Saturday, 26 February 2011

Political earthquake in Ireland - but will anything change?

What an electoral reckoning in Ireland, as the counting begins. That it was so widely anticipated should not mean we overlook a result perhaps without comparable recent precedent in any established western democracy.

The RTE exit poll shows

Fine Gael 36.1
Labour 20.5
Fianna Fail 15.1
Independents 10.1
Greens 2.7

Compare the 2007 result to see what an avalanche that is.

Fianna Fail 41.6% 77 (-4)
Fine Gael 27.3% 51 (+20)
Labour 10.3% 20 (-)
Green 4.7% 6 (-)
Sinn Fein 6.9% 4 (-1)
Prog Dem 2.7% 2 (-6)
Ind 5.2% 0 (-8)

Fianna Fail best the British Tories as the most electorally successful western democratic party of the last century. Only in the 1990s did they briefly dip just a smidge below 40% of the vote - to 39% in 1992 and 1997. You have to go back to the party's first Dail elections in 1927 to find them at 35% or below.

Behold now the mighty Fianna Fail on 15% of the vote in the RTE exit poll.

That's less than half of the share of the vote achieved by John Major's devastated Tories in the British election of 1997.

The Irish electorate have wreaked vengeance on the party of government. Whether they have noted for change is less clear. Irish politics being what it is, the pendulum swings from one side of the centre-right to another, with Fine Gael topping the poll. But the new governing party's emphasis on austerity too may well have cost it hopes of a majority in the final fortnight.

Irish Labour have achieved their highest ever poll with 20% of the vote, compared to 10% four years ago, and top of the poll in Dublin but falling short in the last few months of the heady heights they hit in leading the polls last year.

The result looks likely to put Labour in office alongside Fine Gael.

The new government has the toughest possible inheritance. It might be wise to be dreading the next elections already.

If this blog takes a passing interest in Irish politics partly for reasons of personal history - my late grandmother would never hear a word said against de Valera - even if plenty might have been said - it should hardly be without interest for anybody else. Yet again the British media has shown less interest even in the most dramatic of European elections than it would in a New York gubernatorial race, or the Republican party's skirmishes a year before any primaries begin. The BBC Parliament channel will take RTE's results coverage from 2pm.


Lord Blagger said...

The lesson for Labour here is that if the Tories implement a debt tax, they are dead too.

With a real debt of 6,800 billion, and that ignores bailing out the 50% of the population with less than 5,000 in savings, its the real problem in the UK, caused by reckless spending and false accounting.

Implement a debt tax, hypothecated to pay it, and people will see the scale of the problem in every pay slip.

Give it a name like 'labour tax' small 'l' so as people don't confuse it with the Labour party - capital 'L', and Labour is toast.

You then have the problem of Libyian style protests.

Daniel E said...

Interesting question of what Labour should do. It seems as if conventional wisdom deems that Labour should go into coalition with FG, as they have done historically. But surely they will have limited impact on an FG government, and if they want to displace FF as one of the two leading parties, they should lead the opposition?