News Analysis

Monday 22 September 2014

Daniel McConnell: Gilmore now staring into the abyss

The slump in support for Labour threatens the stability of the entire Coalition

Published 20/04/2014 | 02:30

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Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore. Photo: Steve Humphreys

AFTER more than two months of continuing controversy surrounding Justice Minister Alan Shatter, Taoiseach Enda Kenny will be delighted that his party remains the most popular in the country.

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In today's Sunday Independent/Millward Brown poll, not only have Fine Gael's numbers held up, they have actually risen by two per cent to 29 per cent, showing it to be remarkably immune to the dark clouds hovering over Mr Shatter.

More specifically, Fine Gael is at 36 per cent in Dublin, miles ahead of the rest of the pack, but it is at just 17 per cent in the rest of Leinster. It is clear middle Ireland believes the slow, steady progress on the economy, as advocated by Finance Minister Michael Noonan, is the best course of action. Once again, "it's the economy stupid" and nothing else matters.

However, as happy as Mr Kenny will be with the Fine Gael numbers, the continued slump in support for Labour threatens to spoil his plan of leading this Government until 2016.

Such is the crisis in Labour that the likelihood of it lasting the full term has lessened significantly. It is now in full-blown crisis mode as it is heading for a Green or Progressive Democrat-style wipeout.

In 2010, Eamon Gilmore was consistently identified as Labour's greatest asset. His assured and razor-sharp performances at Leaders' Questions countering then Taoiseach Brian Cowen made him a conduit for an angry public watching the country implode.

Labour's poll ratings peaked above 30 per cent, leading some to think, foolishly, that the party could lead the next government. We all remember the hubris-driven 'Gilmore for Taoiseach' slogan. We also remember his foolhardy election outburst of "Frankfurt's way or Labour's way".

Now, Mr Gilmore is being referred to by some within Labour as the party's greatest liability.

Four years ago he was the most popular leader in the country, now he is the least popular. One in three Labour voters think he is not doing a good job as leader.

Other than a mini uplift in the party's fortunes after the country exited the bailout last December, Labour has been on a downward trend.

The public simply doesn't buy its story and feel it lied to them to get elected.

To put the slump in context, Labour got 19 per cent of the vote in the 2011 election, and today's findings are the party's lowest support level since we began tracking more than a year ago.

The other clear finding of today's poll is that any hopes an improving economy would rescue Labour's fortunes have been cruelly dashed. Worse still, when the high level of don't knows are included, Labour's core support stands at just four per cent.

Labour is not getting any recognition for the improving economy, its protection of social welfare rates or its cosseting of the public sector. Instead, it is being punished, hammered even, for not demanding higher standards from troublesome FG ministers like Shatter, James Reilly and Phil Hogan.

Having promised to be the watchdog in government, Labour's tolerance of their continued mishaps, and the refusal to call for a head, has hurt its support base. Those who voted for the party expected it to be the conscience of government and are blaming it – not FG – for allowing the toxic trio to remain in office.

With Labour on its lowest poll level yet, the question now being asked is how long more can it afford to keep Mr Gilmore as leader?

If this poll is bad news for Labour, it is also very bad news for Fianna Fail. Whereas the latest Irish Times poll had FF and FG neck and neck on 25 per cent, our poll has FF on 22 per cent, seven points behind FG. For Micheal Martin, having placed so much political capital on the garda whistleblower issue, he will be disappointed not to be higher in the polls. There has been much disquiet in the party at its lack of progress, particularly in its level of popular support.

Of particular concern to FF will be its support level in Dublin of just nine per cent, and such a low level of support would not bode well for MEP candidate Mary Fitzpatrick as she faces into polling day on May 23.

Such a low support base in the capital only furthers the belief that the party is now seen as a rural organisation rather than one looking to represent young professionals and young families.

It is, however, very strong in the rest of Leinster, where it is at 32 per cent. It must change its narrative if it is to improve its support levels in Dublin.

Another cause for concern for Mr Martin is that Sinn Fein is breathing down FF's neck. Compared with the 10 per cent it achieved in the 2011 general election, SF is clearly winning the battle of the left of centre at the expense of Labour and FF.

Independents at 21 per cent remain a channel for disenchanted voters, who feel the mainstream parties offer them very little. Today's poll will no doubt give rise to questions about Mr Gilmore's leadership of Labour. Should the party replicate its poll ratings on election day, then he will be a dead man walking.

@mcconnelldaniel

Sunday Independent

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