Rebooting Fianna Fáil… March 1, 2012Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics, The Left.
IELB has dealt with the first anniversary of Fianna Fáil’s decapitation earlier in the week, so I’m taking a very slightly different line.
First up I wrote most of the below before the news broke of the resignation of Ó Cuív as FF deputy leader and spokesperson on communications, energy and natural resources due to differences with the party line on the fiscal treaty. That has to be problematic, or as IELB said ‘Just what Fianna Fail needed a few days before their Ard Fheis weekend ‘. It is indeed. Where this might lead to is particularly interesting. Will Ó Cuív remain with a party that he is so clearly at odds with on one of the defining issues of the day – some might say the only issue of the day? If so, how does he square that with his own position? If not where does he go?
Pat Leahy too was exercised by the Ard Fheis. He suggests that Micheál Martin and the FF leadership, now much reduced like their representation, are thinking of offering an apologia, if not an outright apology, to the Irish people. Yes, one can see how tricky that might be. After all Martin was part of the Cabinet through the years any apology might cover.
Leahy argues that:
The party has seen a stabilisation in its support in the past year, and ranks ahead – though only just – of Sinn Fйin and the Labour Party in opinion polls. But it is still the object of considerable anger from many voters who blame Fianna Fбil-led governments for the economic crash, the EU/IMF bailout and the austerity policies that have followed.
What’s most notable is that the FF figures in RedC [others like the Sunday Times / Behaviour and Attitudes poll this last weekend seem to show very poor polling results] stabilised at the last election at 17.4%. They’ve varied relatively little and now are still stubbornly stuck at that point. Now, so have the Independent votes, although a clear relationship with the FF vote is difficult to discern. But consider how as the FG and LP votes, particularly the latter, have dipped significantly since that election, and as SF’s has risen considerably, there’s been no bonus whatsoever for Fianna Fáil.
Ladies and Gentlemen, we have found the FF core vote, or at least the current core vote, and it’s in or around 17/18 per cent.
And this has outcomes. They’re seemingly becalmed. Unable to profit from the woes of the Government, but apparently not dipping any lower. And all the while the newish kid on the block is making hay. Which makes Leahy’s next point well worth considering.
The political reality is that Fianna Fáil is now in a scrap with Sinn Fйin for the leadership of the opposition.
That seems true, and with only four or five TDs in the difference between them, and with an SF with a vastly more coherent and cohesive message, it is to my eyes a situation where SF is running away with that leadership. FF by contrast appear in the Dáil and outside it, hesitant, unable to fix upon a clear cut ideological position whether that is centre left or centre right, and still clearly demoralised by its losses last year.
However Leahy continues:
But despite the fears of many in the party, the threat that Sinn Fйin poses to Fianna Fбil is exaggerated – the evidence suggests that the two parties draw their support from different parts of the electorate.
In the last election, Fianna Fбil lost 25 per cent of the electorate; Sinn Fйin picked up 3 per cent. Fianna Fбil’s real targets are Fine Gael, Labour and the independents.
I agree with his logic in the first part. FF’s losses did not translate immediately to SF. 3 per cent was lower than they should have got and obviously had less impact.
But…and this is crucial, that was then and this is now.
FF didn’t just lose support, but it lost seats (and this on top of its losses at the last local elections). And it lost seats in Dublin while people like Mary Lou McDonald and Dessie Ellis gained seats. Now those weren’t necessarily the same seats – SFs gains in Dublin were more limited than might have been expected given they had to compete with both the LP and left Independents and the ULA, but as FF weakened it allowed, as in Dublin Central, both SF and FG candidates to slip forward. And now they’re in situ and – in the case of SF in particular – they’re able to operate whereas FF has none, not one TD in the city.
One doesn’t have to buy into a crass and un-useful BAC-centric narrative to see that this spells real trouble for that party. Take for example the Dublin West by-election. Much more was made of the FF result there than should have been. But talking with someone who was on the ground for another party there during that contest it was clear that there were three groups making herculean efforts to win the seat, Labour who both won and lost it – in one sense, the ULA, or more specifically the SP, who did remarkably well in the circumstances and FF. The latter worked enormously hard with significant support expended upon a presentable candidate, David McGuinness, with few overt links to the ancient regime. And yet, for all that, and in a constituency where one might have expected at least some residual support to follow on from Brian Lenihan’s untimely end they only managed to get 21.7 per cent, hardly at all ahead of the SP vote and almost 3 points behind the LP.
What I’m getting at, in an admittedly circuitous way, is that SF presents a much greater threat now to FF, a year after the election than it did then, and for all that FF may be keen to pry away votes from LP, FG and Independents, as the year has gone on the SF vote has (in Red C polls) risen to 17 per cent at the expense of Government parties. Or to put it slightly differently, however much FF may wish to capitalise on FG/LP woes there’s already another party beginning to make those inroads.
Now there are problems for SF in all this. Their attraction to FG voters is presumably low enough. And that’s not going to change. But then it doesn’t have to. If they can eventually begin to eat into that core FF vote and pull in gains from the LP and wherever they don’t need FG votes (though I’m very taken with IELB’s thoughts about the potential for an electoral showdown between FG and SF. That won’t be for a while yet).
So for Martin the task doesn’t seem easier than twelve months ago, but in some ways more difficult than then. And Leahy is spot on when he notes:
It is by no means certain that a recovery to even medium-sized party status for Fianna Fбil is possible. Even if that is to happen, it will be a long and uncertain road. But next weekend will mark some important steps on that road.
Current polling suggests that FF could, even on current numbers see its figures boosted up to 25 odd TDs. And that’s it. Lower, significantly lower, than FG during its time in the Dáil, even in the dark days of 2002.
A recovery? Not even close. Particularly if the dissent that Ó Cuív represents widens, or if he does something particularly spectacular from here on out.
And say Martin does brilliantly well this weekend? Say he manages to put the Ó Cuív issue to one side, to present an explanation that resonates with a reasonable fraction of their erstwhile voters. Look at those figures for Dublin, consider just what has to be won back before there’s any growth. Medium sized party? The best that could be expected. And for some time to come yet.