Sometimes people give politicians too much credit. When I was in the Progressive Democrats, I was always amused at the people on the Left who regarded the party as a brilliant Thatcherite conspiracy, carefully carrying out a pre-planned right wing agenda that was going to secretly transform Ireland. The truth was that the PDs was a much more ad hoc affair that in government only ever succeeded not by living up to its media image, but remembering who exactly sent them to the Dail, and why. Who sent them? A section of the middle class who expected two things: Tax cuts and rudeness towards Fianna Fail, occasionally taken to the extreme with the odd PD sword let drink in Fianna Fail blood. When the party failed to deliver that, it was wiped out.
The Greens went through the same thing. The party misread its own voters, thinking that they lay awake at night worrying about climate change. They did, but not enough to effect how they voted. Green voters, and more importantly, people who transferred Green, voted Green because it was a nicey nice party that was liberal (young voters) and clean (middle class voters). It was a gut instinct thing, and when the party got hit one one side by the economic crisis, which would damage any party, but then failed to satisfy the gut instincts of its voters on the other side, it was toast. You can put through all the planning acts you want, but you have to satisfy the specific people who voted for you in an emotional way.
Labour will face the same problem. I think Labour are doing alright. But then, I don’t vote Labour, so that should worry them. Labour needs to get its core vote onboard. Who are they? I assume, and I could be wrong, that they’re middle class liberals, some working class votes, some welfare class votes, and the public sector. What is Labour going to do specifically for each of those groups, and how is it going to communicate to them?
Take the minimum wage. Labour reversed it. Why aren’t they screaming that from the rooftops? It was a clear promise that was delivered within weeks, yet Labour let it pass without anywhere near the fanfare it deserves, especially in light of the JLC reforms.
And there’s one other thing that Labour, and other small parties need to realise. What’s that you say? Labour isn’t a small party? If Fianna Fail on 17% is a small party, than so is Labour on 19%. The only reason Labour did so well in seats compared to Fianna Fail is because it was ultra-transfer friendly, something it won’t be next time out. Both the PDs and the Greens failed to realise that STV in anything less than 9 or 10 seaters works against small transfer unfriendly parties with modest first preferences. If Labour keeps its targetted core vote happy and makes the voting system more proportional, so that those core Labour voters can elect Labour TDs on their own, it has a chance. But if Labour goes into a load of 3 and 4 seaters with 12% in the polls in the next election and transfers against them, you’re going to see a lot of Labour blood on the floor. Just ask the Greens.