Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil November 8, 2012Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics, The Left.
This weeks Backroom in the Sunday Business Post is interesting and makes some compelling points – that is before it heads off into pastures old as regards a ‘new party’. It starts well, noting that the troubles assailing the FG/LP Coalition are now very much a product of its own making. No longer can they turn accusing fingers at Fianna Fáil. And that’s perhaps one of the reasons that FF’s vote has begun to show some slight indications of a rise.
As the anonymous author of the piece notes:
This is no longer a new government – and it has begun to be reminded, not just of election commitments, but also of its own reversals and failures.
That’s a sea change in the situation. The government parties must now operate on terrain that is much less comfortable for them. Running against FF’s track record was easy. It was by any yardstick and abysmal record. Running against their own is decidedly trickier. And it serves to mask FF’s iniquities, at least to some extent (though in passing I wonder if a similar effect will come into play for the GP eventually? If so there’s no sign of it so far).
And Backroom notes:
The Reilly ruckus of the last few months has been the first controversy where trotting out “it’s all Fianna Fáil’s fault” failed completely.
The public could see that it was the decision and competence of a member of this government which was the issue, not the legacy of his predecessors – and it didn’t look pretty to them.
And further s/he makes the point that given that the government parties had said they had solutions their lack of same in this instance shows them up very badly. Moreover, and Backroom implicitly suggests this, the attacks on FF are losing their potency in any case.
Simply saying “You can’t ask me a difficult question because of your past,” worked last year, but it now may be more damaging than helpful.
But Backroom neatly pivots to a different point, and there seems to me to be something in it, saying that often Kenny will accuse FF of being afraid SF will take their votes – whereas s/he thinks the history of the two parties is quite different and posits that the following is simply wrong:
The basic idea is that Sinn Féin is supposedly seeking to replicate Fianna Fáil’s path to power, and is busy targeting Fianna Fáil’s voters and issues.
Certainly the histories are divergent. FF was in power within a decade of its foundation. SF has been chipping away for the best part of a quarter of a century at the political coalface, and even the ‘contemporary phase’ with arrival in the Dáil dates from 1997. But I think many who make that point actually mean – at least this is my understanding of how it’s made on the left – that SF is moving to the centre and seeks to supplant FF as a centrist Republican party.
Backroom argues further that the two parties aren’t really in competition:
First of all, they are taking very different approaches to positioning themselves. Fianna Fáil is, as its spokesmen say in nearly every statement, trying to be the ‘responsible’ opposition – focusing on attacking the government’s competence and choices, rather than its basic strategy.
In contrast, Sinn Féin is taking a solidly left-wing, anti-austerity position. The party gets a nosebleed every time it tries to go mainstream on an issue – always remembering how badly it got burned with its early, though quickly reversed, support of the bank guarantee.
There’s something in that, though I guess a counter argument is that the early FF of the 1920s and part of the 1930s had some element of social radicalism about it. Again, it’s more where SF may end up than where and what they now are that is open to question.
Still, I’d wonder a lot about the following:
On the ground Sinn Féin is activist and hungry, focused overwhelmingly on urban areas – especially Dublin, where it continues to put in a huge amount of effort. Fianna Fáil’s main focus seems to be on building support in former core rural areas.
That seems to me to be true to only a limited degree. In Dublin it is often forgotten that SF now holds four seats. They’re not likely to go anywhere – and yes, of course there’s an emphasis on winning more in urban areas – and it would be astounding if more SF TDs aren’t returned in Dublin and other urban centres, but look across the state and the picture is of a broader urban rural spread than that proposed by Backroom. And that makes me a bit dubious of the central thesis that the two parties aren’t in competition. If SF seeks, particularly but not exclusively in rural constituencies, to be the second/third party after FG and perhaps the LP, then of necessity it must be seeking to retain seats and expand upon them and supplant other rivals, the largest of which is still FF.
Of course pragmatism will suggest that they will fight for every and any seat they can get and of course they should. But I’m unconvinced that FF isn’t even in part in their sights. Though it’s slightly less clear who Backroom believes SF is competing with. The Labour Party? Well, yes to a degree. Independents and others? Yes again. Perhaps the truth is SF isn’t going to draw attention to FF through verbal attacks because to do so is to lend more credibility than they’re worth to the former government party and they’re already busy tearing chunks out of the government. And who would disagree that there’s plenty of scope for them there?