Who needs negative campaigning when you have the Labour party? While opinion polling seems to have been incessant in the south since the last election, the latest Millward Brown poll published by the Irish Independent over the weekend has brought more grim reading for Labour. But not only does the party now seem to be rooted in single digits (an eye-watering 6% in the latest poll), this morning the fallout has added a new dimension with calls for the resignation of party leader Eamon Gilmore. Sitting MEP, Phil Prendergast, who will be contesting the south constituency in May, openly called for the resignation of Gilmore in interviews with various radio stations this morning.
While the polls were conducted just as election campaigns were beginning and can be taken with the usual pinch of salt (they are opinion polls not election results), it seems likely that Labour will have no MEPs (and an equally disastrous local election to boot). According to the poll predictions, Sinn Féin will have an MEP in each of the four constituencies in Ireland after the May election. Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, who will only be standing in the three constituencies in the south, will have at least two each and the remainder will be filled by Independents such as Marian Harkin, Luke Ming Flanagan, Diarmuid O’Flynn or Nessa Childers (and, probably, two Unionists in the north).
After the poll results were reported over the weekend, Prendergast came out this morning unequivocally saying that Gilmore is “unaware that Labour is heading towards wipe-out”, that his leadership was in a “state of chronic inability” and that the party is now on the brink of electoral meltdown and that “if this party is to survive, there needs to be a change of leadership. I’m doing this for Labour”. She also advocates replacing Gilmore with Joan Burton (and denied on radio that Burton had any advance notice of what she was going to say). Last week’s opinion poll has Prendergast on 4% in the south constituency, despite being an incumbent. Clearly, if that was to be replicated in an election, the seat would be lost.
While the optics are dreadful of having a high profile candidate, and sitting MEP, come out so openly and call for the leader’s head, the timing has amplified it even further as there are a few days left before nominations close for the election later this week. Not only does Eamon Gilmore have the dilemma of how to deal with Prendergast, he also has to do it immediately. If he doesn’t overtly sanction the MEP for her remarks he will look even weaker and be very badly damaged by his inability to control his party. If he does sanction her, even as far as replacing her as Labour candidate in the South constituency, she may stand as an Independent and further weaken the Labour vote (both in South and in general). None of the arguments or options hold out many positive prospects for the party.
Given the recent history of junior coalition partners in the republic – with both the PDs and Green being wiped off the electoral map – Labour is the story to watch over the next few days.