John Drennan

Thursday 21 August 2014

'Mrs Doubtfire' needs to take his charges in hand

Weakened Labour is facing a Green Party style meltdown if radical changes are not made

Published 20/04/2014 | 02:30

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UNPOPULAR: Eamon Gilmore will warn his deputies to ignore the polls. Photo: Tony Gavin

The mind of a Labour back-bencher would be an interesting place this morning.

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Sadly it is unlikely to be a zone of tranquillity for one suspects the interior political consciousness of our startled Labour earwigs is a dark and spooky place full of shadows, screeching night creatures, banshees, hooded figures bearing scythes, paranoia, fear, regret and envy.

The minds of their Grumpy Old ministers will be equally preoccupied for should today's poll figures carry on into the local, European and many forthcoming by-elections, at some stage even among the pacifists of the Labour back-benches some form of political knife-fight will break out.

It is a fight that has been coming for a while for, since Meath East, Labour has oscillated between a respectable rout where they might only lose two-thirds of their seats and a Green Party style meltdown where they might lose all of them.

Night-terrors about the latter, alas, can only be intensified by the scenario where, after three months of watching their coalition partners blunder around the political China shop, it is Fine Gael which is thriving and Labour is back in the corridor of annihilation.

Poor Labour may feel like the small cottier who, having carefully sprayed his potatoes and disapprovingly watched his neighbouring large farmer not bother, comes out one morning to wilting stalks in his own patch and blossoming fields across the fence.

But, such a result will at least alert them to the reality that the structural woes of Labour require fundamental changes in personnel and strategy.

Some, and in particular those ministers who want to see the gig out to an unlikely election date of 2016, will try to delude themselves into thinking there is no problem.

The spiel will be advanced that while there might be no seats in Connacht Ulster, or Munster or Leinster, under the Stalingrad theory of concentrating all resources in Dublin, the party will be saved.

Those who think that way would be well advised to have a chat with FG who, in 2002, was left with three seats or Fianna Fail, who having ruled the capital for eight decades, was left with one in 2011.

And even in the case of Brian Lenihan, the latter-day Michael Collins barely scraped into the last seat.

Dublin is not a safe rest home for sickly political parties.

The bad news for Labour is that its Mrs Doubtfire of a leader who is wrapped in the political cling-film of Biffo- style levels of unpopularity is no Brian Lenihan.

In truth Mr Gilmore is not even an Eamon Ryan who would have many interesting things to say about the process where the Greens in coalition moved from poll ratings of 9 per cent in the spring of 2008 to a relatively healthy 6 per cent even in the autumn of 2010 to meltdown in 2011.

In Labour's case the great terror the party must face after today is that, despite all the denials, the Meath East by-election was a trend signalling a Green Party style meltdown rather than an aberration.

Today's poll says it is a trend and it is not the first to say this either.

Labour will claim, justly, that they do not deserve the terrible fate of returning in a smaller taxi cab than the Reform Alliance.

But a harmless FG whose main objective in 2002 was to avoid causing offence scarcely deserved their fate.

Labour can complain all it wants about the work their unknown ministers and their even more unknown Mrs Doubtfire of a Tanaiste are doing – but in politics numbers, not justice, decides the fate of parties.

Should Labour remain marooned at 6 per cent some few isolated personal fiefdoms such as those of Emmet Stagg, Willie Penrose, Kevin Humphreys in Dublin and Joan Burton will survive.

But, that will come as cold comfort to the young and the damned such as Arthur Spring, Aodhan O Riordain, Derek Nolan, Joanna Tuffy, Michael McCarthy, Ged Nash and Dominic Hannigan, not to forget the young and the ambitious like Sean Sherlock and Alan Kelly or the not so young but still ambitious like Alex White and Ciaran Lynch.

Despite their status as the new and the innocent, Anne Ferris, Brendan Ryan, Ann Phelan, John Lyons, Michael McNamara Robert Dowds, Eamon Maloney, Michael Conaghan, Ciara Conway are

on a journey to a place of desolation unless existential decisions are made.

The Grumpy Old Brigade such as Ruairi Quinn, Pat Rabbitte, Eric Byrne, Mr Gilmore, Joe Costello and Brendan Howlin are also staring political mortality in the eye.

Sadly, even if a brave half a dozen survive, the reforms on political financing mean any restoration of Labour would be nigh on impossible.

This week Mrs Doubtfire will undoubtedly wag a disapproving finger and warn his deputies and senators to ignore the polls.

Sadly the finger his TDs and senators are more likely to be thinking of is the one that "having writ moves on" to such an extent not "all thy Piety nor Wit, Shall lure it back to cancel half a line, Nor all thy tears wash out a Word''.

Sunday Independent

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