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Becoming more SF than SF… on some issues at least… February 17, 2020

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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Pat Leahy’s piece in the Irish Times this weekend strikes me as pretty robust. He argues that sooner or later the most likely outcome of the election will be some arrangement between Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and A.N. Other, with the latter somewhat unlikely to be Sinn Féin. He suggests that:

Fianna Fáil will probably want to talk about a repeat and reverse of the confidence-and-supply agreement. This would take up some time, which is its real purpose, allowing the political context to change. But it is not going to happen. I am told with considerable vehemence that Fine Gael will not provide a confidence-and-supply agreement, despite suggestions from Varadkar before the election. The Taoiseach himself has told people this with some certainty, to the extent that they do not believe it to be a tactical feint. It is a proper U-turn, just like Micheál Martin’s position on Fine Gael.
Once the possibility of a Fianna Fáil-Fine Gael coalition– including the Greens and/or the Social Democrats, plus some Independents – solidifies, it will unleash a fury among their opponents in the Dáil and in protests outside Leinster House that will be white hot in their intensity. But we do live in a parliamentary democracy. If they keep their nerve in the Dáil, that phase will pass.

But he makes a point that is being made elsewhere, that in order to insulate themselves from Sinn Féin this will necessitate our beloved ‘moderate’ parties taking a perhaps not entirely unexpected direction from here on out. That is:

…some pragmatic people in both parties now expect is that a Fianna Fáil-Fine Gael-plus-plus administration would tack sharply towards the more left-wing policies that proved so alluring to many Sinn Féin and other left voters in the election. They would do what they have always done – accommodate themselves to the public mood. If the Greens are in, it would contain a radical climate action programme. If the Social Democrats are in, a real implementation of the Sláintecare health reform plan. A massive public housing programme is certain.

I think that, even if that is cosmetic, and woe betide them if it is, that is the only path out of this for FF and FG. Anything else, a retreat to opposition for FG, a push to a second election by FF, is likely to – in the short to near medium term, result in a resounding victory of Sinn Féin. Neither of the other parties will want to gift them another ten or fifteen or perhaps even more seats. And if that were to lead to an even less congenial context for coalition building, well worse again! Whose fault would that be? Moreover it would certainly further dent Fianna Fáil, or Fine Gael’s hopes of leading a government.

Or perhaps the calculation might be that Sinn Féin, especially a larger SF, would lack others to coalesce with in government, or that such a government would be uniquely unstable. But I wonder. It seems likely that the most exposed seats in the current Dáil are those of the further left – they are sitting in no small part due to the largesse of SF voters who given no further SF candidate transferred leftwards again. But if those seats are lost at a second election I suspect that others might find their numbers perhaps a little depleted, but still sufficient to cobble together a government led by SF – say 50 odd SF, 10 GP, 5 SDs and the bulk made up of Inds/others either through confidence and supply deals or through direct participation. Messy, sure, but more messy than trying to build government today? And such a government might just make it a couple of years.

That’s the thing. The current situation is a known. Anything else is unpredictable in the extreme. Bound to give people pause for thought.

Comments»

1. sonofstan - February 17, 2020

Michael O’Regan has a piece where he seems to think an FF/FG/ Greens/ SocDems array is the most likely with a rotating taoiseach. I can see the Greens being dumb enough – O’R suggests Ryan as Min for housing ffs: way to kill them for another generation – but I would expect more sense from the SD leadership, who are both old enough to know better.

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Paul Culloty - February 17, 2020

Catherine Murphy apparently considering a run for Ceann Comhairle – so three of the four contenders could be from Kildare!

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2. lcox - February 17, 2020

I think this is pretty much right. Martin and Varadkar’s political futures depend on staying in power (whether C&S or full-blown coalition). And GP at least has no internal defences against joining a government with them.

Policy-wise, if it is the case that the rental price hike in particular is a bubble, it might be possible to burst that bubble without any very structural swing to the left. It would still cause squeaks from petty landlords in the FF and FG voting bases but they presumably have nowhere else to go. This is presuming that larger landlords, developers and others in “the industry” can weather a downturn – or if large enough are probably already expecting and planning for it. No doubt at the top end you can make as much money from a downturn as from a boom, at least for a while.

