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More on Labour and Fine Gael… July 22, 2010

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, The Left.

Actually, dovetailing neatly with E. Gilmore’s latest thoughts, there’s a great piece, albeit not necessarily for the right reasons, in last Sunday’s Business Postin the Backroom Column which argues that: Opposition must beware the dangers of mutual aggression

It starts with the compelling idea that:

The cumulative effect of recent polls has been to herald a new paradigm in Irish politics.

Barring a Lazarus-like recovery, Fianna Fáil appears doomed to an electoral hammering in the next election.

Even if that party rises from the mid 20s where it is becalmed, it is difficult to see it getting much above 30 per cent of the popular vote.

This is all true and all fascinating. But, I think it may be ignoring another ‘new paradigm’, which is the rise of the Labour Party. In fairness it touches on that…

In these circumstances, the real issue will be which of the current opposition parties benefits most from the decline of the great beast of Irish politics.

This new political landscape poses serious issues for the backrooms in both Fine Gael and Labour.

There have already been signs that some in both parties are turning their firepower on their colleagues in opposition.

Which is hardly surprising, each is jockeying for position. The obvious reading of the Fine Gael leadership heave debacle was that it was precipitated not so much by a fear that FG wouldn’t be in government next time around, or indeed even – realistically speaking – leading that government, but that it would have as its partner a Labour Party that was many times larger than it had expected, a Labour Party that would soak up all those cabinet positions (junior and senior) that the great and the good and the relatively new and now evidently and demonstrably inexperienced in FG had seen as their political birthright.

In other words the paradigm was here and it was no longer an issue of if they won, but how they won. Quite a significant shift from the past.

Little wonder that a Labour Party, for so long waiting at the church but never bride or groom, has sought to press home its advantage…

Labour has been running online advertisements under the banner ‘‘Fed up with Fine Gael?” with respondents being directed to the Labour website.

The Gilmore for Taoiseach banners, born in a fit of supreme optimism have now gained a currency which few anticipated.

By playing up its trump card of Eamon Gilmore, Labour is automatically highlighting the weakness of Enda Kenny’s poll ratings.

But Kenny’s ratings aren’t isolated, they exist within a matrix of forces, one of which is the clear advantage Gilmore has in presentational terms. The other being the obvious problem one centre right party has in attempting to supplant another centre right party with much the same message as the first. There are indeed distinct differences between FF and FG, but at times like this with FF a busted flush – as it were – those distinctions seem less different than hitherto, particularly with the youngish moderniser, however nebulous that may actually be, in the shape of one E. Gilmore waiting to sweep the RoI electorate off its feet.

And this has turned into a hot war.

Some skirmishing about the respective strengths of their leaders broke out during the local, European and by elections in June last year until the respective backrooms sorted out a truce.

On the Fine Gael side, a few senior members have complained about Labour’s low output on policy, compared to the larger party’s Fair Care, New Era and New Politics policy platform.

There is a certain resentment that Labour’s populist ‘‘no hard/unpopular policies’’ approach has yielded more polling points than FG’s slog on producing real policies.

But… but… it’s not as if Labour has said nothing (although the impacts of what it has said this last week remain to be seen), and more importantly such an analysis ignores almost entirely the small but not absolutely insignificant fact that even if one accepts that all three largest parties co-exist fairly closely on the Irish political spectrum there remains within FG a grouping that is well to the right of centre on economic issues and one that is viscerally antagonistic to the LP. Which means that the very concept of coalition between these two forces is made harder than it might otherwise be [which is not to say that it is impossible, or even unlikely] and that there is a tendency for a level of sniping between the parties not seen in a generation.

It would be wise if, over the summer months, the powers that be reflect on how to handle the tensions between the parties.

If badly managed, and if individuals are allowed to go off on solo runs, damage could be done to both parties’ ambitions and the focus might come off Fianna Fáil.

If either party decides to go on the attack in a sustained and aggressive manner, retaliation is certain to follow and then all bets will be off.

