Saturday 16 December 2017

Dr Theresa Reidy: The leadership of Labour

Analysis on decline of Gilmore

Labour leader Eamon Gilmore
Labour leader Eamon Gilmore

By lunchtime on Saturday, there were suggestions that Eamon Gilmore’s leadership of the Labour Party was in question.

In an interview with Claire Byrne on RTE radio, Arthur Spring included leadership of the party as one of the items that had been raised by the poor election results. Support for Labour has been declining in opinion polls for more than a year with successive polls putting the party under ten per cent in the last six months.

It looks like the party will poll somewhere between seven and eight per cent nationally, will lose both of their MEP seats and around half of their council seats. The party had a weak performance in both of the by-elections and while they were never really in the running to take either of the seats, their candidates ended up being eliminated very early in the day.

There are many factors which may explain the decline of Labour at the polls and the focus on Eamon Gilmore appears to be a very short term reaction in the face of several more difficult problems facing the party.

The party has been part of a coalition government which has implemented enormous expenditure cuts and raised taxes on everyone. Cutting back on public services will have hit the core support base of the Labour party. Equally, the water charge and property tax all serve to reduce the incomes of people on low and fixed incomes.

The party made rash promises in advance of the 2011 election and has had to renege on a number of these. The now infamous Tesco ad ‘every little hurts’ created the benchmarks by which the party is now being judged.

The party took up office at a time of national depression and global recession. While economic circumstances have improved, they have not improved enough for voters to see improvements in their personal financial circumstances. We call this pocket-book voting, voters punish parties in government when the amount of money they have in their pocket decreases.

Across the EU, governments are implementing austerity policies, more than likely delaying the economic recovery. The Labour Party in government is seen as part of the EU elite.

Labour is also on the receiving end of the perennial problem of small parties in coalition government. There is a difficult balance for them in maintaining a distinctive identity which can be used in election campaigns all the while ensuring a coherent platform with Fine Gael so as to maintain government unity.

Eamon Gilmore as minster for Foreign Affairs has spent much of his time outside Ireland and has had a low profile in the national media. He is faulted for not communicating Labour policy effectively over the last three years.

The party is beset with many problems and replacing Eamon Gilmore or reshuffling him in cabinet to a more prominent role may be part of the solution but it will be a temporary fix while many more critical challenges remain in place.

* Dr Theresa Reidy is a lecturer in the Department of Government at UCC

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