News John Drennan

Sunday 21 September 2014

'Moby Dick' is on the way back and he is not happy

There is a gap in the market which could see the emergence of a credible third force, writes John Drennan

Published 09/03/2014 | 02:30

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Poster boy: But Eamon Gilmore’s ‘Taoiseach’ posters came to an inglorious end
Poster boy: But Eamon Gilmore’s ‘Taoiseach’ posters came to an inglorious end

IT SAYS a great deal about the growing political sleepiness of the Coalition that its response to the Sunday Independent/Millward Brown poll, which revealed it barely has the support of a third of the citizens, was to spend a week congratulating itself.

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The defining feature of the Millward Brown poll was that the 'Moby Dick' of the coping classes is back and not in a good mood. For now, 'Moby Dick' who made and broke Bertie's Fianna Fail, and then gave Enda the biggest majority in the history of the State, is residing in a strange place.

One of the more intriguing figures in the poll was the combined total of 42 per cent support for the Sinn Fein (22 per cent) and Independent (20 per cent) alternative.

Such a result suggests that on the current figures, with up to 60 seats, a Sinn Fein Independent-led Coalition is as likely an alternative government as any of the more conventional unions.

It is, of course, unlikely to happen for, despite the escalating visceral distaste the voters feel for all conventional political parties, it is unlikely we will elect 60 Sinn Fein and Ming the Merciless-style Independent TDs to the Dail.

That does not mean to say that the current state of the parties is incorrect.

However, in trying to predict where our voters will go in the long term, the best precedent is provided by the inglorious rain-sodden fate of those 'Gilmore for Taoiseach' posters. You will recall that sad outcome represented the denouement of the political frolic of the 'Gilmore gale'.

As Labour found to its cost when it plummeted like a stone, Paddy tends to engage in a swift flight back to his old conservative self once the business end of the game approaches.

In the case of our Millward Brown poll, the 'Gilmore gale' effect means that, within the Irish political stock exchange, the Independents and Sinn Fein are seriously over-valued. It is instead likely the actual vote of both is closer to 15 per cent.

Fine Gael is also trading a couple of per cent above its real value. Fianna Fail is, in contrast, at par, whilst Labour is likely to be trading some-what under its actual support levels though not by as much as the sick man of the Coalition is praying is the case.

All of this has set up a very intriguing political landscape for, if the 'Gilmore gale' effect is applied to where we are now, then at least 15 per cent of the electorate committed to voting who have attached themselves to the radical Sinn Fein/Independent option, are unlikely to stay there.

This will particularly be the case if the lost 15 per cent consists of that Moby Dick wing of the coping classes who have defined the fate of political parties for two decades.

Fellows like our still lost breakfast-roll men may be thinking radically in theory – but in practice they have no intention of investing on a long-term basis in the Independent/Sinn Fein portfolio.

Instead, the new school of floating voter is waiting, and possibly even hoping, to be seduced by all of the political alternatives.

This means that, far from being a foregone conclusion, the political tide might even turn in Fianna Fail's favour.

Sinn Fein and Independents may be the current beneficiaries of the Coalition's decline, but the Moby Dick vote, which also tends to move en masse, is as soft as a Labour election promise.

And if FF plays the game right, we may yet find that it may actually be residing in a halfway house before it returns home.

There is, of course, the possibility that this loose Moby Dick will return to its recent Labour/Fine Gael homestead.

The problem with this concept is that the Coalition shows few signs of being able to dissipate the growing belief that the Grumpy Old Men are attacking the working man.

Of course, Enda, Pat, not so Cute Old Phil and the 'Invisible Tanaiste' say, as they load the austerity spoon with castor oil, that all this is hurting them more than us.

However, as the country endures the spectral joys of Dr Reilly's stealth health tax,

Michael Noonan's property tax, Phil's water tax, Ruairi's third level tax and the rest, the view is growing within Moby Dick that life for the most part wasn't so bad under Fianna Fail.

When it comes to the return of Moby Dick, the great nightmare of Fine Gael in particular must be the possibility of the revival of Fianna Fail nostalgia.

The voters have always sensed that FF is, despite all appearances to the contrary, generally for the coping classes. It may have gotten a little rough under Biffo, what with the national bankruptcy thing, but increasingly 2008 looks like a strange aberration that had very little to do with Fianna Fail. Instead, like a tsunami arriving out of nowhere, it was an unavoidable natural disaster.

In fairness, the Coalition is theoretically correct in its claim that Ireland is recovering. The problem for the Grumpy Old Men is that just as the Nineties witnessed the phenomenon of the jobless recovery, we are currently enduring a different phenomenon known as the cashless recovery.

People are back working, but a combination of reduced income and soaring taxes mean they are living to work, or pay taxes, rather than working to live.

And oddly enough, when 'Dear Leader' Enda or the Invisible Tanaiste praises them for their sacrifices, their response resembles that of the mutinous French armies of 1917.

As Moby Dick increasingly tires of the eternal iron age of austerity, the previously impregnable political fortifications of the Coalition are beginning to crack.

For now, the one thing that sustains a Coalition living in fear is that the eternally faithless Moby Dick wing of our electorate has nowhere particularly alluring to go.

Fianna Fail's questionable past means the returned floating voters may be swinging with Ming, Mick and the Sinn Fein political Scientologists, but that is a mere one-night stand.

However, before the Coalition dowagers prepare to wait on the political doorstep with a rolling pin in their hands for a chastened Moby, they might consider one less than attractive possibility.

The one thing that last Sunday's poll validates beyond doubt is that, to paraphrase Michael McDowell, a gap in the market of up to 15 per cent of the electorate exists.

Irish politics may be full of vacuums, but, as the Reform Alliance daydreams gently and the Left Alliance still fears to name its name, even in Leinster House vacuums are always eventually filled.

Should either, or even some variant, of this interminably slow duo take their courage in their hands and open for business, Enda's nightmare of a new credible third force in Irish politics could well emerge.

And, should that occur, then all bets as to the shape of the next administration will definitely be off.

Sunday Independent

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