Was the #MarRef No campaign just a bad Karl Rove tribute act?

24 May

Earlier today I posted my thoughts on the Marriage Equality referendum and highlighted some of the key campaign components of the Yes Equality campaign which I believe helped it secure a historic overwhelmingly victory.

In this piece I will do the same with the No campaign though this time I do it from outside, rather than inside the campaign.

Last November the Yes Equality group invited me to make a presentation to their core campaign team on the lessons learned working with the No side during the Seanad Abolition campaign.

My Powerpoint pack had twelve slides, though most of the discussion focussed on two. The first of those looked at the inertia advantage any no side has in a referendum campaign. The main bullet point on that slide said:

• Irish voters are resistant to constitutional change

In other words voters will instinctively tend to vote No UNLESS they are convinced of the need for and benefits of the proposed change, especially where they had no deeply considered view on the issue in the first place.

The other slide, which I showed first, was more optimistic. It drew on research from Dr Jane Suiter and Dr Theresa Reidy showing that there is very little movement away from the Yes side where the issue is one that accords with the voters’ core fundamental values and attitudes.

Re running old, failed strategies
00000286Perhaps the biggest single error the No campaign made was that it did not develop a new campaign playbook. Instead it re-ran the old one from the Ireland of the 1980s and 1990s, failing to recognise that the public mind-set had moved on.

While the YES side was about discussions and empowering, the No sought to ordain. Its commentaries and messaging had all the hallmarks of sermons and and more closely resembled was being told what to do and think than campaigning.

This is not to say that they stuck with the campaign tactics of the era, far from it. The No side saw the power of social media and did seek to use the platforms – the problem was that they went to quantity over quality and presumed that the bulk messaging that may work in the USA doesn’t play here.

No side gambled on a low turnout?
While the No side clearly understood the point about voters being resistant to constitutional change, they made the mistake of thinking that was all there was to it. The no side mistake seemed to think that all they had to do was raise awkward questions and bring in extraneous matters and the win was in the bag. The No side rarely seemed to stray beyond that simple flawed strategy.

It had a definitive tactical advantage from the outset, but rather than capitalising on that – it relied on it. From the outside it looks like they gambled on a low turn-out and their capacity to mobilise their forces and get their big wedge of core voters out to vote on the day.

This was a big mistake as their messaging and postering campaigns were so shrill and pointed that they only served to incense the middle ground (esp single parent families) and drove up turnout on the other side.

Addressing the wrong audience – enter Karl Rove
Karl_RovePerhaps as a consequence of this gamble on a lower turnout, the No side also seemed to run a messaging campaign that was primarily aimed at voters it already had in the bag and never reached much beyond the boundaries of its own minority.

Was this an Iona reworking of 2004 Karl Rove (pictured) base strategy: do not put so much effort into convincing traditional swing voters in the middle, but instead look to the disaffected voters on your (right) fringe and mobilise them to come out in bigger number?

The logic of this approach in the American context is that you get a bigger bang for your buck. The competition for the people on your outer fringe is obviously less than it is for those in play in the middle. These people feel disaffected – your role is to excite and mobilise them and get them voting in bigger numbers.

The mistake is that the Rove base strategy is not only about base motivation. To quote Matthew Dowd, the Chief campaign strategist on the 2004 Bush-Cheney campaign:

“We didn’t say, Base motivation is what we’re going to do, and that’s all we’re doing. We said, Both are important…”

The No side did.

Though it tried to label itself as the underdog it statistically was the No campaign still looked and sounded like a Dublin based middle class elite speaking to us from the late 1980s. The absence of a genuine popular ground campaign compounded this impression. This perhaps helps to explain the high turnouts and higher yes votes in working class areas.

The no side, despite all its resources, had no ground campaign, just an air war and it fought that with a fleet of clapped out turbo props and recycled stukas

GerIt also failed to produce many unexpected No voices – its only real effort in that regard, producing Ger Brennan (pictured) was a good one despite Ger’s admittedly faltering Morning Ireland interview. He came across as sincere and genuine, qualities that non committed /soft yes voters did not associate with other no voices.

The No campaign possibly thought it had a trump card in the unexpected voices game with its two articulate gay voices – but it was a card they way over played.

