How did we get here? It’s the question on every Labour supporters lips this week. The collapse of the Labour vote in Meath East and the slump in Labour support in the polls. Listen to the media analysts and they will point to a number of things; a perception that election promises have been broken, the liberal agenda and the failure to put as Barry Desmond used to say “manners on Fine Gael” and even communications!
But let’s analyse the slump. It didn’t happen since 2011. It started long before that, About 3 years Labour were in the mid 20’s in % support in opinion polls. The slide started before the general election so that while Labour won a record number of seats in the Dail unlike 1992 its previous peak when it hit 33 seats rising during the campaign, it hit 19.5% on a downward slope during an election campaign. And that’s where the promises came in. Promises were made in order to shore up support in the campaign itself. In the absence of these promises Fine Gael would have had a working majority.
The popular view is that Labour broke General Election promises. So Ruairi Quinn signed up to protect students from an increase in college fees at a time when FG wanted a graduate tax and FF wanted to jack up fees straight away to €3,000. Labour said that they would protect child benefit and in fact child benefit for large families such as my own have been cut not to the degree that FF cut it but that’s beside the point. The claim by Eamon Gilmore that it would be Labours way or Frankfurts way is often thrown back at Labour. The reality of the prom note was that the ECB in Frankfurt are less than happy about what they describe as the Irish operation. Wexford may not be indicative of the national perception as Labour did indeed keep the one promise it made here on the development of the General Hospital.
But once theres a perception its out there and that’s that. But add to that the fact that Croke Park 2 has been badly received and is losing Labour the public service vote or that the bombastic style of Pat Rabbitte is turning the electorate off. Throw into all that the Meath East bye election where Eoin Holmes was a good guy who came across well in the media but was undermined by those in the party who should know better.
So where do we go from here? There is funadementally something wrong with the party that predates the General Election that saw support slip away in 3 stages first before the election, next in the immediate period to Christmas 2012 when it steadied at 13% and finally the freefall since then. Unlike the Greens or PD’s there was no one moment but it seems to me that the party is turning off vital sectors that have traditionally been the bedrock of support; those on social welfare, public servants, middle and lower classes, commuters in neagitve equity who looked to Eamon Gilmore when he said “Is Feidir linn”
So lets fix the problem; first renegotiate the programme for government to insist on the inclusion of policies that will see the wealthy pay significantly more in tax, bring down top rates of pay in the higher echelons of the public service and public life. Tackle bankers pay and assure people in the family home who are behind on their mortgage due to a reduction in income.
Next we need to see a change in cabinet members. firstly there are not enough women in cabinet and secondly there are too many Dublin Labour Cabinet members. If that means that the party leader has to make way then so be it. Nobody is above the party as any previous leader will testify. I’ve always held the view that on the day that Labour entered government that Eamon Gilmore showed poor judgement. When senior members were arguing about who should have been Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Eamon missed an opportunity to show leadership and say “Look, I’m the leader and this job is a very hard one, I won’t ask anyone to do something that I’m not prepared to do myself.” Eamon could have been a good minister in that department, instead he’s in Foreign Affairs when there’s little input within the economy.
Finally call a special delegate conference and put the programme for government to delegates and let them decide if they want to stay in government. If the message from Meath East is worthwhile listening to then the feedback from Labour members is doubly valuable now.