Labour’s blues.. redux… June 15, 2012Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics, The Left.
Pat Leahy argues in the SBP that ‘Beleaguered Labour TDs may force leadership to act’
That this will raise a smile, or a scornful dismissal, on the part of many reading it says it all. And yet, and yet. Labour TDs don’t operate in a vacuum. They have constituents. They can read polls as well as the rest of us, though I heard a most interesting report that there was a belief amongst some of them that the referendum was lost to them a few days before the vote – and this was a perception generated by the interactions on the doors. That might point to two intertwined but distinct elements, firstly that Labour was given a particularly harsh time of it in that context, and secondly that their ability to read their own electorate has dissipated badly. Either is problematic, the two together are pure poison for a party seeking to reposition itself in advance of the next election. And remember, we’re rapidly moving towards a point three and a half years from that election. That’s a long time in some ways, as the last government will attest, but it’s also brief enough once one factors in various contests, such as the local elections and budgets (and note to those pushing for a new ‘radical’ right party, you’d want to get moving fast).
Leahy notes the point about the reception on the doors, and it would appear Mark P is not alone in offering a far from welcoming response to whatever unfortunate LP member rings the bell.
For TDs who went out and actively campaigned and canvassed – and there appears to have been a lot more of them than would be customary for a referendum – the experience was often a bruising one. War stories have been circulating quietly among TDs for some weeks now, detailing the rough time at the doors, the growing disaffection among party grassroots and supporters, and the deteriorating prospects for the party itself.
TDs of all parties set great store by simply meeting members of the public – and of their own constituency organisations – as a route to understanding and appreciating the public’s state of mind. TDs often say they can pick up trends a few days before they become evident in the polls.
Some of this is mumbo jumbo, but it is not without some truth, either. If a smart observer of the public – and all TDs are smart enough observers to have got elected in the first place – is listening, he’ll hear what the public is saying.
One TD said he had received 70 emails in a few days from people complaining that the party had lost its way.
Of course it’s easy to see how that sort of response might support a view that the NO vote was stronger than it was. But, there’s little comfort in that. If many then voted YES it was a grudging vote, and worse again it could very well be that for all the talk of the LP striking into new electoral ground in the middle classes their core vote which has supported them through thick and thin was solidly enough NO. Indeed Leahy notes instructively, that
The conventional wisdom, that Labour’s vote is predominantly working-class, is demonstrably false, and the view that it is more under pressure from Sinn Fйin is questionable.
Over a long period, Labour’s support has been more or less equally divided between middle and working-class voters. For the last four months, according to the data from the Red C polls, Labour’s support among working-class voters has been 14 per cent (February), 12 per cent (March), 14 per cent (April) and 14 per cent (May).
It is actually the middle-class support for the party that has varied, falling from 18 per cent to 14 per cent.
Leahy argues that the SF threat is overblown to the LP, which seems reasonable enough. SF is mining elsewhere, but on the other hand it’s also mining votes more or less everywhere, so a strong SF may well find meat in what’s remaining of the LP vote.
But if the middle class vote that swung the LP way is now fading it surely isn’t going to FG because that too has been largely falling across the same period, which suggests that this may be a radical[ish] middle class vote unhappy with austerity.
In which case they have a dual problem of pulling those who were willing to vote against them back and trying to persuade them of the validity of the other policy stances they’re taking. But as Leahy notes, that’s a big ask.
The party’s supporters and activists have no such buffer against reality. They see the results of austerity policies on the ground, they are taunted and haunted by the phrase ‘Labour’s way or Frankfurt’s way’ and they wonder if the party leadership realises how much people are hurting, as they see it.
And he suggests a structural disconnect between ‘ministers and grassroots’ – and perhaps Ministers and other members of the PLP. This may well be overstated, but it’s hardly unlikely that it operates on some level at least. I’ve noted that there is a generational divide inside the LP with a tranche of those at higher levels unlikely to return to the Dáil next time out. That’s fine for them, but for the rest, including many of the 2011 intake, it’s not the cheeriest of prospects. And they, the latter, may not be quite as sanguine about the prospect of history books talking of their calmness and willingness to do the ‘right thing in the national interest’, though I wouldn’t put good money on that particular chapter being written like that anyhow.
And as if to add to the gloom Leahy writes;
The party is part of an increasingly unpopular government and its poll numbers are under pressure. Its basic political strategy is to stick with the troika programme in anticipation of an economic upturn, and then to reap the political benefits when that upturn comes.
“We need the economy to start to kick on,” said one senior party source. “We need to be able to say credibly that things are getting better.” The core belief of the leadership – though they don’t say it publicly – is that, if there is an economic recovery, the present government will be re-elected.
Though as Leahy notes, that’s a strategy based on hope. And in light of the next tough budget one that would seem to be overly optimistic. He suggests that we’ll see a more ‘assertive’ LP in government, but in an overwhelmingly dominant FG led government how that works is anyone’s guess.