The Yates Anthology: For Labour, there's no safety in numbers
Published 30/01/2016 | 02:30
It's Labour's turn to have its annual bash as Joan Burton's weary charges descend on Willie Penrose home turf - Westmeath.
It also happens to be the territory of one of the party's rare safe seats.
It will more than likely be its last set piece before the Dáil is dissolved, probably on Tuesday. Anxiety about imminent electoral annihilation abounds.
Back in 2011, a somewhat delusional Fianna Fáil still believed ministers could buck trends.
They lost all but 20 seats. They would have deemed it "incomprehensible" that only Brian Lenihan would survive in Dublin.
The woke up to a very miserable reality.
Looking at the numbers in four-seat constituencies, it's mathematically impossible for the government parties to retain three seats - or a 75pc outcome - given that they only have 40pc of the votes.
It comes down to the simple but brutal matter of who loses. I was quite confident that Joan Burton would hold her own seat in Dublin West.Yet the recent record of Tánaistí securing their seats is not reassuring.
In 2007, PD leader Michael McDowell as Tanaiste lost his seat spectacularly in Dublin South East. In 2011, it was the turn of FF deputy leader and Tánaiste Mary Coughlan to be shown the door. Could we see a fairly sensational hat-trick?
My own view is that Leo Varadkar (FG), Paul Donnelly (SF) and Ruth Coppinger (Socialist) will all make it safely into the 32nd Dáil.
That leaves Joan battling gamely with Jack Chambers (FF) and David McGuinness (Independent Alliance).
The elimination of the weaker of this duo could see transfers propel the winner over the line.
All candidates in the constituency are becoming somewhat paranoid. Even the unflappable Health Minister, the laconic laid-back Leo, is being wound up by his pals with humorous false reports of Labour canvassers calling to doors with this message: "The Government strategy in this area is to give the number one votes to Joan to ensure retaining two seats."
Of course, the stories are groundless, given that he's seeking every last first preference for himself, and strongly denies his seat is safe.
Unsurprisingly, Labour blames the big bad pundits for the less-than-sunny poll outlook. Instead of recognising pure psephology, it sees malicious intent or political prejudice.
But pundits have an obligation to be accurate and a duty to be equally unfair to everybody!
Of course none of this means that anyone deserves to lose their seat.
However, the polarisation in political opinion is sharpest in the left-of-centre arena. This is precisely the kernel of Labour's problem.
Austerity has hardened working-class voter attitudes into becoming anti-establishment protesters. The middle ground of softer democratic socialism has collapsed.
This vote will now be found either fully supporting the Government, or leaning towards Fine Gael. A proportion will have gone to Sinn Féin, People before Profit, Anti Austerity Alliance or socialist independents.
One way or another, Labour strategists have singularly failed to find a formula to adopt an authentic left-wing credo.
This was always going to be a problem given that they were part of a centrist government.
They went for a message of "only for us FG would be Tory rule". This is a hard sell, even confusing - if you really don't like FG, why are you sustaining them?
Their Achilles' heel is still the plethora of broken promises made in the dying days of the 2011 campaign. Ms Burton's "€10bn more" in promises tonight will only serve to remind viewers of their credibility on past commitments.
The only safe Labour seats are Willie Penrose, Brendan Howlin, Brendan Ryan, Emmet Stagg and Mark Wall.
Good luck to them, their plight as junior partners is identical to that of the Lib Dems across the water. Electoral verdicts can be both unjustified and cruel.
Wanted: candidate to keep cool in a hot seat
THE final Dáil reform was the procedure for the election of the next Ceann Comhairle by secret ballot.
The intention here is that this would facilitate a free vote, where every TD will be able to exercise their franchise independently, free of the party whips. But that's by no means a slam dunk. There must be acute pressure on parties not to release one of their number for the position given that all votes will be called upon to elect the Taoiseach and government. The luxury of paying the price of being one person below the critical 79 total of TDs may be unaffordable.
But while we're on the subject let's look at the odds on the favourites for the role. Paddy Power offers: Sean Barrett 13/8; Michael Ring 7/4; Fergus O'Dowd and Charlie Flanagan 5/1.
Personally I don't fancy any of them. It could be decided by the power struggles between the parties which could open the way for an independent TD to garner votes from all sides of the house.
Someone who can be viewed as impartial, without party prejudice could swing it. Former distinguished holders of the office like John O'Connell and Sean Treacy benefited from being without party baggage.
But the experience of a long-standing TD is vital - respecting and understanding standing orders, chairing the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, leading international parliamentary delegations (junkets), and upholding the so-called 'dignity' of the house. It's a tall order.
Perhaps the deciding factor should be composure. But the candidate will also require low blood pressure, an abundance of patience and a sense of humour. Not too much to ask surely.
The FF rumour mongers are happy to suggest John Deasy (Enda Kenny's arch critic from within) simply to up the ante on the Taoiseach. While FG insiders nod towards James Reilly as consolation for his loss of both a Cabinet post and the deputy leadership of his party.
But keep an eye on dark horses like Finian McGrath, or the wily old fox Brendan Howlin (14/1), who was previously Leas Ceann Comhairle - both would adore the gig.
Weekend winners from Willie Mullins ran amok on both sides of channel. Faugheen, Douvan, Vroom Vroom Mag, Min, Yorkhill, Bellshill, Annie Power, Vatour, Don Poli, Limini, Killultagh Vic, Shaneshill, Djakadam, Black Hercules, Un De Sceaux, Up For Review, Myska and Let's Dance look set to provide the Closutton champ with up to a dozen Cheltenham Festival winners. Previous National Hunt achievements by Vincent O'Brien and Tom Dreaper pale by comparison.
Despite all the success - and as seen so vividly in his interview with Vincent Hogan - Willie remains ever-humble, modest, unassuming and charming.
He's on course to become British champion trainer, unique for an Irish jumps handler. Chatting with his victorious connections at Leopardstown, I gleaned an ante-post each-way value bet is Some Neck at 20/1 in the bumper.