A lot of “if” there but it would not be a strange calculation for FF in particular to make that the turn to SF is soft enough and that they might claw back voters once rents start to fall again. But in the tussle between FG’s neoliberal principles and Varadkar’s desire to remain leader of the party which would win out?

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3. sonofstan - February 17, 2020

All of this is premised on the notion that there is a ‘normal’ that sooner or later the electorate will return to.

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sonofstan - February 17, 2020

I mean, there has to be a substantial portion of the electorate now – and not just perpetual malcontents like us – who have never voted for FFG and do not have what the IT and others think of as a default ‘home’ to return to.

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lcox - February 17, 2020

I think this is absolutely true and transfers bear this out – “vote left transfer left” worked far better than I for one expected, and underlines that it is not just that far fewer people vote FF-FG, but they have a much better sense of why they are doing so than was true in e.g. 2011.

But I also think that the FF-FG leadership (and media figures) don’t yet get it and are still fundamentally operating from an old model, so prone to go “what’s the minimum we can do to get some of these votes back where they belong?”

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WorldbyStorm - February 17, 2020

Very fair point SOS, and not my intention more a working thru of what they may perceive the situation to be. I’m struck talking to FFers how difficult it has been for them to integrate the new dispensation- that said this is a floating vote and pools of FF loyalty remain somewhat quiescent particularly in areas like D Central etc so potentially that could be tapped into. Btw if I were them I would follow the old mantra ‘keep your friends close, keep your enemies closer’

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sonofstan - February 17, 2020

“pools of FF loyalty remain somewhat quiescent particularly in areas like D Central etc so potentially that could be tapped into”

3 elections have passed since FF won a seat there though: those pools are getting a bit stagnant. Same I imagine in DSC.

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4. tafkaGW - February 17, 2020

I’ve always suspected FF/FG/Greens – a coalition of neo-lib parties -would be where we end up.

Sure – bring it on.

It’s up to us to oppose it, ensure it’s unstable – I’d suggest the Greens would be the weakest point, because they’ll get feck-all of significance that would threaten capital accumulation and the unaccountable power that comes with private wealth.

And therefore feck-all that will do anything to minimise climate / eco-system destruction.

That said coalition governments where the participants see their polling steadily dropping can be remarkably stable. See the current German government: CDU/CSU & SPD together at 43% or less. They do little but are terrified of an election – because in an election that could sink well under 40%.

And, yes, you’d think the SDs would know better.

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5. David - February 17, 2020

2/3 of the GP membership (who take part in the vote) would have to vote in favour for the Greens to enter coalition with Fianna Fail and Fine Gael. I can tell you now that this isn’t going to happen. I’m a party member and I see absolutely no appetite for this. Indeed there was a leaked internal FB poll on the members forum that gave results of 90%+ against.

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lcox - February 17, 2020

A genuine question David: why?

I haven’t seen or heard any GP members acknowledge to the wider world that the last coalition was a bad idea, let alone apologise for it; and many of the same leadership are still there.

I am seeing many GP people say that the party wouldn’t now buy a coalition with FF and FG: has something changed?

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David - February 17, 2020

The simplest thing is that everyone knows it would be electoral suicide. And out of those two parties you wont get much in return for a later wipeout. I guess that is a lesson from the last government.

Everyone I know says they think Eamon Ryan would go for it. Maybe he would, I dont know. But as I tell everyone he would only be one vote. To get the necessary two thirds on board would be a very tall order and I dont see it. I would be absolutely shocked.

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lcox - February 17, 2020

Thanks! That all makes sense. Fingers crossed you’re right!

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irishelectionliterature - February 17, 2020

And yet, were there a second election with SF fielding the correct amount of candidates many of the GP seats would be vulnerable. Again too it depends what exactly you would be getting in exchange for supporting FF/FG.
Another thing is if there is a deal, all three parties will have to get the deal approved by the membership. If I were the Greens I would wait until after the Special FF Ard Fheis to have your own meeting to approve a deal. I suspect that the FF membership may well reject anything to do with FG.
By being the last party to approve a deal, you risk being blamed for an election, however if FF pull the plug on any deal before you do, they will get the blame.

