What exactly is this “New Politics” we have been reading and hearing about so much lately?
It was the question that should have occurred to me as soon as the Public Relations Institute asked me to participate in a panel discussion they held last Thursday as part of a half day seminar entitled: Public Affairs in the era of ‘New Politics’.
But it didn’t. Like many others, I have been throwing about the phrase “new politics” in the two and a half weeks since the Dáil elected a Taoiseach as if everyone understands what it means.
“There’s no Labour problem that Ken (Livingstone) can’t make worse.”
This was Alan Johnson’s response to the former London Mayor’s latest unwelcome intervention in a UK Labour row.
Substitute the name “Alan Kelly” for “Ken Livingstone” and Johnson’s axiom could just be as applicable here.
Perhaps it’s his pugnacious ‘I tell it like it is’ style, but Alan Kelly has come to be personally identified with two of the last government’s biggest political failures: Irish Water to the housing crisis, not to mention his “power is a drug… it suits me” interview or his penchant for adding to his own party’s travails.
Whether polling day is on Feb 26th or March 4th, it is clear that we are only two or three weeks away from the start of the great 2016 corriboard shortage… sorry, the 2016 general election.
Over the coming two weekends we will have the Fianna Fáil and then the Fine Gael Ard Fheiseanna, followed by Labour at the end of January – presuming that Enda hasn’t already called the election and pulled the plug on Labour’s big day out.
While the corriboard campaign posters remain in their wrappings and the Vote for me leaflets stand ready, the electioneering has already as good as started.
One the most interesting aspects of Fine Gael’s pre-campaign campaigning so far is just how much time and energy a party determined to dismiss Fianna Fáil as irrelevant is devoting to attacking them. See Today FM’s Matt Cooper’s comment on the Taoiseach’s Wednesday afternoon press conference:
Could it be that Fine Gael’s own private polling is telling them something the national newspapers polls are missing?
It occurred to me recently that Enda has spent the last few years doing a very bad Bertie Ahern impression – making Enda the Bobby Davro of Irish politics you might say. Enda gets the minor gestures and mannerisms right – but he misses the core of the character.
Enda may be as accomplished and expert a glad handler as Bertie when it comes to wading into a crowd and shaking the hand and slapping the of everyone around him, but he his mimicry is one dimensional. He does not possess Bertie’s skill and ability to command the facts and figures when engaging with the media on door step interviews.
While Enda still possesses many skills and abilities, not least his steely determination and ruthless streak, he is not politically hard wired to endure or sustain a long election campaign – especially if he hopes to keep his media interactions down to a few tightly managed ones.
It is a mistake on two fronts. First as they seem to be copying the Tory playbook here with minimal changes and basic adaptions.
Do they so see themselves as Ireland’s Tories that they cannot be bothered to make even the most basic of changes to the strategy, the text and the slogans? A series of recent Fine Gael social media posts have used the Tory line: “long-term economic plan” word for word:
While the Tories undoubtedly mounted a superb social media campaign in the 2015 UK general election and used the platforms, particularly Facebook, more effectively than most of their rivals (apart from the SNP who are the master campaigners both online and on the ground) that does not mean you take their campaign slogans and approaches lock stock and barrel.
Second, in taking the Tory campaign playbook en masse Fine Gael seems to have forgetten that we have a PR STV system, not First-Past-The-Post – indeed Fine Gael used to pride itself as being the defender of PR STV (they had opposed the two attempts to change the voting system by referendum in the 50s and 60s)
What works in a FPTP system does not necessarily work in a PR-STV one. Depending on where you live in a FPTP system you can find yourself voting for someone you don’t like rather than the one you do like most just so you can make sure the one you dislike more is kept out.
The idea that a vote for Fianna Fáil or Independent alliance is a vote for Sinn Féin is not so easy to sell in an STV system where the voter can vote the entire panel right down the line and omit the local SF candidate.
That said is easy to see the attractiveness of the Tory playbook for Fine Gael. The Tories succeeded in keeping their leader out of head to head debates, Fine Gael want and need to do the same – though for different reasons. While Cameron was wary of elevating Milliband by sharing a head to head debate platform with him – there were no questions about the PM’s capacity to perform well in a head to head debate.
Though Fine Gael’s polling numbers have recovered recently – at precisely the time they needed them to recover – they are still on course to lose seats, even if they do get 31/32% in the polls.
While these improving numbers are no mere coincidence and are a tribute to Fine Gael’s political strategists, the idea that seems to be floating about the commentariat that Fine Gael is now some invincible campaigning machine is more than a little bit short of the mark.
Fine Gael is having a few problems of its own right now, and they are problems entirely of its own making. Though they will doubtless address the issue between now and the Árd Fheis (and possibly drum up future local difficulties in the process) Fine Gael was still short of the 30% gender quota up to a few days ago – a system they introduced and championed.
Not only that but its head-quarters operation has just ended an unseemly, costly and ultimately unsuccessful fight in the Courts with one of their own candidates: John Perry TD.
And before I am accused me of dragging up these problems like a Fianna Fáil-er whistling past the graveyard, I do not think this is a zero sum game. I do not presume that any loss of ground by Fine Gael over the campaign will automatically translate into a Fianna Fáil gain.
