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The ‘most intense’ elections ever? May 7, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics, The Left.
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Back Room in the SBP appears to think so. S/he writes:

After less than a week of open campaigning for this month’s elections, it is already more intense than any previous mid-term contest. It’s not just the scale of the postering and leafleting (at least in the cities) which is unusual, it appears that we are supposed to believe that the future direction of most of our parties is up for decision.

S/he does make the point that:

This may be because we live in a newly hyper-competitive media market. It isn’t because we’ve decided to bring the European Parliament and local councils into the centre of our political world.

And:

While the need to have consequences flow from the results is almost obsessive for one media group, everyone else has signed up to the idea of various jobs being on the line’ and crises waiting to engulf’ embattled’ leaders.

And yet Back Room argues that:

This requires some questioning because history shows that mid-term elections are an unreliable indicator of what might happen in a subsequent national election.

Okay. So, what context is brought in to support this contention?

As one backroom nerd sympathetic to Labour pointed out this week, Tony Blair made a habit of losing councils before winning general elections. For that matter, Blair’s old mucker Bertie Ahern got beaten up at the polls in 2004 before going on to win in 2007.

Yes. And no.

I’m pretty sure the situations are radically different. So different indeed that comparisons are almost impossible to make between the two. And that that line offered by the LP ‘nerd’ is expedient in the extreme.

But hey, let’s list off the most important one – the one that inflects everything we see around us in one way or another.
That, obviously, is the result of the economic crisis and all that has flown from it. The stability of the pre-existing system, such as it was, and yes it was much more stable, has vanished. Fianna Fáil is beaten down to half its previous vote share in national polls. Fine Gael is in government but unable to top much more than 30%. The Labour Party is falling precipitously. 10% will be a good day for it. Less than that and it will be a very very bad, potentially catastrophic, day.

The Independents? I’m glad you asked. For they are part 1 of two significant other changes resulting from the crisis, or crises plural. That block of Independents, always strong in RoI elections at local level (compared to other polities), is now assuming the level of a coherent bloc, at least in terms of the support afforded it by voters. Fully 1 in 5 support Independents at a national level. I would suspect we’ll see that figure matched at local level and perhaps exceeded.

And then there’s Sinn Féin, probably able to command close enough to another 1 in 5 voters.

Oh, and wait, the national election here is less than two years away, a lot less most likely. Run that SBP quote by me again, 2004 as against 2007? We’re not talking like and like.

In other words the Irish context post-crisis is so radically different from the UK one as to make comparisons pointless, and indeed was different enough pre-crisis to do likewise.

Still, let’s see what Back Room’s thesis is:

The first thing to realise about these elections is that everyone voting knows that they are not choosing between policies on tax, schools, hospitals or the full range of issues which are the preserve of national government. Because of this, voters feel freer and, it could be said, less responsible in how they vote. A protest, personality or anti-system vote has low consequences.

Possibly. But if that were so then one would expect local results to diverge significantly from national, and yet, look back at those national polls. Close to 40 per cent of voters are going to SF and Independents and smaller left parties. And with a year and bit to go to the next election or thereabouts it could be that that will increase again.

It is true that mid-term elections can involve voters sending a message’, but the exact nature of that message is not something anyone can be sure of. This is where the political commentary comes in – bringing definitive declarations on what was meant by the vote and what must be done in response.

I don’t know. If say close to 3 in 5 voters voted for anti-austerity parties and Independents I think we could draw the necessary message.

Still, if I’d be dubious about Back Room’s thoughts to this point s/he has some further one’s which I think are very pertinent. S/he argues that Labour is the potential biggest loser (though we’ll see). And that changing the leader is not the issue. Indeed the following point is made:

People remember that a vote for Labour was a vote to protect child benefit and stop third-level fees. It was a vote for an alternative to Frankfurt’s way. The party has ignored this and focused instead on saying we fixed it’- which is hard to buy.

And:

Labour can play musical chairs in June or it can understand that people see this as a Fine Gael government propped up by Labour.
No one challenging Gilmore has proposed an alternative strategy. They have bought in to the idea that the face on the posters is the most important thing in politics.

