Fianna Fail – Poll Dorcha… agus fíor-doimhin
The headline on the opinion poll we ran this morning – about Fianna Fail slumping to a record low – was one that featured regularly in the run-up to the British general election this year.
Four months out the Labour Party looked in dire straights. Gordon Brown was flailing. He was not connecting to the British public. His response to the global financial crisis – initially so strong – had lost its gloss.
Worse, when the campaign proper started Nick Clegg’s bravura performance in the first debate pushed Labour into third place, with Gordon Brown losing his A billing and being told: ‘You are only good for pantomime now’.
It looked like the knacker’s yard beckoned for Labour’s dour war horse.
Yet Brown managed to turn it around. Not fully. But enough to salvage it for Labour. It wasn’t as dispiriting for them as it was for the Tories in 1997 or 2001.
Am I saying this is the way it’s going to be for the legendary electoral battling skills of the Biff? Is somehow going to do a Seamus Darby on it and pull off a late-late spectacular coup (Seamus Darby was the Offaly sub who denied Kerry a fifth All Ireland in a row in the early 1980s when he scored a last minute goal).
The short answer is no. The long answer is no. Fianna Fail will do better than 17 per cent but not a hell of a lot better.
They will lose 30 seats (at least) compared to the 1997 total. It will take them two elections to recover from it. By that time, the party - its personnel and policies - will be unrecognisable from the bedraggled entity that will return in the Spring of next year. I’ll come back to that at the end of the blog.
The figures from this morning opinon poll suggest what has been obvious for many months – that Fine Gael and Labour will form the next Government. So we know who’s going to eat the cake… the only question is how big a slice each of them is going to get! Fine Gael, I think, are unlikely to cede the finance portfolio as John Bruton did to Labour in 1994, when Ruairi Quinn became Minister. That will mean that Labour may get an extra seat at senior cabinet level as a pay-off.
Sinn Fein’s rise is also curious. They ran into double digits before the 2007 election but receded when some of their policies – or lack of them – were exposed. The party did little to raise any flags until this year. Its momentum seems to be almost entirely derived from Pearse Doherty’s court case, and subsequent by-election victory. He has injected a new lease of life into a jaded parliamentary party – another upshot is that the party has a bit for a short period at leaders’ questions, thanks to a technical arrangment with two independents.
Gerry Adams arrival will give it momentum but he’s not the same force in the South as he is (or was) in the North. A little like another arrival from the North, Austin Currie, he may find it difficult to adapt to a different milieu and culture. But Sinn Fein is on the rise, that’s for sure. A party that was going nowhere is now close to attaining double digits in seats. And it’s astonishing to see most of that turnaround has occurred in the space of about five or six weeks.
In fairness, it did produce a pre-Budget document (and put a lot of work in it). but that contained only €500,000 or so in cuts; and most of those were for ”efficiencies” – the keyword for a nebulous idea with no focus or implementation. It proposed massive tax increases: you would have to doubt the reality of the proposal to raise the near €4 billion in extra taxes (the projections for its wealth tax in particular look insanely optimistic).
Still, The party has outflanked Labour of late in the angry stakes and is certainly stealing support from Labour, that it in turn seized from Fianna Fail in the first place – ie blue collar, republican.
Looking at all the trends, Fianna Fail cannot escape from the fact that its support base has eroded to 17 per cent. Translated into an election scenario that’s very dismal indeed.
Back to the Gordon Brown comparison. He suffered a couple of “worst-ever” headlines after poor poll showings throughout 2009 and into 2010. But when I looked back at the polls in Britain for the 12 months preceding its election, the lowest Labour fell was to about 24 or 245 per cent – even though it lagged behind the LibDems in a few polls.
Britain’s recessionary tumble wasn’t as deep as it was here, and Brown didn’t face the same kind of blame and recrimination that Cowen has. And, obviously, there was no bailout and no IMF.
So Labour recovered lost ground but from a much higher base. Brown was also able to make an argument that he was a serious man who would be best placed to handle the economy through choppy waters. Cowen, Lenihan and co have long lost any credibility in that regard – given that they have steered us through choppy waters and on to the rocks.
For the record, my own belief is that Cowen – despite many failings as Taoiseach – has tried his best over the past two years and has taken decisions – not all of them right – that were in the national interest but were to the detriment of his party. I have said before that his larger sin was when he was Minster for Finance. He was too instutionalised; too cautuous; too careful; too happy to plod along. He was a card-carrying member of the reckless light-touch regulation brigade that inflicted so much damage to the country.
Anyway, the logic of successive opinion polls is that the catastrope that has collapsed the economy will lead to a catastrophe that will collapse Fianna Fail.
Not as low as 17 per cent. But certainly low enough to put Fianna Fail into opposition, a distant third behind the two other parties.
As for the Greens? I can’t see the party retaining more than one seat. I think even winning one seat may be beyond it.