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A few more thoughts on the polls… December 31, 2010

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics, The Left.

It’s now so close to the end of the year, and the unlikelihood of any further developments on the polling front (though recent political developments such as the ‘retirement’ of one B. Ahern have interesting implications for local contests) mean that the latest crop will presumably stand until the end of January. A lifetime in politics, and instructive to see if that break is something of a breather for a Fianna Fáil now hardly able to believe the straits to which it has come.

By the way, hitherto I’d always written off the idea that the Croke Park agreement was some sort of sop to the unions by FF – not least because the terms were vastly less generous than I’d have thought they’d be if that were the case, though interesting that the IMF, for all the huffing and puffing in the usual quarters, saw no problem with those terms. But anyhow, now I’m beginning to wonder. Sure, it looks like FF used Croke Park as a means of buying time with the unions, and more importantly a union membership who – one suspects – had there been a more, shall we say, energetic response earlier in the day might have provided a genuine bulwark against what was taking place and not merely in the more constrained context of PS employees but much more widely for workers across the economy. But the suspicion must remain that as with pensions they also sought to minimise future damage to them, and could turn around in 2016 and say, ‘well, we didn’t go back to the well’. Of course all the preceding paragraph is positioned not within a left critique but within the orthodox analysis.

If so it clearly didn’t work, at least not so far. Nothing has staunched the flow of support away from FF, perhaps, in fact more likely than not, due to the excessive rhetoric about these matters that they used early on and which their cheerleaders in the media were all too keen to add to the swelling chorus. FF may yet rue the day Harris was brought into the Seanad, though it doesn’t do to overstate his influence.

Anyhow, if that was indeed the situation then FF has learned a useful lesson, though too late. Don’t screw over your support base. Ever. And if you’re going to do bad things to said base [and not in the True Blood sense of the term, although, now I think about it…] you really have to sugar the pill, something this administration simply couldn’t get their heads around for reasons that one could only ascribe to being in power far far too long. I’m no fan of one B. Ahern, or indeed a certain C. Haughey before him, but at previous points in our economic history where cuts were made the pointless and self-defeating (from an FF perspective) anti-Public Sector rhetoric we’ve had displayed in more recent times was much much less in evidence.

Still all those figures from the polls are remarkable. Okay, not all, but enough.

People who formerly voted FF (and perhaps some long time LP supporters) want an alternative, not necessarily a lot of people, 3 or 4 per cent filtering from Labour to SF. But small parties have lived on that sort of vote for quite some time. Another thought, they’re not going to the parties further to the left in huge numbers, at least not in numbers given that the Independents/Other figure isn’t rising dramatically. So the message is that they don’t entirely buy the LP propositions, have haltingly gone leftwards to SF as it has articulated at least some defiance to the orthodoxy, and only some are going much further.

A lot to consider there.

Is it that this society has always had a space for a left of Labour party? That’s obviously true in some respects, from Clann na Poblachta onwards there has been clear room for a radical party. The same is true of the WP during the 1980s and in a lesser way both the DL vote in the 1990s and the GP vote in the latter part of the 1990s and on into the 2000s. The Sinn Féin vote during that last period also seems to align with that model, and perhaps indicates that there was room for a number of left of Labour parties (granted the GP hasn’t exactly lived up to expectations on that front). For those who point to the SP, and others, well, the numbers returned remain on the low side for that model. Now, if the SP sees a breakthrough in 2011 above one TD returned it too may be added to the mix.

Of course the polling numbers going to both the LP and to SF are much greater than those that sustained those parties. That’s a step change – at least if it continues, and no wonder we keep hearing the calls about a ‘new party’ in the media. This must disturb at least some on the right of centre that the movement has been essentially leftward across the last three years, even if it has been to the rather mild centrism with a dash of liberal leftism of the LP. In fact in polling terms it’s all been leftwards with FG simply not soaking up the ex FF vote.

I’d love to see that as evidence of a left support bloc, but I’m not so sure. Yes, there appears to be a core group of 20 – 25 per cent who vote for centre left and left parties and crucially this includes the Labour Party, Sinn Féin (at least drawing support from this grouping), smaller parties and left Independents. But there’s a broader pool of people, probably in or around 20 to 25 per cent who will vote leftish in the right circumstances. That ‘ish’ contains within it a fairly variegated crew, those who’d vote Labour but never Sinn Féin – and vice versa. All will get a nod. There are a lot of ‘liberals’ in there who it’s far from socialism were reared. And there are those who are passing through, seeking ‘alternatives’, however nebulously these might be defined. They might vote PD in one decade, LP the next, GP the next. There’s not that many of them, but they’re there alright.

