A PEOPLE VOTES
Some very preliminary and personal thoughts on the Election (rather than on the prospects for the next Government).
The Election has certainly shaken up things though the evidence was all there in the polls, particularly the maverick one late on which caused panic in Fine Gael. There WAS no late surge, as many, me included, had thought likely. Both Sean Donnelly, with a proven track record of forecasting, and Ivan Yates, who was after all in a previous life a bookie, got it almost right on the day before the vote:
Donnelly ( accurate in previous elections) gave FG 49 FF 41 LABOUR 8 SF 22 ALL OTHERS 37. Yates gave FG 51 FF 39 LAB 7 SF 29 AAA/PBP 6 SD 3 RENUA 1 ALL OTHERS 22.
I doubt if the results are quite as earth –shattering as some of the more excited commentators are claiming. There has certainly been fragmentation of the old system, with support for the two major parties less than 50% this time around. Arguably, as, inter alia Gene Kerrigan has written, this election was the Second Crash Election with the legacy issues post 2008 casting a comprehensive shadow across the government’s record. Just as Fianna Fail were punished in 2011 for being deemed responsible for the mess, this time around the Coalition got it in the neck for the residual austerities required by the rescue. Yet Fianna Fail did manage a significant bounce back so whether the two main parties will continue to languish at below 50% in future elections remains to be seen.
Sinn Fein continues its march, consolidating its working class support , including – according to analysts – significant numbers of blue collar unemployed males. Its share of the vote increased from 9.9% to 13.8%, its seats from 14 to 23 (and in a smaller house) . Interestingly, however, its 13.8% was roughly similar to its candidate’s share in the 2011 Presidential election and actually less than the 15.2% the party got in the 2014 local elections. It is no longer making inroads into Fianna Fail’s support. The next election (whenever) will show whether its rise will continue or whether it has peaked at a certain level. As election day approached, successive opinion polls gave it less and less support. What is indisputable is that it has “arrived” as a major force in politics.
Renua bombed – which was fairly predictable – while the Social Democrats received 64,000 votes and got all their three highly impressive candidates elected , together with several good shows elsewhere. They could be a force in future or alternatively go the way of a number of small parties. All three of their T.D.s are cabinet material. The Independents are either favourite –son style people out for their constituents alone, or some with the potential to offer something nationally. It will be interesting to see how they – and the Social Democrats – feature in the negotiating process over the next government.
The hard left – AAA/PBP – got an identifiable six seats with just under 4% of the vote – the same number as Labour ( excluding Penrose) though with far less votes -84,000 as against 140,898. The not-so-hard left got four seats with 31,365 votes, 1.5% of the total. Collectively hardly the new dawn of a socialist Ireland. Targeted seats, high profile candidates and extremely good vote management and organisation brought its rewards. The water charge issue galvanised a particular segment of the urban working class. Whether this can be sustained and built upon in the long term only time will tell.
None of the commentators appear to have focussed on Voter turnout which, last week, at 65% nationally, was down by 5% compared to 2011. The low poll (the total voting was 85,000 less than 2011) could have affected support for the Government, particularly Fine Gael. Note that Fine Gael’s last disastrous showing , in 2002, when they actually slumped to 24.5% of the first preferences – less than last week – coincided with the lowest national poll – 62.7% – at least since the War and probably since the 1920s. In 1987, also after a period in an austerity driven government, Fine Gael’s support fell from 37.3% to 27.1%. Significantly, in that election, the new party – the PDs – garnered 12% of the vote while support for Fianna Fail was largely unchanged.
Labour lost out by small margins in a number of constituencies and could regain some of them next time around. Its core vote has hovered around 10-11% since the mid- 70s (1992 and 2011 were aberrations), and actually its performance in 1987, significantly coming out of the same government of austerity, was worse than last week, with only 6.4% of the vote. Plus ca change? Back in the Sixties, when Labour had somewhat higher support ( remember Brendan Corish in 1969, when Labour was on a socialist kick, and got 17% – “ Let’s build the New Republic”) it had a monopoly of support on the left. It has now significant opposition there. The issue of Trade Union support for Labour looks like becoming a live one –flagged already by Ogle, Coppinger and others.
It is often overlooked that , since the 60’s, and the Lemass era, when the country started to grow and experience modest prosperity, the electorate has almost always voted to “throw the bums out” by voting out the incumbent government next time around. The exceptions were Bertie’s three-in-a-row. Haughey “lost” in 1989 and clung on by going into coalition, and Albert was propped up by Labour in 1992 – for which Labour paid a price five years later. After five years of at best rather lack-lustre austerity government, however necessary, and having been gifted the 2011 election , there was bound to be a voter reaction. Woe betide a government that frustrates the public’s expectations.
Apart from the “Recovery? – What Recovery?” sentiment, what undoubtedly helped undermine Fine Gael was that it lost the Emperor’s suit of clothes image of being more upright and upstanding than Fianna Fail. The “minor” matter of the McNulty appointment to the board of IMMA did incalculable damage to that image amid charges of cronyism. Albert’s remark that it was the small hurdles that brought you down comes to mind. Similarly Enda’s remark that the weekly cost of paying the water charges was about half a pint of beer was insensitive; it factors into 26 pints in a year which, to someone on a low income, is significant. The whole Irish Water fiasco, plus the Medical Cards and health cuts also smacked of insensitivity.
Furthermore, having preached stability continuity and recovery, Fine Gael were seen, half way through the campaign, as panicking and shifting on taxation policy over its plan to abolish the USC. Coming on top of the “fiscal space” confusion this fatally undermined its claim to be the best party to manage the economy. However it was dressed up the plan rang hollow, given the central importance of the charge in the Government’s finances. That Sinn Fein should have pointed this out served to rub salt into the wound.
As I write, Irish Water is still the disaster that continues to give. The inelegant pavane we are hearing today around the issue of charges and paying for them doesn’t inspire much confidence all round. The arguments for a single authority appear to me unanswerable. There is one – though I don’t agree with the quango form with which we have been saddled. Let’s see what we can do with it, reforming or restructuring as necessary. But on the issue of charges it would appear that, one way or another, the people have spoken.