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Is Labour finished?

Analysis: The latest poll does not make good reading for a party that was hoping for a post-Budget boost.

Alan Kelly and Joan Burton
Alan Kelly and Joan Burton
Image: RollignNews.ie

LAST MONTH, WE suggested that Labour wasn’t necessarily facing the electoral wipeout many are expecting.

The party has taken the brunt of voter anger over the last four years but has begun to reverse some of the coalition’s most politically toxic cuts and has advanced its social agenda considerably this year with the passing of the same-sex marriage referendum.

The party has undoubtedly tempered some of the more austere and right wing elements of Fine Gael in government. Yet, many voters feel Labour has let them down and broken promises, not least all of those in that infamous ‘Every Little Hurts’ leaflet.

To add to the misery, the first post-Budget poll, carried out by Red C and published in yesterday’s Sunday Business Post, puts Labour at 7%, down three points and facing massive seat losses in the election.

“It’s difficult to fathom,” one TD told us today. Others reported being baffled and surprised at the poll result. One even told the Irish Daily Mail that the poll could be wrong. In short, as far as Labour is concerned, it wasn’t supposed to be this way.

After all, the Budget had Labour’s stamp all over it with the increases in child benefit, the Christmas bonus, the reversal of the respite care grant cut, commitments on childcare, income boosts for pensioners and tax cuts for the middle classes.

Yet it appears the credit for all of this has gone to Fine Gael which, in contrast to its coalition partner, finds its support up two points to the psychologically important 30%. That means the party is well-placed to return the vast majority of its current crop of TDs.

Labour meanwhile, will struggle to get handful of deputies back into the next Dáil. It’s little wonder that over half-a-dozen incumbent TDs are stepping down at the next election. One has even quit the party to run as an independent.

The reasons for the latest drop in support are not immediately apparent. Labour was thrown somewhat off balance by the speculation around an early election at the beginning of the month with Joan Burton changing her story several times before Enda Kenny called off the dogs.

Bullish in the face of adversity

The more likely reason for the fall in support is that Labour has just been unable to shift that general mood that it has broken promises and has failed to protect the least well-off in society, as a recent Amárach poll for Claire Byrne Live found.

Despite the poor polls, party figures remain bullish. Director of elections Alan Kelly told the Sunday Independent that in the first 12 constituency polls he commissioned, Labour were winning seats in 11 of them. Never one to shy away from making big statements, the Environment Minister even claimed Labour could win 25 seats next time out.

There are three main arguments that Labour can make about why all is not lost when it comes to the next election.

The first is that, anecdotally, many of its TDs have told us of the positivity they’re meeting on the doorsteps in contrast to the period leading up to and during the local and European elections last year.

Of course, they would say that, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true or that there isn’t a discrepancy between what pollsters are being told and how people will vote. After all, if the British general election taught us anything it’s that the polls can get it spectacularly wrong.

The second argument is that Labour firmly believes it can convince the public that there is no alternative to the current coalition. By voting for other parties you are voting for uncertainty, with neither Sinn Féin nor Fianna Fáil seemingly prepared to do business with each other, Labour argues.

The third, and perhaps the strongest argument, is that the Budget isn’t yet being felt in people’s pockets. Once the welfare boosts and tax cuts make an impact on people’s pay packets they may well soften their view of Labour.

However, none of these will provide total comfort in the face solid polling data showing the Labour faces a wipeout at the next election.

Still, there is time for the party to recover. One senior party figure said they don’t see Labour moving beyond 10% until the campaign gets underway properly. The argument goes that only then will voters focus on who they want to govern them.

But, whatever way you look at it, polls like the one this weekend aren’t encouraging.

Read: Watch an ‘incredibly embarrassed’ TD lash his former Labour colleagues

Read: This Labour minister’s tweet about abortion has kicked up a bit of a row

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About the author:

Hugh O'Connell

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