They failed to see that continually parading these two voices only served to give the impression that they were the only gay people they could produce on their side. Not only that they were male, middle class 40+ (being kind here) and the products of an Irish society that had treated them unkindly – a society and attitude the Yes side were more credible as seeking to banish to history.

The victim-hood card.
Possibly one of the No sides biggest strategic errors was it’s playing of the victim-hood card. It is not that it was wrong to try to play it, but rather that it played it so unconvincingly.

It is hard to claim to be the David to the other sides Goliath when their Goliath looks young, friendly and speaks quietly. The No side bleating that it was being attacked by the Yes campaign had diminished credibility when viewed alongside the scurrilous things its activists were saying on posters and leaflets (example below).

c16b5591d508f0a39501d213fbaa4015__20150221071121

Perhaps this was another example of an American campaign tactic being transferred across the Atlantic and used badly – once again the trick comes from the Karl Rove playbook, in this case it involves projecting your side’s weaknesses on to your opponents.

The No side protests about Yes sided campaign financing is an excellent case in point. The No campaign frequently proclaimed its own penury – but that’s a hard case to make when you are spending (at least) over half million euros (see my blog) on postering alone and the evidence is there for all to see.

It is also unwise to claim your YouTube clips have been viewed 680,000 times when those are paid pre-roll ads (i.e. the clips you are forced to watch for 5 – 10 secs before the YouTube video you wished to watch is played). These pre-roll ads are not cheap – so it is not wise to give the other side a figure to use when calculating what you spent.

youtube

Another element of this victim-hood, which the No side continues to play even after the campaign, is its cry that it had no political parties on its side.

Clearly this is true, but this fact should have been a fore warning of the degree to which it was on the wrong side of the issue, not a cause for complaint.

Its ongoing complaint that no political party now speaks for the 730,000 plus voters who voted no misses a number of important points: including the fact that the no cohort is no more a homogeneous grouping than the Yes side and that voters are more motivated by bread and butter issues in general elections than they are by social ones.

Though Prof Gary Murphy makes the point much better than I could…

gary

My thoughts on why @yesequality2015 won #MarRef so convincingly – it was not a battle of liberalism vs conservatism

24 May

CFmbEzMXIAE0aMfThese are early thoughts only. They are some crude (and at times rambling) musings penned on the morning after the night before, but it is based on reviewing some notes put together back in late February for the Yes Equality campaign.

Though this list is by no means exhaustive, here are four key elements which I see as essential to the success of the Yes Equality ground and air campaigns. My analysis, though that is an over glorified to describe this, is confined to the campaign tactics and machinery. I am primarily looking at this as a campaign, but that is not to dismiss the importance of the arguments and the justice of the cause.

This was an appeal to the basic fairness of Irish voters

This, I believe, was the key campaign narrative. The campaign was underpinned by the belief that Irish people are fair minded. Ireland and her people are welcoming and confident.  This vote was simply about making the laws reflect that reality. By voting yes people were just voting to give gay people what everyone one else already had – to do otherwise would be fundamentally unfair. This was at the core of message powerfully delivered by former President Mary McAleese, former Minister Pat Carey and former Commissioner Marie Geoghegan-Quinn.

The battleground in this campaign were the soft Yes voters, identified in the polls. The goal was to have a campaign which appealed to these voters that was polite; but not a timid. These were the people who feel good telling pollsters that they are ready to vote YES. The Yes side needed to re-assure them that their instinct was right and that they are right to vote YES. The main effort, via ground campaign and air campaign in the months of March, April and May was to stop these well-disposed voters from straying.

This was not a battle between liberalism and conservatism.leaders

To keep the soft Yes voters and to emphasise the basic fairness argument the campaign could not and must not be about “dragging Ireland into the 21st century”. Neither could it be portrayed as just another element in some constitutional crusade.

This was a stand alone campaign for marriage equality. As such it was campaigning for marriage. The Yes side wanted to see marriage remain as a fundamental institution in our national life, it recognised that society benefits from having more strong marriages – these are quintessentially conservative values. Though I was loathe to quote David Cameron in any of the briefing material I produced, his observation:

         “I support gay marriage not despite the fact that I am conservative, but because I am conservative”

was a powerful message

The purpose of the campaign was to get 50% +1 of those who turn out in May to vote Yes. It was NOT about being proven right or correcting the political wrongs of the past: it was about informing a decision what was as much emotional as it was rational. The aim was to make it feel good to Vote Yes. For that reason the core Yes campaign avoided criticizing members of the ‘No’ camp for their deeply held views on morality, but it was firm in identifying where the No side was raising baseless fears to deliberately mislead and confuse voters.

