Dynamics in contemporary Irish politics June 5, 2014Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.
Pat Leahy in the SBP this last weekend has a good run-through of some of the broader trends that emerged from the elections last month. And I think the one’s that he has fixed upon are well worth considering.
First up he points to Fine Gael weakness.
The Fine Gael defeat was not as spectacular as the Labour wipeout, because it still has a network of local representatives all over the country. But the fall from its general election support – a full 14 percentage points of the electorate – was even greater. Moreover, it demonstrates to many Fine Gael backbenchers – who won second and even third seats in their constituencies in 2011 – that their chances of returning to the next Dáil are slim.
At the last election, Fine Gael won a huge bonus, scooping 46 per cent of the seats on 36 per cent of the vote. Even if there is a decent recovery in the Fine Gael vote, it means that the parliamentary party is full of dead men walking. This must have an effect on Fine Gael’s internal dynamics in the next two years. Things may be about to get more lively in the whip’s office.
Very true. The Fine Gael story at these elections has been obscured by the rise of SF and Independents. And that has direct political implications as Leahy notes. Indeed already there are some straws in the wind as regards discontent. And polling projections from both these elections and before suggest that it is a bit of a toss up whether FG or FF are out in front. Again, not great news for a party that aspires to be the ‘natural party of government’.
Then he considers Fianna Fáil’s slight return. Here I think he overstates the case.
Micheál Martin still has some significant problems – an undisciplined parliamentary party and the ongoing weakness in Dublin, where the party failed to win a European seat. Yet, at present levels of support, Fianna Fáil can reasonably expect to win upward of 40 seats at the next election, and is firmly in the frame for participation in the next government.
Given the levels of public opprobrium that the party has received in the very recent past, that is remarkable.
It’s remarkable, perhaps. But it’s actually more a testament to the chaotic nature of Irish politics. An FF on 40 odd seats is a very different beast to the one which dominated Irish politics up until 2011. It is a party that has lost much of its working class base, that is much much weaker in Dublin and other urban centres than it has ever been, and – tellingly – that is facing some degree of attrition in rural areas from SF. Moreover it is only because FG is likewise facing significant attrition that it is even in the picture for government. In other words little or none of this down to FF, and it is actually a factor of the broader political environment. Moreover, the level of local and European support was weak. Martin may have pulled back votes, but there appear to be upper limits to
Does this mean Fianna Fáil is finished? Absolutely not, and it never was. But it is finished, for the moment, in some areas. And that’s something that
Moreover, those coalition options? Fine Gael or Sinn Féin (and both are open to serious question)? This is the stuff of nightmare for FF.
Finally he examines the Independent/Others category, though I’m not sure this is entirely fair:
The surge of support for independents in the local elections, combined with the high-profile successes of Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan and Nessa Childers, show the extent to which voters are attracted by the “anti-political” appeal of independent candidates.
Is Childers ‘anti-political’? Surely that is to elide political and party political, and while I’m as sceptical about the virtues or otherwise of ‘independents’ as most I’m not sure we can apply a blanket term to all those who fight under that banner – and particularly not Childers.
There are likely to be moves to form new parties or groupings on the right and the left in the coming months. There is certainly a wish for new parties among many independents; the trouble is, many of them want their own kind of new party.
This is true to a degree, but there’s more to it too. As noted in the piece on the latest noises about the Reform Alliance, independents are generally elected – unless they move from a party – as independents. There’s no getting away from the fact that currently that brand is strong. So why one has to ask, would they want to join in a party structure, particularly at a time when parties are generally so reviled?
This, indeed, may complicate matters greatly as we move towards the election, particularly if the polling numbers for Independents/Others holds up.
And I suspect that any ‘alliances’ that do emerge will be very very nebulous indeed. And that too has implications. Because the public aren’t stupid, and they are well able to distinguish between different and sometimes cosmetic political vehicles.