Monday, February 28, 2011

General Election 2011: Winners and Losers

Labour and Fine Gael are the big winners after Friday, but for different reasons. Fianna Fáil are listing in heavy seas, but reports of their death are premature.

The Coquette in Courtship Ritual
Labour are big winners because their vote spiked in the final week after showing a decline in the polls. Why? Niamh Breatnach opined on Morning Ireland on Saturday that Labour got in because people wanted to protect their jobs. There will undoubtedly have been that vote, but also people who genuinely believe that on the one hand, on the other hand government works. Perhaps they also hate to think of a camel that doesn’t have two humps – who knows?

The negotiation between Labour and Fine Gael will take place behind closed doors – open Government, me hat – but what a pity it won’t be on telly. It would make compulsive viewing. Labour are out of the blocks quickly, with Eamon Gilmore telling the News at One yesterday that, even though Labour were the second biggest party and therefore the natural leaders of the opposition, they were prepared to serve in a national government in the national interest.

The implication of this is that while Labour themselves would be much happier with RBB and the boys in opposition, shining hammers and sharpening sickles, they are prepared to suffer ministerial mercs for Ireland. It’s a classic coquette strategy, and it will be interesting to see how Fine Gael respond.

Fine Gael’s Greatest Ever Day
Fine Gael themselves will surely have spent yesterday crushed by the most epic hangovers known to man or beast, and they will have deserved them. This has been Fine Gael’s greatest ever day.

The RTÉ exit poll that saw Fine Gael in the mid-thirties will have given them a sinking a feeling on Saturday morning but election are about seats, not percentages of votes. Garret Fitzgerald’s Fine Gael got seventy seats from 39% of the vote thirty years ago. Enda Kenny’s Fine Gael is in the mid-seventies on 36%.

There are factors behind that, such as superb vote management and the quirk of the system that sees parties with momentum do better in seat terms that strict proportionality would allow. Fianna Fáil benefited from this in 2002. This year, it’s Fine Gael’s turn.

Are Ye Dancin’?
Fine Gael have spoken about stable coalition government this weekend, but this does not necessarily mean that coalition with Labour is inevitable. Labour have already began their courtship by scorning a Fine Gael advance that’s yet to come. Depending on the numbers, it would make perfect sense for Fine Gael to start ringing a few independents and see if they fancy being baptised in the faith. Or rebaptised, as the case may be.

Of the seventeen independents elected so far, both Shane Ross and Michael Lowry are Fine Gael genepool. Luke Flanagan will listen to whoever knocks at his door. There’s no real point in bothering with gobaloos like Mattie McGrath, but of the other genepool Fianna Fáil independents, it’s no harm to give them a ring to see exactly how apostate they are. Stranger things have happened.

Fianna Fáil Doomed From the Outset
As for Fianna Fáil, the reality is that the election was lost when the banks were bailed out 2008. Not necessarily because they were bailed out per se – how many people understand the banking business anyway? – but because the party’s position was neither explained nor defended.

In the absence of government explanation or defence, the vacuum was filled by condemnation, ranging from accusations of incompetence to graft to treason. None of this was taken on by Fianna Fáil spinners, through either the front channel of the Taoiseach addressing the nation or the back channel of getting media people onside (as Fine Gael got media people onside, for instance).

By the time the election rolled around the electorate had its mind made up that Fianna Fáil were absolutely and utterly to blame for the recession and nothing that Fianna Fáil could have done or said during the campaign was going to change that. Aughrim had long been lost. Long faces and pussing about suffering from putting the country first were no good.

If the people thought Fianna Fáil had put the country first, the people would reward them. If not, then the whole democratic system is a sham by definition. But while Fianna Fáil talked about putting the country first, they never convinced the people that they had done that. Maybe history will be kind to them. The electorate was not, and dispensed summary justice to Fianna Fáil candidates all across the nation.

Is This the End of Rico?
Is this the end of Fianna Fáil? Who can say? A lot depends on the formation of the next government, and when the next election will be. The real end would be if Fianna Fáil were to coalesce with Fine Gael as a natural right-wing alignment, and the pattern of vote transfer between the parties would indicate that this makes sense.

But the political establishment faces the same problem in doing this that Nick Clegg faced in Britain last year. The clear judgement of the people is that they don’t want Fianna Fáil in office under any circumstances. The only way that could happen would be if the Fianna Fáil party were to dissolve and its members join Fine Gael. That’s not likely. Having gone through what they’ve gone through, they’re not going to chuck it now.

Besides. A Labour/Fine Gael coalition will be the best thing that could happen to Fianna Fáil.

Follow the Money
The most under-reported story of the election was the Fine Gael fundraiser in the Aviva Stadium. One of the reasons that Fine Gael got elected was because they had so much more money to spend. The people who were funding Fianna Fáil are now funding Fine Gael. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

But while those boys might have been happy enough to have Jack O’Connor and the unions sign off on things when cash was flush, they’ll be a lot less happy to see whiskery trade unionists in Government when it’s time for the blade. RAF moustaches are ok, but beards are not business friendly. So will the pendulum swing back to Fianna Fáil now that Fine Gael didn’t achieve a majority?

Fianna Fáil have never taken anything even vaguely like the battering they’ve taken in this election, but time is now on their side. An Spailpín Fánach doesn’t think history has been made yet. And while everybody was talking about political reform during the election, it’s been this blog’s experience that talk is cheap. We’ll wait and see how many plates of chicken and chips Micheál Martin has to eat before he can get stuck into the squab pigeon from Touraine once more.

FOCAL SCOIR: Almost all the pics are from the Irish Times. Aren't they outstanding? I almost feel bad lifting them. The only that isn't is the dinner. I lifted that from somewhere else. My own dinner would be a lot more chicken and chippy. And eaten in the middle of the day.