Monday 24 October 2016

Micheál Martin should talk to the orphaned conservative voters

Published 29/05/2015 | 02:30

Fianna Fáil and Renua are scared to be called ‘socially conservative’ but they should be talking to socially conservative voters. Above, Micheal Martin canvassing on Grafton Street during the recent campaign. Photo: Steve Humphreys.
Fianna Fáil and Renua are scared to be called ‘socially conservative’ but they should be talking to socially conservative voters. Above, Micheal Martin canvassing on Grafton Street during the recent campaign. Photo: Steve Humphreys.

Neither side in the marriage referendum campaign is happy with Fianna Fáil right now. The No side isn't happy with them because the party officially supported the Yes side. The Yes side isn't happy because the party wasn't enthusiastic enough.

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To risk a quote from the Bible: "Since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth!" And that's exactly what the Yes side has done to Fianna Fáil.

So where does that leave them? Fianna Fáil tried to look cool by hanging around with the cool kids, but the cool kids knew they were faking it.

Even if Fianna Fáil had managed to look cool, it still would have availed them naught because they'd still look like pathetically slavish followers of fashion. Who wants to hang out with a trend-follower when you can hang out with the trend-setting instead?

There are some people in Fianna Fáil who know all this, but Micheál Martin isn't one of them. I think he sincerely believes in same-sex marriage. However, he seems to be convinced that if Fianna Fáil is ever to win back votes in Dublin there is only one way to go - and that is to do whatever the 'Irish Times' wants him to do.

Where has that got the party? Precisely nowhere. It's no coincidence that its first by-election victory in an age happened outside Dublin.

At the end of the day, almost three-quarters of a million people voted No last Friday. That is only about 100,000 less than voted for Fine Gael in the 2011 General Election. It is far more than voted for Fianna Fáil.

The 38pc of people who voted No is twice the present level of support for Fianna Fáil - and it was achieved with no media support and no support from any of the main parties.

Obviously, we have to allow for the fact that when it comes to general elections the majority of people vote on the basis of bread-and-butter issues. But a minority vote on the basis of social issues, and the social issues help to switch their vote if they think there isn't much difference between their two favoured parties economically speaking.

Everyone is chasing the socially liberal vote. No one is chasing the socially conservative vote. What explains this?

One reason is that several of our parties are genuinely socially liberal. Labour and Sinn Féin spring to mind.

A second big factor is our media. Any party that adopted a full-throated conservative stance on an issue like the right-to-life knows the media would roast it.

This combines with the pragmatism of many of our politicians. They like to follow the line of least resistance on everything and fighting the media is just too much for them.

Oddly enough, however, the recent referendum shows it can be done. While the No side lost, in the main we performed well in the media debates, despite the fact that this issue was supposed to be completely cut and dried. Who could possibly argue against 'equality'?

Of course, that's not how we on the No side saw it. That's not my point though. My point is that you can stand up in the teeth of an overwhelming media consensus and state your case well enough to still persuade lots of people.

Paradoxically, with the same-sex marriage referendum out of the way it should now be easier not harder for the likes of Fianna Fáil or Renua to start adopting some 'socially conservative' positions on some issues.

Same-sex marriage is what the media and the whole of the Irish Establishment really, really wanted. They are not het-up about schools, or child-care or the tax system, or even the right-to-life (although that is arguable).

In other words, a smaller price will be extracted from parties that defy the politically-correct consensus on these issues.

But the dividend of being willing to defy that consensus on certain issues is potentially very big.

There are an enormous number of orphaned voters in the country. No party seems to want them because they are scared they will lose more votes if they seek to give them a home.

That's nonsense. Does Fianna Fáil seriously think it would lose more votes than it gains if it became an unambiguously pro-life party? How could it possibly sink below its present level of support?

For the foreseeable future there is no hope of it becoming the biggest party in the country again. It might even struggle to become the second-biggest party again.

By becoming an unashamedly pro-life party it could add 5pc net to its support very quickly, plus several thousand volunteers all over the country.

Becoming pro-life also means opposing moves to permit assisted suicide. Permitting assisted suicide helps to normalise the whole idea of suicide and should be opposed for that reason alone.

Taking this stance will be controversial, of course. But so what? That should be a bonus. Taking a controversial stance means you believe in something. It will win you lots of criticism in some quarters but it will also win you respect in others.

At the moment almost no-one respects Fianna Fáil. Not even Fianna Fáil respects Fianna Fáil, I suspect. There are other policy areas it can look at. Child care is one. State-subsidised child care is an awful idea. Making direct payments to parents of young children is a much better idea.

Doing something about tax individualisation is another. It doesn't have to be rolled back, only ameliorated. There are still 250,000 stay-at-home wives (it is still mostly wives) in Ireland plus all their husbands. That's half a million voters.

Then there's the general area of how to tax families. Families with dependent children pay much more tax today than they did in the 1970s.

Renua should also look at all these areas. That should be obvious.

But I'll close with a bold and radical suggestion. At the moment not alone is no party socially conservative, no party even wants to talk to social conservatives - even though 734,000 people voted No last Friday despite everything being thrown at them. That figure of 734,000 is actually artificially low.

The likes of Fianna Fáil and Renua ought to open up proper lines of communication to social conservatives.

They might even like one or two of our ideas, and properly executed, they will certainly win over many of those orphaned voters.

Irish Independent

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