Making the Yes campaign a popular, mass campaign

One of the first rules I learned on getting involved in politics was:  “a vote worth getting is worth asking for”

The Yes campaign showed how true that adage is today, even in an age of social media and communications technology. The Yes campaign was determined to make sure it stretched into every community and town land across the country, and boy did they make that happen. While the emergence and organisation of Yes Equality campaign teams across the country was facilitated through the use of a range of platforms: Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter etc. those teams practised traditional campaigning methods like door to door canvassing and leafleting. DBS

This ensured that the naysayers could not dismiss the Yes campaign as just the efforts of a Dublin 4/meeja elite – well, it actually didn’t stop them from trying to do that, it just exposed how stupid they looked when they tried.

The Yes campaign mobilised and energised soft yes voters with a dynamic, youthful (though not exclusively) and enthusiastic ground campaign which was manned by people in their own communities who were part of that community and who looked and sounded like their own communities.

One final and personal observation on this point. Back in 2013 (I think) Marriage Equality produced an an extremely powerful pre-campaign online advert which showed a guy going door to door to ask permission to marry the person he loved. It pointed out just how unfair and unjust it was that a small section of our society needed to get the permission of the majority to exercise a simple and basic right. In my opinion the real effectiveness of the Yes equality ground campaign was that so many 1000s of other people: mothers/brothers, gay straight, young/old joined with him on that difficult canvas which perhaps is why it had such resonance across the county

Not allowing the vote to be used to kick the Government.

Back in 2012 Minister Leo Varadkar opined that he did not think referendums were “very democratic”. He was not all that wrong. Many referendums on complex and what the Americans might call “beltway” issues have been turned into votes on how the Government is performing at the time, particularly when there are low turnouts.

It was vital for the Yes Equality campaign that the referendum not be hijacked and turned into a test of the Government’s popularity – especially when the Government parties were not exactly at the peak of their popularity. Yes Equality was very effective in getting across the message that the issue was far too important and personal. They did this via the three points above, but the active involvement of the opposition parties was also essential. Yes Equality’s political director Tiernan Brady was pivotal to this.

Though the Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and the party’s Justice Spokesperson Niall Collins were both very strong and convincing Yes campaigners, it was the active campaigning by parties and groups such as Sinn Féin, PBP and AAA and independents like Catherine Murphy that helped stop the vote turning into a public judgement on the Irish water/Siteserv debacle.

They could campaign on the basis that people vote for equality this year and defer their anger on austerity etc until the next general election. Though I would not claim the AAA poster pictured left was a “game-changer”, it does makes the point well and demonstrates the thinking and strategy behind the AAA’s Marriage Equality campaign. I do wonder what was going through the mind of the person who designed the AAA’s other Yes poster though.

…and there you have it….

The list above it not intended as a definitive analysis.

I haven’t touched on the effectiveness and scope of the Yes Equality Social Media campaign, in particular the success of he #hometovote campaign, or, its superb marketing and branding campaign. How many political campaigns do you know who can open a shop in a mall and sell their campaign material… look at the number of YES and TÁ lapel badges to be seen in the run up to the vote.

Nor have I gone into detail on Yes Equality mobilising non typical influencers across the campaign. While the No campaign was populated for the most part by people who you expected to be No, the Yes campaign looked to reach beyond its immediate cohort (and beyond Dublin) and attracted a range of important interventions by people such as former President Mary McAleese, former Commissioner Marie Geoghegan-Quinn, Donegal Gaelic footballer Eamon McGee, Daniel O’Donnell, Robbie Keane, Brian O’Driscoll.

Neither have I looked at the strategic flaws and failed narrative of the No campaign…. mmmh… come to think of I might go off, make a pot of tea and start work on that piece.

ENDS

Is #marref no campaign only spending €200k? 

19 May

Some people in the No campaign are claiming that the No side is only spending €200,000 nationwide… 

  
Here is a simple calculation that explodes this myth.
From many years of experience of running election campaigns I know that in a 4 seat Dáil constituency you need to have at least 1,000 lamp post posters to have a decent and noticeable presence during an election campaign.

