Ranking the winners and losers of #EUREF2012?

So before the actual result of the Referendum on the Fiscal Treaty is announced, here’s a run down of  how I think each of the parties have fared. It’s less a beauty line up, and more an attempt to grade them in terms of how they have managed to improve their positioning as a result. 

Finally, you’ll be relieved to hear, that I don’t expect everyone to agree with me. In fact, I’d welcome your own grading of the parties performances with as much or as little analysis as you’re prepared to give us.

1 – Perhaps counterintuitively, I’m giving top slot to Fianna Fail. They were far from the most prominent of the parties in play, and some rivals say they were least in evidence on the streets (of Dublin at least). If they played their campaign dead straight, it was because, with their recent history, they had to.

Yet unburdened of government responsibilities, and playing a very ‘light touch’ role in the Dail, they were by far the best prepared of all the parties for the substantive detail of this treaty debate.

Proportionate to the size of party (they’d about four times the delegates of SF at their recent Ard Fheis for instance) Martin’s parliamentary team is now tiny. But there were sound (and constitutionally literate) performances from Michael McGrath and Timmy Dooley with Marc MacSharry coming off the Seanad benches towards the end.

Crucially, it was Martin who defined what may turn out to be the key question of the campaign: “where will you get the money?”

2 – Sinn Fein have firmly established their authority as the lead oppositional voice in the state. There were increasing media mature performances from Mary Lou McDonald, Pearse Doherty, Peadar Toibin and Eoin O’Broin, with a second tranche of spokesmen like David Cullinane and Trevor O Clochartaigh holding down slots in less prominent media.

They also held something like 100 town hall type meetings in constituencies which may prove key in the next local government elections. The party’s ratings in the polls have stabilised at around 20% during the campaign.

However, their campaign was bookended by two crunching PR disasters: the poster which quoted three economists who were in fact backing a Yes vote; and a last minute judgement that ruled that major plank of their campaign was false. For this, I’m marking them down from top slot. 

Leader Gerry Adams managed to hold his own against his Labour counterpart Eamon Gilmore, but his poor grasp of detail serially let him down during set piece interviews with knowledgeable journalists.

3 – Fine Gael, like Fianna Fail before them and indeed all parties in government, tend to experience Referendums as an unnecessary disruption to important government business. It’s an occupational hazard. They tied up their loosest cannons Phil Hogan and Alan Shatter, but Noonan’s reference to Feta cheese and Richard Bruton’s ‘we’ll play it again’ gaffe showed poor concentration.

Enda’s run from Gerry (who was in turn hiding from Micheal) and the wider press generally has given rise again to low level rumbles about his qualities as a leader. Still, they along with SF will probably carry more support than any other party. For that reason they come in a comfortable third.  

They needed more Lucinda Creighton, who had a cracking campaign, and Brian Hayes, and less unnatural aggression from Simon Coveney). But if they get a Yes, they may consider themselves to have done well enough.

4 – Labour. Actually overall they had a half decent campaign with much fewer unforced errors than Fine Gael. You might quibble that Eamon Gilmore is losing his edge in debates (not least in that scoreless draw with Gerry Adams, on #TWIP I think), but it was a generally competent display from them.

The reason I’ve marked them substantially below FG relates to the fact the referendum has split their base more deeply than any other party.

Yet this probably had less to do with the issue at hand than their position in government and connection to a tough, even if necessary, austerity agenda. Ironically their heaviest legacy has been their last election campaign, which assumed as its objective a major rather than a minor role in this executive.

As one political opponent put it, “Labour’s Way or Frankfurt’s Way” slogan from the 2011 general election remains the gift that just keeps on giving.

5 – Of all the formal groupings that fought the Referendum, I’m putting the ULA last. In fact in years to come, this may be the moment they pinpoint the loss of real purchase to Sinn Fein, not least in Dublin inner and outer city constituencies. They suffered from the lack of central organisation or cohesion of message.

Their dropped ball (and it was dropped twice, first by Joe Higgins and then more disastrously by Richard Boyd Barrett) was the admission they would have to raise €10 billion in additional taxes.

Ironically, they had some of the most passionate and gifted advocates of the No campaign. And if there were individual winners in this campaign it would undoubtedly be Paul Murphy, the Socialist Party’s single MEP.

But the lack of co-ordination and old time Tammany Hall nous of handling difficult questions (by avoiding them, or not answering them honestly) added to the visible tiredness in their team towards the end of the campaign.

More informally, the independents were most notable by their absence from the campaign. No sign of TV and radio regulars like Ming Flanagan or Finian McGrath. Probably the single most effective independent advocate for a No vote was Declan Ganley who must now be kicking himself for not getting in any earlier in the campaign.  

His message about the debt burden had insufficient time to make its way to the consciousness of the voters.

So which way will it go? The polls say it should be a Yes.  The Noes seems scattered in areas where turnout is traditionally low, and at the moment the figures seem to confirm that pattern. And unlike many No campaigns this one is urging a sharp departure from current government trajectories.

We’ll know a lot more by tomorrow evening…

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

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