God, Electric Enda just doesn’t know when he’s beat, does he? Okay, he’s notched up a good result for his party and avoided joining Dukes and Noonan in that corner of Blueshirt hell reserved for failed leaders. You’d think that would be enough, but he still holds out hopes of becoming Taoiseach. Either he’s forgotten his basic maths, or the poor sap really thinks the Provos, Bev Flynn and/or Jackie Healy Rae would vote for him to take over the reins of state.
Right, so how do we explain the Provos’ result? Actually, it wasn’t all that bad. Their vote held up, actually rising in most constituencies (except, notably, for their shocker in Tallaght) but just not enough to garner extra seats. Plus, their continuing problem in attracting transfers makes it much more difficult to translate votes into seats. Beyond that… well, the established anti-Nornie sentiment in 26-county political culture may have entered into things. And then again, PSF voters who were still of the FF gene pool may have swung behind Bertie to keep the Blueshirts out.
But there were a few problems of their own making. Dermot Ahern has alleged that people won’t vote for radical socialist policies, but it couldn’t have hurt the Provos to be a little more radical. The fact that they could summarily drop their keynote policy for a 5% rise in corporation tax under media pressure went down badly with their base – party activists were openly wondering what was the point of Ard Fheiseanna if the leadership could pull that off – without appeasing the chattering classes. Then there was Grizzly’s disastrous performance on Prime Time, whereby he waffled, tried to bring everything back to the peace process and generally showed no understanding of southern politics.
Tony Gregory further alleges, and he’s been saying for about two years that the PSF vote in northside Dublin was plateauing, that following their big successes in the 2004 locals the Provos had got complacent and lazy, and were in no condition to take on the Bertie machine. Further, you had the selection cock-up in Dublin Central, where, despite huge amounts of money and energy being spent, Headmistress Mary Lou still failed to charm the inner-city macho men. Food for thought for those young PSF activists who’ve never experienced an electoral setback, and who have got used to the idea of being part of an inexorably rising national movement.
A bad result for the vaguely leftish independents. Catherine Murphy and Séamus Healy have gone, Finian McGrath just about clinging on and Tony Gregory returned as expected. This will doubtless have some effect on the left unity manoeuvrings around Dublin – Gregory for one has shown very little interest in jerry-built lash-ups like the CIL.
A bad result too for the Socialist Party, with Joe Higgins’ reputation as one of the best performers in the Dáil not saving him, and Clare Daly again failing to make the cut. It’s interesting that Joe’s result in Dublin West is very similar to Seán Crowe’s in Dublin South-West, and their electoral base is sociologically very similar. There is obviously something going on in those suburbs, probably a mix of boundary changes and demographic changes, something of the general political conditions, and possibly the SP being stretched by trying to run two big campaigns simultaneously.
If there is a silver lining – and I’m not rejoicing in Joe’s defeat by any means, he was a very effective Dáil performer and no doubt Clare would have been too – it is that it may provoke some fruitful discussion in the SP, which is likely to face some kind of mini-crisis after its perspective has run aground. The more boorish sectarian elements in the SP, the yobboes, braggarts and spoofers, will have got a knock – now it’s up to the more thoughtful elements to see what they can do. In any case the SP’s go-it-alone culture will come under some pressure.
The other candidates of the further left, with the exception of Richard Boyd Barrett, got a vote just big enough to encourage them but not nearly big enough to validate an electoral perspective. People like John O’Neill of the ISN, Joan Collins of the Communities and Workers Action Group and even an ineffable balloon like Cieran Perry of Red Action
maintaining and even slightly expanding their bin tax vote from the locals. [Update: My stats have failed me - as Wednesday points out, they were down, albeit that they didn't collapse as they might have done.] All the same – in the locals Bríd Smith could poll 1700 votes in Ballyfermot as an SWP candidate. This time out, on a wishy-washy People Before Profit platform, in a much bigger constituency with a much higher turnout, she manages 2000 odd. Not really evidence of a rising far left.
Five thousand people in Dún Laoghaire voted for Richard Boyd Barrett. These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.
Let’s try that again. Five thousand people in Dún Laoghaire voted for Richard Boyd Barrett. How in the name of the deity is that possible? Don’t get me wrong, I like Richie. He’s a pleasant bloke with some organising ability and bags of energy. On the other hand, he’s a lacklustre speaker and a bit of a lightweight. The left’s answer to Enda Kenny, then. So how did he do so well? Is it likely that 5000 Dún Laoghaire residents have suddenly become convinced of the case for socialist revolution? Or is it more likely that the 800-odd he polled last time represents the hard left vote in that constituency? The healthy number of transfers he got from Fine Gael suggests the latter. Isn’t it more plausible that this is a bit of a left vote, a big whack of a Save Our Seafront vote, and something of the celebrity factor? The acres of press coverage of Richie’s parentage will have done him no harm at all; in fact, having his mum, the divine Sinéad Cusack, and stepdad Jeremy Irons turn out in support will have done him the world of good. Never underestimate the power of celebrity in Irish politics – that’s how Máiréad McGuinness got to Strasbourg, after all. And it seems our lovable, doe-eyed Richie has gone down a storm with the Hello!-reading ladies of Kingstown.
What will the Yo brigade make of this? Well, I confidently predict that the Socialist Worker will proclaim it the “performance of the election”, overshadowing even Willie O’Dea. And, being familiar with his thinking from way back, I can read Swiss Kieran like a book. He will be aware that a dozen years ago, Militant was at the point of collapse, but managed to rebuild itself around Joe’s electoral success. (Albeit that the SP today is still about a third the size of Militant in its prime.) For an SWP with a paid-up membership in the double figures, and having severe difficulty selling the paper, a strategy of Socialism in One Constituency will be tempting in the extreme. It’s likely that the party’s resources will now be massively concentrated on getting Richie onto Dún Laoghaire council in two years’ time. And this will benefit the working class how exactly?