As the election approaches, I thought I’d take a brisk walk through the parties and rate their chances.
Fianna Fail: This will be FF’s Dunkirk election, for the first time not trying to advance or even defend, but trying to get as many guys off the beach as possible. I still reckon FF will get over 30 seats, as the people lie to pollsters about not supporting an unpopular party, pure constituency graft, and that bizarre group of voters who don’t seem to understand that voting for FF candidates (He’s a lovely man!) elects FF governments. The other thing about FF is the certainty: With the national plan, you know what you are getting. And is it just me, or has Brian Cowen, having accepted his doomed fate, actually started performing better in the media, with less bad-tempered bluster and more calm explanation?
Fine Gael: This is FG’s to lose, obviously. The fact that they have started to tack centre-right on some issues (The Croke Park Agreement) will do them no harm with private sector voters, and keeping Enda off the telly is doing them no harm either. Their fear must be the Taoiseach’s debate, and that FF may go for a series of UK style one hour stand up and speak debates, which would potentially squeeze Enda between Cowen and Gilmore. Traditionally, Taoiseach debates don’t have much effect, except maybe for the last one where Bertie (hardly Cicero) slapped Enda around the place. But this time people may actually really want to know if someone is up to being Taoiseach. After all, they got agitated about the current incumbent having a jar.
Labour: This is going to be Labour’s best result ever, and yet there is such an opportunity for disappointment. Donegal, despite a trebling of the vote, showed how hard it is to transfer good polls into votes and strong candidates on the ground. Even if Labour double their seats, they will still end up as a distant second fiddle to FG, and after the Cleggmania moment of Gilmore for Taoiseach, that will grate with them. Having said that, there’s still a possibility for Gilmore to breakthrough during the campaign, as the best speaker of the three leaders.
Sinn Fein: The shinners have got to be on for a good election, possibly reaching the border protest votes that Labour can’t reach. Having said that, they’ve also got to be afraid that Labour could hoover up the urban left protest vote. They’ll still gain seats, but a curious point will be if SF ends up with a prediominantly rural, non-Dublin parliamentary party, which might blunt their left wing ideals somewhat. Adams in Louth will be an interesting (international) event to watch, and he will have to sharpen up his southern political gut, and recognise that partition is not a hot button issue down here to the same extent. I would not be surprised if the new deputy for Donegal South West becomes their strongest media performer during the campaign, despite his desire to consolidate his seat.
The Greens: I still reckon Sargent and Gogarty are the best chances of getting back in. I can’t for the life of me understand why Green ministers keep turning up at press conferences with FF. Leave FF to enjoy the economic crisis on their own! But let’s be honest, it’s going to be a grim day for the Greens, which is sad, as they have been serious about trying to leave the place a bit better than they found it, and they certainly didn’t wreck the economy.
The United Left Alliance: These will be interesting to watch, with at least five seats with solid, viable candidates who could perform strongly. Joe must be a cert to get back in, and Seamus Healy, Joan Collins and Clare Daly also in with a strong shout. It’s hard to see RBB do the business in (now 4 seat) Dun Laoghaire, given that Labour and FG have a fair chance of two seats each, and FF having two strong candidates, but will be worth a bucket of popcorn.
The Independents: Who knows what the hell will happen here, other than Lowry is a cert, and that one in four Kerry South voters may actually decide that a Healy-Rae is genuinely the best option on the ballot paper.