A few more thoughts on the polls… December 31, 2010Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics, The Left.
It’s now so close to the end of the year, and the unlikelihood of any further developments on the polling front (though recent political developments such as the ‘retirement’ of one B. Ahern have interesting implications for local contests) mean that the latest crop will presumably stand until the end of January. A lifetime in politics, and instructive to see if that break is something of a breather for a Fianna Fáil now hardly able to believe the straits to which it has come.
By the way, hitherto I’d always written off the idea that the Croke Park agreement was some sort of sop to the unions by FF – not least because the terms were vastly less generous than I’d have thought they’d be if that were the case, though interesting that the IMF, for all the huffing and puffing in the usual quarters, saw no problem with those terms. But anyhow, now I’m beginning to wonder. Sure, it looks like FF used Croke Park as a means of buying time with the unions, and more importantly a union membership who – one suspects – had there been a more, shall we say, energetic response earlier in the day might have provided a genuine bulwark against what was taking place and not merely in the more constrained context of PS employees but much more widely for workers across the economy. But the suspicion must remain that as with pensions they also sought to minimise future damage to them, and could turn around in 2016 and say, ‘well, we didn’t go back to the well’. Of course all the preceding paragraph is positioned not within a left critique but within the orthodox analysis.
If so it clearly didn’t work, at least not so far. Nothing has staunched the flow of support away from FF, perhaps, in fact more likely than not, due to the excessive rhetoric about these matters that they used early on and which their cheerleaders in the media were all too keen to add to the swelling chorus. FF may yet rue the day Harris was brought into the Seanad, though it doesn’t do to overstate his influence.
Anyhow, if that was indeed the situation then FF has learned a useful lesson, though too late. Don’t screw over your support base. Ever. And if you’re going to do bad things to said base [and not in the True Blood sense of the term, although, now I think about it...] you really have to sugar the pill, something this administration simply couldn’t get their heads around for reasons that one could only ascribe to being in power far far too long. I’m no fan of one B. Ahern, or indeed a certain C. Haughey before him, but at previous points in our economic history where cuts were made the pointless and self-defeating (from an FF perspective) anti-Public Sector rhetoric we’ve had displayed in more recent times was much much less in evidence.
Still all those figures from the polls are remarkable. Okay, not all, but enough.
People who formerly voted FF (and perhaps some long time LP supporters) want an alternative, not necessarily a lot of people, 3 or 4 per cent filtering from Labour to SF. But small parties have lived on that sort of vote for quite some time. Another thought, they’re not going to the parties further to the left in huge numbers, at least not in numbers given that the Independents/Other figure isn’t rising dramatically. So the message is that they don’t entirely buy the LP propositions, have haltingly gone leftwards to SF as it has articulated at least some defiance to the orthodoxy, and only some are going much further.
A lot to consider there.
Is it that this society has always had a space for a left of Labour party? That’s obviously true in some respects, from Clann na Poblachta onwards there has been clear room for a radical party. The same is true of the WP during the 1980s and in a lesser way both the DL vote in the 1990s and the GP vote in the latter part of the 1990s and on into the 2000s. The Sinn Féin vote during that last period also seems to align with that model, and perhaps indicates that there was room for a number of left of Labour parties (granted the GP hasn’t exactly lived up to expectations on that front). For those who point to the SP, and others, well, the numbers returned remain on the low side for that model. Now, if the SP sees a breakthrough in 2011 above one TD returned it too may be added to the mix.
Of course the polling numbers going to both the LP and to SF are much greater than those that sustained those parties. That’s a step change – at least if it continues, and no wonder we keep hearing the calls about a ‘new party’ in the media. This must disturb at least some on the right of centre that the movement has been essentially leftward across the last three years, even if it has been to the rather mild centrism with a dash of liberal leftism of the LP. In fact in polling terms it’s all been leftwards with FG simply not soaking up the ex FF vote.
I’d love to see that as evidence of a left support bloc, but I’m not so sure. Yes, there appears to be a core group of 20 – 25 per cent who vote for centre left and left parties and crucially this includes the Labour Party, Sinn Féin (at least drawing support from this grouping), smaller parties and left Independents. But there’s a broader pool of people, probably in or around 20 to 25 per cent who will vote leftish in the right circumstances. That ‘ish’ contains within it a fairly variegated crew, those who’d vote Labour but never Sinn Féin – and vice versa. All will get a nod. There are a lot of ‘liberals’ in there who it’s far from socialism were reared. And there are those who are passing through, seeking ‘alternatives’, however nebulously these might be defined. They might vote PD in one decade, LP the next, GP the next. There’s not that many of them, but they’re there alright.
How to pull that together is such a huge issue that I don’t know a way it could be done in the short to medium term. And how to pull it together so that it dominates FF/FG is another question entirely (indeed many would shy away from my not including the LP on the centre right of the spectrum). And with the LP in proto-apostate mode as regards government formation with FG there’s not exactly a lot of optimism on that score.
But I guess the positive aspect of this is that now the formations of the centre and left seem to be cohering to some degree and that support is coalescing around various centre left and left poles. In that context the transfer patterns will be useful indicators as to how this all plays out, but, that said the simple fact is that hitherto if has generally been Fine Gael that has benefited most from Labour Party transfers. To change that culture will take quite some time.
But, that’s not to say that it’s impossible. What happens next, across the next three to six months, in terms of the left – in the broadest sense of that definition, is crucial.