The Fianna Fáil mudguard on the Green Party? or how else to explain how almost 1 in 10 of us support the Green Party (apparently)… November 28, 2007Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Election 2007, Irish Politics.
It took me a while to realise there was something very odd about the latest RedC poll in the Sunday Business Post. Sure, Fianna Fáil has dipped precipitously. Well, after the month they’ve had one would think they’d better be down, at least a bit. Provisional Licences, pay increases, the latest noises from the Tribunal and sundry other issues have conspired to make life difficult for the government, but it is… and this is becoming a cliche, very early days yet.
It would be foolish not to see calculation in all this. Fianna Fáil must have made a strategic decision to front load the bad news in order to remove it from the electoral cycle early. Sensible. Having said that bad news has a habit of running away with itself. I suspect that they didn’t quite envisage the perfect storm that has engulfed them. And they’re beginning to look – rather like Gordon Brown across the water – unlucky. Perhaps not quite as unlucky as the seemingly hapless Brown and UK Labour (after all, to lose a Party General Secretary isn’t just misfortune, it’s downright idiocy), but unlucky nonetheless. The current mutterings amongst FF deputies as regards the vote of confidence in Mary Harney is indicative of that. I don’t expect any to break ranks – although the temptation must be strong, since the perception is of a rock solid coalition – but who knows?
And then there was Finian McGrath’s entertaining solo run at the weekend. Will he or won’t he vote with the government. Again, my money is on him voting with. Still, Finian must be a man torn. After all, the heady days of May and June certainly didn’t seem to presage this… the unpleasant nitty gritty of serious political conflict and choices. And whatever about other parties an independent is… well, just that. Independent. And while answerable ultimately only to themselves on one level, there’s a whole world of pain out there in the form of disappointed or enraged constituents and covetous political rivals. Which leads to another thought. Just what is the status of the agreement between the Independents and the government. Are they similar to contracts? And if so how does that work if one side or the other decides to withdraw? And that leads to another thought again. In the past ‘deals’ by Independents were a bit like political alchemy, the sort of thing that turned base politics to electoral gold. The “Gregory Deal” remains the standard. Tony Gregory leveraged himself and his supporters into the political stratosphere by engaging with Charlie Haughey. That ‘deal’ did have clear outcomes. But so has this one, and perhaps less palatable ones for Independents (note too the way Michael Lowry is remaining schtum). Gregory had, of course, one great advantage. The government with which he ‘dealt’ fell shortly afterwards. So, he picked up the cheque with none of the pain of standing over the less palatable aspects of it. Perhaps this is one set of deals which in the long term will seem to have been a trifle too limited, and too costly in political terms. Who will in 2012 dare speak of the McGrath deal in hushed tones? Who indeed?
Meanwhile Fine Gael must be clapping themselves on the back. 31%. Remarkable. Except it’s not really. That’s actually not quite good enough. After the last two weeks the best they can do is claw back 4%? That doesn’t quite look like a party in waiting. But I’ve been very struck by just how slipshod their presentation (and ignoring the chorus of disdain from their latest overly loud recruits in the Dáil) seems. My favourite example? Seeing Enda Kenny (hair uncharacteristically askew) speaking on RTÉ at the weekend flanked by four party worthies. Suddenly halfway through Olivia Mitchell snuck into frame behind. A display the likes of which I hadn’t seen since the sort of elbowing last seen during the release of the Shell to Sea prisoners… never a great advertisement for politicians.
As for Labour. Well, one would have hoped that they’d get 3% simply off the back of their party conference. It’s not great either. Gilmore is an improvement. I’d wager that he’d get 3% simply off the back of his being someone other than one P. Rabbitte. But they’ll need to do consistently better.
And parsing the rest of the figures the PDs are becalmed, or more probably sunk, on 2%, Sinn Féin sits at about 7% (1% down as it happens, but that’s neither here nor there) and the Independents are also slightly down on 7%.
Two thoughts on that. Everyone appears to be here to stay, with the possible exception of the PDs (and rumours abound, but precious little hard data as to their future). All have nice large chunks of support that will tide them through the next four years. The media spin that SF is bound to disappear is simply that… spin. So for the more strategic perhaps it’s time to consider the ramifications of their presence as a force in five years time, with perhaps six or seven TDs if they play their cards right.
But let’s turn once more to the Greens who in yet another gravity defying feat managed to increase their share from 7% to 9%? How on earth is this being achieved? I genuinely don’t understand it. If I’m puzzled, and I’ll bet many GP members are too, then the incomprehension down at Government buildings must be a sight to behold. Because after all, this surely wasn’t part of the plan in June of this year. Wasn’t the idea that the Greens would soak up criticism of the government with their middle class whinging over the environment and their zany carbon taxes? By contrast Ahern et al would appear statesmanlike and sensible for deigning to invite the loons into the tent and half-listening to their pronouncements. Even better, issues such as incinerators and the M3 could be expedited as judiciously as possible while the Greens would take the heat and the rap.
Odd isn’t it that that is far from the way it’s worked out? I can’t help thinking that this is one instance where FF have been too clever by half. Great to dump those issues on the laps of Ryan and Gormley, to the genuine discomfiture of the new Ministers. But wait! It seems that to a very real degree almost no-one is that pushed about those issues. Some planners must wonder why they didn’t just route the road across the hill, for all the upset it’s actually causing. Shannon might as well play host to legions of US troops for all the interest that has evoked. And while the incinerator has real political potential as a problem for one GP TD in particular, well, hey, if anything there seems to be some sympathy developing abroad as regards the way in which the GP was left holding those particular parcels. And the near-tedious reiteration by Ahern that Gormley couldn’t exercise any powers over the issues doesn’t make Gormley look bad – after all the current narrative that the electorate seems to be buying into is that ‘the poor man is simply doing his best, and fair dues to him for going up against the shrewdest and most cunning of them all’ – it just makes Ahern and FF appear somewhat duplicitous. Add to that the continual Green mantra of ‘we’re here to save the whole world, don’t blame us if some bits of it get mislaid in the process’ which continues to have an enduring power.
I’ve suggested before that that latter message might get old. It surely will in time. But, there’s two aspects to front-loading issues. If I were the GP I’d get the incinerator out of the way pronto (although this will be a serious problem for the Minister in 2012). In fact I’d clear the decks of all the post-dated FF decisions. And then… settle down, exercise the power they can and hope that all things being equal they’ll make it to the finish line.
And what a line. A 9% rating. Now that’s a base to build on, after all, there’s a whole heap of former floating and PD voters, broadly middle class, suspicious of but not pathological about Fianna Fáil and so forth, who might well like an edge to their politics. Save the planet as well? Why that’ll do nicely.