Oh my ears and whiskers, how late it’s getting!
Five months to go â€“ maybe less â€“ and Labour finds itself stuck in the mud of the Mullingar accord.
Trapped at 12 per cent in the opinion polls, surrounded on three sides in Dublin by Fianna FÃ¡il, its only escape route has been blocked by Enda Kenny, who has parked his anti-immigration Hiace on the M50, flogging blueshirts to the commuting masses. The problem for Kenny is that no-oneâ€™s buying, even at his wholesale anti-immigration prices. And because of the Accord Pat Rabbitte has to stand beside him, shouting â€œcareful nowâ€ while Kenny stirs the masses with his â€œdown with this sort of thing.â€
It doesnâ€™t have to be this way. Despite what the traditional media have been saying, the latest opinion polls show that support for the main parties has not moved for the past three months. The pollsters own conservative estimate of a three per cent margin of error (+/-) make any talk of a rise and fall in voting intentions quite meaningless. Not to mention the fact that the polls use a first-past-the-post template for what is a PR single-transferable-vote system. At best it shows trends in first preferences.
So instead of a â€˜surgeâ€™ in popularity for Fine FÃ¡il, the polls show that first preference core support across all the major parties is static. Transfers and undecideds are still there to play for. And the greatest number of undecideds, enough to win an election, are in Dublin. So where are the issues to get Dublin voting Fine Gael and Labour?
Labour and Fine Gael have put forward four proposals that are direct appeals mainly, but not exclusively, to the Dublin and commuter vote: Estate Management Charges; Get Dublin Moving; anti-social behavior measures; and free pre-school education for one year.
Thing is, I had to go to both partiesâ€™ websites to get this information. The policies put forward in the press give a different image. Saturdayâ€™s Irish Times was â€“ for once â€“ quite revealing . The PDs and the Greens were talking about health, while Labour and Fine Gael were talking about crime and migrants.
It is not an isolated incident. Indeed, to go by recent press coverage, Kennyâ€™s election team has it that crime and immigration are the two issues that Irish people feel strongly about.
No. Crime and immigration are two issues that Fine Gael and PD voters feel most strongly about. This is not to say that other voters donâ€™t care about these issues, but they are not the priority that they are in Fine Gael and PD hearts.
Most of the country is more scared of getting sick than of immigrants, simply because no-one seems to trust the health service (although I do.) The amount of take-up on private health insurance in a country with an already heavily-subsidised health service is proof of that, if proof be needed. So why arenâ€™t Fine Gael and Labour keeping to these policies in public?
Kennyâ€™s strategy - his wonderful backroom boysâ€™ strategy â€“ seems to be to win votes by appealing to core Fine Gael voters. The Mullingar Accord means that Labour , because of the public association with Kenny, has to somehow win labour votes by also appealing to core fine Gael voters.
Thing is, you donâ€™t win elections from your core support. You win elections from the undecideds. Fine Gael will keep seats with its strategy of crime and migrants, but it wonâ€™t win an election. And Rabbitte isnâ€™t going to win anything by spending his press time defending Kennyâ€™s right-wing pronouncements.
Rabbitte canâ€™t be seen to dump Kenny, so Labour need to start relying on its other spokespeople when it comes to public pronouncements. Rabbitteâ€™s profile needs to drop a couple of notches so the party can start talking to the public about its policies again, and not just whether Kenny was right to say this, Kenny was right to say that, and are you going to form a government with Fianna FÃ¡il?
It is simply amazing that Labourâ€™s Derek McDowell, who is fighting to retake a seat for Labour in Dublin North Central, has not been all over the media upping his profile talking about transport in Dublin â€“ an issue for which he is partyâ€™s spokesperson. Similarly, whereâ€™s Kathleen Oâ€™Meara on crÃ¨ches and children? Howlin on Justice and crime? We need more of Liz McManus on health as well. Labour do not have a party spokesperson for immigration, but youâ€™d swear it was Pat Rabbitte based on recent media reports.
When the PDs are allowed to take health as a policy, while Labour spout on about crime and migrants, we are without doubt with Alice in Wonderland. And weâ€™re all mad here in Wonderland.