Fianna Fáil will have to make its own ground in this one and will need to land some hefty punches on Enda, Leo, Michael and Simon, it cannot depend on Enda and Fine Gael to just lose it.
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.
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.
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.
“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%.
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.
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.
This is an article I have written for the March 2014 Árd Fheis issue of Fianna Fáil’s members’ magazine Cuisle.
A few months before the 2011 election, Michael Gallagher (the TCD Professor of Politics, not the Donegal postman and amateur weather forecaster) posted a blog where he asking how long Fianna Fáil could expect to spend in opposition. In it he wrote:
“Fianna Fáil is not a party accustomed to spending time there. Its longest spell on the opposition benches is still the nearly six years between its foundation in May 1926 and its entry into government in March 1932. Since then, the party has never spent more than one consecutive Dáil term in opposition and the longest spell it has been out of power remains the 4 years and 4 months of the Cosgrave coalition in the mid-1970s.”
Underpinning Gallagher’s 2010 comments is the idea that Fianna Fáil has never been that good at opposition. It is a fair point.
Not only have we not spent much time in opposition, as Gallagher points out, it is almost 30 years since we last spent a full Dáil term there.
This is a piece I wrote for the March 14th issue of the BEERG global labour newsletter. It examines the consequences of the EU Parliament’s overwhelming vote on the General Data Protection Regulation and acknowledges the hard work and valid concerns raised by the Irish MEP Sean Kelly (EPP & Fine Gael)
Though it is now accepted across the EU that the Data Protection Regulation is not likely to be approved until 2015 at the earliest, the European Parliament has scheduled a debate on the legislation on Tuesday (11 March) with a full First Reading vote on it on Wednesday.
The vote comes just 10 weeks before voters across Europe go to the polls to elect the next European Parliament.
The plenary vote on Wednesday is no mere gesture, however. It is the outgoing Parliament setting out its position so that the incoming one can start negotiations with the Council of Ministers, as soon as they have adopted their position, though the timetable for the Council’s part of the process remains uncertain
It is not the European Parliament’s only debate on Data Protection this week as it is also set to approve the final report of its own inquiry into alleged mass surveillance by the US National Security Agency.
That report not only demands that the US/EU trade talks not lead to a softening of data protection standards, it also calls for the suspension of a programme to share bank transfer data with the US, and calls on member states to strengthen oversight of their intelligence services.
As mentioned earlier, the ball now lies with the member states governments via the EU’s Council of Ministers. The Justice Ministers met last week and held a policy debate on outstanding issues relating to the data protection regulation framework.
ASs the communique issued after the meeting said: “Ministers broadly supported the draft provisions as regards the territorial scope of the regulation and confirmed the understanding that international transfers of personal data to third countries should take place on the basis of key principles contained in chapter V of the draft regulation.”
It then went on to diplomatically express the ongoing delays and problems saying:
“Ministers agreed that more technical work will need to be done on important aspects of this chapter and that the question of alternative models for international data transfer will need to be studied in depth.”
“The Council confirmed that the work will continue at a technical level on the basis of the progress achieved so far on: pseudonymisation as an element of the risk-based approach, portability of personal data for the private sector and obligations of controllers and processors.”
“Whilst a majority of delegations appeared to be of the opinion that the scope of the profiling provision in the future regulation should, like the current Directive 95/46/EC, limit itself to regulating automated decision-making that has legal effects or significantly affects individuals, some other delegations pleaded in favour of specific provisions on profiling. Work at a technical level should therefore continue on that basis.”
Others involved in the process expressed their frustrations with the Council’s difficulties in reaching a consensus less delicately. Ralf Bendrath, the Green Party’s data protection expert and an adviser to the German Green MEP who is the Rapporteur who has steered the Regulation through Parliament thus far said on Twitter: “Germany again – embarrassingly – less supportive than all other member states on progress”. He went on to dismiss Germany’s observations that the issue will “need more debate” and chided them for not specifically stating their objections.
While Ministers are still a long way off reaching agreement on their draft of the Regulation, that is not to say that a great deal of technical work and progress is going on behind the scenes.
The Greek EU Presidency has been working away very assiduously in recent months with a series of DAPIX and other Data Protection officials meerting. The Greeks have also been engaging with the Italian government (it is the the next country to hold the 6 month rotating Presidency of the EU) to work out a road map for agreeing on the data protection reform swiftly.
While their original objective of agreeing on a mandate for negotiation with the European Parliament before the end of the Greek Presidency looks unlikely to be achieved, they are busily dotting all the “i”s and crossing all the “t”s they reasonably can awaiting some direction from the member states.
Meanwhile in the UK, the Liberal Democrat Junior Minister at the Justice Ministry, Simon Hughes MP, has announced a review of the criminal sanctions available for breaches of the UK’s Data Protection Act. He said the review would help the UK government “decide whether to increase the penalties as the law permits”.
Feeding into this process Pinsent Masons’ specialist in data protection law Kathryn Wynn has suggested that the government should go further than reviewing the criminal sanctions and should also consider strengthening the civil monetary penalty regime too, arguing that a previous increase in the maximum level of fine in 2010 had prompted organisations to take the issue of data protection seriously.
