Public finance problems drag FG down and leave FF to contemplate how to regain the rest of its lost vote

One of the patterns in southern politics is that there’s a shift in the polling after any given election. In the case of last Sunday’s Behaviour and Attitude poll, perhaps the local election results have caused some to revise what had been a settled a priori view.

Consider that the same poll about a year earlier came with the following headline in the Sunday Times: Sinn Fein surges past Fianna Fail to take second place at polls, and you get just how volatile matters are in the south.

Yesterday, Cormac Lucey, columnist with The Times Ireland and former SpAd to Michael McDowell, summarised the government’s problem:

Political historians would have known that it would always be very difficult for Fine Gael successfully to return to office after the next election. Few parties ever manage three victories in a row.

Yet the economy continues to grow and internationally Ireland’s image has seldom been stronger. Varadkar is a superb public champion of the government.

However, it is the management of substantive questions that generally decides elections and, on these issues, he has been lacking, badly.

He identifies this gap between substance and the spin most graphically in the handling of public finances where a short term bonanza in tax revenues has resulted in an increase in public expenditure which threaten promised future tax cuts.

In short he accuses Leo of “elevating short-term political concerns over the long-term national interest”.

And yet, at a sub 30% rating, neither of the major parties have a particularly easy future to look forward to. In regard to Fine Gael, the shine is definitely off the Taoiseach. On Sunday, Stephen O’Brien and Justine McCarthy wrote:

Fianna Fail has held its 28% level of support for a third successive month, just one point behind its vote in the local elections on May 24.

The five-point gap is the first statistically significant lead Fianna Fail has enjoyed over Fine Gael in the B&A series since March 2017, when Enda Kenny was losing his grip on the Fine Gael leadership.

They also quote UCC academic Theresa Reidy, who…

…believes the penalty of serving in government is now affecting Fine Gael, which has no junior partner in government, as it did with the Labour Party in 2016, to protect it from public dissatisfaction.

“At this point in the cycle, you would be expecting a degree of government penalty,” she said.

Yesterday, Cormac Lucey, columnist with The Times Ireland and former SpAd to Michael McDowell, summarised the government’s problem:

Political historians would have known that it would always be very difficult for Fine Gael successfully to return to office after the next election. Few parties ever manage three victories in a row.

Yet the economy continues to grow and internationally Ireland’s image has seldom been stronger. Varadkar is a superb public champion of the government.

However, it is the management of substantive questions that generally decides elections and, on these issues, he has been lacking, badly.

He identifies this gap between substance and the spin most graphically in the handling of public finances where a short term bonanza in tax revenues has resulted in an increase in public expenditure which threaten promised future tax cuts.

In short he accuses Leo of “elevating short-term political concerns over the long-term national interest”.

Fianna Fáil will be happy enough at the gap, but being stuck below 30% means that future gains must be hard fought for through unpredictable battles at the lower end of a PR STV count. As we saw in the European elections, they still don’t do very well in those.

Back in 2009, Terry Prone first observed how the rise of Independents was part of “a kind of ‘creative destruction’ and mistrust of traditional parties” after “virtually every pillar of [the Irish] Establishment has fallen, including the church and the banks”.

She also ascribed that fall to the failure of Fianna Fáil in particular at the roots. The loss of faith and ground to the independents is a grass roots level problem that cannot be simply dealt with at national level.

To borrow an old saying from La Rochefoucauld, Fianna Fáil may be strong enough to bear the misfortune of their old rivals in Fine Gael, they now have a much tougher dilemma to resolve: ie how to draw back those votes which left them ten years ago for a local independent?

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