Saturday 19 October 2019

Get ready for an election when the winners could end up losers


Adversity: Even with a good campaign, Micheál Martin must be mindful of the risk of a Fine Gael-Sinn Féin coalition. photo: Doug O'Connor
Adversity: Even with a good campaign, Micheál Martin must be mindful of the risk of a Fine Gael-Sinn Féin coalition. photo: Doug O'Connor
John Downing

John Downing

The 'winner' of the next election could end up watching parties which took fewer seats making up the numbers and sauntering past them into Government Buildings.

That risk is among an array of cross-cutting factors to be deciphered as we look at how the next general election will pan out.

Fine Gael has been in the mid-30s in a slew of opinion polls going back 12 months. That kind of rating puts them in the hunt for second seats in constituencies across the country, suggesting they could go from their 50 seats last time to early or even mid-60s.

That would put them in pole position to assemble a stable coalition. But there are no guarantees as other factors could come into play.

In simple terms, the winner-turned-loser story goes like this.

Even if Leo Varadkar could capitalise on his party's year-long 10-point opinion poll lead, something which cannot be taken for granted, he still has to face the reality that a Fianna Fáil-Sinn Féin combination could have the numbers to form a government. Micheál Martin, even if he manages to trump adversity on the campaign trail yet again, has to hold the self-same thought.

Park the issue of Varadkar and Martin pledging and re-pledging to shun Sinn Féin until the known world ends. The biggest determining factor of the next government's make-up will be vulgar Dáil arithmetic.

Various wordings - mainly led by "this result is the will of the people telling us to form a government" - will be found to overcome such fierce election campaign pledges.

At Leinster House, there is definitely a coterie of people in both parties ready to head out on the election trail as soon as is practicable. In Fine Gael, the hawks believe there is a rattling good chance they can gain enough seats.

Fianna Fáil hawks believe the time has come to face down Fine Gael "bullies" on the canvass trail. They believe staying to collect blame for Government failings, gaining no credit for gains they extract, and disillusioning their own party activists, is a far worse option amounting to a lingering decline.

But Fianna Fáil's poll ratings below 25pc make prospects look grim. It was pretty much their vote-share last time when they were happy to return 44 TDs, and signal what they termed phase one of recovery after the 2011 meltdown.

Much of their hope will turn on being able to blame Fine Gael's undue demands for causing any rush to the polls.

It's a trope which can stop rivals getting their campaign message out there in the first week, and thus causing longer-term disruption. It is a poor plan to build an election strategy which could backfire.

Irish Independent

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