Tom Kelly’s column in the Irish News today offers this explanation the upcoming success of Sinn Fein in the north and the south:
Sinn Fein’s greatest strengths are its twin planks of discipline and an ability to learn lessons fast. Add into the mix its utter shamelessness in doing “u-turns” faster than Ayrton Senna with make moves that would embarrass Max Mosley. While other parties agonise like St. Peter in the Garden of Gethsemane – Sinn Fein just do it and no shibboleth is too sacred to ditch.
To political elites all of this may be as unedifying as hitting a “Sally Gunnell” in golf but the Sinn Fein strategy works. To achieve what they look like doing in the Republic of Ireland has been a simple enough strategy- they have simply mimicked Eamon Gilmore’s angry man tactics from the lead up to the 2011 general election.
Sinn Fein saw how being “agin” everything worked and fitted neatly with the frustration of a hard-pressed and angry Irish electorate. They also cleared the constituency decks of any embarrassing candidates with burdensome paramilitary histories and replaced them with clean-faced policy light radicals.
Unlike other parties, Sinn Fein don’t make their political wannabees wait three generations before letting them loose. Of course it has also helped that the Labour party in the Republic of Ireland is in meltdown.
Apart from the defections of a handful of TDs- the party has also haemorrhaged thirty councillors since going into government with Fine Gael. That’s an astonishing ten percent of their total councillor intake.
Labour has found as others find too that being a minority party in government is toxic and Sinn Fein is well poised to capitalise on Labour’s woes. Fianna Fail’s pre-occupation with internal struggles and re-organisation has left it impotent against the Sinn Fein tide as the voice of opposition.
In Northern Ireland, Sinn Fein is less about growth and more about consolidation. To the electorate after fourteen years of being in government makes them feel like worn in comfortable slippers- until the Adams debacle turned those slippers into Doc Martins.
Despite the moral outpourings of the cappuccino supping liberals of BT9 and the prayers of the candle burning righteous, the truth is that Sinn Fein in the North are more Teflon than your granny’s old frying pan and that’s because having lived through the Troubles- everyone here knows what they did- so the political impact factor is zero.
So even with a candidate as lacklustre as Ms Anderson and her scowling posters- they will comfortably win a European seat. The second certainty of the forthcoming electoral tussle will be the election of the DUP’s Diane Dodds.
Less certain is the future of Jim Nicholson. This may have been just one election too far for gentleman Jim- though logic says he will limp home in third place. All eyes will be on the damage that Jim Alister can do. If he gets more than fifty thousand votes- he will have secured a kind of moral victory –anything less and he will be the voice of malcontents.
Despite having appealed to SDLP voters in 1999 to give them a chance at a second seat; Sinn Fein is offering no such guidance in 2014- lest Alex Attwood spoils the party by stealing the third seat. To succeed, Attwood needs two other factors to occur- Anna Lo needs to excel and Nicholson needs to implode.
Despite Alliance optimism, Lo is a poor media performer; so excelling outside of Greater Belfast is one huge ask. Plus Alliance does not have the kind of organisation across the North to deliver a coup de grace. On arid ground, Nicholson is the UUP’s best asset therefore implosion is unlikely.
Many Sinn Fein supporters will give Attwood a second preference knowing that less than 1% separated the SDLP from the prospect of a second nationalist seat in 2009. But whether that is enough depends on the turnout. [all emphasis added]
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty