Four blokes and a website driving Republic into the No Camp?

Naoise Nunn of Libertas (and Slugger alumnus) was on the Today Programme this morning, and seemed to have entirely wiped the floor with Ruairi Quinn on the subject of the Lisbon Treaty referendum. The SuperCoalition (ie, the world, his wife and all their in-laws) lined up against Sinn Fein and a raft of tiny groups parties including Libertas (termed not entirely inaccurately as ‘four blokes and a website’ by Newton Emerson last week) is suffering a bit of a shock given the latest opinion poll has the No camp ahead by five points! The Taoiseach, was clearly not happy when the Irish Times informed him of the poll results:

“Please continue with our commitment to the European project. It is fundamentally in our interests to do so,” he told the electorate during an interview with RT?s Pat Kenny.

“The question of our taxation is not at issue here. We retain unanimous requirements for that to be changed. . . . We negotiated that and we were accommodated by the European Union,” he said.

“Secondly, in relation to these big lies about the Commission, for example . . . at the moment under the existing treaty in the Nice Treaty there is a commitment to reduce the number of commissioners. What we have achieved in this Treaty during our own presidency is the whole question of expressing equality of treatment for all countries in that respect.

“So Germany who used to have two will also be without one in one in every three commissions as will Ireland, which has four million people.

“In relation to neutrality, again our position is absolutely clear. It’s a unanimous requirement in relation to security and defence matters. We still have the triple lock for parliament and for Government approval and of course for UN sanction, and that’s all respected.”

Labour leader Eammon Gilmore cautioned people not to panic just yet:

We also need to retain a sense of perspective on the poll results. The numbers currently indicating that they will vote No (35%) is well below the numbers who actually voted No in the Nice I referendum in 2001 (54%) and even below the numbers who voted against Nice II (37%) in 2002,” he added.

“Clearly the 35 per cent that have still to make up their mind will be crucial to the outcome of the referendum. We now have a little less than a week to show them the very real benefits of a Yes and the potential negative consequences of a No vote.”

The worrying thing from the Yes Camp’s point of view is that the conversion rate of ‘Don’t knows’ to ‘Knows’ is running strictly in the Noes favour.

Tony at Achem One reckons (H/T Cian) that the big problem is not the ideologues who are agin it, but what he calls ‘the passive noes’:

The passive ‘No’ is a more worrying long term problem. This Treaty is no more complex than any of the previous Euro-referendums, but people are now complaining that they don’t understand it and must vote ‘No’. This fear of complexity didn’t arise in the past, because there was always some selling point for Ireland, and people focused on that rather than the fine detail.

Lisbon doesn’t have this headline selling point. It is an administrative treaty, whose main focus is on the inner workings of a body that is remote from the Irish people. Its complexity is not sinister, but we must take that on trust. In an era where our most successful party has traded on a dumbed down political discourse, such trust seems to be evaporating, and the level of passive negativity is surely a sign that the people are starting to question rather than blindly accept the party line.

Notwithstanding Tony’s point about this being a deeply unsexy, administrative treaty, I would add two things:

– There has also been little preparation done for this campaign on the part of the Super Coalition. Indeed they were still bickering over who would take the lead nearly 2 weeks into the campaign. Bertie’s great strategy of taking it quickly before the opposition could do anything about it now seems to be playing against them. One woman interviewed on The Politics Show last week (see below).

– And following on from that, the Libertas effort demonstrates that early entry, good organisation, sharp marshalling of PR, combined with the right opportunity (not to mention a decent whack of cash), asymmetrical campaigning can be extremely powerful. The attempt to take them out of the game (by everyone from the Irish Times, to the Sunday Independent, and even the Phoenix) was a bad case of a lunging late tackle.

And it seems to have hit the Irish establishment just where it hurts: right in the policy void that is the bickering cockpit of Irish politics.