Monday 23 September 2019

Kenny is in pole position but who'll partner FG?

All these surveys scream one big question: how can we get stable government from this? Kenny and Martin may face an option they cannot deny
All these surveys scream one big question: how can we get stable government from this? Kenny and Martin may face an option they cannot deny
John Downing

John Downing

As dawn broke across Harlem, a young Dubliner and his Irish-American cousins were bringing down the curtain on an all-night tour of that zany and edgy hub of black culture in New York.

As their car pulled at a traffic light, a large automobile drew level and the distinctive loud bass sound pervaded the air. Four faces, belonging to young African-American adolescents, looked curiously into our friends' car. The older American cousin, who had wisely avoided alcohol all night, offered: "Good news is they think we're cops, they think we're armed."

"What's the bad news?" our Dublin pal inquired. "Bad news is they think we're armed, they think we're cops," the elder cousin replied evenly.

The anecdote came to mind looking at the latest opinion poll, this one from Millward Brown for the 'Sunday Independent'. The good news for Fine Gael is that its stock continues to rise and there is a pronounced growth in punter confidence.

Its strategists' question between now and the spring election will be the same as that of all the others: what must FG do to be saved?

Enda Kenny himself answered this for Fine Gael, now rated on 29pc, at the celebrations in Castlebar on Saturday night of his 40 years in the Dáil. Get the faithful out pounding the beat with energy and continue to spread the gospel that economic recovery is spreading far beyond the Pale.

Labour is still stuck on 7pc and its strategists will struggle to find good in that. Well, it can try the reality that it has little choice beyond continuing to keep its nerve and keep fighting its corner.

The other point has been well made by Paul Moran of Millward Brown. It is that Labour needs to target, in a very hard-headed way, constituencies where it stands a chance of winning.

It is back to its well-known "shrink but survive" strategy post involvement in coalition - only this time it is even more pronounced than ever before, given the huge competition on its left flank.

In fact, oblivion continues to beckon for team Joan Burton at the next election. NUI Maynooth political geographer Adrian Kavanagh has suggested that this poll finding could leave Labour without a single TD - something even the most pessimistic Labour person would publicly dispute.

It is a much more upbeat story for Fianna Fáil, which has been getting little increments of good news for some time. On 24pc, it could well have a very good election, which it could argue is the first of two contests on its road to revival.

Micheál Martin's team needs to keep a lid on the party in-fighting and focus on grassroots organisation as some of its foot soldiers are sloping back to the canvass trail.

Sinn Féin is becalmed on 21pc, as the image of backroom IRA shadow figures pulling the strings appears to resonate with middle-of-the-road voters. The idea of the IRA still functioning, with some of its some-time confederates stuck in crime, appears to have struck a chord where neither the recall of murder and kidnap, nor poor handling of child sex abuse, did.

Sinn Féin has absolutely no intention of doing something which could increase its vote south of the Border by about one third - that is replace Gerry Adams as leader. Signs are that Sinn Féin is still headed for a vastly better election than the rather good one it had in February 2011, when it had almost 10pc of the vote and 16 TDs.

On this score, Adrian Kavanagh estimates it could take 33 Dáil seats next time. But it is clear from other questions in this latest survey that middle-class voters are not prepared to trust SF.

The catch-all 'Independents and Others' are once more in retreat according to this 'Sunday Independent' poll, which puts them down five points to 19pc. There was a certain inevitability that something like this would happen - and they are by definition such a broad spectrum that it is hard to see where they can begin discerning good news from bad.

There is, however, one point worth repeating. It is that the 'Independent' tag has a political currency right now that persists as a continued negative reaction to the established parties.

The more Independent candidates ally themselves to new political groupings, the more they risk losing the value of the 'Independent' brand.

There is a certain consistency in the findings of all recent opinion polls. But all of them scream one big question at us: how can we get stable government from this configuration if it's borne out in the next General Election?

The good news for Enda Kenny is that he is in pole position to be Taoiseach once more. There will be 158 TDs in the 32nd Dáil after the next election - a reduction of eight on the current assembly.

That means the one who can pull together 79-plus TDs will head the next Government. Adrian Kavanagh predicts a potential 60 Fine Gael TDs next time, leaving Mr Kenny looking for 20-plus others. Can he find sufficient reliable allies among the projected 25 'Independents and Others'?

The answer to that question is closely linked with how many Labour TDs survive - and, more importantly, who they are and how they view renewed coalition.

Alliance with Sinn Féin is problematic for many reasons but do not totally rule this - or any other option - out.

All eyes may well yet fall on Fianna Fáil and its projected 40 or so TDs. The reality is that Enda Kenny and Micheál Martin may yet face an option that they cannot deny after the next election.

Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil may have no other real choice but to share power in a coalition. The other outcome could be an early election soon afterwards.

Finally, it's worth noting that our Dublin friend and his cousins returned home safe and sound from their jolly Harlem tour.

The same will not be said for many of our politicians come next spring.

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss