The poor performance of the Irish Labour Party is important for a number of reasons. It’s not as though it hasn’t happened before in the party’s history. Labour defenestration has been a regular feature of coalition governments over the last 30 years.
And it always happens for roughly the same reasons: overpromising before the election, then substantially underselling its own agency within government afterwards. It happened to the Greens in the last administration.
That’s why the smaller government party is often referred to as the mudguard. It takes most of the damage and protects the larger party and government. It’s a testimony to just how much damage there was in 2011 that it nearly swallowed the larger party too.
So when the election was over, Labour decided to try and Paul’s as the heroes to the Fianna Fail. No problem was that that meant abandoning most of their headline campaign promises. They began from a very low point of confidence in government generally carrying a nasty hangover in the people from the last administration.
Doing the right thing simply didn’t cut it when the crunch came last Friday. Anger was palpable, not just with the leader Eamon Gilmore but his old Democratic Left colleague Pat Rabbitte who was foolish enough to suggest the party had done what every party does and made promises merely to get into office. No matter that his road assertion holds some considerable truth from that point on Labour became a byword for political insincerity.
With Labour the postmatch repercussions are still ongoing, but effectively they have been replaced as the party of choice for a lot of working-class Dubliners. It should be noted however that many of these in 2009 and even more in 2011 were working-class voters who had never voted Labour before. These disaffected ex Fianna Fáil voters were some of the very first to desert and leave for Sinn Fein.
Labour’s real hard core – and this is what substantially differentiates it from Sinn Fein – is an aspirant social democratic middle class for whom the new insurgents hold very little political appeal, and indeed vice versa.
But this is a pretty small core. Many of those TDs who arrived in 2011 will be sweating from now until the next election when they must almost certainly lose their seats. This is not going to be an easy show for the new leader to try and keep on the road.
The degree to which panic is setting in May be reflected in the fact that Joan Burton has thrown her hat into the ring. She might have been a better as a post election caretaker to start the rebuilding process.
Odds on a new election earlyish in the New Year, ie long enough for the new leader and Enda Kenny to come to blows, must be shortening.