And this too:

There will be a leadership debate, Gilmore will hang on and the party will have failed to have the discussion it really needs. It needs to understand that no one knows what impact Labour has had in this government – and with Fine Gael tearing down the tax cuts for all’ road, it could get a lot worse.

I think that’s just about right. They’ve shifted to concerning themselves about the cosmetic. That works only so far, and we can see the limits just about now. But there’s another thought that it raises. What evidence is there that the LP is positioning itself for after the next election? Precious little it would appear if there are those within it who seriously contend that mid-term/local elections don’t reflect national elections some years later.

And what sort of party is it going to be, even if it retains, say, ten or eleven seats with significant left representation from both social democratic and further left in the ‘Independent’ bloc, as well as a much much larger Sinn Féin?
How does it present itself as a serious political force after this stint in government?

One would wonder is anyone even bothering to ask these questions.

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Comments»

1. EamonnCork - May 7, 2014

I’d be inclined to think that Labour should just wind the party up after the next election. It serves no purpose except the mathematical one of helping Fine Gael to a majority. Things would be simplified if they just quit and let Fine Gael do that on their own. Most of the senior figures in the party will quit before the next election anyway, Burton could indulge her anti social welfare claimant and pro JobBridge fetishes quite comfortably in Fine Gael, Sherlock could do the same with his anti public service obsession.
I think complete disbandment is the new direction the party needs. The PDs at least had the honesty to give up when they served no useful purpose from their own point of view. Has anyone really got three reasons why Labour should survive? Or even one. And the old ‘if we weren’t there, Fine Gael would have gone to town on people,’ excuse won’t wash when the most enthusiastic promoters of the right wing agenda were Howlin, Quinn, Burton, Sherlock and the Owl of the Remove himself. I’m not surprised they’re getting a hostile reception on the doorsteps, they should be made wear hoods and ring bells.

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2. CMK - May 7, 2014

I’m still amazed to see a political commentator referring to elections pre-2008 as having any significance to this year’s and future elections.

The fundamental watershed in Ireland political life is the 2008-2010 period and the decisions taken then. Pre-2008 is quite literally another country. We’re in our third post 2008 election. The first 2009 the crisis was literally 9 months old and nearly everyone thought it would pass within a year or two and sure weren’t the ESRI predicting then that full employment would be attained by 2015.

The 2011 election ripped up the post-Civil War political settlement to shreds with the decimation of FF. This election will likely do the same for Labour and it will stunt FG. There is no way back to the ‘good old days’ of FG/FF sharing out 80-85% of the vote and Labour picking up the crumbs.

The social forces who have invested heavily in the stability of the Civil War settlement will try to back SF as far as SF appear amenable to co-option. But if there is a big surge Left then these social forces may well start to look elsewhere for their saviours. I suspect Ganley type figures were a bit premature in 2009 but may have a future here yet.

UKIP are consolidating across the water; the Front Nationale in France ditto; capitalist-fascist alliances are politically significant in several European countries.

The longer the ‘there is no alternative’ line is spun, too, the more people will look beyond the political mainstream. The media will not, as we can see with the wall to wall coverage given to UKIP, permit Left forces and groupings to gain public prominence but the same media outlets will promote Right forces.

An ugly situation but one also where those of us on the Left can be optimistic, I think, if we can organise and work together. Which is happening far more than the ‘the Left is fucked’ jeremiahs would like to admit. Interesting days.

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Gewerkschaftler - May 7, 2014

An ugly situation but one also where those of us on the Left can be optimistic, I think, if we can organise and work together.

Absolutely. The consensus is wearing remarkably thin. Increasingly authoritarian measures are necessary to maintain it. The space is there – what is needed is the willingness to form genuine alliances, as in Greece, Portugal, France etc.

In France, for example, Front de Gauche recently got 11% of the vote, and together with the Greens (who at this point have social democratic economic policies in France) and the New Anti-capitalist Party the first round voting for genuinely left parties was 15%, as against Le Pen’s 18%.

Elsewhere other parties in the European Left should do reasonably well in these European elections. Ireland, for reasons we know all to well, is ever the exception.

But parties of the left have got to realise that the anti-capitalist momentum is coming for movements very suspicious of the Party formations that have failed them so far before and during the crisis, and find ways to work with them.

In Germany die Linke has an explicit strategy of working with the transnational Blockupy movement – recognising that this is where the youthful energy is to be found.