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WorldbyStorm - February 17, 2020

David just to say thank you for your thoughts – this isn’t a site that’s hostile to GP members (indeed I’d see red/green politics a la Gorz and Bahro as foundational to my own politics – they are complementary in that context) even if it will critique the GPS approaches where appropriate and it is very important to get a sense of a view from within away from perhaps preconceptions we or others may have.

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tafkaGW - February 17, 2020

Just to amplify what Icox & WBS have said, David: I’m also very glad to hear that the membership would reject such a move. That’s the benefit of a genuine internal party democracy, which Green parties have generally be consistently good at! Something most left parties can’t claim, unfortunately.

I see the GP as an essential part of a broad left alliance, not least because it reaches parts of the citizenry/electorate that haven’t yet learned by doing the extent to which capitalism is incompatible with eco-positive politics.

I guess I’m a bit jaundiced by the German context, at least at federal level, where the GP seems to be set on being a junior party in a coalition with the party of the car and fossil fuel industries.

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makedonamend - February 17, 2020

Interesting, go raibh maith agat

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lcox - February 17, 2020

Just to add to WbS: I’m ex-GP (albeit in the last century). But many regulars on this site are or have been in smaller parties of different kinds!

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WorldbyStorm - February 17, 2020

I’d actually wondered were you a former member or more in the broader orbit of environmental oriented people around and about green issues – I’d actually thought you more likely the latter, but I should have asked when we met!

And that’s very true re small parties and this site.

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lcox - February 17, 2020

tbh I really learned politics in the far left of the Hamburg Greens – quite a different beast to the Irish GP. But for my sins represented the Irish party in the European Fed of GPs and published what we laughingly called a theoretical journal over a number of years.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was the party convention’s refusal to rule out coalition with FF (this all back in a previous century) … water under the bridge but particularly painful to see the party in a govt that used the military against anti-Shell protestors at Rossport.

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sonofstan - February 17, 2020

Yes, I guess it’s easy to forget that the Greens are the ‘newest’ party in the Dail in the sense of having by far the highest proportion of new TDs.

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Colm B - February 17, 2020

But would the Green membership buy a coalition which included ONE of the conservative parties?

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Paul Culloty - February 17, 2020

FF-SF-Green would have the one saving grace of being the first Irish government with a majority of left TDs – not the ideal of a broad left coalition, perhaps, but less prone to swamping than the perennial Labour experience.

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WorldbyStorm - February 17, 2020

True. Though that raises other issues! 🙂

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Pasionario - February 17, 2020

A three shades of green coalition, which would have a clear working majority, is the only option that has a hope of being a functioning government. But it looks like Martin’s intransigence will put paid to that idea.

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6. An Sionnach Fionn - February 17, 2020

If the suggested FF-FG-Other(s) coalition did emerge will the dissatisfaction at that outcome among a sizeable chunk of the electorate fade away so easily, even if the government adopted a (slightly) reformist agenda? A minority of Green and SocDem voters would be less than happy with their parties being in a right-leaning “continuity government” of FF and FG.

And SF would unarguably be able to claim the mantle of official opposition, firing at the Other(s) from the left.

We saw what happened to the coalition “mudguards” in previous administrations. It would be a bit hard for any Green or SocDem candidates to play the “change” card in a general election when they were busy defending 4 years of government with FF and FG.

FF and FG might survive, and handsomely so. But Greens, SocDems and whoever else would be squeezed by SF and other leftists until the pips squeaked.

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7. CL - February 17, 2020

“The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.”-Marx

Fine Gael’s roots are in the counter-revolution that defeated the Republic ; Fianna Fail has long since adapted to that reality.

So a FF/FG coalition seems most likely, plus some others to make up the numbers and give a veneer of ‘change’,-though past habit weighs heavily on both, a psychological reluctance to end the old con game of being a phony alternative to one another.
This is not a good outcome for the ruling powers because it would
make SF the main opposition party. But its the least bad outcome as another election risks the appalling vista of further empowering SF.

Probably much posturing and indecision for awhile as mindsets polluted by revisionism adjust to the new reality;
SF is in power in the North and surging in the South; it is the biggest political party in Ireland and at its strongest electorally since 1918. And it is the main hope for its working class base to make material advancement.

May the ruling powers tremble….

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