independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

John Downing: Labour bears brunt of public anger over cuts and that's not going to change soon

LABOUR members and supporters can today reflect that things could be worse. They could be backers of the United Left Alliance or another political group bracketed for survey purposes as 'Others'.

But that is about the only succour Labour can take from the latest RedC opinion poll. Being the smaller partner in a coalition government -- something the party has wanted to be for a decade and a half -- is indeed a tough old station. And all the signs are that it will get a heck of a lot tougher.

True, these opinion polls, published in the 'Sunday Business Post', are a monthly event. And, true again, there is no huge change in these headline findings for October. That, however, may well be the main point about this survey: its ordinariness; its 'political business-as-usual' story.

The biggest feature of the opinion poll is that Fine Gael and Enda Kenny are still flying high as they approach the end of their second year in office. On February 25, 2011, Fine Gael got 36pc of the available vote and returned 76 TDs.

Now, after 20 months of non-stop apportioning misery, Fine Gael are rated on 34pc. That is some achievement in itself.

Enda Kenny and his party are in no position to be complacent. The survey questions were put on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. On Sunday last the nation was treated to a strong goodwill signal about bank debt from German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Enda Kenny was benefiting from the backwash on those survey days.

We know not how, when, or how much will materialise from Berlin's goodwill. But all EU battles are long and grim and, for now at least, the Taoiseach and his officials are playing a good and strong game. Much about Enda Kenny's and Fine Gael's political future ultimately turns on the outcome of this eurozone process -- but for now the signs are good.

By contrast, drilling a little deeper into things, we cannot find any comparable good news for Eamon Gilmore and Labour. They got 19pc of the vote and returned 37 TDs in February 2011.

Labour are on 13pc -- down about a third in support 20 months after the election. Eamon Gilmore, though he heads the Department of Foreign Affairs which is in the vanguard of efforts to get a break on Ireland's bank debt, is not getting much political credit.

The survey breakdown brings even grimmer news for Labour: more than half of Labour's supporters are 'becoming disillusioned'; over one-third are 'losing faith' with the party. Just a little more than one in eight Labour supporters are described as 'loyal and happy' and would certainly vote for the party next time.

This is not new. Labour experienced this phenomenon in 1977 after four years in coalition with Fine Gael under Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave; in 1987 after a similar period in government led by the late Garret FitzGerald; and in 1997 after periods in government with both Fianna Fail and Fine Gael headed by Albert Reynolds and John Bruton.

Labour is undoubtedly being punished for having a more strongly stated set of beliefs. Times are tough and remedies are too often about squalid cutbacks in sectors they are sworn to defend. Not everything Labour is doing in government is wrong. But trying to communicate that fact remains a tall order.

It is interesting to note that Fine Gael has been busy moving into Fianna Fail's 'political catch-all' space since the last general election. But Micheal Martin's Fianna Fail just might be on the road back as they show on 19pc and are again in second place.

In fact, RedC shows that middle centrist Ireland is realistic about where we are right now. If you add Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, you find that support for taking the fiscal medicine is rock solid.

Sinn Fein, on 17pc, are still seven points ahead of their last election performance. But their soaraway rise has halted and if they are not winning hearts and minds now, perhaps they never will.

Ming Flanagan, Richard Boyd Barrett and all of the 'Others' remain on the political margins on a combined 17pc. It seems reasonable to expect that the far left in Irish politics could do better, given the harsh economic climate. More than half of those surveyed find that the country is 'on the wrong track'.

At a time when people -- including some of the International Monetary Fund's own experts -- feel that continual cutbacks and austerity are not what is required, surely the radical political wing could and should garner more support?

The far left frailty is indeed good news for Labour and Eamon Gilmore. But there is precious little other good news out there for them today.

Irish Independent

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