Sunday 11 December 2016

Back to the future with FG and FF

Mindful of what is now happening in Greece, voters are returning to the traditional parties

Published 28/06/2015 | 02:30

An Taoiseach Enda Kenny
An Taoiseach Enda Kenny

After the boom, the bust, the austerity and the angst, and now the recovery, the latest Sunday Independent/Millward Brown opinion poll shows that either Fine Gael or Fianna Fail will lead the next Government.

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Fianna Fail (23pc), the party held responsible for the economic collapse, now finds it has the wind in its sails, up four points to its highest support level in a year and a half.

Fine Gael (29pc), the party that has implemented four years of austerity in one regressive budget after another, is also up four points, but finds itself looking around for a partner with whom to share a second term.

In fact, Fine Gael and Fianna Fail are the only two parties which can reasonably form a majority Government, according to this poll, something which some of us have been predicting for some time now.

This latest poll confirms Labour (6pc), down two points, has struggled, and seems to have failed to put a floor under the collapse in its support.

There will be bitter recriminations within Labour this weekend when it becomes evident that voters have credited Fine Gael for the recovery and still resent the role played by the smaller coalition party in that process.

In fact, the poll shows there isn't a snowball's chance of the current Coalition being returned to office, whatever the increase in satisfaction with the Government - up three points to 26pc, or the even greater decrease in dissatisfaction, down six points to 63pc.

However bad it is for Labour, an argument could be made that it is even worse for Sinn Fein (21pc), down three points, which its supporters will, this weekend, still believe to be a credible showing.

But that rating throws Sinn Fein back to the dog days of the child sex abuse scandals that swamped the party for some time and, many believe, actually started the rot.

What is really significant, however, is that Sinn Fein is the only party to register a second successive drop in these polls, no co-incidence, one imagines, when voters see clearly the manner in which bedfellows Syriza is playing its hand in Greece at the moment.

Now let us have a look at the satisfaction ratings of the party leaders: all have registered an increase, even Joan Burton - all, that is, except Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams (30pc), down two points.

Sinn Fein may not realise it yet, but as the diggers dig up more bodies in a bog, its bloody past preserved for all to see, the party really is in crisis.

How remarkable, though, that after everything the country has been through, and with an election a few months away, that the traditional parties, Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, should be to whom voters are turning.

More than Fine Gael, however, it is Fianna Fail which will take most heart, or be most relieved, by this poll.

Micheal Martin (36pc), the party's often unfairly criticised leader, is comfortably the most popular leader: his dissatisfaction (45pc) has dropped a significant 12 points since April.

Fianna Fail will need that buffer, and more, ahead of the Banking Inquiry next month, when former luminaries Bertie Ahern, Brian Cowen and Charlie McCreevy give evidence.

The inquiry has had some success in recent weeks in illuminating many of the decisions so controversially taken by Fianna Fail around the time of the bailout.

Sinn Fein will be the most keen to politically capitalise on the inquiry, but perhaps it should attend to its own standing and image first and foremost.

The poll finds Sinn Fein is the only party to show an increase in its level of toxicity since the last poll - 37pc, up five points, of voters say they would not consider voting for them.

It seems as if voters have listened carefully to the evidence of senior civil servants in particular, and have looked to the relationship between the Troika and Syriza to decide that Fianna Fail may not be so bad after all.

Less than a quarter (24pc) of voters say they will not vote for Fianna Fail, a toxicity level down six points since April; in fact Fianna Fail is the most transfer-friendly of all of the main parties.

When the evidence of Ahern, Cowen, McCreevy, and Mary Harney is heard, it will be the turn of Enda Kenny, Richard Bruton, Pat Rabbitte and Joan Burton, Opposition leaders during the boom and bust.

It would seem inevitable that Fianna Fail will draw attention to the fact that Fine Gael and Labour back then called for even greater spending and further tax cuts than those so recklessly introduced by Fianna Fail-led governments.

Could it be that Fianna Fail will actually emerge somewhat strengthened from the Banking Inquiry, or less damaged than anybody thought possible now that the inquiry has been set against the backdrop of events in Greece?

There are other factors, of course, to explain the increased support for Fianna Fail, not least the resignation from the party of Senator Averil Power, who by default may have rallied a more conservative voter to the party.

Fine Gael, however, is in pole position as the Dail heads towards a final summer recess before the general election. After summer there will be the Budget and after that, well, the election campaign will be well and truly under way.

The only difficulty for Fine Gael is with whom to form a government. It is not going to happen with Labour, according to this poll; in fact, it is unlikely that the addition of a single hand of Independents will see them over the line either.

So will we have a four-hand Coalition, or even a five-hand, or will Fine Gael and Fianna Fail share power for the first time as virtually equal partners in Government?

The next few weeks and months will tell us who will lead such a coalition: the odds are on Enda Kenny, but do not bet against Micheal Martin, who seems set to achieve a remarkable turnaround, and at just the right time, if Fianna Fail can safely negotiate the Banking Inquiry next month.

Sunday Independent

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