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.
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.