Mini-conference offers the chance to hammer home Labour message
The mantra may be monotonous but there will be no let-up before May’s vote
Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton poses for a photograph with a delegate at the Labour Party conference in Enfield, Co Meath, on Saturday. Photograph: Alan Betson
It was a half-conference really, which even senior Labour figures admitted privately was mainly put on to make sure the party capitalised on the television time available in the run-up to May’s elections.
The last conference in Killarney wasn’t even three months ago, and not much has changed since then.
You can hardly blame them, even if it is debatable how many people will remember Gilmore’s televised speech today, let alone when hovering over a ballot paper in three months’ time.
Yet it provided another opportunity to hammer home the political message the party settled on in the middle of last year: Labour will help the “hard-pressed families” and the “hard-working families”, or preferably families who are hard-pressed and hard-working at the same time.
It may be monotonous but there will be no let-up now. It could be argued that the message has been a very minor factor, in addition to exiting the bailout and softening budget cuts, in the party’s support stabilising recently.
It also offers a point of difference to Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s own mantra that he wants to make Ireland the “best small country in the world in which to do business”.
Gilmore wants voters to think Labour in Government is for them, while Fine Gael is working for the bosses. His speech on Saturday offered nothing new, with the Tanaiste having already announced one key aspect of his local election manifesto: the promise to cut property tax by 15 per cent.
The entire set-up was familiar: same themes as Killarney, same videos playing on screen, similar speeches, same backdrop, even the same entrance music for Gilmore’s primetime speech (Snow Patrol’s reassuringly uplifting yet safe Just Say Yes ).
The second function of Saturday’s day-long event at the Johnstown House hotel in Enfield, Co Meath, attended by 500 people, was to prepare candidates.
There were no motions up for debate but just speeches from local election hopefuls, which were also televised, as well as a handful of ministerial workshops to take the bare look off things.
Many of the delegates were candidates, and they had their pictures taken for their election posters. Joan Burton, the director of elections, set canvassing targets such as “one leaflet drop in February, March and early April to every house in your electoral area” and “two or three door-knocking sessions per week for the remaining nine weeks before Easter”.
The mood was relatively happy, and since many delegates were candidates, they too were naturally optimistic of their chances in the local elections. TDs also claim they have detected a change in attitudes among voters.
You get the impression that the local elections are important to Labour, and the party has been trying to gee up its grassroots ahead of polling day. For example, a few recently leaked constituency polls have shown Labour TDs outperforming the national figures.
While rumours abound of other disastrous internal polls that have yet to see daylight, the message to candidates and activists is: we’re not dead yet, get out and work.