Polls… so many polls… And Eamon Gilmore too… 2 September 30, 2009Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics, The Left.
There’s more fascinating data to be found in the latest set of polls. For example, what to make of the latest polling data that suggests that:
On the issue of whether the Greens should vote to remain in Government at its convention planned for October 10th, there are key differences between various categories on what the party should do.
Critically, 75 per cent of Green voters want to remain in coalition and a majority of FF voters share that view. While supporters of the Opposition parties say the Greens should pull out, a quarter of them want the coalition to continue.
In class terms 44 per cent of AB voters want the Greens to stay in while just 29 per cent of DE voters want the coalition to continue.
Well, perhaps that points up the class nature of GP support. But what to make of a quarter of supporters of Labour, Fine Gael, Sinn Féin and others arguing the coalition should remain in situ?
And what of this?
Fine Gael and Green Party voters are the next most supportive [of NAMA], although a majority in each camp is opposed to the measure. This still represents a significant turnaround among Green supporters who were the most strongly against the plan three weeks ago.
That, surely, is music to the ears of the GP Ministers as they nervously anticipate October 10th. Such a turnaround is precisely what one imagines they hope to manage with their membership, or rather to minimise dissent against NAMA. One wonders again if the public pronouncements by GP elected representatives has staunched that political wound.
The polling data on other aspects of the economic situation are of equal interest.
Telling to see that most voters do not want reductions in welfare or taxation of child benefit. One might wonder, perhaps a little cynically, whether this is because such payments are amongst those most likely to be used by the voters (or potentially most likely to be used, as in the case of welfare payments).
But, notable that:
In spite of the strong opposition to welfare cuts and the taxing of child benefit, 70 per cent of voters said the Government should put the emphasis on cuts in the budget. Just 14 per cent favoured an emphasis on tax increases as the best way of dealing with the crisis in the public finances.
Supporters of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael were equally strong in their preference for spending cuts while Labour and Green voters were less enthusiastic. Sinn Féin voters were most strongly opposed.
Ironically, the strongest support for putting the emphasis on tax increases came from the wealthiest AB social group, who already pay a higher proportion of their income in tax than any other category.
Ironic too that those in other ‘social groups’ are most likely to have to avail of services that spending cuts threaten [edit - my point being that although those outside the AB group might well have good reason to not want tax increases they are more likely to ultimately have to depend upon the very services tax increases will help fund... see comments below]. One has to hand it to the media management of the current crisis. And there’s more…
The strongest opposition to tax increases came from the middle and lower-middle C1 and C2 social groups who want the emphasis to be placed on spending cuts.
When asked if the Government should put the emphasis on pay cuts or redundancies in order to reduce the public sector pay bill, voters favoured salary reductions by a margin of more than two to one.
It’s therefore timely that Eamon Gilmore has announced his opposition to public sector pay cuts.
Asked if he thought pay-cuts in the public sector were inevitable, he said: “I don’t accept they are inevitable first of all because there already has been a pay cut for people who are working in public service organisations – it was the so-called pension levy”.
Over recent weeks, some Government sources have suggested pay cuts of 5 per cent for most public sector workers and deeper reductions for those at the top could be introduced in the Budget.
That figure of 5% is certainly gaining currency, it was on the front page of the Sunday Times at the weekend, and here it is again. But Gilmore is adamant and in terms not a million miles away from those used on this blog and others. That’s a pretty strong statement to make, given the orthodoxy arrayed against that position and it will be instructive if the media affection for him dims somewhat now that he is seemingly positioning himself in a more hard-edged mode on the subject.
I was very struck by the tone of the reporting in the Irish Times yesterday on this matter, a sort of non-too veiled disbelief that an adult human being could put forward such a position…
Asked if he accepted that public expenditure savings of €4 billion would have to be made, he replied: “I don’t accept the €4 billion figure. The question that has to be addressed [is] what happens if you take €4 billion out of the economy.
