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Labour's scare tactics don't leave electorate cowering

WHAT has happened the Labour Party in this general election campaign that it is reduced to scare tactics clearly brought about by sheer panic?

The party, which had such high hopes, ends the second- last week of the campaign looking rather grubby and more than a little desperate. It has even succeeded in making a single-party government seem the preferable outcome of the election.

In all the war-gaming Labour must have had ahead of this general election, surely a reprise of former PD leader Michael McDowell's shimmy up a pole in Ranelagh to erect a poster warning of the dangers of single- party government was not one of them.

The point being there, of course, that Fianna Fail could not be trusted in Government alone. No matter what your doubts about the PDs were, it was better to have them in there and casting a cold eye over the antics of the Fianna Failers, who were not to be trusted on their own at any cost.

It became part of the Faustian pact the Irish electorate had with Fianna Fail that it wanted that party in power, but also to have the comfort blanket of having a junior partner to keep an eye on it to curb the worst excesses. As we now know that plan didn't quite work out as we had hoped. But while Labour has bent our ears telling us it is time for a "new politics" they pull this old tactic out of the hat at the same time, and commit their resources to running scare ads in the national newspapers.

They laid themselves wide open to Michael Noonan's withering riposte that they reduced the financial disaster facing the country to a tittle tattle on the middle classes facing a €1 increase on a bottle of wine.

Instead of making you think we might benefit from Labour in government as a coalition partner, the latest moves have merely emphasised the concerns that the two parties would find it hard to move on from the bickering when it comes to working out a programme for government.

Rather than make a single- party Fine Gael government seem a scary option, they have made it a more logical proposition.

It was clear, even from the start of the campaign, when those "Gilmore for Taoiseach" posters appeared on polls, that there was a level of unreality going on, and a clear unacceptance within the party ranks, or perhaps with Gilmore himself, that this was never going to happen.

There was a time, last year, when such a thing may have seemed possible, but even a casual political observer recognised that by Christmas a considerable amount of that momentum had already been lost.

It's as if the party was taken by surprise by Fine Gael's level of organisation and preparedness for the election, and how Enda Kenny has upped his game, and how a number of frontbenchers have been able to take to the airwaves and cogently and credibly put forward their party's policies.

They must also have been taken by surprise, like the rest of us, by the second coming of Noonan. His renaissance has proven that you can never rule out a comeback in politics. His ability to take the political temperature and translate it into a soundbite that connects with the voters has been somewhat of a marvel.

Why has Gilmore been unable to reverse engines? By their very nature, politicians usually have a healthy ego but Gilmore has never been known as someone driven by ego. Yet he continued to take a presidential approach to the campaign, centring it so much around himself. He is not blessed with a huge range of options in terms of party spokespeople but we have not seen enough, for instance, of former finance minister Ruairi Quinn who would be a very credible voice on the economy.

NOT so long ago Gilmore was the conduit of the people's emotions, tapping into their anger by lambasting Brian Cowen and his Government for the state of the country, the economy and almost for the state of the weather.

Irish voters have been so cross for so long that he wasn't to know that they would finally appear to put that anger behind them when it came to the election (although it remains in place against Fianna Fail). They've decided that they want less emotion and talk of how brilliant Labour would be as the biggest party in government, and a little bit more about job creation and well-thought out policies on how to get us back on our feet.

The big surprise is that once those things became apparent, Gilmore and the Labour Party have seemed more like a big oil tanker unable to change course without tremendous effort, rather than a modern-day political party with lots of political nous and election experience at its disposal.

It's not like the Fine Gaelers are behaving like altar boys but they are displaying far more savvy. Of course there are dangers attached to us having a single-party government, but they are looking far less objectionable to a fractious coalition where a programme for government could possibly take months to agree and where the bickering of the campaign never ends.

Single-party government is a big risk. You only have to delve into our relatively recent past to realise that.

We would be doing without the benefit of people like Quinn and Pat Rabbitte, who have experience in government and are only dying to get off the opposition benches and into power.

But everyone agrees that we need to run things differently at all levels in this country. Maybe one of those changes should be a single party in power.

Irish Independent