And so, the other government candidate. It’s fair to say that Labour have endured a torrid time in government, and their electoral prospects look grim, but perhaps their Kildare North man can buck that trend.
Emmet Stagg is a sitting Labour TD, and the current Chief Whip of that party. He was first elected in 1987 and has been comfortably re-elected at every poll since. He has been a Minister of State twice, for Housing between 1993 and 94, and Transport, Energy and Communications between 1994 and 97.
Stagg’s party website is all you’ve got to go on, because he doesn’t go in for all this Facebook and Twitter stuff. It’s disappointing really: the usual bland pleasantries, some talk about school investment in the constituency videos, some linked Dail speeches without introductions or context. Very little in recent news about him either, aside from some evidence that he’s comfortable talking the talk about opposing cuts OK’d by his party, without actually voting that way.
Seriously, look this guy up and see the list of nothing come back. Indeed, he seems best known as “the guy Paul Gogorty cursed at” and the Phoenix Park scandal way back in 1994, something Stagg was seemingly forgiven for some time ago. Like Bernard Durkan, he has been a TD for a very long time and seems to have little of serious note to show for it, apart from brief runs as Minister for State in the last Labour propped governments. Is it a lack of trust? Hardly, he was made the Chief Whip of the party. Is it lack of ambition? More likely I would imagine.
On the general election level, Stagg has never really had any problems getting himself elected, but he has also never been able to get enough votes to get someone else over the line, the latest being John McGinley back in 2009, who was the last eliminated, to the benefit of Fine Gael’s Anthony Lawlor. On a local level, Labour have gone from six to five seats between 2009 to 2014, so an evident fall, though not as much as you might expect.
And that sort of sums up Stagg’s chances in Kildare North. There will be a fall in support, how can there not, but will it be enough to threaten his seat? Not many sitting TD’s within the Labour Party hold such a position, where things seem to favour them. Stagg’s support on that constituency level is such that many feel he is likely to survive an almost inevitable Labour catastrophe nationally, a sentiment I have seen expressed in numerous media sources, that talk about his “strong personal vote”. I get the feeling that Stagg is a frequent doorknocker.
I don’t know enough about the total level of support in Kildare North to be totally sure, but I have an inkling that the faith in Stagg’s performance might be misplaced. I don’t think he’s ever faced into an election while his party has been this unpopular, and his actual standing in Kildare has jumped from topping the poll to securing the last seat at different elections. Looking at 2011, he was 500 votes shy of a quota on the first count. He’d have to lose half of those votes to be in trouble. Considering how Labour is doing, I don’t think that’s a crazy leap, and if he does suffer that fall, the likes of Reada Cronin, considering Labour’s discontented left-wing support, stand to gain. James Lawless too might siphon back a bit of the softer votes that went from Fianna Fail to Labour in 2011. Who will transfer to him this time? Like Anthony Lawlor, Stagg might be hoping that Bernard Durkan has enough of a surplus that it might benefit his coalition partner. I don’t know. My heart tells me Stagg might be a victim of a Labour collapse. I’m wary of ignoring national polls out of respect for a candidates or party’s past record, after I backed Fianna Fail to get twice as many seats in the 31st Dail as they actually did. The electorate is angry at Labour, and Stagg isn’t some stand-out exception.
And, in my view, that wouldn’t be a terrible thing. If I’m not planning on voting for Fine Gael based on some of their actions in government, then I’m certainly not going to vote for Labour, who promised things they couldn’t deliver in 2011 and have consistently acted against their ethos while part of the coalition. Burton’s accession to the party leadership hasn’t altered that perception, and Labour has rapidly taken on the persona of an abused spouse, lamely claiming that their position underneath Fine Gael is reining in the larger party. I’m just not convinced that’s true, and Labour ranks are packed full of people I have come to despise, not least Alan Kelly. Labour could have stayed in opposition in 2011 and been in a position to be the largest party in government now. They choose power, and they will regret that choice come the counting of votes, I have no doubt. In terms of the candidate in front of me, I find Stagg to be unimpressive as a representative, with a lacklustre online presence and little effort made to win over a voter like me.
For Stagg, victory is the retaining of his seat, simple as, and he won’t mind if it’s the first or fourth. Defeat is anything else, and particularly bad would be to fall behind Cronin, Lawless and maybe even Merriman if his vote tally were to truly coincide with Labour’s national standing.
Next up, Renua.