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“something DIFFERENT”: That right of centre political party… February 7, 2012

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics, The Left.
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I’ve got to mention Marc Coleman’s contention [as mentioned here ] that in the Sunday BUsiness Post poll the weekend before last the:

21% support of Ind shows huge latent support for a new centre right party (left crowded by Lab, ULA, SF & centre left by FF, FG RedC poll”

And not only, but also:

@handelaar We have 2 centrist (slightly left) parties already FF,FG. ALL parties are Liberal on social issues. We need something DIFFERENT.”

It’s an incredible notion that FF and FG are ‘centrist (slightly left)’ and it’s a fascinating insight into how some view the political spectrum. But the idea that the 21 per cent of Independents indicate ‘huge latent support for a new centre right party’ is of greater interest for a number of reasons.

I thought initially that he looked at the headline FG figure of 30 per cent, deducted 6 per cent from their 36.1 per cent tally at the last election and thought ‘that’s 6 per cent they lost which is sufficient for a right of centre party to hang out in’. I suspect he also thought that the 6 per cent went over the Independents and that its complexion was right of centre. But looking again at his original statement I’m not so sure.

But is there any validity in either instance? Let’s go digging at the data.

Consider the 21 per cent Independents first.

Now I don’t want to confuse the current Independent representatives with the Independent support amongst the electorate, but given that they are the purest manifestation of same one has to assume that that latter support reflects them to some degree and vice versa.

It’s already been noted that of the 21 per cent support includes support for the ULA parties and Independent socialists, the Independent left TDs, of which there are currently 6 or 7 in the Technical Group. The left and further left accounts for over half of the TDs . The rest? Well there’s a varied assortment of local TDs whose true political home is probably not that far removed from Mount Street and would provide thin material for a new centre right party, not least because they were elected as ‘Independents’ and that is the brand they promote.

Which leaves Shane Ross and Stephen Donnelly [and perhaps at a real push Noel Grealish] as TDs who could be regarded as centre right. There’s an immediate problem with Coleman’s ‘analysis’. Both Ross and Donnelly are… er… ‘Liberal on social issues’. But whatever about Donnelly, Ross is by all accounts entirely uninterested in a new party of the right [and although perhaps if only 2 FG TDs were elected to Dublin South at the last election the fact that 3 were perhaps makes any likelihood of him hooking up with that party, ‘in the national interest’ of course, unlikely. FG might like him, but they don’t need him and can’t seriously expect to take four seats in that constitutency].

Which makes one wonder where this ‘something DIFFERENT’ is going to come from. Because far from that 21% being evidence of an unrequited yearning on the part of the electorate for a Progressive Democrats redux I think its longevity perhaps indicates a degree of satisfaction with the current crew. Consider by contrast the fortunes of the Independents in the last Dáil which in the period between May 2007 [according to IT polls] and September 2010 never rose above 11 per cent and for most of that time varied between 9 and 10 per cent. Note that all of those Independents elected who contested the 2011 election were returned. Important to remember too that the GP vote was recorded separately, but that never went above 4 per cent and for most of that time varied between 2 and 3 per cent. So it’s the extra 7 or 8 per cent that has flowed towards the Independent vote that is most interesting. Again the polls suggest that most of that originally came from Fianna Fáil [though intriguingly there’s the possibility that in recent times it also came from former FF voters who voted Labour at the last election].

Here’s the thing though. Coleman ignores a basic fact. As the Backroom column in the Sunday Business Post the week before last notes:

We sometimes forget that FG went into the 2011 election with the most avowedly centre-right manifesto of any party in years.

In preparing that manifesto FG managed to eradicate the last vestiges of Garret FitzGerald’s crusade to turn FG from a Christian Democratic party into a Social Democratic one.

So the electorate had the option of a centre-right party, and still does, it being the primary one in government. The former PD voters had Varadker et all to keep them warm and comfy, and still do.

Even if one accepts that that party has suffered a degree of attrition that still doesn’t mean that the votes are there in the Independents/Others for such a party.

But wait, what about that drop from 36 per cent to 30 per cent for Fine Gael in the latest poll? Where did that 6 per cent go? Bluntly speaking we know about 1 per cent has gone back to Fianna Fáíl [ah yes, there remarkable resurgence – copyright all papers in the aftermath of the last by-election, which they managed not to gain a seat at – continues apace]. The GP has gained 2 per cent. Sinn Féin’s gains of 7 per cent seem to have come at the expense of the LP, though perhaps some former FF voters who went over to FG tilted back towards SF – not impossible. But if we argue it was a straight switch then so far we’ve accounted for 3 per cent, 1 per cent FF/2 per cent GP. Where is the other 3 per cent?

Consider this. At the last election the combined Ind/Other vote and GP vote stood at 17.2 per cent. This was made up of 15.4 per cent for Ind/Others and 1.8 per cent for the GP. What’s changed? It now stands at 21 per cent, of which 3 per cent is GP, 1 per cent is SP and Ind/Others accounts for 17 per cent. That means that the Ind/Others, excluding SP and GP, have gained to 1.6 per cent since February 25th 2011. If that is the total ‘gain’ from Fine Gael, and of course the reality is that the flux in votes is probably a lot more complex, then that’s not really sufficient for this ‘new’ right of centre party to subsist upon. At best a couple of percent, maybe a little more, maybe a little less. But nowhere near 20 per cent.

