What are Irish Labour’s chances of bouncing back to 15%?

Interesting analysis/opinion from Ed Brophy, formerly Joan Burton’s chief of staff, on where Irish Labour now finds itself. 

Between its entry into coalition with Fine Gael in March 2011 and the May 2014 local and European elections, Labour lost 1 per cent of its support every three months.
Subsequently, under Joan Burton’s leadership, the party stalled its decline but was unable to sustainably increase support.

This was particularly the case following the establishment of the Social Democrats, which attracted support from Labour’s progressive middle-class base while being untainted by participation in government. 

While Labour lost a considerable proportion of its working- class vote to Sinn Féin, the progressive middle-class vote also split between Labour, the Social Democrats and the Green Party.

He argues that labour must avoid a race to the bottom in order to compete with others to its so-called left:

As a party willing and able to govern, Labour is a rare beast in the Irish political firmament. To deliver on our agenda in the next government, we must target a threshold of about 15 per cent of the vote in the general election. 

Achieving such a level of support would require us to target at least three times this number of voters.

According to the exit poll, Labour largely drew support from urban, mainly Dublin-based, middle-class families. For many, the party has come to represent a core of middle-class, liberal voters, prioritising the relative importance of issues such as the repeal of the eighth amendment. 

Although highly influential, this core constituency represents a small proportion of the electorate. Furthermore, while there is considerable support for these issues, that support does not necessarily translate into votes

For example, in the exit poll respondents were asked for their view on abortion on a scale of zero to 10. Among the 22 per cent with the most liberal perspective, more people voted for Fianna Fáil than for Labour. It is clear that this approach is insufficient to build a broad base of support for the party.

While Sinn Féin and the Anti-Austerity Alliance/People Before Profit leap over one another to claim their “left-wing” credentials, Labour should also resist siren calls to tack to the left. It is clearly more important that the party stands for something more meaningful in voters’ minds. 

While just 22 per cent of voters self-describe as being on the “left”, 37 per cent favour the social democratic position of investment in services over tax cuts. This is the section of the electorate that already “thinks” Labour. [Emphasis added]

The party’s major difficulty nearly always arises when they go into government and this social democratic identity gets swamped by the exigencies of government. It’s a shame for them that they felt compelled to play the Burton card so early. Brendan Howlin is too easily identified with the public sector cuts of the last five years. 

Fifteen per cent looks hopeful in a polity where the 2#&189; party system seems to be permanently bust. Prior to the heady days of the Gilmore Gale Labour almost permanently resided in a 12% to 14% corridor in opinion poll ratings. Given that Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are operating way below their traditional support (currently neck and neck at 26%), that seems a forlorn and remote piece of wishful thinking.

Theres that, and then the sheer multiplicity of fronts they have to fight on. Tough times ahead for the party of James Connolly.

  • Teddybear

    Labour is in decline across these islands to
    Varying degrees but none so harshly as Scotland and Ireland

    This is not unexpected as the past 30 years has seen a decline in trade unionism and the break up of old traditional working class communities. Labours old strength was the glue of these
    Communities. Now it’s gone, it won’t come back.

    Other trendier and nimbler left wing vehicles have emerged (Nats, Greens, PBP etc) that have captured the imagination.

    As for Ireland, Labour never had the deep community roots as its counterpart did in England. The recent election has shown that their bedrock is v thin.

  • kensei

    It’s doable, but given the competition on the Left they are going to have a hard time. SF have the potential to eat their lunch if they move a bit more into the centre-left but it remains to be seen if they can. The hard thing will be standing out form all the left wing voices.

    If the politics can be pushed more into a left-right axis then they might have a shot at leading a left coalition.

  • murdockp

    Rising economy = move to the right.
    Failing economy = move to the left.

    The way the Irish Trade Unions are behaving at present Labour face a difficult task. The public see a highly paid, work shy elite who have lost sight of normal day to day reality for most people.

    Labour’s fall from grace is not yet complete.

  • Declan Doyle

    Very tuff one for labour. In the past when FF or FG have taken a beating at the polls the voters simply shift betweem, while those FF or FG folk who cannot bring themselves to vote across the civil war divide would usually lend to Labour. This has been the pattern for decades where Labour acted as a an overflow for disaffected FF/FG voters, in the absence of other alternatives for the most part.

    The party has destroyed it’s working class Base over its term in government. Those voters have fled in the main to SF over the last few years while it’s liberal middle class vote has shifted towards the Greens and Social Democrats. At the same time PBP/AAA have done a remarkable job in maximising the socialist vote.

    All areas and angles are covered by a plethora of parties. Labour is squeezed to bursting with literally nowhere to go. The battle between the two major parties of FF and FG – who are effectively in government together now – is being fought in a far smaller pond with polls suggesting they are both fishing in the same waters. Labour cannot benifit from any overspill as in the past. Brendan Howlin was part of the team that led the party away from its traditional Base lurching to the right on the end of a FG leash. He is unlikely to be the individual who will restore the party’s fortunes.

    SF are now the main opposition and the leading party on the left. They won’t give up the latter without a battle. A battle Labour has no hope of winning.

  • chrisjones2

    The problem is the long term objectiove.

    When all hope of power is absent its easy to offer voters whatever they will reasonably believe even if you know its impossible to deliver.

    So the key issue is simple – how gullible do you think they are and how can you use that to maximise the vote. I know that is cynical – but its also a political reality – especially when those on your left and playing that strategy too

  • chrisjones2

    I suggest that its not the break up of communities – its more that the needs and aspirations have changed for the mass of the people and Labour has lost contact with them

  • Ulick

    From your synopsis Mick, Ed Brophy’s “interesting analysis/opinion” can be summed up with, “we’re desperate to get our snouts back in the trough but there’s no votes in abortion”.
    Suck it up lads.