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3. Tawdy - May 7, 2014

The saddest part is that there will effectively be no organised elected party to represent the class abandoned by labour. It will be a most difficult time. The rebuilding of such a party will take decades, especially the trust needed to support such an undertaking.

But! Rebuild we must, no matter how long it takes!

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4. sonofstan - May 7, 2014

“The 2011 election ripped up the post-Civil War political settlement to shreds with the decimation of FF. This election will likely do the same for Labour and it will stunt FG. ”

That’s it. It always puzzles me that no one does the sums and adds up the FF/FG percentage of the vote which has been in almost uninterrupted decline since the late ’80s. IIn quite a few recent polls, that total, which used to command – as you say – up to 85% of the vote has been under 50% and lower still in Dublin.

The first republic is over.

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EamonnCork - May 7, 2014

You’re right as is CMK. It’s in flux. I still think the gap is there for a Social Democrat centre/left party rather than our own version of UKIP, SF have to a certain extent taken this ground by default. The Irish media is in too much disarray at the moment to promote anything. If column inches counted for anything Lucinda Creighton would currently be leading a party standing at 30 odd % in the polls.

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hardcorefornerds - May 7, 2014

“It always puzzles me that no one does the sums and adds up the FF/FG percentage of the vote which has been in almost uninterrupted decline since the late ’80s.”

I’d have to do the sums, but I guess that’s not unique to Ireland but a broader trend in Europe as well – the erosion of the post-war/Cold War balance between social and Christian democracy (awkward as it may seem to class Fianna Fáil as social-democratic), and the emergence of new social movements like the Greens as well as the new right.

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5. eamonncork - May 7, 2014

Fianna Fail haven’t been Social Democratic in at least fifty years. Their rabid opposition to the Wealth Tax introduced by the seventies coalition government being just one case in point. I don’t think you can really posit any kind of ideological difference between them and Fine Gael. Fine Gael being more socially liberal under Fitzgerald is probably the clearest example of clear blue water. I was going to say that Fine Gael were more repressive under Cosgrave but remembered that O’Malley brought in the Emergency Powers Act in 1972. Both sides were actually anti-republican when actually in power.
I think this change is a more specifically Irish one with the big votes for Labour in 1992 and 2012 probably indicating a desire for Social Democracy. But the mathematical realities of the two and a half party system which mean that Labour will always coalesce with a right-wing party and help implement their policies mean these hopes are frustrated. It’s as though the British Labour Party had been forever led by Ramsay McDonald and conspired to keep the Tories in power.

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hardcorefornerds - May 7, 2014

All true, but I was thinking more in terms of base and the position a social-democratic party would typically take in a polity (closeness to the unions, involvement with the corporatist structure of voluntary and social services) and simply being the ‘other big party’, regardless of actual policy or close connection with business and property (not unknown in European SD either).

As for the wealth tax, my understanding from Ferriter’s ‘Ambiguous Republic’ was that FG brought it in after much soul-searching, under pressure from Labour and its own nascent social liberal/social democratic wing, and with great opposition from capital owners, and it was to the latter FF caved upon returning to power. Given the economic turmoil of the 70s that’s not too surprising. I would still say FG is more ideologically pro-business, FF being ideologically pro-winning elections and cultivating power bases.

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6. Budapestkick - May 7, 2014

Labour have, so far, been driven off two estates in Cork City. They seem to be struggling to get anyone to canvass for them.

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7. fergal - May 7, 2014

Not wanting to be the devil’s advocate but why such hatred towards Labour and not Fine Gael. Do Fine Gael get run off estates? Why not?
The trick now would be to force FG and FF to coalesce and bury the civil war hatchet, and this is where SF come in. They might just prove toxic enough for the Blueshirts to hop into bed with FF in 2016 and then it’s game on for class politics.

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Michael Carley - May 7, 2014

Fine Gael are honestly defending their class interests.

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hardcorefornerds - May 7, 2014

Labour are both scape- and Judas goat for FG

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Budapestkick - May 7, 2014

People largely voted for labour on the assumption that they would mitigate austerity rather than pursue it relentlessly and with glee and broke every single one of their supermarket ad promises. People largely didn’t have such illusions about Fine Gael, hence the sense of betrayal. They thoroughly deserve every bit of abuse they get on the doors.