Based on my observations in the two Dublin constituencies I would know best (Dublin South Central and Dublin South East) the combined No campaigns have put up at least that number. Indeed, the high visibility of their posters (and they have done at least two poster runs so far) suggests that they have put up anywhere between 1,200 and 1,500 posters in each constituency. 

Taking the lower end of this spectrum, this suggests approx 350 posters per TD in each constituency.

If you extrapolate this very conservative estimate to the whole country (and it is a very conservative estimate as large disperse rural areas require more posters) this gives you a nationwide figure of:

                      350 x 166 = 58,100

At an approx min cost of €6 per poster (based on the best price you will get for screen printing in bulk) to cover the price of the corriboard and printing this gives you a total cost of €348,600 BEFORE you factor in the costs of the plastic cable ties and labour costs, by all accounts most of the posters were put up by paid workers.

This leaves you with very little change from €600,000 for postering alone – never mind the countless professionally delivered leaflets.

€200,000 my a……

@gerryadamssf is wrong. #JeanMcConville was not just what happens in war @60minutes

4 Apr

  

In his interview on CBS’s long running 60 Minutes news show, Gerry Adams describes the murder of  Jean McConville as just “what happens in war” going on to say: “That’s not to minimise it. That’s what American soldiers do, British soldiers do, Irish Republican soldiers do. That’s what happens in every single conflict.”

Not only is this a glib response, albeit masked by the inclusion of the phrase “that’s not to minimise it”, it is a starkly inaccurate one on several levels.

Let us take his claim that it is simply “what happens in war”. This serves  to give the impression that the killing of Jean McConville is on a par with the very many regrettable but unintended killing of civilians. Without doubt there have been very many innocent civilian victims in wars. Take the bombing of Hiroshima, the bombing of Dresden or the London blitz.  In each of these the attackers killed countless thousands of mothers and children, but the killing of Jean McConville was different.

It was not an unintended evil perpetrated by ‘the other side’, it was the very intended and deliberate act of a self proclaimed army against one of the most vulnerable members of its own community. A community of which, let us not forget, that this supposed army declared itself the sole protector and defender. Jean McConville was killed by the very people who claimed to be her protector. Her ten children were orphaned by the people who claimed them as their mandate.

You can imagine the justifiable outcry in the West if it were to emerge that the Israeli Defence Forces had summarily executed a young Israeli mother for offering succour or protection to a young Palestinian? Gerry Adams and the provisional Sinn Féin organisation would be to the forefront in that outcry, yet what is the difference? 

The other falsehood is the hidden notion that this all happened in a terrible time of war and was perpetrated by soldiers in a constituted army. This is yet another element in the ongoing manufacture of the provisional mythology. Once again they fabricate the illusion of legitimacy or popular mandate for their imposition of a state of effective martial law on their own people.

There was no such mandate or endorsement. The Provos were not belligerents in a war, they were the propagators of a campaign a terror and violence, a campaign that was as often targeted against its own people as it was against its supposed ‘enemy’.

A campaign that for far too long allowed the UK government to treat Northern Ireland as just a security problem, not a political problem. The campaign had no achievement except to make Sinn Féin and Gerry Adams forces which needed to be acknowledged and dealt with. As we saw in the slow negotiation, and even slower implementation, of the Good Friday and St Andrews Agreements when it comes to putting the interest of Sinn Féin or the people first, the Shinners first, the Shinners win every time.

Plus ca change, plus ca la meme chose.

My comments on continuing Irish participation in #undof from @morningireland earlier today

2 Sep

You can watch and listen to my brief interview on RTE’s Morning Ireland on Ireland’s participation in the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) mission here on Youtube

DSM on Morning Ireland

Israel’s 2009 PR handbook on defending attacks on #Gaza

31 Jul

This is the handbook prepared by US Republican pollster Frank Luntz in 2009. It sets out the language and arguments that Israeli Government spokespeople should use on the media to explain and defend Israel’s then occupation of Gaza.

You can hear lines from this 2009 being used again today to defend the latest onslaught on Gaza.

IsraelProject

Here is an article by Patrick Cockburn from the UK’s Independent newspaper on the handbook.

