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Sam Smyth: War machines mobilised as nation awaits declaration

THIS weekend the foot soldiers of political parties will lob flash grenades at their rivals waiting for the phoney war to end and the declaration of the General Election on Tuesday.

All leave for the envelope-stuffing infantry has been cancelled while they wait for opinions polls in Sunday newspapers that will set a benchmark for the first phase of their campaigns.

The party bosses will not be surprised by the results because they have been commissioning their own polls for months and have a general idea of the way the public is moving.

But these battle-hardened campaign veterans are superstitious too, and the information is only shared on a need-to-know basis.

For all their dutiful nods to the science of statistics, all of them believe that luck can change and alter voting intentions through the three weeks of a campaign.

Every unforced error, each stroke of fortune and misfortune will be scrutinised, with their gaffes and their effect in the opinion polls studied like long-lost scriptures.

Politicians and their enablers are mesmerised by fluctuating opinion polls in the same way as bond traders are hypnotised by their vacillating screens.

Last night, the body politic was consuming itself and gorging on rumours and endless speculation.

Is Fine Gael eating into the Labour Party's share of the middle-class vote because of their tax policies? After all, Enda Kenny's team promises to keep taxes low while Eamon Gilmore's will raise them.

If opinion polls confirm this, will Labour's criticism of Fine Gael include raising questions about their leader to undermine a vulnerable Enda Kenny?

Will Micheal Martin try to exploit the rift between the potential coalition partners by upping his offer to prop up a Fine Gael government that excludes Labour?

Will the new leader give a short-term boost to Fianna Fail's popularity -- or will it remain flat in what finance dealers call a dead cat bounce? Is Sinn Fein on a surge? Why would Fianna Fail be targeting them if their private polls were not flashing red alerts on Sinn Fein?

Enough traditional Fianna Failers are said to be switching to Sinn Fein to cause serious concern, and Micheal Martin is salivating at the prospect of debating with Gerry Adams.

It was a disastrous week for Gerry Adams as the Sinn Fein leader was totally eclipsed by the party's rising star, Pearse Doherty.

The Greens are gloomy and their prospects grim after they limped away from government exhausted after threatening to walk so many times. The political pundits believe they are a gravely endangered species facing extinction in the Oireachtas after the polls close on February 25.

THE Independents are the unknown quantity and an eclectic bunch: from radical socialists to freebooting marketers, each variety could attract the support of disillusioned voters.

Will Enda Kenny face Eamon Gilmore and Micheal Martin for a leaders' debate in a television studio and ignore taunts of "coward" from his rivals and the media?

A five-way debate that would include the leaders of Sinn Fein and the Green Party with Mr Kenny, Mr Martin and Mr Gilmore would be both a technological and neurological challenge.

The coming four weeks of campaigning will culminate in what has been billed as one of the most important elections since the foundation of the State.

It is: and anyone who has a vote but doesn't use it is slapping their neighbour's face.

Irish Independent