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That ‘new’ party… er… why? December 23, 2012

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.
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Got to say that Michael McDowell’s piece in the Sunday Independent on this being time for a new party doesn’t seem entirely credible. He argues that:

Falling satisfaction with the Government, combined with growing evidence that the coalition parties have fallen out of love with each other and have taken instead to the role of partners in a deeply unhappy marriage, triggers the question in many people’s minds as to what they would do with their vote if a general election were to be called in the medium term.

Well, it may well be that in a poll when asked a question 50 per cent of those asked say it’s time for a new political party, but in itself that result is suspect because it is abstract, it has to cut across a range of dividing lines in terms of the electorate, most importantly ideological (in other words someone on the left could as easily and equally say they want a new party and would not be happy with McDowell’s chosen vehicle and wouldn’t vote for it). Interestingly the Millward Brown analyst implicitly notes this:

Those most likely to endorse this view are female, younger (25 to 34-year-olds), based in Connacht/Ulster or from a lower socio-economic background. Of course, the motivations for wanting such a development are diverse. Regardless of this, as an endorsement of the current body politic it speaks volumes.

Sure, there’s no endorsement of the current body politic, but is that an huge surprise? Look at the high and still fairly solid vote for Independents. Perhaps that represents something of an inchoate yearning for a ‘new party’. But then look at how that vote tends leftish much more clearly than rightward.

But McDowell doesn’t really enter into engaging with that aspect of the figures at all. Indeed the sense is that rather than presenting or promoting the idea in order to make a radical break with what has happened before in Irish politics it is as if he’s desperately trying to bring back the status quo ante of the period pre-2011. Or perhaps pre-2007. It’s not entirely clear.

He seems to believe a) that the ‘civil war’ parties have a ‘rigid and almost genetic unwillingness’ to go into coalition together and yet simultaneously b) that if they did so ‘it would spell the death of one of them’. Now that’s odd because a) would seem to be the perfectly logical response to b). But I wonder if he’s correct. I’d be willing to bet good money that if the chips fell a certain way then FF and FG would coalesce – the need to be ‘relevant’ and the ‘national interest’ will do the trick. But then if that option is off the table, then why not others?

What he really wants is the following:

It seems to me to follow that many people in middle Ireland would support the formation of a new party which would give Ireland the opportunity to have a new government which would not include the Labour Party.

And who would that party govern with? Or rather who would that government not govern with?

I believe that there is at least 25 per cent of the electorate which would opt for a new party as an alternative to another term for the present coalition and as an alternative to a Fianna Fail/Sinn Fein coalition backed by the remnants of Labour.

So, where in the past the PDs were a sort of life support to FF in government here is McDowell proposing a new party that will be a life support to FG in government. Neat.

But again, not quite what the polling figures seem to suggest.

Here’s an interesting one though.

It is easy to speak or write about forming a new political party; it requires real skill and experience to bring one about. It also requires a coherent and attractive policy platform backed by people whom the electorate can trust. That is not easy to achieve. It takes patience, planning, timing and judgement. It also requires that citizens re-engage with their democracy. Our future may depend on that.

Perhaps so, but I wonder has he missed his moment. I think that a new right of centre party launched in the immediate aftermath of 2011 might have made some headway, though that’s far from a given since FG was – as the polls demonstrated – almost in a commanding position. Such a party might have peeled votes away from FF – but that too is hardly a given since FF had hit bedrock in terms of its core vote. Such a party might have stymied SF’s growth – but that also is hardly a given since it would be unlikely to be fishing in the same electoral pool. Indeed the more one thinks about it the more it seems unlikely that there’s been much room at any point either pre-2011 or post-2011 for a new right party. And now? I’m deeply dubious. FG will likely contain much of its vote – though as an aside one could wonder at Creighton and the rest of the suddenly very visible ‘pro-life’ FG crew and how they think their approach is going to play in their constituencies in the future some of which, Creighton’s being a good case, wouldn’t strike one as sharing that approach to anything like the same extent. FG will have to play that carefully for fear of a more socially liberal but equally right wing competitor enters the fray (or as we’re seeing with FF and Mary O’Rourke’s latest comments, the old enemy puts on its most pragmatic hat and tilts liberalish).

John Drennan’s accompanying piece doesn’t make things seem much clearer or much more plausible. He suggests that:

In spite of their scale, while the independents would be seen as providing a major recruiting ground for any new party, it might be more difficult to secure the support of TDs from that bloc than might first appear to be the case.
Within that grouping, figures such as Stephen Donnelly and Shane Ross are expected to provide the nucleus of any movement.

