Interesting analysis/opinion from Ed Brophy, formerly Joan Burton’s chief of staff, on where Irish Labour now finds itself.
Between its entry into coalition with Fine Gael in March 2011 and the May 2014 local and European elections, Labour lost 1 per cent of its support every three months.
Subsequently, under Joan Burton’s leadership, the party stalled its decline but was unable to sustainably increase support.
This was particularly the case following the establishment of the Social Democrats, which attracted support from Labour’s progressive middle-class base while being untainted by participation in government.
While Labour lost a considerable proportion of its working- class vote to Sinn Féin, the progressive middle-class vote also split between Labour, the Social Democrats and the Green Party.
He argues that labour must avoid a race to the bottom in order to compete with others to its so-called left:
As a party willing and able to govern, Labour is a rare beast in the Irish political firmament. To deliver on our agenda in the next government, we must target a threshold of about 15 per cent of the vote in the general election.
Achieving such a level of support would require us to target at least three times this number of voters.
According to the exit poll, Labour largely drew support from urban, mainly Dublin-based, middle-class families. For many, the party has come to represent a core of middle-class, liberal voters, prioritising the relative importance of issues such as the repeal of the eighth amendment.
Although highly influential, this core constituency represents a small proportion of the electorate. Furthermore, while there is considerable support for these issues, that support does not necessarily translate into votes.
For example, in the exit poll respondents were asked for their view on abortion on a scale of zero to 10. Among the 22 per cent with the most liberal perspective, more people voted for Fianna Fáil than for Labour. It is clear that this approach is insufficient to build a broad base of support for the party.
While Sinn Féin and the Anti-Austerity Alliance/People Before Profit leap over one another to claim their “left-wing” credentials, Labour should also resist siren calls to tack to the left. It is clearly more important that the party stands for something more meaningful in voters’ minds.
While just 22 per cent of voters self-describe as being on the “left”, 37 per cent favour the social democratic position of investment in services over tax cuts. This is the section of the electorate that already “thinks” Labour. [Emphasis added]
The party’s major difficulty nearly always arises when they go into government and this social democratic identity gets swamped by the exigencies of government. It’s a shame for them that they felt compelled to play the Burton card so early. Brendan Howlin is too easily identified with the public sector cuts of the last five years.
Fifteen per cent looks hopeful in a polity where the 2#&189; party system seems to be permanently bust. Prior to the heady days of the Gilmore Gale Labour almost permanently resided in a 12% to 14% corridor in opinion poll ratings. Given that Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are operating way below their traditional support (currently neck and neck at 26%), that seems a forlorn and remote piece of wishful thinking.
Theres that, and then the sheer multiplicity of fronts they have to fight on. Tough times ahead for the party of James Connolly.
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