  • Skibo

    The rise of FF in the last election shows the electorate are more gullible than we give them credit for.

  • Teddybear

    True. Also Labours lurch towards social issue leftism from economic leftism has left the working classes behind

  • robertianwilliams

    No chance..with their open aggressive pro abortion stance.

  • chrisjones2

    On balance I agree with that too ………. but only in the specific circumstances or rural Ireland. I think in the urban areas and maong the younger popualtion there is a much more progressive culture – as in most countires

  • Croiteir

    Or more discerning about the left wing nonsense that SF and others come out with

  • Croiteir

    by progressive you mean liberal?

  • Teddybear

    If relegating morality is seen a progressive then yes

  • eamoncorbett

    Terrible decision to go into coalition with FG , if they’d stayed out they could have more seats than SF now.

  • Joe Jitsu

    Second worst ever election for FF, some “rise”.

  • Joe Jitsu

    Labour mainly got it’s votes in the last election in middle class areas, it’s a dead duck in working class areas where it’s lost it’s to SF, AAA/PBP and left Indo’s like Clare Daly, Joan Collins, Thomas Pringle etc. And to make it worse for any chance of a comeback, the Social Democrats will capture much of it’s former vote.

  • Zig70

    A left coalition? Is that a thing?

  • aquifer

    Do the Social Democrats despise SF enough to merge with Labour? I am assuming these are Social Democrats ex Democratic Left ex Workers Party, who might be expected to do SF no favours?

  • aquifer

    Yep trade Unions represent a better off minority of workers, so Labour has to work out how to help the casualised workers on low wages to prosper.

  • Gaygael

    Just remember the horrible legacy of the version of conservative morality that we are still emerging from.

  • Tochais Siorai

    Not really, Murphy was a Stickie at one time but I think Shortall was always Labour. Donnelly comes from neither tradition and is their strongest performer by a long shot. They’ll be closer to Labour because of SF’s economic illiteracy more than anything else.

  • Croiteir

    relegate?

  • Declan Doyle

    The biggest fukk up was the greens going in with FF. Imagine where they might be now had they of stayed out.

  • Declan Doyle

    Economic illiteracy ? Lol. You are about 15 years behind reality.

  • Declan Doyle

    Social Dems don’t despise SF at all. In fact in the last election they transferred heavily between each other. Roisin Shortall is ex Labour, lots of bad blood there. Stephen Donnelly is a Wicklow middle class popular people man whose transfers brought the Shinner over the line. Catherine was a very strong independent who absolutely distrust the traditional establishment.

  • Teddybear

    Perhaps a better phrase would be extirpation of morality courtesy of ‘progress’ such as baby murder, corruption of marriage (same gender ‘marriage’), lack of sanction against people who live in sin, commit adultery and have children out of wedlock etc

    How the Marxian plan to destroy the ethos of the proper family unit tricks people into thinking its progress is a great achievement.

    Not since the first century are Christians now being marginalised, criminalised and persecuted.

    You may scoff all you want but when you and I shake off this mortal coil, our souls will not be judged by Hillary Clinton or Jeremy Corbyn or Caroline Lucas or any other ‘liberal’.
    No, we will be judged by a non liberal God

  • Teddybear

    I don’t recognise it as such. It was done to ensure the health and worthiness of eternal souls to achieve salvation. yes there were abuses but the motivation was largely sound if not misguided in the particular. Different times.

  • Croiteir

    What makes you think I will scoff. One of the issues I have with liberalists is that they are not progressive, they’re regressive. They have no clue were they are going only they must go there. It is a utopian dreamworld that will end in nightmare.

  • Teddybear

    My apologies Croiteir. My views are not trendy and often if not are met with mockery or hostility.

  • Schmitty

    Teddybear can you elaborate what sanctions you would like to see imposed on “people who live in sin, commit adultery and have children out of wedlock”?

  • Other

    How exactly in your view are Irish Trade Unions behaving? As the majority of them are not affiliated to Irish Labour what impact can their behaviour have?

  • Other

    Trade union members are better paid and have better terms and conditions because of there trade union membership. Trade unions organise across all sectors including casual workers and campaign for and end to the casualisation of labour and a living wage for all workers.

  • Other

    If indeed we will be judged by a non liberal God, why do you seek to judge and want sanctions now against the unwed, adulterers, people who have children outside of marriage etc.

  • Joe Jitsu

    Budgets checked and verified by the Dept of Finance is ” economic illiteracy ” !!!

  • Tochais Siorai

    Even a stopped clock is right twice a day. Are you telling me SF are strong on economics? Even in a weak field in politics throughout Ireland they’re noticeably poor.

  • Tochais Siorai

    I’m all ears. Why are SF so much better now than they were ‘about 15 years’ ago?

  • aquifer

    In the 1980’s the Unions refused to recognise Unions of the unemployed. Then all Thatcher had to do was to deflate the economy and watch as the Unions withered. Sad really.

  • Declan Doyle

    Read their manifesto for GE16.

  • Joe Jitsu

    Oh so you reckon the Dept of Finance are also incompetent and can only calculate a budget by mistake. You must be from the FG/FF/LB school of economics that got the fiscal space wrong by €2 Billion “The phantom €2 billion: How everyone except Sinn Féin got the maths wrong….. But it has now emerged that Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Labour had all been miscalculating the fiscal space in recent weeks with the embarrassing result – for them – that only Sinn Féin has its numbers right.” http://www.thejournal.ie/fiscal-space-2586172-Feb2016/

  • Gaygael

    Yes you don’t. We are a much more enlightened society. That did untold damage to so many people.
    We are never going back there.

  • Teddybear

    God will judge that

  • Gaygael

    The Magdalene laundries and endemic clerical child abuse were to save our souls even against our will?