The coming election is interesting for many reasons, but one of the main ones must be the certainty of one thing: Fianna Fail will not be in government. What’s interesting about this is the opportunity for bluesky thinking this gives FF. Think about it: Unlike the other parties, who have expectations to beat, FF is in Dunkirk mood, trying to get as many guys safely off the beach as possible. FF should avoid government after the election to get its act together. Now, here’s a little scenario I’d like you all to ponder:
It’s 7:30pm on the day of the count, and the results are shaping up nicely. There are still seats to be decided, but we’re in ball park territory. The picture looks something like this: FG 63, Labour 50, FF 29, Sinn Fein 12, ULA 2, and Independents 10. A dozen seats going different ways won’t make huge difference. FG are cockahoop. They are the largest party, and they have vanquished the old enemy. Inda is going to be Taoiseach. Labour are also happy, but only relatively, still with the lost promise of the Gilmore Gale in their ears. They are the second party at last. But they are also watching the FGers dancing about, and thinking that despite all the change, they are still going to be second bananas to this crowd.
Then the Taoiseach resigns, accepting that FF have been comprehensively defeated. But, as agreed with his PP, he announces that he will remain as leader for six months, to allow FF to consider its position, but also to ensure that FF has a leadership position in place for the next step.
At 9pm Eamonn Gilmore receives a document which carefully goes line-by-line through the Labour manifesto, identifying what FF can support, what it can’t, and what it can negotiate on. In the covering letter, it stresses that FF has no desire to remain in government or enter a coalition with Labour. But it is willing to vote for Gilmore as Taoiseach, and give an assurance that it will vote confidence in his government for two and a half years, and is willing to consider legislation on a case-by-case basis. The document and letter are released to the media.
At the same time, reelected FF TDs voice support for the arrangement, and FF’s willingness to support Labour for that period of time in the national interest. And, incidentally, avoiding another election before FF has a chance to rebuild.
Suddenly, Eamonn Gilmore’s people are seeing a South Dublin dinner party fantasy look seriously real. An Taoiseach, Eamonn Gilmore TD? Don’t discount the appeal of that to Labour people when it starts to look actually real. FG respond in an outraged manner, with some newly elected FG deputies practically ordering Labour to join them in government. At the count, a few scuffles break out.
Of course, why would FF do such a thing? There are a number of reasons: If FG have any brains at all, they’ll have a joint Oireachtas committee dragging former FF ministers in front of them to investigate FF’s handling of the banking crisis for months, preventing FF from ever putting the IMF behind them as former ministers have to relive the past in excruciating detail live on television. But if a quiet word in Labour’s ear kept that off the table, FF can start to rebuild in oppoition. Secondly, for FG to find themselves inexplicably on the opposition benches after the election would kick off the civil war to end all civil wars in the party. It’s not totally off the wall to imagine FG deputies, as in FF in the 1980s, actually boxing the heads of each other in the car park, given the trauma of losing the unlosable election. Thirdly, FF need to recognise that they may be stuck in third position for quite a while, maybe a couple of elections, and so breaking up the FG-Labour alliance is in their future coalition making interest.
Finally, let’s be honest: If FG think for a minute that Labour are seriously considering this, they’ll have their knickers off faster than Britney in front of a nightclub. It’ll be a government with a nominal FG head, but with a Labour finance minister implementing a Labour manifesto with all the Varadkar bits of the FG manifesto neatly trimmed out. Whereas Inda will be nominal taoiseach, Jack O’Connor will be in reality, and just imagine how that will go down with FG voters. Especially after FF remind them. Just a thought.