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Support for a National Government… some interesting findings April 24, 2009

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, The Left.

I’m indebted to an anonymous contributor (I’ll spare their blushes) for forwarding me a recent RedC survey that polls public sentiment towards a National Government. With a sample of 1000 I’m prepared to give it some credibility.

The Survey posits the question:

Give the current economic crisis, would you support the idea of forming a National Government that would include all parties in the Dáil?

I’m a bit surprised by the findings which are as follows:

Breaking it down by voting intentions. 61% of FF voters supported it as against 38% against. 60% of FG voters supported it against 37%. A big jump to 70% of Labour voters as against 26% not. A further jump to 74% of Sinn Féin voters supporting as against 24% not. A further significant jump of 86% of Green party voters in favour as against 11% not. And for Independents it was 75% in favour as against 23% not.

So, the strongest opposition doesn’t come from the left of centre parties but instead from the centre and centre right parties.

Now, a number of thoughts strike me. Firstly this seems to indicate that sentiment on the left might be less absolutely against National Government than I’d have thought. Of course these are voters, or potential voters, not activists, so party opinions may be different. But that said there does in the figures appear to be data to support some intriguing contentions. Firstly one could understand that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael would have a significant aversion to sharing power with each other. Hence the higher figures amongst their supporters against the idea. Secondly the other parties, with the obvious exception of the GP, are out of Government, so – and look closely at the wording of the piece, it goes ‘all parties in the Dáil – any engagement with national politics at that level would be welcome. And the enthusiasm of the Green Party? Well, I’d suspect that might be because it would, so to speak, spread the ‘pain’ of cohabiting with FF around. This, incidentally, isn’t all that painful. The Party seems quite happy in government. Long gone are the days when a GP activist looked at me uncomprehending when about five years ago I suggested that a fast route to power would be to pitch towards an FF/GP coalition (which of course is now, with the more or less expedient demise of the PDs, what we have).

I’ve written here that I think National Government would be a mistake. But in fairness to Dan Boyle, at least he has figures to back up his contention that there is sentiment for greater cooperation with the opposition on the financial crisis. Problem is, and I like DB considerably, while cooperation is fine it’s the actions that it is about and around which is the source of contention.

Although, although, it would make sense from the point of view of smaller parties for them to gain experience in government. An argument that was central to the decision taken by the Green Party in 2007 and a useful explanation of some of the shifts and turns of our other two larger small left parties during that same year on policy issues.

And for all the cant about higher moral ground I’m entirely certain that there is no ‘left’ party that given the choice wouldn’t have entered government then and wouldn’t remain in government now. That’s not cynicism, simply the result of knowing and talking to many of those on who the decision to do so would have rested at that time. In a way that’s one reason why I tend to eschew supporting a party. It’s less disappointing. On the other hand I’m aware that that also allows for the luxury of never having to take responsibility for certain political actions.

I’ve mentioned before the pernicious consensus on low taxes which persuaded both SF and Labour in the run-up to the last election to amend their policy platforms (on corporate and income tax respectively). Again in fairness to the Green Party of all the smaller parties with representation in the Oireachtas it was the only one to argue explicitly for higher taxation (and isn’t that an illustration of being careful what you wish for). But as pernicious, in some respects at least, is the idea that parties of the left can only go it alone, that vying for position in government alone is the name of the game. While that may make tactical sense on some levels it continues to cede the possibility of truly left led coalitions to the right.

And returning to the figures above maybe it’s time to look at them again and wonder how a coherent left response in a National Government might influence the shape of debate. Would an avowedly left ‘bloc’ within such a government willing to operate with more progressively inclined members of other parties have any momentum or would it, yet again, simply be a symbol of our decline? And to ask that question is to ask precisely what a National Government would be and how it would operate. I know the belief on the centre right is that this would be something akin to a soft PD led government writ large. But it’s worth questioning the fundamentals that supposedly under pin that viewpoint.


1. Justin - April 24, 2009

A national governement of Centre and Centre-Right parties would be a great idea as it would paper over the wafer-thin ideological cracks that separate FF and FG. But why should Left parties automatically wish to enter into such an alliance if they are bound to exercise very little power?

Of course, the same applies to any plans that Labour might have to ressurect the Rainbow Coalition after the next election. Surely, anger with the government is so pronounced at this time that Labour can -without fear of oblivion- promise its voters that it will NOT enter into any coalition with FF or FG.

This will almost certainly “doom” it to opposition after the next election but it will transform the political landscape and leave the room open for real Left advances in society. (The issue of accepting or not accepting overtures from SF is quite separate.)

The Coalition game really only benefits the Right and its interests. As it stands, whatever the LP spin-doctors might say, a vote for Labour is in relaity a vote for a FG/ Labour coalition. A case of, “The Coalition is dead! Long Live the Coalition!”


2. Pidge - April 24, 2009

Considering the Greens’ roots in consensus politics, that could explain why they’d be predisposed to a national government. (Something which, to be honest, I don’t really see the point of.)


3. CL - April 24, 2009

The only difference between the parties in power and the opposition on the economic crisis is rhetorical.
But as the deflationary meltdown continues, and as the govt. seeks to placate international capital by imposing further austerity measures, by joining a ‘national’ govt. the opposition would lose even this rhetorical advantage.
So much as the Greens would love to share the blame they’re stuck: they share responsibility with F.F. and so must bear the consequences.


4. Fergal - April 24, 2009

If one were cyncical about it we’ve had a national government of sorts since the first coalition government in the 70s,with a few dissenting voices in the margins.At this stage it’s hard to tell the parties apart.Greens with FF,ex PDs joining FG,FF+Lab,FG,Lab,DL and so on.A very simple approach for left parties is to continuously bring up what Justin calls “the wafer thin ideological cracks” between FF and FG,untill the public is blue in the face of hearing it.On radio,in debates,on TV, at public meetings, in newspapers “what is the difference between FF and FG?” should become a mantra- like question used by all leftists.Then any progressive bloc will need to come up with a simple and clearly defined programme/manifesto…..that’s another day’s work!


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