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Fianna Fáil: An interesting proposition by Stephen Collins. March 15, 2011

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

Stephen Collins this last weekend mused on the plight of Fianna Fáil and he came to the following conclusion:

… it will take a lot of luck and political courage for Fianna Fáil to find a similar trajectory. One of the key messages of the election was that the Irish electorate is relatively conservative. Positioning itself as a responsible centre party is Fianna Fáil’s best hope of recovering a sizeable chunk of the votes Fine Gael “borrowed” from it this time around.

Now one has to factor in a few issues here. Firstly Collins has never been -ahem – the most radical of commentators – at least not in terms of the left, though his affection for the PDs was never much concealed, so softly softly might well be the order of the day.

Nor are the facts he marshals to support his argument entirely convincing. For example he extrapolates from an internal report FG did in 2002 which conveniently for him … “identified a commitment to financial responsibility in dealing with the public finances and pledges to reform the public service and the health system as crucial to the party’s long- term prospects”. But also saw the future for the party in the ‘progressive centre’ whatever that may be. And which also noted that…[this]:

…charted the likely electoral consequences for Fine Gael if it did not change tack. It forecast that by 2012 its support in a general election would decline to 13.9 per cent if the electoral trend of the previous 20 years remained the same. Instead it has managed to replace Fianna Fáil as the biggest party in the State in 2011.

From which he posits…

The fact that Fine Gael could reverse the graph so dramatically shows what can be achieved…

Erm… okay, except that the circumstances that led to the outcome of this election were exceptional on almost every level and hardly are about to be repeated.

But the chance, and my God, it’s an outside one, that FF might tilt leftwards seems to concern him – which seems to be the thrust of his argument when he says:

There will be a real temptation, particularly as it will be competing with Sinn Féin and the various left-wing TDs, to revert to populist opposition rather than the constructive approached initially promised by Martin.
However, Fianna Fáil risks making itself look foolish by opposing the very same policies it started to implement in the autumn of 2008 when it belatedly woke up to the nature of the economic and financial crisis.

I’m not sure if he should be that worried. The current FF has lost all the actual radicalism of the original version, even if that radicalism was moderated by religious and economic influences. The idea that Micheál Martin, who seems the safest of safe hands, is about to go left is near risible.

But that may present FF with a real problem.

The current dispensation is in a way characterized by a rush to the centre ground, or perhaps centre right ground. A lot was made of people returning to Labour at the end of the campaign as the threat of a rampant Fine Gael became a little too much for some voters to stomach. That may or may not be the case, or more accurately it may overstate it, but there did seem to be some shift in the final days. The idea of the party of Varadker et al however much he himself strengthened the FG campaign in the mid period, may have concentrated minds.

But that being the case how does that work for Fianna Fáil?

Because why vote for a ‘responsible centre party’ called Fianna Fáíl, when one can as easily vote for one called Labour, or if one squints real hard for one called Fine Gael [in the sense that Fine Gael is further to the right].

And while it is entirely true that no middling to major Irish party ever went bankrupt by playing the opposition card, and FF least of all, the reality is that this is not a party that has much credibility and nor is it likely to given that the ramifications of this crisis will remain with us for quite some time. Sure – Fine Gael and Labour can’t play that card indefinitely, but since it’s hardly been used by them so far there’s plenty of life in it yet, and perhaps for long enough to keep FF pinned down.

For those not content with the most recent election campaign I guess there’s always the next local elections to look forward to where we’ll get a better impression of matters. Or, the first batch of polling data on the position of the political parties following the election. Most intriguing is the question as to whether there will be any degree of buyers remorse on the part of the electorate.

My guess, not so much. This was a result that almost uniquely gave everyone something to be satisfied about, bar Fianna Fáil, and on their percentage of the vote they were nearly – though not quite irrelevant. Labour could point, and will continue to do so you can bet, to their historic high. Fine Gael likewise. The left in all its manifestations likewise again. Even the new fringe of avowedly economic right Independents could be at least partially satisfied given that their king over the water, or up at the Sindo, Deputy Ross to you and me, is now safe in the first chamber of our democracy.

Truth is that it’s difficult for a populist party to emerge from an unpopular party. And as of the moment Fianna Fáil is a profoundly unpopular party. I’d strongly recommend people go and listen to this radio documentary which AK of Irish Election Literature Blog posted a link to here, to study the depth of unpopularity for the party on its previous turf.

That has important ramifications. How to run sufficient candidates at the next election, not for government – few in FF can harbour such hopes – but for survival and improvement. How to mobilise the troops that remain, let alone to find new ones in the intervening time period. How to prevent a drift to other parties and Independents.

Can FF return? Why yes, of course. Just as the last four or so years whittled away its popularity, so the next four or five could see some resurgence. Will it ever be the party it was? That remains to be seen. But I’d tend to think not.

For those of you who remember when the thought of Fianna Fáil in coalition was anathema to them consider now the gulf that has opened up between then and now. How far the party has fallen. How little it has left. How much to make up and how hollow the rhetoric of a national movement.

And in that sense, even if it recaptures ten, twenty or thirty seats, which would still leave it thirty short of a majority, it can never come back to what it was.

As long as FG doesn’t pick up the remaining slack that will be no bad thing at all for this democracy and this polity.


1. EamonnCork - March 15, 2011

‘Populist’, the dirty word du jour for the proponents of right wing realism.
The only word that’s going to get more use this year is ‘maturity,’ which will be used around a million times in articles about The Royal Visit.


2. Jonnathan - March 15, 2011

The issue of FF is not about Left or Right but more importantly the very soul of the party, which is indeed rotten to it’s very core. FF have to be seen for what they are, that is a pseudo-criminal mafia.I do not wish to be melodramatci, however, I feel saying otherwise would not be truthful. Mickey Martini may wish to “re-invent” the party, however, he really should not be allowed and should be savaged by our, by and large, conservative media.
My fear is that things will become so bad that the current Government will quickly become so unpopular that FF will merely wait in the wings.
FF are the party of Haughey, Lawlor, Burke, Ahern et al, need I say more, history and various tribunals have spoken.


3. EamonnCork - March 15, 2011

If I was FF I would beware of the counsel of people who assured them that they would be rewarded for their ‘tough decisions’ and ‘responsible government’ by the electorate. Look where that advice got them. Their only hope of electoral revival lies in a totally opportunistic decision to oppose the austerity measures of the current government. Then, as they did following the 1987 election, they could get in and implement the very sort of thing they affected to despise.


4. Jonnathan - March 16, 2011

Who cares if FF disappear? They are the party who led this country to economic armageddon and are the party of corruption and criminality. They have no credibility and NEVER will. Irish people have to grow up and have higher standards. Let’s forget about FF.


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