“There’s been a huge chunk of money taken out of the economy already this year. We see the consequences of that: walk down any street in Ireland.
“There’s nobody going into the shops, there’s no spend. Because there’s no spend, there’s no sales taxes coming in.” The question of whether €4 billion was the correct figure was “something that the Labour Party is looking at”. The Government still had not given a date for the budget.
And lest this seem like an undigested paean to continuity he noted:
Reiterating that he was saying no to public sector pay cuts, Mr Gilmore continued: “We’ve already said there are areas where economies could be achieved in the public service pay budget.
“One of those is at the top end, and we have proposed that there should be a cap on salaries at the top end and we have said what that cap should be. Secondly, we have argued, in terms of equity as much as anything else, that there should be a third taxation band and it should apply to earnings of over €100,000.
“We are already saying quite clearly, let me be clear about this, there has already been a cut in pay for people who work in the public services, that people who are on low and middle incomes are not in a position to bear further pay cuts.”
I can think of other areas economies in public expenditure could be found as well, some, believe it or not, suggested by McCarthy. But the point is that at least he is willing now to articulate however imprecisely an alternative view. In political terms this is intriguing. Does this point to a sense on the part of Labour that they can cohere what might be a formerly Fianna Fáil ‘public sector’ (for want of a better term) vote that has come their way and that in doing so they can maximise their vote? Because the logic of the polls would seem to suggest that that is the most fertile ground for them to operate upon (given that other left parties have already appropriated terrain that might hitherto have been productive for them).
Already the Irish Times editorial is concerned about this. Yesterday it reiterated orthodoxy.
There is an urgent need to reduce official borrowing. The Government is committed to trimming expenditure by €4 billion next year. Pay reductions, rather than job losses, are publicly favoured. And Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan has no appetite for further tax increases. The Government has confirmed it will reduce the cost of children’s allowances. Such a measure will be extremely unpopular, as the recent Irish Times/TNS mrbi opinion poll made clear. The same holds true for cuts in social welfare. But it would be a travesty if welfare benefits were reduced while the pay and conditions of a privileged group of employees were protected.
Note how the discussion has shifted subtly from the former trope of public sector pay versus private sector pay. That the figures did not support the contention that pay cuts were widespread in the private sector punctured that balloon. So now the comparison is made between those on social welfare and those in the public sector. Of course, any public sector employee paying the pension levy could easily turn around and say that they have already seen their pay and conditions reduced. Now I don’t know if that’s a travesty… but…
And the ugly prospect, for the Irish Times, of Eamon Gilmore going off-message is also noted…
Eamon Gilmore of the Labour Party has opposed a cut in public sector pay and questioned the need for €4 billion in savings. His pro-trade union stance places him at odds with Fine Gael and raises questions about future government policy.
Note that his apostasy is positioned not within an ideological economic framework but in the context of being ‘pro-trade union’, which is a fairly disingenuous way of putting it. One can be in favour of retaining consumer spending or not cutting public sector wages (or at least not in the currently proposed form of the currently proposed ends) without being in thrall to unions. But we are getting more than a hint of how this will be worked through in the media over the next while.
One can also predict that this will be a source of ammunition for the Government benches in the Dáil, well, not this week given Lisbon, but perhaps next week.
Meanwhile, back in the polls, there’s some odd contradictions, or at least part contradictions… this is particularly eye-catching…
Labour remains the biggest party in Dublin and it has also taken over as the most popular party among the AB social category where it edges out Fine Gael. Labour’s lowest level of support comes from the least well off DE voters.
By contrast Fine Gael is now the most popular party among DE voters where it has overtaken Fianna Fáil.
Fine Gael? Really? How does that work? It reminds me of something an acquaintance in one of our smaller left parties said, that the biggest problem isn’t convincing people that Fianna Fáil are useless, but persuading them that Fine Gael aren’t the obvious alternative.