the electorate, hence the concentration upon a joint platform, the idea that they provide an ‘alternative coalition’ and that such iconic images as Rabbitte at the FG meeting is going to appeal to those hungering for change.

I doubt this proposition for a number of reasons. Firstly it smacks of solipsistic thinking – it’s certainly true that both FG and Labour want change, it is in fact their current raison d’etre, to gain political control but to extend this palpable and genuine hunger to the rest of the electorate is a different matter. Let’s go a stage further. Even allowing for the fact that change might be a key motivator for the electorate what actual proof is there that change to an FG/Labour coalition is the change that is sought? And how to judge? That’s an imponderable, so I won’t bother. The polls give contradictory information. It’s highly possible neither combination will have enough seats on their own to gain power.

But it’s worth considering how this strategy plays out amongst the electorate. Those on the soft-left will most likely row in behind Labour, their core vote as it were. The Fine Gael vote is doing rather well, all things considered and perhaps can be expected to gain an extra percentage point or two. So all told they might have a good showing on the day. Yet it’s Labour I’d be worried about. There are those, and they’re not restricted to me (who is largely neutral in these matters), who would consider it rather odd that Rabbitte would seek to position himself quite so closely to FG. Such a positioning appears to ‘rob’ Labour of any clear flexibility as regards policy. Sure, it means that attacks from Fianna Fáil about a lack of coherence lose traction. That’s a good thing. But let’s not overstate it. There is a down side. It means that like it or not Labour must of necessity cede ground on it’s left flank to the myriad smaller parties and independents who are already trawling in the further left. That’s bad news for Labour, but it’s also bad news for Fine Gael robbing them of the vital extra support in the form of extra Labour seats necessary to gain power.

In any case, if there is genuinely a hunger for change amongst the electorate it’s arguable a looser electoral arrangement might play as well, if not better, by allowing Labour to pitch further left. It is very notable how the Green have begun to pick up poll numbers since their more ‘independent’ stance has registered with the public. It may not save all or any of them come polling day. But it allows them to talk both to those who will support them come what may, and those who might otherwise register a protest vote with some other party or independent. They can as it were be both ‘radical and employed’.

Rabbittes reported comment: “”Declan Bree never gave me this kind of welcome,” ….referring to his on/off relationship with the former Sligo TD.” in the same piece by Miriam Lord worries me enormously. While superficially amusing, it is a remarkably tactless thing to say. What is left of the left of the party must be wondering exactly how far this new dispensation is going. But I think I, and everyone else, knows the answer is ‘all the way’. Although perhaps not as far as some suggest on this thread on Politics.ie where someone proposes that the ultimate object of the exercise might be a single Fine Gael party incorporating parts of Labour. No, the object of the exercise is power (not ignoble in itself) and if that is achieved by pitching slightly right then everyone will be happy-ish. But will it work?

Still, having decried this strategy I can understand the reasoning behind it, but suspect it’s not going to do the business for Labour on the day, and may indeed hobble the two parties chances for winning the election.

Finally I can’t say I’m terribly surprised that Kenny and Rabbitte get on so well. Nor am I too surprised that, as Cian notes earlier today on Irish Election, the ‘marriage’ appears to be going further than was agreed at Tralee. And I don’t think Labour should be either. When I was in Democratic Left back in the dim and distant past I was astounded how close the relationship between head office and FG was. This was in part borne of the reality of a FF/Labour coalition in government, but it was also borne of a certain sympathy. It’s interesting to see that sympathy, if anything, stronger some twelve years later.

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1. smiffy - September 14, 2006

I think you put your finger on the problem when you describe Kenny and Rabbitte as “two sincere and intelligent politicians clearly dedicated to gaining power”.

That’s true, as far as it goes (although I’d probably have stronger reservations about Rabbitte’s sincerity). However, that’s it. They seem to be interested only in gaining power, and aren’t displaying any clear vision of what they intend to do with it. They are, as you say, banking on ‘change’ as a key issue at the election. They don’t, though, seem to understand the difference between change, for change’s sake, and an actual alternative.

The recent FG poster campaign gives a flavour of how vacuous the approach is. They promise to ‘sack the wasters of taxpayer’s money’. Very laudable, I’m sure, but so vague as to be meaningless. Similarly, any party that ever says that they can influence crime figures (as FG implied with their campaign about people being scared to leave their houses) should be dismissed as the worst kinds of cynics.

From examining what FG and Labour have been coming out with lately (either jointly or individually), all they seem to be promising is ‘More of the same, only better than the others’. And if they’re really content to allow the election to become a contest about which of two sets of technocrats will be more effective at implementing exactly the same policies (are they any significantly different ones) then, for once, the lazy government argument that you should vote for incumbents because they’re the ones with experience might actually be seen to have some merit.

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