The outcome of the election won’t be known until the weekend, but if the last Red C poll is reasonably accurate in forecasting the likely support for parties and independents some observations are valid.
With 40% support, Fine Gael could get close to 80 seats in the Dail which would allow that party to govern with the support of a number of independents, or with the Greens and fewer independents. If that were to happen we would have a government with a first preference support of, perhaps, only 42% of the electorate who cast a ballot.
Another possible outcome would be for a minority Fine Gael government with the support of Fianna Fail in a ‘Tallaght 2’ type situation. Despite protestations that Fine Gael would not enter into coalition with Fianna Fail, Fine Gael could opt for this ‘hands off’ relationship in order to achieve power on its own so as to pursue its policy objectives, undiluted.
The third scenario would see Fine Gael and Labour in an agreed government, but with Fine Gael holding the whip hand in terms of policy and the allocation of ministerial portfolios. On that note, it is pitiful to observe a panic-stricken Labour leadership virtually pleading with their Fine Gael counterparts for seats at the government table, and explicitly pleading with the electorate to rescue them from the opposition benches.
Labour has been badly served by its strategists, by a loutish, hectoring Joan Burton, by a lethargic Pat Rabbitte, by a grumpy, jaded Ruairi Quinn, by its foolish attempts to distance itself from the left in the mistaken belief that that was necessary to hold on to middle-class votes. Even more so, it was badly served by the absence of a recognisably distinct ideology – a set of values and beliefs, and by its consistent distancing of the party from its key founder James Connolly and his model of a republic that should be Labour’s strongest selling point. Fine Gael is talking about creating a ‘new’ republic – what is certain, given Fine Gael’s record and ideology, is that it won’t be the Irish Republic of the Proclamation.
Should Labour succeed in entering coalition, the new government would likely command 100-110 seats, with a much-reduced opposition of roughly half that number – not a recipe for government being held to account. The opposition would, almost certainly, be led by Fianna Fail, which would use that opportunity to rebuild the party. In that case, Labour would revert to being the buffer between the two rightist parties, with Fianna Fail selling itself as back-to-its-roots radical, and challenging Labour as the voice of the working man and woman. From that, it is back to square-one for another 10 or 20 years.
Labour’s duty is to look to the next election, not this one, as the route to achieving power on behalf of all of the people. To do otherwise would be an indelible mark of failure. There is a very slight chance that Labour will opt for leading a strong opposition, but little grounds for optimism on that score. Perhaps electoral fortune will force that on the party, to the benefit of the citizens and the republic.