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John Drennan: FF collapse means single-party rule is in Kenny's grasp

You are living in strange times when Fine Gael, which has for most of its existence opposed single-party government now finds itself making a shy form of love to the concept.

For now the notion is still somewhat like the love that dare not speak its name.

But while FG is, outwardly at least, still too low in the polls to secure a majority, the devil as always lies in the detail. And today's numbers suggest that like the Tories in Britain in the Eighties FG can actually secure that cherished dream -- even if it secures only 37 per cent of the vote.

Intriguingly, the headline figures that suggest it is still on course are actually those of their political opponents.

Labour, with 20 per cent, cannot hope to win much more than 30 seats; while Fianna Fail at 16 per cent would be lucky to win more than 25 seats.

Even if a stagnant Sinn Fein and independents win a combined but highly implausible 30 seats this leaves FG with 81.

Enda Kenny's party would revolt if its dear leader attempted to suggest that Fine Gael should sacrifice six Cabinet seats in pursuit of a 'safe' 30-seat majority.

An awful lot of things still have to go right. For example, Bertie Ahern, with just over 39 per cent of the vote in 1997, only won 77 seats.

However, the big difference between 1997 and 2011 was that Ahern had to fight off a powerful FG counter attack. FG in contrast is facing up to two weakened parties. The travails of Fianna Fail are too well documented to go over again. Instead it is Labour providing us with this election's version of Tales of the Unexpected. The blown-out Gilmore gust will feast on the bowels of the eviscerated political carcass of FF. But a party, however, that has been a day late and a dollar short since the campaign began are mere bottom feeders for the critical mass secured by FG -- meaning it may secure enough of the choicest FF cuts to make it on its own.

The reason for this state of affairs is found in the gritty non-glamorous detailed figures secured by Millward Brown. The first surprise is the strength of the swing from those who previously voted for FF to FG. Our poll figures show that 31 per cent of those who voted for FF in 2007 transferred to FG.

In contrast, a relatively nondescript 15 per cent moved to Labour; while only six per cent have switched to FF's wild republican cousins, SF.

This is an election where many myths are being shattered but one of the biggest ones to go is the notion that rather like Celtic versus Rangers, a FF voter would never transfer to FG.

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The willingness of FF voters to switch their allegiance to FG may have one further unanticipated electoral consequence, for if this pattern is also followed when FF candidates are eliminated FG may receive a serious seat bonus.

We had previously referred to the paradox where Labour transfers would facilitate the securing by FG of an overall majority. But, seeing as many of the eliminated FF candidates will have thousands of votes, in a far greater irony it could yet be FF transfers that provide FG with the overall majority four successive FF leaders have failed to secure.

But who are the actual voters dragging FG across the line? In the aftermath of the surge to FG, Ruairi Quinn claimed that what had happened was that the frightened centre-right of the population had moved en masse from FF to FG. It sounded good in theory, but who are the voters who have engaged in the political equivalent of white flight from the FF ghetto to the leafy glades of a new FG suburbia. The critical factor in the rise of FG is the increase in its support among the self employed and the C2 working-class vote. The outworking of this particular development is particularly evident in Dublin where FG has opened a chilling 38 to 32 per cent lead over Labour.

The soft myth of Irish politics is that FG's support is confined to big farmers, those who have ambitions to become a judge, disillusioned members of the petite bourgeoisie and misanthropic public sector workers. However, a sea change is afoot. He might have laughed three-and-a-half short years ago when Ray D'Arcy noted that Enda Kenny had all of the charisma of a day-old spud in a fridge.

But 'breakfast roll man' is now about to deliver the election to Fine Gael in a white van because the carpenters, bricklayers and self-employed, working-class consumers who carried Bertie over the line have switched to FG.

This assertion is confirmed by the fine detail of today's Millward Brown poll, which tracks the switch in political allegiances among the voters from 2007 to 2011. The stunning findings show that FF and FG secured 51 per cent and 21 per cent respectively of the votes of the self employed in 2007.

However, in 2011 there has been a complete U-turn, for FG now leads FF in this section by a margin of 40 per cent to 21 per cent.

Labour, in contrast, has remained stagnant with 10 per cent of that vote in 2007 and 2011. The party has increased support among those who define themselves as employees from 13 per cent in 2007 to a healthy 21 per cent in this election. But even these figures suggest Labour is still trapped in its old public-sector electoral ghetto. FG in contrast has managed to transcend the various class barriers in a remarkably similar fashion to a FF party in 2007 that secured 44 per cent of the AB voters, 40 per cent of the C1 electorate, 41 per cent of the ABC1 wing of the electorate, 39 per cent of the C2 cohort and 45 per cent of the DE voters.

Though FG has not yet secured the unique cross-sectoral appeal of FF during the Ahern era the Millward Brown figures show that outside of the AB (40 per cent) and ABC1 (36 per cent) cohorts, FG is polling strongly at 34 per cent in the C2 cohort.

And although when it comes to the other lower income brackets -- with 28 per cent in the C2, 26 per cent in the DE, and 27 per cent in the 2CDE brackets -- FG has ground to make up, it is still comfortably ahead of Labour. Once again the working class appear to have decided that far from being for them, the only thing the Alex Whites of Labour want to do with the hoi polloi is to reform them. The detailed figures are none too pleasant for SF either.

In theory, the party with a national vote of 12 per cent should have ambitions to become the new Progressive Democrats.

The problem for SF, however, is that in the electoral cockpit of Dublin, where more than a quarter of the elections seats are decided, it is in a no-man's land of 6 per cent. The figures suggest that far from adding Mary Lou or Sean Crowe to its ranks, it will be be lucky to keep Aengus O Snodaigh. SF might still add seats but it is in real danger of being characterised as a peripheral border-centred party. It's a result we can live with.

Amid all of the political statistics, however, one poignant figure does stand out. It is a measure of the desperation infecting the lives of the self-employed that support for SF among this grouping has accelerated from 2 per cent to 11 per cent. This is a cry of existential despair that should neither be ignored nor condemned.


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