The conventional wisdom says that FF is absolutely banjaxed. I’m not sure: The odds are against it, and the party is facing historically massive obstacles, but there are factors that need to be considered.
1. The longer, the better. The country has taken such a hammering, and people are so nervous of their jobs and mortgages, that any sort of serious recovery, in particular, a fall in unemployment, will be leapt upon. The longer FF waits, the better chance of an economic upturn that the public will recognise as being such. And a better chance that the public will not want to take a risk with a new govt.
2. The Enda Factor. FG refuse to accept that Enda does not fill Dublin voters with confidence. FF need to play to this strength, not in a nasty way, but by giving Enda enough rope to hang himself. FF should begin calling for a series of UK style 90 minute leaders debates, where Enda can be taken through the details on both his and Labour’s policies. If he can’t get through a debate, he can’t handle an EU negotiation.
3. The Labour Party’s public sector Achilles’s Heel. The Labour Party seems to have taken the decision to be the political wing of the public sector unions. From a public sector worker and family vote winning point of view, this makes sense. But it also allows FF to contrast itself with Labour as the party of necessary reform, and gives it the freedom to tap into the pissed off private sector vote, which, for the first time in the history of Irish politics, actually exists.
4. New Fianna Fail: The National Recovery Movement.
FF needs to recognise that things have changed. The economic crisis has been a disaster for the party, but it can also be a source of creative destruction. For a start, the party needs new faces, and new faces willing to criticise the old FF way of doing things. FF needs to be strong enough to not regard internal criticism as disloyalty: This isn’t North Korea. Take Ogra FF’s blog, for example. I’ve been taking the piss about the fact that only 8 comments by members have been posted on it, but there is a serious point: I have discussed pretty radical stuff with young and impressive members of FF, but they are all afraid to discuss these things in public, or write a blog about them. As long as FF’s culture is one of stifling internal debate, it will continue to dissuade fresh voices from becoming active in the party. Instead, it ends up with mini-me young versions of what it has already, and the public sees this as the political equivalent of tapeworms laying eggs in the political tract. How it deals with the Ivor Callely expenses row, for example, will be a key marker. If the Taoiseach regards this as politics as usual, then he doesn’t deserve to be re-elected.
5. Play to lose honourably.
FF leaving office having done the right thing will do it good in the long run, and indeed, opposition would be a benefit to FF. By the local elections of 2014, the party could roar back reenergised, reorganised and with a raft of new faces.
Of course, this is all assuming the the Enda Factor outweighs the Biffo Factor…