Saturday 21 September 2019

Paul Moran: 'Sympathy for hapless May shows tables have turned'

New poll figures reveal a very different take on who the Brexit winners and losers will be, writes Paul Moran

British Prime Minister Theresa May REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
British Prime Minister Theresa May REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

Paul Moran

Ordinarily, publishing an opinion poll two Sundays before Christmas would seem pointless - the public have more pressing concerns to address.

In some respects, this holds through in the latest Kantar Millward Brown opinion poll. But in its defence, these are extraordinary times.

We seem to have taken our eye off the ball regarding domestic politics - the proportion of those not having an opinion has risen sharply (29pc undecided). Of course, this may be more to do with us being enthralled by what is happening across the water, because, let's face it, it's the only political show in town.

We have a front-row seat at the circus, mesmerised by Theresa May's trapeze performance. Looking up and half wondering do we want her to pull off the trick or fall, yet aghast if she should fall into our seats, without a safety net in sight. Interesting times.

Turning back to ourselves, as an end-of-year report for the Government how does the domestic pantomime compare?

On the face of it, this poll suggests an electorate that is relatively becalmed, as there are few changes on the surface compared with our previous poll. However, scratching beneath the surface, there are some interesting shifts.

Fine Gael maintains its healthy lead over its partners in the confidence and supply agreement. FG at 32pc still hold sway, with Fianna Fail at 27pc. So clear blue water there. But looking at the longer term, this poll suggests that Leo Varadkar's honeymoon period is at an end.

Over this year, the support for FG has slipped, incrementally, but slipped all the same. This also manifests itself in terms of satisfaction with the Government. Dissatisfaction is creeping upwards again, and now half (49pc) of the population are unhappy. In a time of economic boom (for some), this must surely be a concern.

Coupled with this, Varadkar's personal satisfaction rating is also shedding points. Although, in all fairness, none of the party leaders paint themselves in glory.

It would seem to suggest that there are parallel universes for the Government - how it performs on the international (European) stage, and how it is faring domestically.

Whilst Varadkar, Coveney, McEntee et al are flying the flag and wearing the green jersey in Strasbourg, we still have the spectacle of a homelessness crisis on our front door, a dysfunctional health service and people hearing about, but not experiencing an economic phoenix rising from the ashes. "Keeping the recovery going" for many seems as hollow as it did two-and-a-half years ago.

Sinn Fein remains stubbornly rooted in the low 20s. However, Sinn Fein is the political equivalent of Bitcoin - often speculated on, but generally overrated when the time comes to cash in at the ballot box.

For Labour, there is no momentum at all. It remains in the doldrums at 5pc and is struggling to resonate with the electorate. It would seem at this juncture that the party is being picked off from all spectrums of the political hue.

Interestingly, Independents/other parties have gained five points (now standing at 13pc). While they are a far cry from where they were in the general election of 2016, this poll would suggest that the electorate may be gravitating back toward them.

And so, to Brexit. We have tracked the public's opinion toward who the potential winners and losers will be over the past 18 months, and opinions have fluctuated sharply as the drama has unfolded.

When the UK voted to leave the EU in June of 2016, many on this side of the Irish Sea were aghast at this seemingly reckless act - the economic and diplomatic equivalent of hara-kiri.

In the aftermath of the referendum, it was obvious that the British establishment and the Tories in particular were in disarray. Notwithstanding this, there was a nagging sense that things across the water would eventually iron themselves out, and that the UK would steer its way successfully through the troubled waters of negotiations.

Initially, in April 2017, nearly one in four (23pc) felt that the UK would come out of negotiations with a more beneficial deal, versus just 15pc saying the EU would have the upper hand. How times have changed.

In this latest poll, just one in 10 feels the UK will benefit, versus 25pc giving the nod to the EU. This is hardly surprising. The Tories are in meltdown and, not for the first time in relation to the European adventure, open revolt and civil war is the order of the day. The UK's Brexit strategy is both rudderless and clueless.

For many of us on this side, there is in some respects a certain sense of amusement at the turmoil besetting the Conservatives. That the Irish border issue is scuttling negotiations adds to this sense of schadenfreude. Not for the first time has the Irish question confounded UK politics - history has this uncanny knack of repeating itself.

Of course, we need to be careful of what we wish for. A hard exit from the EU will have disastrous implications for our nearest neighbours, but we will undoubtedly suffer as collateral damage.

You know that times are bad for our neighbours when you hear people on this side of the pond express sympathy and a begrudging respect for the leader of the Conservative party. She is the modern-day equivalent of our own 1921 treaty negotiations with the David Lloyd George government - coming back to try to sell a divisive deal under nearly impossible circumstances.

Reflecting this, there is a sense of foreboding of what may lie ahead; we are becoming much more pessimistic about the end result as time runs out. Over one in three of us (35pc) feel that neither the EU or the UK will benefit as a result of Brexit.

We hope that the EU will hold the line and continue to fight the corner for Ireland. Our diplomats have put in the hard yards over the past few years, and it seems to be bearing fruit.

That is not to say that we slavishly believe that the EU is a white knight in shining armour - we are quite pragmatic about this. Over three in four (77pc) agree that the EU has more control over our economic situation than our own government. It would seem that while these are good and collaborative times in our relationship with the EU, we are still painfully aware of who is really pulling the strings.

Paul Moran is an associate director with Kantar Millward Brown

Sunday Independent

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