Figures add up to election early next year

The betting at this stage must point to a poll in early February

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan, who presented Budget 2016 this week. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan, who presented Budget 2016 this week. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

 

Budget 2016 was cast amid extensive preparations for a general election next month. After an unseemly Fine Gael-Labour squabble and a full week of ambiguous messaging, the whole thing has now been put off until the spring.

Thus a certain sense of deflation was perceptible yesterday as the political classes resigned themselves to the prospect of a months-long slog to the poll.

The irony of it all, however, is that Budget 2016 has all the hallmarks of a package the Coalition could easily bring on the campaign within a matter of weeks. By ticking off large sectors of the electorate with every single concession, the Government essentially made a downpayment on re-election with the promise of largesse in January and more to come later.

The betting at this stage must point to a poll in early February, for it will already be difficult to maintain debate on the budget into the new year.

That is exactly where the Coalition parties want to frame the argument but Opposition parties will strive to divert attention elsewhere.

To go early enough in the new year would make it easier to limit the election narrative, insofar as such things are possible, to the fiscal plan for 2016. Letting the matter drift would direct debate towards proposals for 2017.

That’s not as far-fetched as it seems. Recall that the budget package unveiled two days has been under discussion since the April spring statement, half a year ago, and was the subject of copious speculation for weeks in advance of that.

Budget 2016 was always planned as the finished article.

If the plan all along was to fight the election on that basis, then the date will be set early in the new year.

Very, very early.

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