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The LP meets. They may be feeling good. Why? February 17, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, European Politics, Irish Politics, The Left.
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Was Harry McGee being mischievous at the Labour Party’s expense this weekend, was his tongue firmly planted in cheek when he wrote this column, was he, to put it bluntly, having a laugh? Because how else to interpret a piece that examined the situation of the LP as it had a one day conference which started with the idea that while last year it had a ‘miserable performance’ in the Meath East by-election and ‘a string’ of defections…

…the party seems to have recovered some of its support and – more importantly – some of those vital but hard-to-grasp qualities: morale and purpose.

It sounds good for Labour, doesn’t it? Except no particular evidence is offered to sustain this idea of increased support, or even moral and purpose, well bar Ruairi Quinn being quoted as saying that while he ‘stops short of saying the party has turned a corner’ he does however ‘accept a recovery of sorts is underway’. And… that’s that!

Has there been a new poll indicating revived fortunes for the LP? Not exactly, the Paddy Power RedC poll last month had them at 10%, down 2% on the previous one. The RedC SBP poll of the 26th of January had the LP on 9% (down 3). Sure, the SI/Millward Brown Poll from that same day had the LP up 3% on 12%. At best one could say that there’s conflicting signals – albeit tilted towards bad news for the party, more realistically that the weight of evidence suggests a weakening of the LPs position.

But mood and morale, always somewhat intangible, what evidence is there to support this good feeling?

Some of those who voted for the party in 2011 will never return because of perceptions of broken promises and failures to strike a match to thrown onto certain bonfires. That said, its successes on abortion legislation, on the promissory note (though may turn out to be less than the sum of its parts) and the exit of the Troika may have persuaded enough of its traditional supporters to return.

‘May’? Not the stuff of recoveries, that. And yet McGee argues that:

…the atmosphere at its one-day conference in Enfield, Co Meath [will be], if not buoyant, a whole lot better than last year

Yet again, where’s the evidence for same, or rather they may be in a good mood, but for what reason, because then McGee goes and spoils it all by pointing to the problems ahead.

For example:

To be sure, recovery or not, both sets of elections in May are going to be very tough nuts for the party to crack. Labour’s historic average vote is a little over 10 per cent. It did very well in 2009 getting some 15 per cent of the vote (though it fell short of its exceptional performance in 2011). However, opinion polls show that the party is struggling to get into double digits in terms of popular support.

As if that’s not bad enough, how’s this?

In the local elections in 2009, it became the biggest party in four councils, Dublin City, Fingal, Dublin South and Galway. It is very unlikely to remain as the biggest party on any of those councils and is likely to see both its percentage and seat-share slide.

He presents a ray of light, a gleam in the dark, a flicker at the end of the tunnel…

The one consolation is that with the local government reforms – and the abolition of town councils – the actual number of full local authority seats will increase.

Only to…er…extinguish it immediately.

That said, Labour will struggle to retain the seats it held and may see it slipping into third or even fourth place on those councils.

Feeling gloomy about the LP’s prospects (or elated at same if you’re antagonistic to all their pomps and works)? You should if you’re reading the rest of his analysis:

The picture for the European elections is grim. The party won three seats in 2009. Two of its MEPs subsequently stood down and the two substitute MEPs Emer Costello and Phil Prendergast, don’t enjoy the same profile. In addition, another of its elected MEPs Nessa Childers, elected in the extinct East constituency, will be standing as an independent in Dublin.

And then he bundles it together and adds in a masterpiece of understatement:

The falling support for the party, plus the slightly lower profile of its candidates, will see the party struggle to retain any of its European parliament seats. So the messages will be slightly mixed. The party is more comfortable in its own skin in Government than it was until now. Yet it knows that the elections will provide it with another uncomfortable challenge.

The message will be slightly mixed?

In fairness to McGee, the rhetoric emanating from the conference was pretty odd in its own way, try this for size from Gilmore:

“We have done it,’’ he said. “If politics is the art of the possible, then Labour is the specialist in doing the impossible and let us do it again.’’

I think I know what he’s getting at, but… I’m not sure it scans the way it was intended. Or perhaps it does – who can say?

And then there’s another curious outbreak of unwarranted confidence:

We have shown that over the past three years and I am confident we will show it again in the forthcoming local and European elections,’’ he added.

[Gilmore] said Labour in Government had prevented tougher cuts being made, even if the party had “taken political risks with the choices we have made”.

Labour had made sure a “threshold of decency” was maintained, and will continue to do so to “make sure nobody is left behind”.

One doesn’t know where to begin in deconstructing that given the measures actually implemented by this government in the past three or so years. So I’ll leave it to others.

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1. CMK - February 17, 2014

‘Gilmore] said Labour in Government had prevented tougher cuts being made, even if the party had “taken political risks with the choices we have made”.

Didn’t really get much of a chance to follow the LP show at the weekend but this is a very interesting analysis.

Labour are clearly going to push ‘it would be much worse without us in government’ line as their only, best, hope in the run-up to 23 May.

It’s a bit like someone who is being beaten up by a gang who are just using their fists thinking ‘well, it could be worse, they could be using iron bars'; but while you’re being beaten the fact that things could be worse is probably not the foremost thought in your mind. The here and now matter more.

Likewise for the tens of thousands suffering the withdrawal of SNAs, cuts to carers allowances, withdrawal of telephone grants, prescription charges, LPT, etc, etc, etc, the fact that things could, theoretically, be worse, is likely to be of zero comfort.

Labour probably sense they are on a hiding to nothing in May and are trying to brazen it out. Gilmore may well be in a very difficult predicament come May 25-26. Will 2014 see the end of him?

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