Results of my #reshuffle poll: who should Enda keep or drop@ @finegael @labour

30 Jun

Here are the results of the survey I have been running via Polldaddy over the past two weeks.

The question was straightforward: which Ministers should An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny drop and which Ministers should he keep.

The results: 

Poll 1

 

Poll 2

 

The full poll results in pdf format can be downloaded here: Poll Results

 

 

Enda Kenny’s cabinet reshuffle: who should stay and who should go? My online poll (closing soon)…

15 Jun

 

Dail cabinetThe reshuffle is approaching, so which of the current batch of Ministers should stay in Cabinet (though not necessarily in their current job) and which should be dropped entirely.

For the purposes of this poll I am presuming that Joan Burton is elected Labour Leader and is thus assured of a seat at the cabinet table.

To take the survey click here: RESHUFFLE POLL 

The @finegael #LE14 meltdown is a repeat of @fiannafailparty’s #LE09 one #ep14

25 May

I have now updated my initial thoughts, musings, observations and mild rantings on the implications of the local election results, particularly Fianna Fáil’s stronger than expected showing.

This was first posted on Sunday morning – updated on Monday morning to reflect the revised party national totals in the Local Elections.

 

Local Election Results national overview

Local Election Results national overview

 

“If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must Man be of learning from experience.” – George Bernard Shaw.

Quite a lot, it seems.

Yesterday we saw history repeating itself, with the electorate visiting upon Fine Gael and Labour almost exactly the same devastating blow it had served up to Fianna Fáil and Labour five years earlier.

In 2009 Fianna Fáil lost around 39% of its support (when compared with 2007) while the Greens endured a massive reduction in its vote of 76%.

Yesterday, based on the Local Election results to hand, Fine Gael lost 34% of its support and Labour lost 63%.

le14 grid

While the story of the Local Elections is the rise in support for Sinn Féin and the Independents and the scale of the loss for Labour, the Fine Gael haemorrhaging of support should not be ignored.

Indeed, the case can be made that the real story of the election is this massive Fine Gael loss – a loss that should not be glossed over by what might appear to be its reasonable performance in the European Elections.

Losing 100 plus Councillors, on a day when you have increased the number of available council seats, is a political meltdown of Fianna Fáil in 2009 proportions. It will send a shiver around the Fine Gael backbenches that will match that currently coursing along the spines of their Labour colleagues.

Leo Varadkar’s line that the next election will be a battle between Fine Gael and Sinn Féin was a clever attempt to calm the troops with the notion that their lost support will come back when the Irish voters realise that Fine Gael is all that stands between them and the Shinners.

It’s clever line, but a flawed one.

For it to offer any comfort it would need to be underpinned by Fine Gael still remaining the largest party – but it hasn’t. By the time the dust settles it will become clear that the other big story of the locals is the return to frontline politics of Fianna Fáil, even if its European results are a bit rocky.

If the battle of the next election is, as Varadkar suggests, to be fought on the question of where you stand with regard to Sinn Féin then Fianna Fáil, with a few more weapons in its armoury, is standing on better – and now even firmer – ground than the depleted followers of Enda.

While Fine Gael may see itself as the antithesis of Sinn Féin, Fianna Fáil can challenge SF’s voodoo economics every bit as credibly as FG, but with the added bonus that that can better undermine and dismantle the Shinner’s fallacious claim to Republicanism, especially in its back yard.

The other story of the Fianna Fáil result is its incredible variety. Its national level of support at just over 25% belies some very good and incredibly bad local results, especially in urban centres.

They range from the sublime such as its 49% in Bailieborough-Coothall 39% in Castlecomer and 38.4% in Ballymote-Tobercurry to the ridiculous: such as its 4.9% in Dublin North Inner City, 6.8% in Tallaght South and 8.7% in Lucan.

While there are several other disappointing low teen results in urban centres across the country e.g 9.6% in Waterford City South, 10.5% in Bray and 13% in Limerick City North, it is no coincidence that the single digit performances are in Dublin.

That is not to say that the Capital is a wasteland for Fianna Fail. Contrast the single performance mentioned above with the parties stunning 27.3% in Castleknock, its 24.2% in Clontarf and its 22.3% in Stillorgan.

While the overall Dublin result of 16% points to a major problem for the party, the variety in results, highlighted above, shows Fianna Fáil’s further potential for growth and renewal in large swathes of Dublin.