Using the draft EU’s General Data Protection Regulation as an example she suggests that the review take the approach envisaged there, where the level of penalty for a data breach is calculated on the basis of a percentage of their annual turnover.
So, even before it is passed, we could see the draft EU’s General Data Protection Regulation is influencing domestic legislation across Europe.
This is a piece on the 2014 EU Parliament elections and the appointment of a new EU Commission I wrote for the Jan 10th issue of BEERG‘s Global Labor Relations Newsletter
European Union: 2014 to bring a new Parliament and new Commission
Derek Mooney writes:Next May citizens across the 28 EU states will go to the polls to elect the 751 members of the next European Parliament.
Voters across the EU have tended to treat these contests as what political scientists call: “second order” elections. This usually means that voter turnout is lower than in national elections and the campaigns are often fought more on national issues rather than pan European ones. In many cases the results in each country reflect the current standing of the national government more than they do the manifestos of the European groupings.
While voting will take place during a 3 to 4 day period across the 28 member states, we can get a sense of the possible outcomes by looking at opinion polls in the eight largest EU countries (France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Spain and the United Kingdom) as these account for around 77% of all the EU citizens entitled to vote and will elect around 64% of the Members of the European Parliament (MEPs).
A policy paper presented to the Notre Europe: Jacques Delors’s Institute focussing on what the political balance of power in the next European Parliament might be suggests the possibility of some major changes.
The paper features an analysis of recent opinion polls in these eight countries. It suggests a swing to the Left and Centre Left as well as major gains for protest and fringe parties on both the far left and far right.
In the outgoing parliament the EPP (Centre Right group) holds 265 seats against 184 for the Social & Democrats (Centre Left). The analysis of the polls suggests a swing to the centre left that not just closes this gap, but even reverses it. Some analysts predict that the EPP group might win 209 seats in May, four less than the S&D’s predicted 213.
The predicted changes on the margins are no less dramatic. The domestic opinion polls in France suggest that the far right Front National, led by Marine Le Pen, could become the largest French party in the elections, possibly taking 21% of the vote and increasing its number of MEPs from 3 to 17. While on the other end of the spectrum far left parties such as the Spanish Izquierda Unida (United Left) may increase its number of MEPs from 1 to 8.
Political commentators are suggesting that these advances by parties on the far left and far right, plus gains by populist protest parties like Italy’s Five Star Movement led by comedian Beppe Grillo could see them holding up to 40% of the seats in the incoming parliament.
The political zero sum gain dictates that the increased influence of these groups comes at the expense of the traditional dominance of big blocs: the EPP, the S&D and the Liberal ALDE group, leading to greater political uncertainty in the next Parliament.
This uncertainty comes at a time when the Lisbon Treaty has given an increased role and say to the European Parliament, not least in the appointment of the next European Commission especially the Commission President, which will follow the European Elections.
The Lisbon Treaty has changed the rules on the appointment of Commission President and these come into effect for the first time in 2014. Article 17 of the Treaty and the Declaration 11 annexed to it set out that the choice of the candidate for the Commission presidency will be made “taking into account the elections to the European Parliament”.
This was supposed to mean that the various pan-European EU groupings declare who their candidates for the Commission presidency will be in advance of the May parliamentary elections and set out their commission presidency manifestos. In each country candidates looking to become an MEP would indicate to which European political grouping they would affiliate indicate the Commission presidency candidate that grouping will back.
Names are being bandied about as to who might nominated by each of the main groups. The current EU Parliament President, Martin Shultz looks like being the likely nominee of the centre left S&D grouping, having already secured the backing of 20 or so centre left parties across Europe, most importantly his own German SPD and Francoise Hollande’s Socialist Party.
The EPP may opt to propose Jean Claude-Juncker, the recently defeated long serving Luxembourg Premier. Juncker’s gain maybe at the expense of his party colleague, Viviane Reding, who had previously harboured ambitions to become Commission President having served as a Vice President. Realising that that path is now closed there is some suggestion that she may step down as a Commissioner before her term expires to seek re-election as an MEP (she was previously an MEP) and seek the post of President of the Parliament. The same suggestion is being made about her French Commission colleague Michel Barnier.
But, being Europe, the practice looks like it will be very different. While MEPs want to see the power reside with them and the Commission Presidency go to the largest group (or coalition of groups) in the incoming European Parliament, national governments and leaders, most notably Angela Merkel and David Cameron, are deeply reluctant to surrender the final say to the parliament and are taking a very broad view of the phrase “taking into account the elections to the European Parliament”
While no one should be heading to the bookies to put bets on the results just yet, it is reasonable to assume that the incoming European Parliament and Commission with have a more leftish and presumably interventionist hue than the outgoing one. Given the difficulties posed to business by the outgoing centrist parliament, this cannot come as good news to business and employers across the EU.
The prospect of a more leftist Commission and parliament, coupled with the political uncertainty heralded by a phalanx of extremist parties of both left and right, could lead to some interesting and difficult times ahead.