The Irish Times view on Labour’s prospects: Recovery in progress

Translating the boost in morale evident at party conference into votes at next election is the serious task ahead

Labour leader Brendan Howlin has asked party supporters to give their next preferences after Labour candidates to the Green Party and Social Democrats. Video: Youtube/labour

 

The mood at the Labour Party conference over the weekend was buoyed by the resounding victory of its former party chairman, Michael D Higgins, in the presidential election.

Labour suffered a catastrophic collapse in support in the last general election, which saw its number of Dáil seats plummet from the 37 it won in 2011 to just seven in February 2016. The party is still coming to terms with that traumatic experience. Adjusting to its new role as a small party of Opposition has not been easy, and Brendan Howlin, who became leader of the party after the election defeat, has taken time to find his feet.

Party morale has gradually improved over the past year and the presidential election came at just the right time. What made Higgins’s victory all the sweeter was the failure of Sinn Féin candidate Liadh Ní Riada to make any serious impact in the campaign. Sinn Féin has for some time presented itself as the rising force in Irish politics but the miscalculation by its new leader, Mary Lou McDonald, in forcing a presidential election contest has put a serious dent in that image.

The offer of transfers could help Labour become transfer-friendly itself. The lack of transfers at the last election was one of the reasons for the sheer scale of its losses

That has created an opening for Labour to rebuild its strength and prove the prophets of doom wrong. Translating the improvement in morale evident at its conference into votes at the next election is the serious task now facing the party.

Labour suffered a catastrophic collapse in support in the last general election, which saw its number of Dáil seats plummet from the 37 it won in 2011 to just seven in February 2016. Brendan Howlin’s party is still coming to terms with that traumatic experience. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times
Labour suffered a catastrophic collapse in support in the last general election, which saw its number of Dáil seats plummet from the 37 it won in 2011 to just seven in February 2016. Brendan Howlin’s party is still coming to terms with that traumatic experience. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

Howlin’s desire to build a “progressive Alliance” involving the Green Party, the Social Democrats and some Independents has already suffered a rebuff from Róisín Shortall. Nonetheless, it is a worthy ambition which could bear fruit in a number of ways. For a start, it can help to make Labour relevant in the next election campaign, which could so easily be dominated by the question of whether Leo Varadkar or Micheál Martin would make the best taoiseach.

On a practical level, the offer of transfers could help Labour become transfer-friendly itself. The lack of transfers at the last election was one of the reasons for the sheer scale of its losses. Labour has a long and honourable tradition. Its recovery would benefit Irish politics.

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