Tuesday 25 October 2016

Labour attempts to woo (or bribe) the posh vote

Published 04/01/2016 | 02:30

Well, they got a lovely day for it. And the weather held up for the photograph on the Leinster House plinth. That's the joy of Photoshop technology for you.

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Many voters will get and like the gag in Labour's cheeky political advertisement unveiled in the Sunday Independent yesterday. Whether those same voters buy the underlying premise, only time will tell.

It all comes with a follow-up in this newspaper today, with Labour promising those earning more than €120,000 per year a "tax freeze". This is all about castigating the 'Left' and bribing the 'Middle'. It is also about Labour trying to make the best of a very bad situation by moving more to the centre.

Among the many intriguing questions asked ahead of this imminent General Election is whether Labour can survive. Labour stalwarts will always point to history, tell you their party predates the Irish State and is linked to a huge international movement. But these worthy facts guarantee absolutely nothing. The Irish Labour Party is on a very dangerous corner and its very existence is open to question in a rapidly changing political landscape.

They have long been stuck in single digits in the opinion polls after an epic drubbing in the May 2014 local elections, which gave them a poor 7pc of the national vote and just 51 councillors. It has been a very difficult year for the party.

Labour's famed capacity to survive past political holocausts is legendary. "We will return in a minibus - not on a scooter," their party leader, Dick Spring, famously said at the count centre in Tralee in February 1987.Spring himself had survived a recount that saw him keep his own Dáil seat by four votes. The party had managed to stretch 12 TDs out of 6.4pc of the national vote.

Labour's problems are compounded by the intense competition on their left side. The inclusion in the gay wedding photo of Richard Boyd Barrett of People Before Profit and leftist deputies Clare Daly and Mick Wallace (besuited for one day only) testify to this.

The centrepiece of the would-be gay political marriage between Gerry Adams of Sinn Féin and Micheál Martin of Fianna Fáil also speaks to the main competition for Labour, which is only barely to its left. It is reminiscent of the 1948 general election aftermath, when Fine Gael manoeuvred to outgun the bigger Fianna Fáil and pull together a mosaic inter-party government that was basically 'ABFF'.

To Labour's right, their Government partners of the past five years, Fine Gael, will be offering a straight "If you want to return this Coalition, you might as well go the whole hog and vote for the senior partner". This is augmented by the blatant Fine Gael overtures to lower-paid sectors of society in recent months, led by Enda Kenny himself.

It is not lost on anyone that Fine Gael has studied the Tories' strategy in last year's general election in the UK. That strategy included a merciless gobbling up of the Liberal Democrats, the Conservatives' erstwhile government partners.

And finally, there is the imponderable impact of a 158-seat Dáil next time, down from the 166-seat parliament that has been with us since 1981.

This seat reduction may of itself further limit scope for Labour's traditional political Houdini act.

Joan Burton's Labour has joined the promisefest that this upcoming election is quickly becoming. In summary, so far Labour has promised a living wage of €11.50 per hour in the public sector, a €2.15 minimum wage increase bringing it to an eventual €11.30 per hour, and a €5-per-year increase in the State Pension over the coming five years bringing it to €258 per week by 2020.

She has also borrowed more than a little from Michael McDowell's strategy for the Progressive Democrats in 2002 when he railed against giving Fianna Fáil a single-party overall majority. In briefings with political journalists before Christmas, the Labour leader warned that Fine Gael with an overall majority could not resist the "siren calls" of the moneyed classes.

But writing in today's Irish Independent, Ms Burton makes a determined pitch for the more upmarket vote. She is in fact very much in Fine Gael territory here, making "siren calls" to the more affluent elements of Irish society.

"Under Labour's plan, USC will be abolished on the first €70,000 of income, but those fortunate enough to earn more than that will continue to pay USC on the portion above €70,000, and gains will be progressively capped for the very highest earners. This means that, under our plan, those on individual incomes above €120,000 will continue to pay precisely the same taxes as they do now," the Labour leader pledges.

We cannot know yet whether this 'castigate the Left' and 'woo the Middle' strategy can work for Labour.

As he announced his exit from national politics, Eamon Gilmore argued trenchantly that, bar highs such as 1992 and 2011, Labour's vote hovers around 10pc.

Gilmore further argued that getting back to double digits was achievable for the party. That could see them with something like 14 or 15 TDs. And that would still leave them as a force in the next government.

More immediately, Ms Burton will hope this latest gambit can bring back a bit of fight to party loyalists and nerve them to go and knock upon doors.

Irish Independent

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