Tag Archives: eamon gilmore

Gilmore and Labour get lucky but will it be enough?

A difficult 2013 saw Labour lose a string of councillors, a chairman, an MEP and an ignominious fifth placing in the Meath by-election but by December Gilmore and party handlers celebrated the years end with a bit of luck and a string of good news announcements.

The first, the impending bail out for December 15th , was followed by November’s Red C poll pitching Lablour at 12% which happily consigned the Irish Times 6% October poll to the aberration bin.  This news, coupled with a fall in jobless numbers to 12.9%, laid the foundations for a carefully controlled but successful annual conference.  

Gilmore steadied nerves, repeated his message of tough decisions but steady hands, and provided Labour grassroots with the confidence to go out and face the electorate for the impending Local and European elections.

A further boost saw the Gilmore candidate Lorraine Mulligan beat former General Secretary Ray Kavanagh for party chair.  With the conference barely over, former troublesome chair Colm Keaveney, announced that he was joining the phoenix-like Damascian new principled Fianna Fáil.

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For many, leaving an organization that has been a part of a political life for so many years is never easy.   Once the flurry of media activity dies down, the self-inflicted banishment is combined with an ostracisation by former colleagues. You clear out your office and watch former colleagues and junior staff, who once hung on your every word, avoid you like the plague. The only people who seem consistently interested are the political correspondents hunting for juicy soundbites every time another ‘adjustment’ is announced.  Backchannels whisper ‘never a team player’, ‘disloyal’, ‘bitter’, ‘opportunistic’, ‘only interested in protecting the seat’.

But spare a thought too for those who tough it out – the backbenchers who disagree, but argue from the inside, tirelessly defending the organization and soaking up the flak. These loyalists often feel abandoned by resigning colleagues, and feel especially hurt when accused of deserting core values. They know resignations are not good for the optics – that they undermine, make their positions less secure and can rally doorstep anger.

As for the grassroots, smaller parties tend to attract a more value-driven member – committed, loyal, usually the most hard-working – and the most likely to leave following Coalition compromises.  For Labour, this loss of ground troops is somewhat offset by their 10 per cent rating and the re-drawing of the local election electoral boundaries in favour of larger seat constituencies which will suit their candidates.

While many are surprised at the nearly halving of the 2011 general election vote, there are those who claim it as a major achievement given the challenging economic circumstances.

Poll-wise, the overall yearly trend shows that Fine Gael (30%) and Fianna Fáil (22%) have steadied but Labour has dipped. With Sinn Féin on 18% and Independents and others at 21% it will not be enough to campaign negatively claiming the ‘other crowd would be a lot worse’.  The Smithwick Tribunal, Adams idiosynchratic utterings but particularly the constant political attacks have had the desired effect of checking Sinn Féin’s rise and probably curtailing any reasonable ability to be transfer-friendly.

But with a core vote of 10%, just who is the Labour voter? Junior Minister Jan O’Sullivan’s announcement of cuts to grants for disabled and elderly people with mobility problems would indicate that it is not the marginalized and the organizations that support them.  It is not a marginalized or even a radical vote.  Is it a higher professional, liberal, secular and mainly urban voter, made up of people who belong and feel comfortable in society, for example, the big unions and those that work for them?

With the budget out the way, Labour’s local candidates, would appear to have a clear enough run of it.   However with a full property tax payable by the end of March, the introduction of water charges and a further austerity budget in October, combined with a backdrop of a massive rural campaign against the construction of electric pylons and wind turbines, it will be far from a clear run-in.

In the locals Labour should do reasonably well in Dublin but will ship losses countrywide.

European-wise, in Dublin’s 3 seater, only one looks a definite Fine Gael seatwith the other two up for grabs among FF, Labour, Socialist, Green and a strong Independent.  In Ireland South, a large four seater, there is one Fianna Fáil and one Fine Gael with the last two seats among Fine Gael, Labour, Sinn Féin and a strong independent.  Even though the Labour candidates have a low profile, with a strong campaign, they could retain two MEPs.

Prediction:  Labour won’t do well, but they won’t do badly either.

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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?