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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: February 14, 2011 @ 10:54 am

    The End of History

    Harry McGee

    “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.

    • Gege Le Beau says:

      God not that tired Francis Fukuyama phrase, can we not have something new, history never ends.

    • Keith Martin says:

      On your final para, I think Labour’s strongest support is still among 30-55 ABC1s, not young C2DEs as you suggest.

    • mamgay says:

      I know this will come as a shock Harry, but there is a faint possibility that the Greens did what they did, knowing that they would be hammered in the election, because *whispers* it… was… the… right… thing… to… do.

    • Peter Kelly says:

      Your antipathy towards Enda Kenny is verging on the pathological. You have swallowed the media consensus whole, and are now looking so far into your own anatomical depths that you have failed to notice that he is increasingly coming across to the electorate as a principled, moral, and decisive man. Maybe not quick on his feet in a debate, but funnily enough voters are canny enough to look beyond that to his other qualities. Perhaps you and some other commentators should try to stand back for a moment and do the same.

    • robespierre says:

      Portentous post Harry invoking Francis Fukuyama. Of course, Fukuyama was wrong about history ending in 1989 so I am guessing you are suggesting that rumours of the demise of Fianna Fáil are premature. They quite likely are. The figures in the local polls in yesterday’s Sindo if true, would constitute calamity. When someone like a three time poll topper like Joh Browne is struggling in the heartlands of Wexford where he has pumped every pump, filled potholes a plenty and been at every funeral going you know the tide is truly going out.

      Ireland is in dire straits but we are only one innovative burdensharing scheme away from FG being quite a popular administration. We will have a better indication in the first six months as to what FG can get from the three Christian Democrats in power.

      Kenny just needs to be crisp tonight and avoid doing badly. It probably would have suited him better to do one in Irish first given his proficiency. If he can avoid a cringe inducing up mayo moment (think Roscommon and and 1950s muscial in the last election) then I think FG are home and hosed.

      One thing a lot of people have said to me on the hustings is that there has been far too much focus on leaders in the election as the cult of personality gave us Bertie and look at where we are now. Like one of your colleagues said a short while ago, Kenny has been priced into the current support levels in stock market parlance. We just have to wait and see where it goes from here.

      My personal belief is that an overall majority is necessary at the moment. Whether that is Labour or FG (I do have a preference) but I think one party having a clear one would be better for the country.

    • Eoin says:

      Fianna Fail are rightfully getting a lot of stick, but it seems that the political commentators are the ones waving these sticks. There doesn’t seem to be the same ill feeling towards them from outside the press. In my opinion the ones who will have most to say come election time are the people who are surviving in unemployment and negative equity. Will Fine Gael, Labour, Sinn Fein, Green Party and any mixture of Independents be able to do anything for these people who most need help ? I don’t think so. The holes that people are in now are not going to be fixed in the short term by any colour of government. These same difficulties that were caused by Fiann Fail/ Greens/ PDs and the lack of controls during the Celtic Tiger years had the OPPOSITION as overseers. They were
      there to try and control things but they didn’t. A good opposition should also be like the Governments conscience.

      Now there were and are a lot of people who made money during the Tiger years and these people also have a vote. Admittedly they are fewer in number but they are still around and they will in all probability vote for Fianna Fail as they know what they will get with them ie; Looked After. Croneyism is still alive and well in Ireland and will continue even after this election. Although they are not running enough candidates to get an overall majority they will still get a lot of seats.

    • Gearoid says:

      You say, referring to SF: “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.”
      In what way is SFs banking policy bunkum? They are basically saying that we will have to default on the banking debt, a view shared by most economic analysts at home and abroad. According to David McWilliams “The only question in this election is whether we default or not, how we do it and where we draw the line. Everything else is secondary because, unless we get this enormous debt monkey off our backs and devise a growth strategy, there is little point discussing the health or education service as there will be no money to translate aspiration into reality.” It is likely that the fiscal policy of the main parties is bunkum, as they intend not to default and work the deal that was agreed by FF with Europe.

    • sinn feminista says:

      ‘Bunkum’ really…why…?
      Take the policy apart and tell us precisely why it is ‘bunkum’…
      and then how the Economic strategies of the other parties stack up against it…
      If you want bunkum look where the economic acumen of BiFFo and the FFools got you…get off the bandwagon Harry…
      Guess what you are really expressing is prejudice…

    • Paul says:

      Good Old harry ignoring the polls that have Fianna fail on few points higer than Sinn Fein yet gaining 3 times the seats. your living in fantasy land. Calling the sinn fein banking policy bunkum is that the reason why every one else is copying them now. Fine Gael and labour are saying now that all they are going to do is protect the soverign debt and burn the bond holders just what the sinners have been saying for months. Even Fianna Fail are coming around now casue thats what the people want not you and your friends the bankers. Harry grow up saying Sinn fein policys are bunkum, what the hell have the great policies of the last 10 years got us


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