Fionnan Sheahan: Gilmore mustn't Labour point on being Taoiseach
Published 17/04/2010 | 05:00
'GILMORE for Taoiseach'. Watch out for the big red signs with this slogan at the Labour Party conference in Galway this weekend.
(Unless the party handlers have seen sense and ditched them).
Among his party faithful, Eamon Gilmore will again make his pitch to become Taoiseach.
Gilmore extravagantly claims Labour can become the largest party at the next general election.
And what party wouldn't want to be the biggest after a General Election?
The reality is somewhat different.
This week, when pressed on his ambitions to become Taoiseach, Gilmore wasn't exactly effusively confident.
"The basis on which the Labour Party will contest the next General Election is on the basis we want a Labour-led government," he said.
"If the hunger for change is as strong as I believe it is then, yes, it is a realistic prospect [that he become Taoiseach]," he added.
Labour argue the next General Election is a three-horse race between their party, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael to see who leads the next government.
The party is upping the pressure on RTE to allow Gilmore participate in the real leaders' debate, rather than being left in the second string.
On Thursday night, the British electorate watched the first of a series of debates between Labour Party leader and Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Conservative Party leader David Cameron and Liberal Democrats leader Nick Clegg.
Before the debate even started, it was perceived Clegg was already a winner as the process put him on the same level as the sitting and alternative PM.
Only an MP for the past five years, Clegg isn't going to become prime minister, but he might yet hold the balance of power if Labour or the Tories fail to get an overall majority in the House of Commons.
Taking the British general election as a template to work off, Labour wants a number of three-way debates, involving Brian Cowen, Enda Kenny and Gilmore.
Liz McManus, the party's communications spokeswoman, says it's time "for RTE to acknowledge that the Irish electorate will have the same three- way choice at the next election here". Pointing to recent opinion polls, she says "Irish politics is now a three-horse race".
She says the most recent Millward Brown Lansdowne opinion poll showed a range of 15pc between the three main parties. (Conveniently, she left out Labour's standing in that Irish Independent poll, putting her party on just 19pc, compared with Fianna Fail on 27pc and Fine Gael on 34pc).
McManus is not massaging the figures when she says "a number of opinion polls have put Labour ahead of Fianna Fail". This is true, but the pattern wasn't consistent.
She also points out Labour won a quarter of the seats in the European elections -- the same number as Fianna Fail.
Even in this 2009 contest, Fianna Fail got 24pc of the national vote -- compared with 14pc for Labour. Fine Gael got 29pc. On the same day, in the local elections, Fine Gael got 32pc of the vote to take 340 city and county council seats, Fianna Fail on 24pc of the vote won just 218 seats and Labour on 15pc won 132 seats.
Again a nine-point gap between Labour and the second party in the contest -- even on Fianna Fail's worst day.
Based on Labour's own chosen ground of recent polls and last year's elections, Gilmore's chances of leading the largest party in the Dail after the next general election are non-existent. The prospects of him leading the second largest party are also remote, but not entirely out of the question if Fianna Fail's fortunes continue to decline. However, there is one scenario which would have to come off for Gilmore to be Taoiseach -- going into coalition with Fianna Fail.
FIANNA Fail would have to suffer utterly devastating results, losing half their seats, fulfilling all their worst meltdown nightmares, with Labour profiting quite substantially and doubling its TDs, with Fine Gael stagnant, for this event to come to pass.
Fine Gael are targeting an overall majority at the next general election. It's an overly-ambitious goal at this point, but a target nonetheless for a party on track to lead the next government.
For Labour's aspiration to be credible, a heck of a lot of factors need to fall into place, including the possibility of an unlikely Labour-Fianna Fail coalition.
Starting from a base of 20 TDs, Gilmore has no right to be talking about becoming Taoiseach if he isn't willing to countenance such a result.
Labour have every right to ask to be involved in a coalition party leaders' debate -- not a Government leaders' debate.
Their demands for more than one debate have a lot of merit.
Just drop the 'Gilmore for Taoiseach'. It weakens the rest of the argument.