Tuesday 25 October 2016

Labour faces loss of 20 seats, key members fear

Niall O'Connor and Philip Ryan

Published 21/11/2015 | 02:30

Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton at the Global Economic Forum in Dublin Castle yesterday
Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton at the Global Economic Forum in Dublin Castle yesterday

Tánaiste Joan Burton has been warned that the party faces the prospect of losing over 20 seats in the General Election as concern heightens over the absence of a post-Budget bounce in the opinion polls.

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The issue of Labour's dismal standing in the polls was discussed at a number of internal party meetings in the past fortnight, including by the party's National Executive.

Constituency analysis commissioned by Labour Headquarters shows that the party faces being left with just 10 seats after the election, according to a number of party sources directly involved in election strategy.

The analysis is said to show that the party has the potential to take five seats in Dublin, as well others in constituencies such as Limerick, Wexford, Tipperary and Louth.

It's understood that the analysis has been passed on to both Ms Burton, deputy leader Alan Kelly and their sets of advisers.

But at both parliamentary and advisory level, the scale of the disquiet over the party's apparent failure to capitalise on last month's give-away budget has increased significantly.

"We are not at panic stations just yet, but it's fair to say we are getting there. We just don't seem to be able to get any kind of break," said a Labour strategist.

For the first time, members of the party are now openly discussing Ms Burton's replacement as party leader.

While there is no suggestion whatsoever of any move against her before the election, the consensus within the party is that a poor election result will result in the Dublin West TD being promptly replaced.

The three names being openly circulated in terms of her successor are Mr Kelly, Business and Employment Minister Ged Nash and Minister of State for Equality and Drugs Policy, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin.

However, all three TDs are preparing for a dogfight to hold on to their seats in their respective constituencies.

Privately, ministers and senior Labour figures agree that the party is failing to communicate effectively with the electorate.

A series of post-Budget opinion polls that showed the party is on single-figure support caused serious concerns among some of Ms Burton's closest supporters within the parliamentary party.

There is also growing unease surrounding Labour's manifesto and whether it will differ distinctly from that of Fine Gael.

One of the issues that has been reported back to party headquarters is the negative response from older voters in relation to the move by Ms Burton to increase the old age pension by €3 in October's Budget.

The feedback states that many voters have described the size of the increase as insulting, prompting suggestions among TDs that the move may have backfired.

A Labour minister this week said it was essential that the party made every effort to differentiate itself from Fine Gael in relation to the manifestos.

"Given that we are going into the election having agreed a transfer pact, it's essential the manifesto convinces voters.

"It's the last roll of the dice."

Irish Independent

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