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6to5against - May 7, 2014

Exactly. I always had my doubts but voted so that lab would be in with FG, thinking there would be at least an effort at lessening the harshest aspects of the deal, and that they would stand by the Croke park deal, which hit both incomes in my house.

Both my hopes and expectations were low – I have always voted further left in the past even if my vote ultimately went to labour. But I have been really astonished at their attitude in power. The troika deal has been implemented in full, and neo liberal policies pursued after their departure; the CP deal was broken and replaced by the most anti-union legislation in Europe, and even the rhetoric has been right-wing.

I always expected FG to do all of this, so my distaste for them is unchanged, but it am really angry with labour.

Gilmore called Cowen a traitor, while planning on pursuing exactly the same policies. He hit the nail on the head.

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8. Joe - May 7, 2014

I know I probably shouldn’t but I want to theorise about the Murphy vs Smith contest on the “far” left in Dublin. Two polls have put Smith ahead of Murphy so far. One comment on here poured cold water on those results, stating that, based on the feedback they are getting on the campaign trail, Murphy will do better. Here’s some theories from me on why the polls may be accurate. These theories are mainly informed by me looking into my heart.
– Murphy’s posters are black and white, reminding voters of the greyness of life east of the Iron Curtain in the commie days. Smith’s are colourful.
– Murphy’s posters are confusing with lots of different slogans and issues and designs – a scattergun approach. Smith’s are just her picture, her name, her party and the odd one-liner e.g. about water tax.
– Smith has a local base, a few thousand votes around Ballyer. Murphy has not.
– Murphy concentrates entirely on economic, bread and butter issues. Smith’s first bullet point in her leaflet is that she was chair of the H Block cttee in 1981. This appeals to the innate nationalism of Dublin voters – see also the tricolour scheme of Smith’s posters.
– Murphy is articulate but comes across as an apparatchik. Smith has more of a “woman of the people” feel.
– Smith is a woman. Murphy is a man.
– Smith’s campaign is low-key e.g. small posters. Murphy’s campaign has been out there and up front from well before the official kick-off, big posters, sides of buses, public meetings. So Smith wins with the euro election phenomenon of voting for some stranger who isn’t one of the “they’re all the same” crowd. A la McKenna’s victory for the Greens way back when.
– And finally, I will be voting One Murphy and Two Smith and I have a long, long history of voting for losers.

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sonofstan - May 7, 2014

Further to that, and to other points made here: the last opinion poll I read had Smith and Murphy on 9 and 8% respectively – there are few other countries in Europe where ‘the far left’ can command 17% of the vote in any city…..is it simply the failure of the social democratic left as detailed above? Ramsey MacDonald grinding the face of the working-class forever?

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Ceannaire - May 7, 2014

Weren’t Joe Higgins’ posters black-and-white when he got elected (at least, a lot of them; some of Murphy’s are coloured)?

“the innate nationalism of Dublin voters” Eh, what?

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sonofstan - May 7, 2014

‘The innate nationalism of some Dublin voters’ I would think. There are strong anti-nationalist currents too.

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Joe - May 7, 2014

Ok. How about the innate nationalism of most Dublin voters. Currents is a good word. Speaking for myself, the nationalist and anti-nationalist currents do be welling up inside of me betimes, creating an awful shtir and commotion, so they do. And that innate nationalism in most Dublin voters might mean a lot of no.2s for Smith from people who give Boylan their no.1s – whether such no.2s will actually come in to play in the count is moot however.

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John Goodwillie - May 8, 2014

But actually we have an insight into voters from their intended No. 2s, as published at http://www.redcresearch.ie/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/31214-European-Election-Candidate-Polling-April-20141.pdf. The sample seems big enough to draw tentative conclusions from.
Boylan’s intended transfers to Smith are 8%: her largest transfer is to Murphy at 22%.
While Murphy’s transfer to Smith is 43%, Smith’s intended transfer to Murphy is only 12%, below her transfers to Boylan and Childers.
Which suggests to me that Smith is attracting a lot of votes from people who simply like the idea of people before profit and cannot be counted as ‘far left’ voters in Sonofstan’s phrase.