It is the very patchiness of its result that points up where the party needs to work harder and better. Far too many candidates in Dublin were left to struggle on by themselves with no structured national campaign to underpin their efforts.

Having “Fianna Fáil” on your poster does not guarantee a good new candidate a certain base level of support in Dublin and other urban centres in the same way as having “Sinn Féin” on your poster did for their new first time candidates. Indeed it does not offer the prospect of that base level of support as it does in non-urban Ireland.

The candidates in Dublin raised the Fianna Fáil vote to their level, not the other way around. The vote in Dublin and other urban centres, is not the party vote plus the candidate’s unique personal support – it is just the latter. In certain parts of the city is it the unique personal support minus the residual antagonism to Fianna Fáil.

The “Fianna Fáil” identity is Dublin is not a coherent identity based on a core defining message from the party as a national political party: it is the collective identities of its various candidates.

This is not to underestimate the particular nature of Dublin voters, especially their looser party allegiances; it is just to point out that Dublin voters are just as likely to be receptive to a national message, just less continuously loyal to it.

Despite some clearly very good results in Dublin, most Fianna Fáil supporters still struggle to answer the questions: why should I vote Fianna Fáil and what does Fianna Fáil stand for. Most of the successful candidates I have encountered in Dublin answer it with the words: here is what I stand for…

It is not that there are not answers to these questions, but rather that the party has not sufficiently defined and substantiated them.

It is work that can and must be done. That work is not aided or encouraged by intemperate outbursts or Quixotic threatened heaves. The issues are policy and organisation – not personality.

The 24.3% of voters who abandoned Fine Gael and Labour saw their political alternatives this week. Some said independents, some said Sinn Féin – though not by a large margin as the swing to Sinn Féin since the 2011 election is in the 5.3%, but even more said Fianna Fáil with a swing of just over 8%, but the point should not be lost that the biggest single section of them said: none of the above.

The ones who stayed at home are the ones who were badly let down by Fianna Fáil and are now just as angry with Fine Gael and Labour for promising them a new politics and then delivering the old failed politics as usual.

Perhaps they concluded that they could afford to sit out these second order elections, as they do not see how the results will change their lives, they will not be as sanguine at the next election.

@sluggerotoole: Derek Mooney on @FiannaFáilparty’s long road to recovery #ep14ie #le14 #ee14 ##ep2014

19 May

This is an analysis piece I penned for the Slugger O’Toole website

———————————————————————————————–

Fianna Fáil

Fianna Fáil

While there are worse jobs in the world: the worst job in politics is certainly leader of the opposition.

If he didn’t already know this, it is certain that Fianna Fáil’s leader Micheal Martin will know this in just over a week.

The 2014 European and Local Election campaigns for which he and his HQ team have prepared and planned for over 18 months are proving themselves to be a source of unalloyed joy. It is hard to believe that these are the campaigns they wanted.

The latest round of opinion poll findings only confirm this. They suggest that

  • His Dublin Euro candidate will fail to take the seat
  • His Midlands North West duo may struggle to win a seat
  • While his Ireland South candidates have the best part of two quotas between but are so imbalanced as to render a second seat impossible.

If the ballots cast on Friday confirm these poll findings, then it will be hard to make any of this sound like an achievement.

Add to this a series of resignations and protests over local election candidate selections, including the Blackrock Hanafiasco that has seen my one time political rival Mary Hanafin returned as a non authorised/unrecognised Fianna Fáil candidate and you can see that the weeks ahead will be difficult ones for those at the top of the party.

The frustration of this for Martin and his supporters is that they have, on one level, a fairly decent tale to tell. If the most recent polls, which are not exactly joyous for the soldiers of destiny, are correct, then the gap between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael has closed by between 13.5% and 15.5%.

polls tableThe problem is that Fianna Fáil is not the biggest beneficiary of the decline. Fine Gael looks set to lose almost a third of the support it won in February 2011, but Fianna Fáil looks, at best, like convincing less than half of those disenchanted voters to look to it.

Where Fianna Fáil has made gains it has been among those groups it has least let down (definitely a relative term): younger and older voters. The group it has and will find hardest to convince are the middle ground – those struggling to pay mortgages and cope with massive negative equity.

