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Can Labour survive its Black Tuesday tipping point?

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The latest Ipsos/MRBI poll (Tues 1st October) is more bad news for the Labour Party particularly given the ray of hope provided by  the Sunday Times Behaviour and Attitudes poll on Sunday 22 September  which pitched the party at 11%.  A Sunday Independent Millward Brown poll on the 1st September reporting an 8% poll rating, while making uncomfortable reading, could probably be justifiably be written off, coming as it did at the tail end of the ‘silly season’.  However this latest poll is nothing less than a devastating result.

Based on these results, if an election were called tomorrow, the present coalition would return 34% (FG 28 / Lab 6) while Fianna Fáil  22% and Sinn Féin  23% would return  45%.  Greens, Independents and Others amount to 23%.   These results open up the possibility of either a future FF/Sinn Féin  or a Fine Gael/Fianna Fáil coalition.

Any evaluation of Labour’s woes must take account of the party’s optics and tone of message.   Right from the off, Labour were under scrutiny.  Rows about portfolios, Burton side-lined, Quinn re-instated amid cries of ‘Where’s Gilmore?’ In contrast Fine Gael felt mandated, were confident, highly visible and seemed well-equipped for austerity measures.   Fine Gael’s demeanour and messaging has found a perfect fit between the organisation and its target market – those senior and upper middle income earners that are gainfully employed, riding the recession and managing.  This cohort understand that sacrifices are necessary for a return to certainty.   Kite flying about a reduction in taxes has also been cleverly directed at this voter section.

Sinn Féin have also been crystal clear about the voters it wishes to attract  – the lower income earners, the unemployed, the carers etc that feel disenfranchised and badly let down, or to use Sinn Féin-speak, betrayed by Labour.  They continue their sound-bite mantra taunting Labour as the pro-austerity party supportive of a cosy consensus of cuts. And, of course, once Labour entered Government, it ceded the harder left constituency to Sinn Féin, who have used every opportunity to maximize this weakness. Intellectually challenging? No.  Simple, effective and making an impact?  Definitely.

And what of Labour’s tone?   Ruairi Quinn was criticised for stating that some parents view child benefit as a holiday fund while the same Minister found himself embroiled in a minor controversy over his ministerial car mileage claims to his holiday home in the West of Ireland.  Joan Burton has used the phrase ‘lifestyle choice’ to describe certain social welfare recipients but also in the context of women who took leave to have children who may have foregone pension entitlements as a result.  Not much empathy exuded here but particularly when you consider that Burton has hung on to her DIT public sector pension and only resigned her senior lecturer’s position in 2011, having spent nearly a decade on leave of absence.  However it is Pat Rabbitte who tops the poll in this regard – his  retort to  breaking election promises with the throwaway – Isn’t that what you tend to do during an election?, his remark that you’d have to be a caveman to avoid the new Broadcasting charge, his strange reply to a question on Morning Ireland regarding Denis O’Brien’s attendance at the Global Economic Forum was:  ‘I don’t know what kind of test you’d expect the government to cause invitees to the Global Economic Forum to jump through’ and his sneering demeanour when Fianna Fáil leader Michael Martin raised the Lowry Tapes issue – all these incidences are examples of poor optics and evidence of a Labour Party that, at times,  appears as far away from a left wing party that you could possibly get.

Added to this has been the aggressive dismissal of former colleagues who have accused the leadership of abandoning core Labour Party principles.

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In the Shortall case, Labour Ministers and backbenchers closed ranks and supported Reilly’s actions  but by standing over Reilly’s alleged ‘Americanisation’ of the Health Service it disregarded what Shortall claimed was Labour’s founding principles.  The trend that has emerged in all these instances is a Labour leadership that refuses to address the cause of the issue for fear of going against Fine Gael and risking a dissolution of the coalition.   A Haughey-esque ‘power at whatever cost’ scenario has emerged.

Labour’s loss, of course, is now Sinn Féin and the Independents gain.

The Labour Party  communications strategy is to dismiss any criticism with well-worn soundbites – ‘we are putting the country ahead of any self-interest’,  ‘we did not enter this government to be popular and for short term poll results’ and ‘we must  put the country before any self-interest’.   Meanwhile behind the scenes there will be a lot more than mild panic.

Labour continue to claim that things would have been a lot worse had they not been in Government  and that they are protecting a ‘threshold of decency’.  Their problem is two-fold:  they promised radical reform and an overhaul of the decision-making processes and, despite these claims, have fallen way short of it.  Secondly, many believe that there is absolutely no economic, moral or social case for cutting the income of vulnerable groups or those on minimum incomes, when there is an alternative.

The good news for Labour is that it cannot get much worse.  It should also be noted that the Labour vote has always, given a margin of error, hovered around 12%.  The aberrations or dramatic vote increases occurred during the 1992 Spring tide and in 2011.  Labour attracted a lot of new voters but has now lost them just as quickly.

The question is – has Labour now reached its Black Tuesday tipping point?

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Why Labour fared so poorly

Among the many factors which has led to the poor Labour Party performance in Meath was the inherent contradiction in its key canvassing message:  ‘A vote for any of the other candidates is a vote for the status quo but a vote for Labour will increase our influence and power in Government’.  Yet Labour leader Eamonn Gilmore’s advice  was that, if he had a vote in the by-election,  he would give his second preference to Fine Gael.