There are other issues too, returning to that issue of what the current crop of Independent TDs present to the world it is a face that even in its most rightwards extent is oppositional in the extreme to the policies of the current government. That may seem like a detail, but it is not an unimportant one.

Even to argue that the GP vote is indicative of a masked PD vote doesn’t make a lot of sense. At best we’re talking small percentages floating around who might, might, be tempted towards a new PD party. And this is to ignore the ignominious end of the PDs whose received 2.7 per cent of the vote in 2007. Other parties live and die within such percentages. Not the leaders of men and women that were the PDs, not even with 2 TDs re-elected to the Dáil and two Senators.

By the way, I’m not arguing for a moment that a new right of centre party wouldn’t get some support, nor that there is indeed as already mentioned a degree of ‘flux’ in that Independent vote, but if Coleman thinks it’s anything like the 21 per cent of the current Indo/Others, or a reasonable fraction thereof, he’s in for a surprise.

Interestingly Backroom notes:

The political competition is now on the centre left [and not Coleman’s centre left, either – wbs]. Both FF and SF are wooing disgruntled Labour voters. many of these opted to vote LP in the final weeks of the campaign.

Over on the centre-right end of the spectrum, there is no one putting any serious pressure on FG. Maybe this goes some way towards explaining FG’s decent polling numbers.

Backroom argues:

The time is now ripe for a PD style party, committed to shrinking the size of government, but there is no one with the charisma or reputation of a Des O’Malley or Mary Harney to lead it.

But that’s the very point. FG has no competition because it is sufficiently right of centre, and what government, actual or foreseeable, in the next five years or longer is not going to be de facto ‘committed to shrinking the size of government’ egged on by our new masters in Europe?

They don’t need a new PD style party. Not while the current crew are in charge.

Comments»

1. Clive Sullish - February 7, 2012

I see Eamon Coughlan has joined Fine Gael – following in the footsteps of Lord Sebastian Coe (just as he did during his athletics career)

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2. Oireachtas Retort - February 7, 2012

Not like Marc to exaggerate things

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3. Julian Assandwich - February 7, 2012

I think a new Social Liberal Party is the missing cog in the Irish spectrum.

Our present Labour Party could nearly be described as such if you look at the policies it pursues and the character of the party itself. Were an actual Social Liberal Party to emerge(say through Stephen Donnelly) it would exert a massive pressure upon Labour from the right. With the ULA pulling from the left, Labour would not have long before being overran and we would finally have clear distinctions (and class cleavages) between the parties.

A Social Liberal Party would also chisel away at FG, the likes of Matthews and urban types like maybe Eoghan Murphy and Matthews. FG would be left a rural, conservative party in comparison – which is what they are but for the odd bit of window-dressing.

The question is, does the Green Party already perform this role? Who remembers the pre-2007 talk of the Greens overtaking Labour? Bronwen Maher(?) of the Clontarf area was one of a few defections iirc. I think the besuited Eamonn Ryan’s victory against Kilkenny man Malcolm Noonan in the leadership election and Roderic O’Gorman of Castleknock becoming the new chairperson cemented this future for them. They could have a very good election next time around and recover to their usual 4-5percent support(3pc already) by orienting to disaffected urban middle class FG voters.

The breakdown in the economy is being matched by the breakdown/regeneration of the “2 and a half party system.” Come the next election will Fine Gael be wiped out like FF or just be temporarily cut down to their base of 50 seats? Have Sinn Fein risen to be a new “half”(or a whole with FF?)? Will the Greens in the medium term take over Labour’s “half”(or form a half with them?), From “FF v FG-Lab” via “SF-FF v FG-Lab-GRN” to “SF v FG-GRN”? It would appear this cycle can only be broken by forcing a civil-war party coalition.

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4. irishelectionliterature - February 7, 2012

Quite a few Independents that contested the election were to the right of Fine Gael. I’d hazard at least a third. Problem for them was that they weren’t well known.
They would have been along the lines of Ross and Donnelly with regard to burning bondholders and having ‘small’ government. There would have been a number that mentioned Croke Park too.
(I’ll try and do up a list at some stage)

Were a credible leader to emerge there is definitely a gap in the market to the right of Fine Gael. They may have had a right wing manifesto but to many they are not living up to expectations.

How?
-They are bringing in extra taxes such as the property tax.
-Social Welfare hasn’t been cut (this is a thing I hear regularly in relation to ‘sharing the pain’, the Communion allowance cut was manna from heaven in that the ‘they get allowances for everything’ argument was dragged out)
– The Public sector haven’t all lost their jobs and are not (in the main) working for peanuts (Yet)
– They have not changed the Upward only rents
– They haven’t told the bondholders to sling their hook
– They are paying back the promisory notes so the money can be destroyed….
and more

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5. Diana Prince - February 8, 2012

Not sure that Stephen Donnelly can be put in the rightist libertarian small-government brigade. I suspected that about him at the time of the election but having listened to him over the last while, I think he is not too far right of the old social democratic mode, maybe close to Fine Gael’s conscience wing (of the past) and would be comfortable in Labour were it not for their perceived Union attachment. He was very anti the cuts to lone parents supports, afaik in a progressive way rather than the socially conservative support -the-mammies-stay-tied-to-the-kitchen way.

Don’t think he’d be joining any party containing Marc Coleman. Can’t see anyone with any political intelligence doing that.

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WorldbyStorm - February 9, 2012

In fairness to him he’s run ith he SNA issue… And he’s by no means right it’ll his instincts but th union thing is a tell.

Re your last point, spot on.

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