Tuesday 25 June 2019

Labour cycles for a 'Yes' - but new poll puts spoke in its election wheel

Minister Alex White
Minister Alex White

Lise Hand

There is nothing like an opinion poll (or two) to interfere with the blood pressures of politicians of all stripes. And various numbers which materialised in recent days would've done little to quell the anxieties of the Government as its last-ditch push for a 'Yes' vote in Friday's marriage-equality referendum gets under way.

For although the figures showed that the 'Yes' side is still ahead in the final few furlongs, its lead has narrowed as the 'No' side comes up fast on the inside rail. And - despite the fact that as far as accuracy is concerned those who relied on psephologists to predict the outcome of this month's British general election may have done better consulting the prophecies of Nostradamus - referendum polls are still keeping everyone on their toes.

The last few days will see both sides throwing the divil and all at the electorate. There'll be a final flurry of posters and props - and yesterday the Labour Party organised a 'Yes' photocall with bicycles. A gaggle of party members, led by a big wheel, Communications Minister Alex White, donned helmets and high-vis jackets and posed with bikes for the cameras on Merrion Street.

Balanced atop his ministerial rothar, Alex once again robustly refuted claims from the 'No' camp that the referendum has implications for the issue of surrogacy.

"It is without basis, completely without any foundation to suggest that surrogacy should be a factor in whether people say 'Yes' or 'No'," he stated firmly.

With the end in sight, the 'Yes'-'No' game show is in full swing, with both camps throwing about claims and counter-claims with intensity. The narrower the gap between the sides, the higher the stakes for any missteps at this late stage.

And despite the polls showing a decreasing lead for 'Yes', he proclaimed himself to be "hopeful" of the referendum making it past the finishing-post - although he did stress that the number of people who turn up on polling day is crucial.

"I think what the opinion polls tell you is the public opinion has swung, I think, quite strongly in favour of this proposition but that masks the whole issue of turnout," he reckoned.

Labour politicians have been very high-vis themselves during this protracted campaign - but so too have their senior coalition partners. Having dragged their collective heels along the Damascene Road to marriage equality, Fine Gael has ended up rallying to the cause with the busy zeal of the newly converted.

And this seems to have caused a few rattles being flung from the Labour pram. Last weekend it was reported in this newspaper that Leo Varadkar was stood down from the final 'Prime Time' debate on RTÉ to make way for a Labour representative - namely its director of elections, Alex White.

But yesterday the Communications Minister was adamant that it was all hunky-dory between the two parties - even though the RTÉ team were reportedly less than pleased with the late substitution.

"There is absolutely no problem between myself and Leo," he insisted, adding that he was "looking forward" to watching the Health Minister debate on the 'Claire Byrne Show' later that evening.

However, any extra touchiness displayed by the Labour Party between now and the General Election can be attributed to some stark figures that surfaced in a different poll this week, which suggest that Fine Gael is gathering bouquets from the electorate as the economy picks itself off the floor, but Labour - becalmed at a meagre 7pc - is still dodging brickbats.

Alex was wearing his brave face underneath his cycle helmet. "You are seeing a quicker recovery perhaps for Fine Gael than you are seeing for us," he conceded.

"There's a long way to go until the General Election. I'm not going to make the obvious point," he added, before making the obvious point: "The only poll is the one that takes place next February or March."

But in the meantime, there's a referendum to fight - and if 'Yes' prevails on Friday, Labour can rightly claim to have been instrumental in getting the referendum put to the people in the first place.

So where was the minister off to on his cycle to encourage the citizenry to Get On Their Bikes and vote?

Alex looked a bit nonplussed.

"I know what the message is, but they haven't told me where I'm cycling to yet," he confessed.

Just then, a Viking Splash tour rumbled past, and its cheerful crew let fly a loud cheer at the sight of the cameras and microphones.

"A roar of approval," reckoned Alex.

Right so, if Vikings have a vote then Labour should be home and hosed come the next election.

Irish Independent

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