Continuing my post-election series.
What is a “sort-of” winner?
My definition would be: a person or organisation that claims success despite failing to win in a contest.
There are two “sort-of” winners coming out of the Presidential and by-elections and they are Fianna Fail, through David McGuinness and Sean Gallagher, and Sinn Fein, through Martin McGuinness.
Are the second place finishes of Sean Gallagher and David McGuinness evidence of a Fianna Fail renewal?
Well, being blunt, sort-of. The more casual Fianna Fail voter, who deserted the party whole sale in February, clearly went for Gallagher in a big way. But, they didn’t stick with him long enough. While Gallagher’s final position is far beyond the expectations he could have had at the beginning of the campaign, he still lost it all in just a few days, and for the same old thing that Fianna Fail is mired with: stories of endemic corruption and “gombeen” politics.
Gallagher’s vote was impressive, and probably spells some form of public position for him in the future, perhaps an MEP or Seanad run. But it is a stretch to call it a “FF renewal”. It was because of his ties to Fianna Fail that he lost, after all.
And, more depressingly for Fianna Fail, his numbers in Dublin were fairly awful.
David McGuinness, for his part, benefitted from the vote of the late Brian Lenihan, and the fact that he had no running mates to compete with. Edging out the FG and Socialist candidates was impressive, and is certainly evidence of a substantial FF presence in the area, but this is nothing that we didn’t know beforehand. At the end of the day, Labour have taken the last FF seat in Dublin and McGuinness has a bit of a wait until he can try again in more optimal circumstances. The two results are encouraging for Fianna Fail, but they are a long way from being ready to really face another large-scale electoral challenge.
(As an aside, Coppinger could fall into the “sort-of” category too, but finishing behind FF must be galling for a party supposedly on the rise)
Sinn Fein, as expected, were quick to crow that Martin McGuinness’ position was a great success for the party, cementing their place as a rising force. I’m not so sure. SF’s biggest success must be the fact that their candidate scuppered Gallagher’s chances, but it did them little good. McGuinness claimed the third place spot early in the campaign and stayed there consistently, his polling numbers rarely leaving the teens. He failed to gain any traction with those who were undecided and was very transfer toxic. He topped few constituencies and, as the Indo crowed in an irritatingly sour grapish fashion, actually winded up with fewer votes in some parts then SF had in the general election.
His vote was good on the face of it, but SF should be wary of claiming success. They still finished behind the candidate of a party that are in open opposition with, and a de facto Fianna Failer. Beating out FG was good, but hardly surprising considering the chump they ran with.
McGuinness will go back north, his service to the parties PR in the south now finished. After a campaign of misinformation, deflection and lies, I am not especially sorry to see him go.
I have a dim view of “sort-of” winners in general. While it is certainly possible to gain some positives from any losing performance, we should take care to remember the bottom line: a win is a win and a defeat is a defeat.