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Why the 'Every Little Hurts' ad sank Labour

Analysis: Labour’s disastrous general election result this time around had its roots in the 2011 campaign.

ON 16 FEBRUARY 2011, nine days out from the general election, the national newspapers carried an advert from the Labour party.

In the style of those Tesco promotions often carried in the daily and Sunday newspapers, Labour warned of the dire consequences of a single-party Fine Gael government.

The eye-catching ad warned that Fine Gael, governing on its own, would hike car tax, VAT, DIRT, duty on wine and also cut child benefit. It also warned that the party would implement a €238 annual water tax.

In the three years that followed, Labour, in government with Fine Gael, implemented all six of these measures in one form or another.

tesco Source: Irish Election Literature

The development and publication of the advert came towards the end of what had been widely-viewed as a bad election campaign for Labour where ‘Frankfurt’s Way or Labour’s Way’ and the bizarre ‘Gilmore for Taoiseach’ slogan all went down badly.

With a Fine Gael overall majority looking a distinct possibility, Labour sought to change the narrative in the final days of the campaign and warn voters that it would be needed in government. This ad was part of that strategy.

Writing in his recent book, former tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said it was designed to be a “game-changing communication” that would be “catchy and controversial”.

Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, who lost his Dáil seat today, said he remembered getting the mock ad on a leaflet, but not using it:

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

I remember it was the last week of the campaign and we got a box of leaflets and somebody had dreamed up this idea. We just needed to tell people that Fine Gael by themselves would have been dangerous.

The ad seemed to have the desired effect and was memorable not only because of what it looked like, but for the row generated by Tesco objecting to it. Its notoriety would ultimately harm Labour.

Astonishingly, Gilmore admitted in his recent book that he failed to pay attention to the details when signing off on it. He wrote, with a degree of understatement, that it was “a mistake for which I would pay a very high price later”.

Gilmore said that the promises made in the leaflet should have been “weeded out” in the programme for government negotiations, but they weren’t and people remembered it.

The ad has consistently come back to haunt Labour over the last five years as John Lyons, another TD who lost his seat, told us back in 2014:

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

When former minister Pat Rabbitte was asked about it on RTÉ in 2012 he made his now infamous “isn’t that what you do during an election?” comments.

The opposition have frequently used those remarks to hammer Labour for breaking pre-election pledges. Rabbitte later explained to us how his comments were taken out of context, but few listened.

It hardly helped that in addition to breaking the six pledges in the leaflet, Gilmore’s successor Joan Burton headed a department responsible for some of the nastiest cuts introduced by this government. These included the respite care grant, the telephone allowance and the funeral allowance, which were all reduced or cut entirely.

Labour and broken promises is a combination that has stuck in the minds of voters who remember that leaflet. Yet during last month’s campaign senior party figures preferred to pretend that it never existed.

In Labour’s last campaign press conference, TheJournal.ie asked Burton if she was prepared to apologise to voters for breaking the specific promises contained in the ad.

24/2/2016 General Election Campaigns Starts Source: Sam Boal

She started her answer by asking us if we’d asked Sinn Féin about its apparent u-turn on the Universal Social Charge and then never actually answered our original question.

She then referred the matter to Brendan Howlin, who spoke at length about Labour having implemented two-thirds of its agenda despite being only a third of the government. Not once did he acknowledge the ad’s existence despite our persistence.

Labour produced some eye-catching ads in the papers and on social media in this election campaign.

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But it’s clear from the election result that those ads had little impact on voters in either a good or bad way. The polls indicated for sometime that the people had made their mind up on Labour and so it came to pass.

One could argue that the electorate’s verdict on the party has been disproportionately unfair on Labour.

After all, the party definitely softened the austerity being promised by Fine Gael and advanced a social agenda, including the X Case legislation and same-sex marriage. These are two issues that the senior coalition party would not have touched.

Labour has consistently argued that it was fair and balanced in its implementation of austerity and was, in its final years in government, giving something back to working people and those on welfare. Burton reversed the cuts in child benefit and partially restored the Christmas Bonus.

But people had already been let down and they’d made their minds up when it came to voting in this election.

In truth, Labour’s dismal election result had its roots in the 2011 campaign and an advert that will live long in the memory as perhaps the costliest for any Irish political party ever.

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About the author:

Hugh O'Connell

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