John Drennan

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Public not impressed by Enda's 'axis of collusion'

The latest poll showing an ongoing recovery by FF suggests the Taoiseach is deluding himself.

John Drennan

Published 07/07/2013|04:00

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'UNEASY LIES THE HEAD THAT WEARS A CROWN': The latest Sunday Independent/Millward Brown poll figures do not spell good news for Taoiseach Enda Kenny as support for key government policies falls

IF HE didn't before, Enda Kenny now knows about the truth that lies behind the warning by Shakespeare's Henry V that "uneasy lies the head that wears a crown".

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There is plenty in today's Sunday Independent/Millward Brown poll to have a cunning old fox like Enda tossing and turning as several key elements of the Government's core political strategy are in dire trouble.

The partisan nature of our Dear Leader means the most chilling feature is the sight of Fianna Fail tipping towards the 30 per cent mark in popular support.

A feature of Irish politics is a form of Midsummer Madness whereby the Opposition over-performs in opinion polls.

Despite this ongoing trend, it still represents some recovery, whereby a Fianna Fail party who, having been consigned to the dustbin of history in 2011, is poised to almost triple its Dail representation to 50.

Fine Gael would, in contrast, on current figures be struggling to win more than 40 seats.

Something isn't working, Enda, and you would be wise to find out what it is and fix it fast.

The biggest casualty of the voters' increasing belief that, to borrow a famous Tory party slogan, 'austerity isn't working', continues to be Labour.

At eight per cent, it is poised for a reprise of the horror of the 1987 general election where just 12 male TDs struggled back after the horrors of coalition with Garret.

Eamon Gilmore's satisfaction ratings rattle around in the same part of the graveyard as that containing the bones of Biffo, a support level barely above the 6.4 per cent of 1987. The spatial distribution of that support means the union of Democratic Left and Labour is finally on course to create a party that is as big as Democratic Left on its own.

Fine Gael, though, will be equally gloomy over the apparent implosion of the plans and dreams of a party that narrowly missed out of an overall majority in 2011.

In particular, concerns are growing that the Noonan plan for the re-election of Fine Gael by circling Fianna Fail in a pincer movement in which Fine Gael would rob Fianna Fail's clothes and its votes has hit a brick wall.

Far from being impressed by the cuteness of our new masters, the voters, stung by the spectacle of the Coalition behaving in a remarkably similar manner to the Government they took the axe to in an unprecedented fashion in 2011, have cut the middleman out and simply returned to Fianna Fail.

The ongoing rise in support for FF is all the more surprising, given that the poll was taken right in the middle of the Anglo Tapes controversy.

Enda's crass "axis of collusion" line might have been intended to be an early warning shot signalling 'tough man' Enda's intention next year to use Fianna Fail's ignoble past to do some serious damage.

Sadly, FG's 'man of steel', instead of riddling his political enemies, shot himself in the foot.

The absence of any apparent impact on FF suggests Enda is living in an axis of delusion if he thinks dragging up historic scarecrows will have a significant impact on FF's support levels.

When it comes to bad news for the Coalition, the apparently unstoppable Fianna Fail recovery is only the end of the beginning.

Kenny has, when it comes to his declining credit in the great reformer stakes, bet the pot on taking out the Seanad sick man of Irish politics.

However, in a manner that is chillingly similar to the fate which befell both Lisbon I and the Dail

Inquiries Referendum, voter support after initial beguiling winks has turned chilly.

A stark fall of 10 points, from 53 per cent to 43 per cent, in support for abolition of the Seanad, before the No campaign has even gotten off the ground, means that the dusty old senators are poised to put up a real fight.

When it comes to autocratic Enda – who, according to Micheal Martin is the most partisan Taoiseach in the history of the State, and having served under Biffo, nice Micheal should know – the voters have looked at the request by the Government with the largest majority in the history of the State to abolish the only house that can say no and told the Taoiseach that they didn't like the smell of it.

The electorate may not yet be like that horse that bolted away from the stable across hill and down dale but Dear Leader Enda is going to have to start getting up earlier each morning if he is to ensure he cuts the head off his turbulent senators.

The Yes vote, which has fallen by a staggering 14 per cent since our first Millward Brown poll in February, is soft. It is questionable, given the hidden boycott of his party, if Enda can rescue a campaign for which Labour has absolutely no intention of dying in a ditch.

A defeat on the Seanad would be only a moral as distinct from a serious defeat for it is only the Seanad. But it would still represent another loss and Garret FitzGerald found in the Eighties that even mere moral defeats are debilitating.

Defeat would also be consistent with the growing current political narrative of a government struggling to stay connected with an alienated citizenry.

Nothing epitomises the distance that now exists between the Government and its electorate more than the collective vote of no confidence in the party leaders.

Eamon Gilmore may, at 16 per cent, be lost in Biffo country but Enda Kenny's 25 per cent and Gerry 'Isn't it time you should be going now?' Adams's 24 per cent are not hitting any great heights either. Even Micheal Martin's 30 per cent approval rating is limp.

In truth, when it comes to the Government, the voters don't rate any of them, be it Reilly, Kenny, Noonan, not so Cute Old Phil or Shatter.

And though James Reilly (again) secures the highest detestation rating, Dear Leader Enda is catching up on him at a speed that will leave many in a thoroughly disgruntled party wondering, if James Reilly wasn't there to attract the flak, how would Enda really be doing.

And the Government's satisfaction rating of 17 per cent indicates the Cabinet as a whole, in terms of its unpopularity, is residing in Biffo's Twilight Zone.

We are now reaching the beginning of the end of Enda Kenny's troubles but the Dear Leader has a bit more bad news to be dealing with. Up to a fortnight ago, the hope may still have been that the abortion legislation would glide through and that the casualties would be confined to a Mathews or two.

However, should Lucinda not be for turning, the Fine Gael leader's episcopal-style warning that those who lose the party whip will be excommunicated to a land of brimstone and devils like Mick Wallace, could bring unexpected woes.

It might come as a shock to some of the Grumpy Old Men (and a couple of token women too) but the Government with the biggest majority in the history of the State is decisively on course to be a one-term administration.

In a scenario where 50 coalition TDs are poised to lose their seats, quite a few may say thanks ever so much, Enda, and good luck with the excommunication thing.

Their sanguinity may be enhanced even further should a new political alternative emerge.

The strength of the Independent vote in today's Sunday Independent/Millward Brown poll, allied to the absence of support within a third of the electorate for any of the political alternatives, means there appears to be, as Michael McDowell once noted, a market in the gap – though not for him obviously.

The market has certainly deteriorated sharply for the Coalition. Suddenly as this administration heads in political terms into early middle age, it is no longer a case of brave new world for braveheart Enda. Instead as waistlines thicken and arteries turn furry, the Taoiseach's strategic plan is crumbling. The voters do not like the partisan style, they are chilly on Seanad reform and they, frankly, don't like the Government, full stop.

We are not quite yet in the anarchical territories of "things fall apart; the centre cannot hold".

The political screw, however, is tightening on the Taoiseach and his increasingly repressive style has not worked.

And should Enda Kenny fail to stop alternating between shooting himself in one foot with uncouth demarches about collusion and stepping on constitutional landmines with the other, the assurances of "don't panic" from our Dads' Army of a Cabinet may become even less compelling than they already are.

Irish Independent

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