After #GE16… Can Fine Gael grab power out of this political equinox?

Five years ago, Fine Gael rose from obscurity to power in a moment of solstice when finally it seemed the political sun was finally and definitively moving in the opposite direction after generations of political dominance by Fianna Fail.

Often in the country’s history Fine Gael has provided many of the big departures in the journey of the Republic, from the Treaty to the move away from Dev’s isolationism and the modern transformation of Anglo-Irish relations.

Ironically, this time, it was Fianna Fail’s crew who lashed the ship’s wheel to a course that took the country well away from the rocks of economic disaster. All we have to do, thought Fine Gael, was to keep her steady and claim the recovery as our own.

Ah well, so much for that big idea. As Phil Noble remarked after the 2004 US election: “Remember it’s the message and the campaign that counts. A great website and a bad campaign is a bad campaign”.

If the expensive and technically well-executed marketing campaign failed, what has saved Fine Gael for another day is a party machine that is fast becoming every bit as professional as Fianna Fail’s has traditionally had been.

In 2011, vote management got them three seats out of five in Cavan Monaghan. This year they’ve squeezed and an extraordinary seat bonus in part by squeezing an incredibly high transfer rate out of crashing Labour incumbents, and that management regime.

But if a solstice is that point when the sun appears to stop in the sky and then move in the opposite direction, an equinox is that dynamic but passing moment when days and nights are evenly split between two still points.

Fine Gael may have lost the election, but they still have everything to play for: not least being the first Fine Gael led the administration to get elected in the history of the state.

There will be far fewer problems with bored-to-the-teeth backbenchers, and more space for the younger generation of TDs who failed to get a ministerial game in the outgoing coalition.

The recovery is real, and not just in Dublin as so many of their opponents claimed. Apart from historical precedent, that makes office well worth hanging on to for as long as possible as far as the party is concerned.

It remains to be seen whether this equinoctial moment marks spring or autumn for Fine Gael’s longer term ambitions.

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