The extraordinary events unfolding within the Labour Party in Britain have got me thinking about what the next general election here might mean for Fianna Fail.
When it comes to elections, expected wipe-outs don’t always happen and predicted surges don’t always materialise. Assumptions can be confounded.
Transport Minister Noel Dempsey was reported at the weekend as saying anyone who believed the outcome of the next election was decided already was fooling themselves. He pointed to the not-quite-clear result in Britain to back up his argument.
I think he meant that as the Tories didn’t do quite as well as lots of people thought they might, Fine Gael and Labour should be wary of taking the voters’ support for granted.
But the opinion polls make consistently chilling reading for the Fianna Fail faithful, and the party’s activist base and structures in the cities, in particular, have weakened beyond recognition in recent years.
Is it possible to bounce back from such a low point? Two former ministers, Gerard Collins and Chris Flood, have been quietly compiling a detailed internal report with the unspectacular title ‘Recommendations for Organisational Reform’. I’ve written about it here: http://bit.ly/dhMBPT
It doesn’t make any crazy claims for success. Much of it is concerned with administrative detail that a worker for any party would probably consider practical. It prescribes modest, city-specific measures to improve organisation in Dublin, Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford. But it has the tone of an organisation that has not yet given up the ghost.
In summary, the report proposes the immediate establishment of a “Dublin reorganisation implementation group”. One of its key tasks would be preparing for the Dublin mayoral election.
All registered members in the Dublin area would have a right to “one-member, one-vote” participation in the selection of the party’s mayoral candidate. An electoral register of members should be devised for the process, “thereby creating the opportunity to clarify and quantify the actual extent of party membership . . . across the entire Dublin Euro constituency”. While the party may feel it has little chance of success in this particular contest, that could be a way of readying what remain of the troops in Dublin for future campaigns.
Many of the party’s city-based cumainn exist only to hold voting rights at candidate selection conventions. The report says if responsibility for candidate selection was devolved to individual activists under the “one-member, one-vote” system, the phenomena of “paper cummain” would be eliminated. This seems sensible.
Each Dublin constituency should hold one fundraiser every year with proceeds going to headquarters and Fianna Fail TDs not intending to contest the next general election in Dublin constituencies should inform the party immediately. We are living in unpredictable times, after all…
But who could give you an objective analysis of what all this might achieve in a general election situation? You could predict the responses you’d get from Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, Labour and Sinn Fein personnel.
So let’s ask Independent TD Joe Behan, who left Fianna Fail over medical card cuts last year but retains a deep knowledge of the party’s culture, for his view of what the next general election could entail for the senior coalition partner.
“Other parties know in their heart of hearts that this isn’t going to be as easy as it looks. I think it’ll be the mother of all battles when the time comes,” Behan says.
He disputes widespread predictions the party will be wiped out. “I’d be slow to write off Fianna Fail because I know the loyalty there is among the real activists who still support the party no matter what,” he said.
Fianna Fail must not only reform and improve its internal organisation, he says, it must also “restore its link with the plain people of Ireland”.