Labour’s candidate problem (and the danger of Independent snipers)…

Intelligent piece by former Fine Gael taoiseach Garrett FitzGerald in the Irish Times today. The data he’s handling is extrapolated from opinion polls and last year’s local elections (run at the same time as the Euro elections last June), shows two things. One Fine Gael’s growth stopped last summer, whilst that of Labour and Sinn Fein have continued to grow:

An important way in which the figures in Table 2 may fail to reflect accurately the eventual outcome, in terms of seats won, is the problem that Labour may experience in finding sufficient attractive candidates to enable it to increase at one swoop its Dáil representation by a factor of two-and-a-half.

An absence of local level information makes it very difficult to make any assessment of the extent to which Labour has the capacity on the ground to turn votes into seats.

However, it seems likely that in this important respect, Labour is at a disadvantage vis-a-vis both of the two other principal parties. Fianna Fáil has the opposite problem. It has at least twice as many TDs as it is likely to be able to elect.

And Fine Gael has a much lesser candidate problem because, having made a breakthrough in the 2007 general election, it needs a much smaller pool of new candidates than Labour does, and also because it seems to have been engaged longer than Labour in the process of building up this pool.

In about 25 constituencies, or three-fifths of the total, Labour needs candidates with a capacity to exploit fully its potential vote, so as to enable it to win seats that now seem to be within its reach.

And of course, that other growing pain, how to run two candidates in multi-member constituency and balance the vote:

Another problem for Labour is the fact that, whereas until now it had only one TD in each constituency, in about a dozen cases – mainly but not exclusively in Dublin – it could now face the same problem that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have had to cope with over many years – competition, sometimes bitter, between TDs of the same party.

He also notes the fact that lots of unpredictable results may come in from nowhere, especially the independent challenge to Fianna Fail. The likes of Thomas Pringle not only edging out Labour’s McBrearty, but drawing in votes from all over the constituency and from across the various ‘gene pools’: that quaint term which aptly describes the apolitical (genetic) character of almost all significant Irish political constituencies.