The End of History
“We are feasting over the carcass of Fianna Fail,” the Dublin South West Brian Hayes said to me on Friday when explaining why Fine Gael and Labour are at each other’s throats.
“This isn’t an election between us and Fianna Fail. It’s between Fine Gael and Labour,” he said.
And the polls certaintly bear out that theory.
Fianna Fail have corpsed. And no amount of emergency CPR by Micheal Martin is going to resuscitate it.
On a bad day in Dublin, the party might win only three seats (in North; South Central ; and West), the same as Fine Gael were left with in 2002.
There will be 15 constituencies where the party doesn’t have a TD.
My own sense is that the party will win 30 plus seats. But not many more.
A few evident trends:
1. It’s not a personality election. Micheal Martin’s great performance last week gave his party no traction. Enda Kenny was absent and was at his pathetic worse with his random and meandering contribution to the town hall meeting (mar dhea) in Leitrim. Yet Fine Gael continues its onwards and upwards march. Fine Gael has been clever in terms of presentation, stressimg the Fine Gael brand and its leadership team.
And no matter how good Martin or Eamon Gilmore perform tonight, it’s not about them. People know that Kenny is dire on the economy and is hopeless on detail and is a really poor debater. But Fine Gael has convinced the electorate that the wider party with its very bright people like Noonan and Varadkar and Bruton is worth backing.
It has also been more policy focused than any other opposition party and has reaped a big harvest as a result. Like every other party there’s a lot of fluff and padding (it’s amazing how many billions can be saved through ‘efficiencies’) but enough people are convinced that the Fine Gael plan is a realistic one and the party will be responsible in government.
I’ve written before about the strategy of defensive pessimism or about pessimists never being disappointed. In that sense, Enda Kenny is the political opposite to Barack Obama. One is hope, the other is no hoper. The good thing for Kenny is that he will not disappoint expectations like Obama because we don’t have any for him. He will be a chairman rather than a chief and could surprise us all as Taoiseach, as Albert Reynolds did.
But God, if he doesn’t trip up in the TV debate tonight, he’ll still annoy a lot of people with whimsy.
2. Sinn Fein’s rise doesn’t look as inexorable any more. They’ll get their core and attract some floaters. The party will certainly double its tally of seats to double digits. But the sweeping gains aren’t going to happen. People know that the party’s bank and fiscal policy is bunkum. No matter how loud Pearse Doherty shouts in TV debates, it’s still bunkum.
Realistically, the only way that Ireland could burn the bondholders is by leaving the euro and creating a new currency, and printing new notes to pay our public service. Come to think of it, the Republican Party may know where to source a large cache of bank notes that will be put back into circulation.
Tonight is a big night for Gerry Adams. Like Kenny, he is also very poor on the economy and his knowldege of Southern politics never seems as well honed as it should be.
3. Gilmore for Taoiseach? Labour must wait… again. The party peaked last October and has been sliding backwards since then. Maybe too much reliance on Gilmore. Perhaps too much opposition and anger and not enough (realistic) detail about what they were going to do. Labour were fighting on more fronts than other parties…and took votes from everybody else when on the rise.
The low 30s last October represented an absolute peak for Labour, one that could not be maintained. Once any of the other parties gained or recovered, it nibbled away at Labour support. It will still make big gains but I just sense at this stge that 40 is the max on a very good day.
4. Independents and smaller parties. A lot. I’d say 15 at the very least. It’s going to be a very mixed bag. Rightwingers like Shane Ross. Leftwingers like Joe Higgins. A few Fianna Fail gene poolers and a motley assortment of others. I have no doubt that a technical group will be formed. It will be very interesting to see its composition. Can’t see Joe Higgins saying to Shane Ross: “My door is always open comrade; come on in!).
5. Greens. Three seat scenarios. None. One. Two. The party’s naivety last November has had disatrous consequences for both coalition parties. When you push the eject button it’s better to check beforehand if you have a parachute or not.
6. Beware the polls and how wrong they can be. We rely on them as if they are gospel, ignoring the large margin of error. In addition, a 65 year old and a 20 year old expressing their preferences are two very different propositions. The first is likley to vote. The second is more likely not to vote. Same with the social categories. Blue collar workers and the unemployed do not vote in the same numbers as ABC1s, the farming communities and older people.
What does all that mean? Well parties attracting younger and more working-class votes like Sinn Fein and Labour and smaller parties may not match their vote with the opinion poll finding. Fianna Fail may benefit a little as a result.