The ‘most intense’ elections ever? May 7, 2014Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics, The Left.
Back Room in the SBP appears to think so. S/he writes:
After less than a week of open campaigning for this month’s elections, it is already more intense than any previous mid-term contest. It’s not just the scale of the postering and leafleting (at least in the cities) which is unusual, it appears that we are supposed to believe that the future direction of most of our parties is up for decision.
S/he does make the point that:
This may be because we live in a newly hyper-competitive media market. It isn’t because we’ve decided to bring the European Parliament and local councils into the centre of our political world.
While the need to have consequences flow from the results is almost obsessive for one media group, everyone else has signed up to the idea of various jobs being on the line’ and crises waiting to engulf’ embattled’ leaders.
And yet Back Room argues that:
This requires some questioning because history shows that mid-term elections are an unreliable indicator of what might happen in a subsequent national election.
Okay. So, what context is brought in to support this contention?
As one backroom nerd sympathetic to Labour pointed out this week, Tony Blair made a habit of losing councils before winning general elections. For that matter, Blair’s old mucker Bertie Ahern got beaten up at the polls in 2004 before going on to win in 2007.
Yes. And no.
I’m pretty sure the situations are radically different. So different indeed that comparisons are almost impossible to make between the two. And that that line offered by the LP ‘nerd’ is expedient in the extreme.
But hey, let’s list off the most important one – the one that inflects everything we see around us in one way or another.
That, obviously, is the result of the economic crisis and all that has flown from it. The stability of the pre-existing system, such as it was, and yes it was much more stable, has vanished. Fianna Fáil is beaten down to half its previous vote share in national polls. Fine Gael is in government but unable to top much more than 30%. The Labour Party is falling precipitously. 10% will be a good day for it. Less than that and it will be a very very bad, potentially catastrophic, day.
The Independents? I’m glad you asked. For they are part 1 of two significant other changes resulting from the crisis, or crises plural. That block of Independents, always strong in RoI elections at local level (compared to other polities), is now assuming the level of a coherent bloc, at least in terms of the support afforded it by voters. Fully 1 in 5 support Independents at a national level. I would suspect we’ll see that figure matched at local level and perhaps exceeded.
And then there’s Sinn Féin, probably able to command close enough to another 1 in 5 voters.
Oh, and wait, the national election here is less than two years away, a lot less most likely. Run that SBP quote by me again, 2004 as against 2007? We’re not talking like and like.
In other words the Irish context post-crisis is so radically different from the UK one as to make comparisons pointless, and indeed was different enough pre-crisis to do likewise.
Still, let’s see what Back Room’s thesis is:
The first thing to realise about these elections is that everyone voting knows that they are not choosing between policies on tax, schools, hospitals or the full range of issues which are the preserve of national government. Because of this, voters feel freer and, it could be said, less responsible in how they vote. A protest, personality or anti-system vote has low consequences.
Possibly. But if that were so then one would expect local results to diverge significantly from national, and yet, look back at those national polls. Close to 40 per cent of voters are going to SF and Independents and smaller left parties. And with a year and bit to go to the next election or thereabouts it could be that that will increase again.
It is true that mid-term elections can involve voters sending a message’, but the exact nature of that message is not something anyone can be sure of. This is where the political commentary comes in – bringing definitive declarations on what was meant by the vote and what must be done in response.
I don’t know. If say close to 3 in 5 voters voted for anti-austerity parties and Independents I think we could draw the necessary message.
Still, if I’d be dubious about Back Room’s thoughts to this point s/he has some further one’s which I think are very pertinent. S/he argues that Labour is the potential biggest loser (though we’ll see). And that changing the leader is not the issue. Indeed the following point is made:
People remember that a vote for Labour was a vote to protect child benefit and stop third-level fees. It was a vote for an alternative to Frankfurt’s way. The party has ignored this and focused instead on saying we fixed it’- which is hard to buy.
Labour can play musical chairs in June or it can understand that people see this as a Fine Gael government propped up by Labour.
No one challenging Gilmore has proposed an alternative strategy. They have bought in to the idea that the face on the posters is the most important thing in politics.
And this too:
There will be a leadership debate, Gilmore will hang on and the party will have failed to have the discussion it really needs. It needs to understand that no one knows what impact Labour has had in this government – and with Fine Gael tearing down the tax cuts for all’ road, it could get a lot worse.
I think that’s just about right. They’ve shifted to concerning themselves about the cosmetic. That works only so far, and we can see the limits just about now. But there’s another thought that it raises. What evidence is there that the LP is positioning itself for after the next election? Precious little it would appear if there are those within it who seriously contend that mid-term/local elections don’t reflect national elections some years later.
And what sort of party is it going to be, even if it retains, say, ten or eleven seats with significant left representation from both social democratic and further left in the ‘Independent’ bloc, as well as a much much larger Sinn Féin?
How does it present itself as a serious political force after this stint in government?
One would wonder is anyone even bothering to ask these questions.