How to pull that together is such a huge issue that I don’t know a way it could be done in the short to medium term. And how to pull it together so that it dominates FF/FG is another question entirely (indeed many would shy away from my not including the LP on the centre right of the spectrum). And with the LP in proto-apostate mode as regards government formation with FG there’s not exactly a lot of optimism on that score.

But I guess the positive aspect of this is that now the formations of the centre and left seem to be cohering to some degree and that support is coalescing around various centre left and left poles. In that context the transfer patterns will be useful indicators as to how this all plays out, but, that said the simple fact is that hitherto if has generally been Fine Gael that has benefited most from Labour Party transfers. To change that culture will take quite some time.

But, that’s not to say that it’s impossible. What happens next, across the next three to six months, in terms of the left – in the broadest sense of that definition, is crucial.


1. Al - January 1, 2011

The exploration of whether there was a space to Labour’s left and an attempt to consider how big it was, where its located, whether it has previously been tapped successfully etc was attempted here:



2. Al - January 1, 2011

fine article by yourself as well WBS, as usual. fair olay to for the hard work and a great 2011 to you


3. WorldbyStorm - January 2, 2011

Thanks for that and the link.

Incidentally reading the SFKeepLeft piece I was struck by a slight tangent on foot of the observation that say Dublin North is particularly strong for the SP. It’s funny how different constituencies have different strengths of parties on the ground. For example in Dublin Central my own the WP never had any real traction across the 80s because Gregory made it his own, but this had a knock on effect later with the space for SF being just barely insufficient to gain a seat, so far. It’s amazing how first mover status really dictates not just for a few years but for decades who on the left will take a seat.


4. AL - January 2, 2011


I also have been very struck by how the “first mover” has an advantage recently and that is as a result of reading furhter on 19th century history.

The first movers for the Left may arguably have been the IRB tradition whose secular, democratic ethos was in strong conflict with the Catholic establishment church and Irish party. A conflict which has shaped Irish history for decades. While Tony G may have claimed the DC as his own he did so as part of a continuing tradition rather than creating his own tradition. Similarly both SF and the WP would have been part of the same tradition – challenging the established and effectively unbroken tradition of Home rule style catholic politicians.

This i think has been one of FFs strenghts – they purported to be the voice of the outsiders and so had a huge working class/rural vote but at the same time were hampered by thinking republicanism was how your (gran-)dad voted. As a result they became just like the Irish Party – preaching sedition in Ireland and America but taking the oath in Westminister i.e slamming the govt. in Dublin but voting with them in the dail.

The ultimate story of Irish politics is not that we have 2 center-right parties but that we have 2 factions of the Irish Party still existing.


WorldbyStorm - January 2, 2011

That seems very persuasive AL, and I’m particularly intrigued by the idea that these are traditions that stretch further back (ie. that preexisting Gregory vote, etc… by the way, there’s another interesting tangent on just why north inner city out to Clontarf has an Indo tradition as well).

The idea of FF locking into the something like the IP (albeit in a different form) is very interesting too.

That’s a lot of food for thought there alone.


Budapestkick - January 2, 2011

That’s a really interesting analysis actually AL. Do you mind me asking if you’re researching 19th c. history towards any particular purpose or just out of interest?


5. AL - January 2, 2011

well no other interest than it being of importance to determine how to scrap this state Budapestkick 😉

so its maninly out of interest and a desire to set my own political position on firm ground.

2 books I have found very interesting in the above regard were Eoin o’ Broin’s Left Republicanism and Owen McGee’s IRB book.

Must try to flesh out more my understanding on this as i would like to have feedback and criticism to deepeen my own thinking on this.

will have to wait till i am back to normal after christmas period but would welcome at some stage to share those thoughts with you on this site (and of course on one other site)


WorldbyStorm - January 2, 2011

That would be great AL.


6. AL - January 2, 2011

By the way Budapestkick feedback/criticism on the monolithic article would also be very welcome as i think its somewhat related to this type of analysis


7. AL - January 2, 2011

by the way lads this is frm garibaldy’s sindo review:

In third place, a jaw-dropping suggestion from Páidí Ó Sé (April 25th)

But having said that, we desperately need leadership on the question of the rural social crisis, and who better than the priests

Wouldnt that fit in just grand to the above idea


WorldbyStorm - January 2, 2011

Very much so.


8. John Meehan - January 4, 2011

Listen here to an in-depth interview with Labour Leader Eamonn Gilmore on coalition options after the next general election – he rules out coalition with either Fianna Fáil or Sinn Féin, and rules in coalition with Fine Gael – suggesting, contrary to recent opinion poll evidence, that Labour could poll better than the party led by Enda Kenny – the only positive spot is a clear commitment to legislation on the Supreme Court X Case to partially legalise abortion following the recent European Court of Human Rights Judgment. Once again, Labour chooses the kamikaze option of coalition with the right – Gilmore’s party heads for the same black hole currently inhabited by the Green Party.



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