The first few days of election campaigns, past that opening rush of getting posters up and trying to grab the spotlight, tend to be a bit of an anti-climax for me. Manifestos aren’t polished enough yet to be released, debates are still a bit off, not even all the candidates are registered, technically speaking.
Indeed, there are only two things that have really grabbed my attention thus far. The first is Enda Kenny’s continuing refusal to talk part in television debates and party leader get together, with Fine Gael’s Leo Varadker stepping in the other evening on 6.1, opposite Burton, Martin and Adams. In 2011, Kenny’s shying away from the spotlight was on odd thing, that didn’t really bother me all that much. During the course of his term of Taoiseach, he has had plenty of the spotlight in the form of parliamentary questions. But now, back on the campaign trial, he seems to be content to duck away from the cameras when other party leaders are nearby. Is it an electoral strategy of some kind, aiming to stop any of his own unpopularity from deflecting onto his party? Or does he just really not want to do interviews and Q&A’s of this nature? Either way, I hope that he cuts it out sooner rather than later. I’m sure Kenny will appear at the more formal debates, which are bound to be interesting, but at this point I’m not sure if that’s good enough.
But instead of focusing on that, let’s talk some predictions instead, on a national level.
The state of the Dail upon its conclusion was the following, the blue line representing the magic number of 83 seats:
A lot has changed since 2011, with defections, bye-elections, new parties and the looming loss of eight seats.
I think Fine Gael will do a bit better than some people suppose. I think that their economic arguments will gain traction, and that they will be able to make a lot of hay out of things like the recent employment numbers and the like. I think they will institute better vote management than their opponents in a lot of key areas, and have more going for them than a lot of people suppose. While the senior government party is going to lose seats, it wouldn’t surprise me to see a return somewhere in the region of high fifties, or even 60 on a very good day.
I think that Labour, who have seen such a backlash from their traditional support base, and for good reason, will suffer more. Changing leaders hasn’t really helped, and their leading lights are just packed full of faces that a lot of people just don’t really like. Really tellingly, just about every member of the party is facing a serious challenge wherever they are. There won’t be a total cataclysm-esque wipe-out, but I do think that well over half of those 33 seats are toast, at least.
Despite the apparent stability of the polls, I think Fianna Fail are going to enjoy somewhat of a recovery. A lot of new faces and the natural boost that comes from just being in opposition is going to result in seats, and it helps that the ridiculous issues of running multiple candidates has mostly been settled. People forget how strong FF’s core is, the ones who elected 19 of them back into office in 2011. It won’t take a gigantic swing to get a lot more.
And the same goes for Sinn Fein. The sky’s the limit if you listen to them, and it certainly will be a substantial gain for them. But Fianna Fail are there to compete more seriously for votes, and the harder left will also siphon off some support. A gain of ten or so seems like a reasonable expectation.
The AAA/PBP banner are bound to see their sitting TD’s re-elected, and should have gained enough support in Dublin to get in a couple of more.
Renua will be skirting on Fine Gael’s coattails, but I’m not convinced that the party is any shape to be getting anything more than what they already have.
The same goes for the Social Democrats, who I think will struggle to go beyond having their current allotment re-elected. Just a bit too early for both of the new parties.
I think Eamon Ryan has done enough work over the past five years to win a single Green seat.
I think Seamus Healy of the Workers and Unemployed Action Group is a decent bet to be re-elected, despite Tipperary being a bloodbath this time round.
Independents4Change is apparently a registered political party (as opposed to an ill-defined “grouping”), containing Mick Wallace, Clare Daly and Joan Collins. I’d say all three should be re-elected, but that’s all.
Independents, coming in such varied hues, will be difficult to ascertain, since national prominence could so easily result in little support in more localised votes, and the issue is complicated by “Inds4Change”. I think a slight increase in “true” Independents, with most, if not all, of the current batch being re-elected, is on the cards.
The returning Ceann Comhairle is a member of Fine Gael.
That leaves us with something like this, 79 being the new magic number:
In this scenario, the current government would have 66 as it stands, 67 with the CC’s support. You could add Renua support and a few “like-minded” Independents, but it would be a stretch to see a stable government formulating. The other viable option, indeed maybe the only viable option, is really FG/FF, and boy wouldn’t that be interesting…
This is all just educated guesswork of course, and my opinion is bound to change between now and polling day. I remember over-estimating Fianna Fail’s numbers only a short time before 2011’s vote, but I think it would be fair to say that the current government is nowhere near as unpopular as they were five years ago.