Monday 20 October 2014

Labour vote plummets to 7pc after backlash

DANIEL McCONNELL Political Correspondent

Published 25/05/2014 | 02:30

WHILE Charles Stewart Parnell said no man has the right to fix the boundary to the march of a nation, the nation has certainly fixed the boundary to the march of the Labour Party.

Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte said the public "vented their vengeance" in the ballot boxes and Labour has paid the price.

People in Ireland, he said, don't run down Grafton Street smashing in windows – they get their retribution at the polling booth.

From their record high of 2011, the party is now in a full-blown existential crisis.

While we all expected the junior coalition party to get a kicking, what happened this weekend was so savage and brutal as to leave Eamon Gilmore in the Intensive Care Unit with severe internal bleeding.

Rabbitte and his colleague Brendan Howlin sought to deflect responsibility for the devastating result, which saw the party's support slump from 19pc to 7.1pc, but there was no getting away from the scale of the defeat.

From 132 council seats across the country in 2009, following Friday's vote Labour has less than a third of that.

The party has also returned no MEP. Its only hope – Emer Costello in Dublin – polled woefully and was in seventh place, according to tallies.

The party's candidate in the Dublin West by-election, Lorraine Mulligan, was also running seventh, showing that the party's Meath East hammering was no once-off.

Early examinations of voting trends seem to suggest that the party's vote in working class areas has collapsed, whereas their vote in some middle-class Dublin areas has not been as badly affected.

This is somewhat perverse as the party has protected primary welfare payments to those poorer people while it has overseen harsh cuts and service cuts which have impacted the middle classes more.

From having seven seats on Cork County Council in 2009, Labour came back with just one, with outgoing Lord Mayor Councillor Catherine Clancy expected to retain her seat. Rabbitte said that it was very obvious that the recent trouble for the Government had impacted on the Labour vote.

"Everyone knows we have had a very bad couple of months and everyone knows the factors involved in that," he said.

Asked did he think Gilmore should remain as leader, Rabbitte said: "I do, yeah."

But how widespread is that belief? Rabbitte said that he hadn't met anyone who thought the calls by the party's outgoing MEP in Ireland South, Phil Prendergast, that there should be a new leader, was a good idea.

Rabbitte said he was unaware of any plot to oust Gilmore despite the party's bruising day at the polls.

"I honestly don't know anything nor have I heard anything and I don't think there is one," Rabbitte said.

However, Gilmore's leadership is now undoubtedly in question, and all eyes once again turn to the party's deputy leader, Joan Burton.

Burton and Gilmore have endured a turbulent relationship in Government and there is significant lingering resentment on Burton's side at her perceived sidelining by her leader and his key advisers.

But aside from the internal ramifications, this devastating result has wider implications for the stability of the Government.

Labour's colleagues in Government have not always been generous bedfellows and have often delighted in each other's woes, smug in the belief that they were immune from any public backlash.

Given that Fine Gael support has taken a 12-point hit, that complacency and arrogance is no longer tolerable, particularly if Enda Kenny wants to realise his dream of becoming the first Blueshirt Taoiseach to be re-elected in 2016. While a great deal of stocktaking will have to take place in both parties, Labour will have to radically alter its approach to Government.

The party's chairman, Jack Wall, called for a special conference in order to devise its new policy platform. Gilmore and his ministers have heralded the need for a renewal of purpose in Government.

The party must once again find its soul or risk disappearing from the national stage.

Labour has been given its warning in no uncertain terms.

Sunday Independent

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