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Lessons for Labour from the 1985 Local Elections May 6, 2014

Posted by irishelectionliterature in Irish Politics, The Left.

Three and a half years ago Labour were riding high in the polls, in that September they polled 35% in one poll , 33% in another and were the most popular party in the State. That Irish Times MRBI poll had them 9% ahead of Fine Gael and also 9% ahead of Fianna Fail. The ‘Gilmore For Taoiseach’ bandwagon started rolling and as time marched on the wheels fell off. In the last two months all the poll figures have them in single digits ……
The last time we had Local Elections when Labour were in government was 1985 (there were Town Council/UDC elections in 1994). Its a long time ago and these are different times but…… there could be a lot of similarities in patterns that we saw in 1985.
I’ve old local election results posted here (alas its by Council rather than election)

So what patterns emerged in 1985 ?

-Established candidates, especially outside of Dublin held their seats.
There was the dual mandate then so some Labour TDs and Senators would have been ‘big names’ contesting the locals, but as your core party vote goes lower you are down into the personal vote.
This time due to the changes in boundaries and larger LEAs we may see more ‘established’ Labour Councillors suffer as their core areas may have been split or be very much at the edge of the Local Electoral Area.

-New candidates fared very poorly
Most of these would be relying on the party factor to help boost their chances.
Again its hard to see many new candidates elected for Labour,

-In many areas (especially in Dublin) they fielded too many candidates.
Looking at Adrian Kavanaghs site they look to have too many candidates in certain areas now. Part of course is having existing Councillors standing again but running 3 candidates in Crumlin Kimmage? ,Four candidates in various LEAs in Tipperary? Its not as bad as 1985 but I do think they may rue having extra candidates in certain places.

-Where there was a sizeable challenge for the WP they lost.
For example The Workers Party took more seats on Dublin City Council than Labour (who only took 2).
The WP weren’t strong countrywide, Sinn Fein are and a far far bigger threat than The WP ever were. They will win seats in the most unlikeliest of places. As of course will Independents.

-Labour were not as Transfer Friendly as previous elections.
Internal Labour transfers were poor often being less than 50% and rarely above 60%, they also did not attract as many transfers as they previously had.
This time its fairly certain that Labour will not attract transfers like they did in 2009. Its likely even where some candidates do poll well they will be overtaken by Independents or other transfer attractive candidates. It was the combination of drop in first preference vote and being transfer toxic that killed The Greens in 2009.
There’s no doubt that many Labour candidates and canvassers are getting abuse at the doors. As one candidate for the Executive Board at the December Labour National Conference put it

The architects behind our election campaign in 2011 got it wrong and gave hostages to fortune in relation to unrealistic commitments in respect of Child Benefit and Third Level fees. We have also failed to secure a fair share of tax from the corporate sector and higher earners.

Well that’s understating it somewhat …

In Dublin City Council in 2009 Labour won 19 seats out of 53 on 29.35% of the vote. Some of that was due to excellent vote management, but come 2014 those votes wont be there to manage.There will be 63 seats and they will be lucky to get 10. The increased size of the wards and the fact that despite a lot of their Councillors being elected to the Dail they have some very established councillors.

We’ll see what happens for Labour but if History repeats itself they are in big trouble.
Whilst The European Elections are the focus with regard to challenges to the Leadership, a very poor Local Elections performance wouldn’t exactly help Eamon Gilmore.
Of course there seems to be an impression that Joan Burton can ride in on her white horse, take over the leadership and save the day…..


1. PaddyM - May 6, 2014


This, by the way, is a constituency where Labour got 15,000 first preferences in 2011.


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