That’s a most interesting point. Given that a number of those who one might argue would be least affectionate to the LP in FG are now sidelined after the heave it will be telling if they articulate their disaffection openly. Although also tellingly the writer of the column seems to think that it is more likely that a verbal war will open up from the Labour side.

All of which seems highly ironic when one thinks back some years…

Before the last election, Fine Gael and Labour reached an unprecedented level of harmony and cooperation.

Remember September 2006, when Enda Kenny sprang Pat Rabbitte as the guest of honour at Fine Gael’s parliamentary party think-in?

A similar level of accord is not going to happen in the foreseeable future.

It surely isn’t.

This occupant of the Backroom has pointed out before that, while Fine Gael strategists would prefer to see the party vote rising, the next best option is that Labour’s vote increases.

Neither party should engage in a slanging-match which will prevent their leaders recommending that voters continue their preferences to the other when the election comes. Such an old style transfer pact would solidify the anti-Fianna Fáil message and aid both parties’ efforts to maximise their seat return.

Hmmm… can’t see that happening. It’s certainly not to Labour’s advantage if they do get candidates in place to have their voters fritter away their transfers on FG. And of course the same is true of FG in what is suddenly a markedly more competitive electoral environment – at least as regards the LP.

It may be more difficult to keep the Labour lads in check.

The surge has given the rose wearers the kind of swagger that they used to accuse Fine Gael of exhibiting.

Their man can do no wrong at the moment. As cuts in services bite, he seems best positioned and equipped to empathise with those suffering.

However, as time passes, Gilmore will increasingly come under the spotlight.


Sooner or later, Gilmore and Labour will have to come off the fence on issues such as water charges and property taxes and their sotto voce support for income tax rises will eventually alienate current admirers.

I wonder there. Again, much of Labour’s newfound support appears to be from former FF voters. And the dynamic there has been one of being pushed overboard by FF’s prolonged attack on the public sector – a mistake I suspect FF won’t make again. Now I think some of that support may go home, but much of it probably won’t – given that it has stuck with LP so long, and I’m dubious that income taxes (and note how Gilmore batted away property taxes this week) will do Labour in. Ruling out LP leadership of an LP/FF coalition may be a different matter, but again, we’ll have to examine the next polls to see if there’s any evidence of how that plays with their new supporters.

It would be misguided for the new Fine Gael front bench to use some of its freshly-installed bruisers such as Michael Noonan and Sean Barrett to attack Labour.

The best way Fine Gael can counteract Labour’s advances is to sell its alternatives more passionately and aggressively.

In early to mid-September, each party will be holding its think-in, where they will setout their priorities for the coming Dáil session.

These conclaves will give the first signals from the parties on how they intend to cope with the new paradigm in Irish politics – and, in particular, how they will compete for the disaffected Fianna Fáil vote.

Funny thing is that Labour is already competing, and competing successfully, for that vote. Indeed the history of the last two years is one where it has managed to gain a lock on that vote and retain it through thick and thin. There’s little enough for them to discuss in the late Summer, short of looking around at each other and wondering how they managed to get to this point. And the corollary of that is that they may well see no reason whatsoever to change.

And in particular they may seen no reason to take advice that emanates from a source which one suspects isn’t a million miles from Fine Gael.


1. Ian - July 22, 2010

Quite ironic google ad above my comment


2. DC - July 22, 2010

FG are complaining that they are still not getting no respect, even after they have submitted their copy, showed their workings, and everything? Maybe its the palpable sense of entitlement thats putting people off?


3. ejh - July 22, 2010

The cumulative effect of recent polls has been to herald a new paradigm in Irish politics.

Need for a custard pie at “new paradigm”, I’m afraid.


WorldbyStorm - July 22, 2010

Hence my inverted comma’s… yeah, it’s grim, isn’t it?


4. YFG Conference Coverage – Irish Indo | Stephen Spillane - November 15, 2010

[…] More on Labour and Fine Gael… (cedarlounge.wordpress.com) […]


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