After #GE16… How can Labour re-insinuate itself into the public conversation?

No government has been re-elected in the Eurozone other than Angela Merkel since 2008. [See Nicholas Whyte: http://goo.gl/Ql1zm5] Volatility is now the key condition in political life. If Labour thought a genuine economic recovery was a sufficient passport in this election it now has a serious pause for thought.

Willie Penrose snatched their political bacon out of the fire with that late win in Longford-Westmeath, meaning they are guaranteed a voice at Leader’s Questions. Also to their advantage – like Fianna Fail in 2011 before them – is a national organisation.

After that, though, the news is mostly grim. Losing so many TDs at once, means somewhere between 30-35 others will also lose their jobs. It makes the internal shock of the political loss all the more difficult to process and their recovery harder to plan.

The Seanad, for instance, will offer few spaces in which to park lost talent. Ivana Bacik will return via the TCD constituency, but depending on how generous Fine Gael are, there could be as few as one or two places to house Aodhán Ó Ríordáin or the like.

An additional issue is the degree to which older TDs now predominate over younger ones. All but Sean Sherlock and Alan Kelly are between 59-66. And of those only Brendan Howlin looks rock solid safe in any quickly held second election.

Labour’s older generation have survived but at the expense of its youth. There seems to have been a belief they could piggyback off a winning Fine Gael campaign. But the writing had been the wall since the beginning:

They had their best election ever in 2011 but that was as good as it got with their decline setting in right away as they were down to 17% for the rest of 2011.

This decline continued through 2012 (14%) and 2013 (10%).  They went into single figures in 2014 and their collapse to 7% in the Local Elections was accurately predicted by the final Irish Times poll.

The scale of the Labour defeat can be traced back to promises made during the run-up to the last election in 2011. Labour’s way or Frankfurt’s way became a crippling hostage to fortune for the new far-Left block and Sinn Fein.

Indeed, on the ground, both Sinn Fein and the AAA/PBP largely forewent any great attention on anyone but Labour. In the Right2Water campaign, the party faced a broad coalition of organisations that it would ordinarily have counted on as allies.

As the primary victims of populist anger, it raises the question of what can a progressive but predominantly technocratic party do to rejuvenate at a time when [often mockoutrage or kick the bums out seem to be the only politics with any major political currency.

Dropping Gilmore early – rather than letting him go at the end of the Dail – meant much of the party’s effort was spent in saving their new leader in Joan Burton from the drop rather than selling the party’s own achievements during the government term.

It also means that rather than having Burton’s otherwise safe hands to fall back on, they may feel compelled now to turn to yet another leader to lead them through the wilderness. Mallow based Sean Sherlock is the name being bandied around at the moment.

As Willie Penrose pointed out in his post-election remarks yesterday, Labour is, in fact, the oldest continuously running party in the jurisdiction. If it were only that Sinn Fein had stolen its clothes that might be easily recovered from.

Not for the first time, Labour has its back to the wall: something of a feature of the subsistence lifestyle it has had to endure since the beginning of the state. But the sheer number and variety of its rivals now add to the headaches of those currently planning its future.

What will the Unions do now for a political champion going forward? They may have dealt with Fianna Fail in the setting up of the social partnership but they have never quite trusted them.  Sinn Fein has been courting the Unions for the last five years: thus far to no avail.

But at a time when even its former friends now discount it as any part of the wider progressive force, how does the Labour party begin to re-insinuate itself into the public conversations of the future?

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

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