Labour’s messaging and optics depicted a leadership and campaign team out of touch with the general mood. Media descriptions of the Labour candidate portrayed an impressively dressed film producer and restaurant owner energetically canvassing for more influence within Government while launching a policy in support of same sex marriage.  There was a distinct ‘cool hibernia’ feel to the campaign.  And, of course, the backdrop to all this was the coalition’s description of the Cypriot deal – to tax small depositors and increase corporation tax – as a ‘positive development’.  Meanwhile property tax notices came dropping through Meath letterboxes.

You do not have to reach too far back into the recent past to find the template for this behavior. The Greens, as junior coalition partners to Fianna Fáil, eagerly promoted civil partnership and a Lord Mayor for Dublin during the worst economic meltdown since the foundation of the State, to a bewildered and angry electorate.    A key problem for Labour is that, depending on your view, that is, whether Fine Gael’s election campaign was so successful or Labour’s so inept, the party was panicked into making all sorts of promises during the campaign that it has not kept.  Its clever Tesco-style  advert ‘Every Little Bit Hurts’ attacking Fine Gael’s policy plans was considered a masterstroke of electioneering in that it halted the Labour slide and ensured Fine Gael would not form a single party government.  Labour’s problem is that five of the six items – cuts to child benefit, an increase in VAT, in car tax, on wine and DIRT tax have all been imposed under Labour’s watch while the sixth, a water tax, is due next year.  In fact, Pat Rabbitte was heavily criticized for his response when he retorted,   ‘Isn’t that what you tend to do during an election?’.

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Of course, it is not all Labour’s fault.  They inherited a basket case of an economy beholden to a troika inspectorate and a four year austerity plan to balance the books and repay the bailout.  The political gains of the promissory note deal, if any, are well overshadowed by the cuts to low and middle income public sector workers in Croke Park II.  Labour’s vote has been eaten into by Sinn Féin who continue to taunt them as a pro-austerity party supportive of a cosy consensus of cuts.  Sinn Féin have been joined by a rejuvenated Fianna Fáil who, while generally supportive of a coalition that is following FF policy to the letter, claim they would ‘do the same, but not that way’.

You may be left scratching your head wondering how Fine Gael have survived the electorates wrath? Well, the 2011 general election was far from a radical transformation – more a shift of voters from one conservative catholic nationalist party to another.  What we have now is two Irelands made up of those that are gainfully employed, are riding the recession and managing versus those that are under pressure and feeling the pain.   It is the latter that transferred allegiance to Labour and now feel betrayed.   Somewhere in this mix, according to the Meath figures, are voters who previously voted Labour but just cannot vote for Sinn Féin and shifted to Direct Democracy Ireland.

For Labour though, even in areas where voters expected them to make a difference it has been otherwise – the failure to reduce or withdraw funding to fee-paying schools, the delays in the introduction of  a media ownership bill and ongoing failure to curb bankers pay and reduce, in any significant way, the pensions awarded to senior  politicians and civil servants, are just a few.    What Labour has produced is the fig leaf of constitutional reform but even these measures fall way short of the sweeping reforms necessary to radically overhaul the decision-making processes the country so badly needs.

Pat Rabbitte has observed that the by-election was fought on national issues and not on local ones.  Important as it undoubtedly is, the Labour leadership felt that same-sex marriage was a key national issue.

Finally, the Labour leadership knows it has some searching questions to answer.  It went before the electorate and asked for a mandate for more influence and power to implement its policies.  The electorate’s reply was ‘What policies?’ and ‘No’.

Kony campaign a model of ‘slacktivism’?


Has the Kony campaign highlighted the sheepherding ability of social media activism and given it a bad name?

The San Diego based charity, Invisible Children, headed by film maker and co-founder Jason Russell,  who made the film, have been accused of supporting violence through military intervention and of promoting a simplistic  ‘seek and destroy’ simplistic solution to a complex problem, making a bad situation worse.

This is a clever video campaign and may be a far more interesting communications case study on how small charity organisations  or issues, products etc can optimise new media to grow globally.  It is far less impressive when dealing with the complex issue of negotiating peace settlements and re-building broken and dysfunctional societies.

As one pundit described it:  An essay in slacktivism?

In the meantime maybe Rihanna’s PR consultant might advise her to put her top back on.

Strauss-Kahn: The Porche-driving Socialist

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IMF Leader, and likely ‘Socialist’ presidential candidate in next year’s elections, Dominique Strauss-Kahn,  did himself no favours when he and his millionaire wife  were photographed stepping into a black Porsche Panamera S outside their apartment on the 17th century Place des Vosges.

DSK’s defence is that he does not own the car and had merely borrowed it from his PR adviser!

Champagne Socialist - Dominique Strauss-Kahn steps into the Porsche Panamera S

The French weekly, Le Canard Enchaine, with no advertising, outsells Le Monde

Le Canard enchaine - an outspoken newspaper that carries no advertising yet outsells Le Monde

The French weekly ‘Le Canard’ Enchaine’ (The Chained Duck) carries no photographs or advertising, its articles are unsigned and the newspaper shuns the web (http://www.lecanardenchaine.fr/)

With about 600,000 copies bought each week – considerably more than dailies such as Le Monde and Le Figaro – the paper turns a healthy profit and has a cushion of 100 million euro in the bank.

So just how do they do it?   Interesting article here

Breaking up in an Online World – How to avoid E-Stalkers

E-Stalking

Breaking up is indeed hard to do. It can be even harder when you realize that you follow your ex (and more importantly, your ex follows you) on all the social networks—especially if one or both of you really shouldn’t be. Follow these basic steps to make life easier and protect yourself from being bugged, harassed, or stalked on the web.