Post #GE16 realignment: The more things change, the more they stay the same…

Pollsters do their best with a good product that is often granted a status of political reality it was never intended to carry. Polls are useful, as Janan Ganesh put it, “as contextual information, not the story itself”.

The press’s polls obsession made it difficult for either Fine Gael or Fianna Fail to get past questions about vote share (historically their lowest combined total in the history of the state) with the implication they were lying if they suggested they could avoid a grand alliance.

In fact the two older parties will take almost 100 seats (nearly a 2/3 of all seats) in the Dail. In the short term, such a super majority may prove less unstable than any minority government but it would also leave the country without a functional Opposition.

Besides, the numbers themselves are not impossible without such a grand coalition. Fine Gael have had a bad election, but as Nicholas has noted their machine has been robust enough to keep them significantly ahead of Fianna Fail.

That matters not because of any protocol but because the basic thresholds can be crossed much more easily than Fianna Fail will be able to. It may be as Mick Wallace pointed out last night, that most independents don’t lean left they lean right.

Still that’s not the key to getting back into the Taoiseach’s office for Enda Kenny. What most rural independents really want is barrels of pork and local concessions for the Parish and the county. And there will be plenty of them both as groups and individuals.

More than enough to get past the Fianna Fail-Sinn Fein block on the Opposition benches, but insufficient for the magic number needed for a majority government. However it could get the country through another year, two and maybe even longer.

Enda Kenny has been weakened by this election, but he and Fine Gael are certainly not finished. Fianna Fail having demanded his head as a minimum price for their loyalty – which short of a heave during the negotiation process – is a guarantee neither will happen.

If they cannot make it themselves, Fianna Fail will take time on the opposition benches to integrate a fresh team of parliamentarians (which doubles the size of the old one) and to build a new to push beyond their small but substantial beachhead in Dublin.

The truth is that – almost without even the most senior people in the media noticing it – Fianna Fail ran a policy rich centre-left manifesto against Fine Gael’s centre right platform. That’s an argument far better suited to opposite benches than two parties on the same side.

Such polarisation – short of another set of compromising global shocks – might very well lead to a proper re-alignment of Irish politics. But perhaps not in any of the ways the current media establishment had previously anticipated.