But even there there are problems. Donnelly and Ross aren’t necessarily going to want to join a new party. Ross in particular has a tricky balancing act, his unique selling point has been his independence. Join a party – particularly an untested and untried one – heading into an election and he puts that at risk. But what of this:

Other TDs within their ranks who would be coveted by any political party include Thomas Pringle, former PD TD Noel Grealish, who would be strongly guided by the views of Michael McDowell on such matters, Catherine Murphy, Denis Naughten and John Halligan.

Frankly I can’t think of a party that could contain both Ross and Pringle. Or Grealish and Murphy. It just doesn’t add up. And Drennan talks of potential FG dissidents over abortion perhaps making common cause with some or all of the above. That just seems near enough impossible.

And there’s the problem. Once one starts to try to name names it all begins to look a lot less likely. Even Ross and Donnelly. And that suggests that there’s an huge initial hurdle for any new party. That being a lack of Dáil representation from the off. And building a ‘new party’. Nationwide? In sufficient numbers to contest sufficient seats? A party with Michael McDowell in it? Perhaps there are talks underway, perhaps something will be announced soon or in the New Year. Perhaps not.

Finally, one significant omission from McDowell’s article is the obvious. Nothing about the current status of the parties in the Dáil. Why not? The Sunday Independent website isn’t working terribly well today and I didn’t get the paper edition so I don’t know if a party support poll was taken but if not why not? And why no cross correlation of this wish for a new party with voting patterns.

It really seems as if we’re being given a very partial view of all this. Now why would that be?

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Comments»

1. gfmurphy101 - December 23, 2012

Anyone for TEA??? PARTY??

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WorldbyStorm - December 23, 2012

Yep. Sounds about right.

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2. ejh - December 23, 2012

What is “middle Ireland”?

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LeftAtTheCross - December 23, 2012

A grey and self-centred place EJH. I’d imagine it exists in Spain also.

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ejh - December 23, 2012

I think it used to, but austerity killed it.

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Joe - December 23, 2012

It’s the area around Athlone, which is a town in the middle of Ireland, ej. (I jest).

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CMK - December 23, 2012

Whatever McDowell wants it to be. I have to say, and I’ve probably made this point here several times before, that the continued reverence accorded to Michael McDowell by our media epitomises just how degraded our political culture is. And just how difficult any Left challenge will be.

This individual, McDowell, was in cabinet from 1997-2007 when every single structural element that led to the economic collapse was being embedded. He was an unapologetic and extraordinarily aggressive exponent of neo-liberalism with Irish characteristics. He was strident in his insistence that ‘regulation’ and ‘red-tape’ be reduced; which, in Ireland 2000-2007, mean that Sean Fitzpatrick and Fingers, and the thousands of hucksters beneath them in the Irish banking-construction nexus, be give carte blanche to do whatever they wanted. Which they did with results we’re living with now.

McDowell’s persisting media profile is clear evidence of right wing bias in the Irish media. He is someone who wholly discredited by any objective standard. Every Left winger in this state should make it a point of principle to put McDowell to the sword wherever his crops up (I wouldn’t be rushing to stop anyone putting him to the sword literally). The last thing the working people of this state need is McDowell’s prescriptions for the economy.

He seems to me to be a sort of political ‘Oldest Swinger in Town’ who has been completely eclipsed by FG, particularly the youth wing of FG TDs (Murphy, Creighton, Varadkar) who, if anything, are far more loyal to neoliberal barbarity than he was and ruthless in their determination to implement it – I can’t imagine any of them sitting round a cabinet table with Bertie Ahern for 10 year, which McDowell did with no obvious crisis of conscience. And so he has to console himself with the obviously painful position of ‘hurling from the ditch’ with his calls for a ‘New Party’. It’s not a little pathetic with it’s implicit cries to ‘Love me!’ but those of us on the Left should be ruthless in disposing of McDowell in his time of weakness.

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WorldbyStorm - December 23, 2012

Very much agree. That’s a truth that should be said loud and clear.

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3. Branno's ultra-left t-shirt - December 23, 2012

Leaving aside the monumental ego of McDowell and the willingness of the SINDO to facilitate him, my pessimistic take on things is that there is a large number of people who are angry, hard-pressed and looking for someway to express their dissatisfaction. Many of them will never look to the left for answers but the commonly expressed idea that ‘we would be better off if Michael O’Leary…Sean Quinn…(insert appropriate tax exile) was running the country’ might gain a lot of support for some such new outfit.

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WorldbyStorm - December 23, 2012

Pessimistic, but accurate. There is an assumption that people -and the poll uses advertising categories, but even still – will switch left. Given that we’ve never seen anything clearly like that before in the last forty odd years and more your point seems very plausible.

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