Martin’s twin challenge upon becoming leader was first: to halt the decline and then to try win to win back as many of those people who voted for it in 2002 and 2007, but who chose Fine Gael in 2011.

That he has succeeded in the first task is clear but, his scorecard on the second may not be as impressive. Many of those who voted Fine Gael in February are deeply disenchanted by their performance in Government.

The party that promised new politics and a major break with the way things had been done by the previous crowd, has delivered neither. Instead; it merrily implements the broad policy approaches of the last Fianna Fáil led administration without their protections for those most hurt by the recession.

Despite this, the majority of these voters are prepared to either stick with Fine Gael or look to Independents or others. While these voters are prepared to engage with Fianna Fáil candidates at the doors, particularly newer, younger candidates – they remain largely unconvinced.

Meanwhile, for a huge swathe of voters unhappy with the government, Fianna Fáil is effectively as much a part of the “government” as either Fine Gael or Labour. Right now voting Fianna Fail is most certainly not the way to go if your aim is to register protest at what the government is doing.

Martin’s Fianna Fáil still has a lot of work to do to convince them, it has yet to offer a clear and comprehensive statement of either what it stands for in a post-recession Ireland or how it plans to secure and expand the recovery to benefit everyone.

While the biggest job of work it faces is on the policy side, the last few weeks and months have also exposed some serious organisational issues. The party’s structures are still centred on its elected reps and candidates. Offend a candidate and you lose their organisation.

Worse still: select a bright candidate with great ideas but poor organisational abilities and you have neither the capacity nor the available expertise to help them get elected. This helps, in part, explain some of the party’s problems with its MEP campaigns.

Fianna Fáil’s problem with being seen as the “same as the government” is also reflected in the European Elections. While middle ground voters have not turned Eurosceptic, they are certainly euro critical. They are looking for MEPs who will go to Brussels to bang the table and tell them what for. This may explain Sinn Féin’s strong European showings, plus Ming Flanagan’s apparent lead over fellow Independent and long standing MEP, Marian Harkin.

The irony is that Fianna Fáil belongs to a group, ALDE, whose nominee for the Commission Presidency Guy Verhofstadt: recently reflected precisely these euro critical views in a debate with his rivals saying that the “current Commission leadership always phones Berlin & Paris before making a decision. That is the main problem”
But have you heard any of Fianna Fáil’s European candidates say this forcefully in recent weeks?

The German narrative of the eurocrisis – which is also the EPP, Merkel, Sarkozy, and Barosso narrative – needs be challenged. It is something I have written about several times since mid-2011. See this one from April 2013

Perhaps some of them will do this during the final day’s debates – I sincerely hope they do.

We should be critical of Europe for precisely the reasons Verhofstadt outlined. No one knows this better than the members of the last government.

Yes, we did need Europe to help us bail out the banjaxed banks, but that help came at a massive price. Sarkozy and Merkel contrived to defend the Euro on the cheap on Irish soil… failed… then insisted that we pay the bill for the whole escapade.

It is this part of the narrative of the past six/seven years that Fianna Fáil has failed to develop, perhaps thanks to the understandable fear that no one really wants to hear its side of the story.

Before concluding I should admit a vested interest.

Though I have referred to Fianna Fáil in the third party throughout this piece; I am no impartial observer. I am a Fianna Fáil-er and have been involved at a senior level for decades. I am involved in several local election campaigns in Dublin. I backed a candidate other than Mary Fitzpatrick for the Dublin nomination. I was mooted as a possible Director of Communications for the Dublin euro-campaign, though the idea was binned. I ran against Mary Hanafin twice… but came out the wrong side of the encounter.

That said, I think Micheal Martin has done a decent job. He has done well on phase one: halting the decline, but not so well on phase two – making Fianna Fáil a party capable of governing.

The parallels with the party’s biggest political achievement of recent decades: The Good Friday Agreement, are significant.

While reaching that Agreement was a mammoth task that sometimes seemed impossible, looking back this part of the process was as nothing when compared to the difficulties in implementing it and making those institutions work.

So it is with phase two of Fianna Fáil’s recovery.

There is still a long way to go – and the leadership needs to look far beyond its own limited circle for the skills and energy to see it through.

ENDS.

 

This piece can be downloaded in Pdf format:   FF and the long road to recovery

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