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Ed - May 8, 2014

If that’s true about Smith, well, I’m sure there will be SP members ready to make this point, but those of us who remember what the SWP used to say about the SP’s ‘electoralism’ back in 2001 or thereabouts have to smile at least. Nothing wrong with changing your approach if you can make a case for it, of course, but it would be nice if there was some acknowledgment of the change.

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9. PaddyM - May 7, 2014

Shatter gone, BTW.

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Bob Smiles - May 7, 2014

Too many Murphy posters, very confusing – stick with one simple image and slogan

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Bob Smiles - May 7, 2014

Oh and not one canvasser – so much for intense

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WorldbyStorm - May 7, 2014

Just one or so I think. You could be right re Murphy posters.

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10. Ghandi - May 8, 2014

We did knock wbs

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sonofstan - May 8, 2014

All politics is local. :)

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11. CL - May 8, 2014

Well, ye all have me nearly convinced that Comrade Paddy Healy may be right in his suggestion that some seismic change is occurring. If so, the msm’s ability to channel the political zeitgeist is probably seriously deficient.

(Note: Although Comrade Healy appears to be in the Fenian tradition, I use the word ‘comrade’ merely as an honorific; no suggestion of membership is implied)

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12. roddy - May 8, 2014

Mark p will be calling on Murphy not to accept Boylans 22 % transfer.

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13. 2nd preferences at the European Election | The Cedar Lounge Revolution - May 9, 2014

[…] John Goodwillie points in comments to the data from the latest RedC polls on the European elections in Dublin. Well worth a look for those hoping to parse potential outcomes from the upcoming contest. Check 2nd preferences (with the caveat that this is a small sample). Eamon Ryan has some intriguing 2nd preferences. Though so does Brian Hayes (and who are the 5% voting for him who are transferring to SF?). 19% of Murphy’s vote transfers to SF, 43% to Brid Smith. Whereas only 12% of hers transfers to Murphy. […]

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14. Paddy Healy - May 9, 2014

John Goodwillie( hello John) says;”Smith is attracting a lot of votes from people who simply like the idea of people before profit and cannot be counted as ‘far left’ voters in Sonofstan’s phrase”
There is nothing surprising about the second preferences of Brid and Paul. If Paul is eliminated first the total will be 12% for Brid. If Brid is eliminated first, the total will be just over 8% for Paul.
Unlike the name and cause Sinn Féin, the organisations Socialist Party, People before Profit and Socialist Workers Party are largely unknown outside a small fraction of working class people. Both are fine able candidates (I will be voting for them)
Joe Higgins would probably have won a seat because he is widely known for his association with bin and water campaigns. He got 12.4 % on first count before any recession in 2009.
Why is Brid a more effective candidate than Paul. It has nothing to do with their abilities or committment and even less to do with their political parties.
Brid is a councillor in Ballyfermot where she is fighting on behalf of working people for decades. She is widely known for her work in Ballyfermot. Because of the way local authority housing works in Dublin, because Brid Smith(Not PBP) is widely known by Ballyfermot people, their cousins in Tallaght, Blanchardstown, Coolock etc will also have heard of her work. The Ballyfermot relatives will recommend her. That is the way the Dublin working class “grapevine” works. While Paul works very hard, but he is not personally implanted in any working class community to the extent that Brid is. His vote is more dependant on a layer of left wing people generally. That is why 43% of his votes will go to Brid. But most people who will vote for Brid will never have heard of Paul or his party and more will transfer to Sinn Fein than to Paul.
For the same reason that Brid is an effective candidate, Joan Collins and Ruth Coppinger would also be effective because they are deeply implanted in their communities and therefore known on the Dublin working class “grapevine” . The individual campaigners are much better known than their parties!! Ruth could well win the Dublin West bye-election and I hope she does.
Sinn Fein can get a big vote with a virtually unknown candidate because their CAUSE is known (remember the support for Hblock hungerstrikers in Dublin working-class areas).
The left must accept that there is a problem which each group cannot solve on its own. Neither group has mass support for their party as a party.

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15. Paddy Healy - May 9, 2014

I omitted Clare Daly. For similar reasons she would be a very effective candidate as well as Joan Collins, Brid Smith, Ruth Coppinger

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