Fine Gael: The Blues continue to lead strongly in the polls, a mixture of the shine still remaining on the election ball mixed with the fact that Enda Kenny is settling nicely into the job as Taoiseach. On top of that, Fine Gael continues to outline a clear agenda of economic reform, something the Cowen administration struggled to communicate. On the downside, Gay Mitchell’s campaign seems to be struggling to get traction, and a defeat for Fine Gael in a national election mere months after the general election, whilst easy to overestimate in political terms, would nevertheless scratch FG’s shiny new position as the dominant force in Irish politics. Having said that, FF’s continued weakness matched with its baggage leaves FG with the entire centre-right of the political spectrum to itself.
Labour: Labour is having a more mixed time in government. To have plummeted so sharply in the polls this early in the government, and before the budget, most be very worrying, especially when one considers that in the election Labour’s handsome bounty of seats was more to do with hatred of Fianna Fail than a stunning first preference vote. It’s not unreasonable to think that at least half of Labour’s TDs are already on the endangered list. On the plus side, Michael D. Higgins has, since the departure of David Norris, caught the public imagination to some degree, and may even be able to sustain a re-entry by Norris into the campaign. A Labour win in the presidential election would be a significant boost internally for party morale. The by-election, on the other hand, will be another matter.
Fianna Fail: Having to remind myself to put FF in third place in this piece just goes to show how far FF has fallen, and the challenges it now faces as a party. Although recent polls have shown that FF seems to have bottomed out in the mid-teens, the party seems to be struggling internally to identify a future direction, riven between those who rely on empty slogans (The spirits of 1916/27/32) and seem to believe that election 2011 is a minor anomaly, and those who feel that it needs to effectively become a new party. The criticism of Martin’s leadership indicates just how much FF leaders relied upon the power of government patronage to hold the party together and maintain discipline. Now, with a party that can reasonably expect to be out of power for a decade (Although not a certainty) that discipline is less prevalent and the famous FF machine seems to be rotting away. The task now is defining what Fianna Fail can offer that is different from what the government is implementing, and that’s before FF has to go through a presidential election and a Dublin West by-election where it will not feature significantly. One interesting indicator about the direction of the party could be its feelings towards the potential candidacies of David Norris and Dana Rosemary Scallan. If the party assists in the nomination of one but not the other…
Sinn Fein: It’s funny how Irish parties always seem to follow a pattern. They start as outsiders, then breakthrough promising radical change, and then enter government where they fail to match the heights of their bombast. It happened with Clann na Poblachta, the PDs and the Greens, and Sinn Fein are heading that way. Having said that, it’s clear that Sinn Fein is still on the upward swing of that arc, setting out a clear space for themselves on the populist left. Is there a reasonable section of the electorate willing to vote for a party that promises free money and services all paid for by someone else? Is the Pope Catholic?
United Left: Whereas Sinn Fein continues to make inroads into the electorate, the assorted Left struggles to build on its impressive showing in the general election. In true People’s Front of Judea style, the assorted left seem more concerned with maintaining their own independence from each other than creating a cohesive left-wing alternative.
Greens: God love them, but the Greens need to start winning actual seats again before they register again as a party, and that means, unless they perform handsomely in a by-election, or suddenly spurt in the polls, that the 2014 local elections will be the first opportunity for the Greens to re-emerge on the pitch.