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A lot of people in the Labour Party are feeling the 'The Burton Bounce' right now

Analysis: Labour is in good spirits right now and that’s because of Joan Burton.

Joan Burton
Joan Burton
Image: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

FOR A LOT of the current coalition’s lifetime the focus had been on the woes of the Labour Party, but that’s all changed in recent months.

Since Joan Burton was elected Labour leader and Tánaiste in July we’ve been hearing more and more about the unease amongst Fine Gael backbenchers as the general election looms ever closer and they worry about their seats.

For many backbenchers, speaking privately over the summer, there was concern that far too much focus had been placed on appeasing Labour when many in the senior coalition party needed a bit of love.

Of course Fine Gael’s internal woes have become all too public in the last two weeks as a result of the botched nomination of John McNulty to a state board and then as the party’s candidate for the Seanad.

Out of that has come a lot of gripes about the way Fine Gael is being run and that’s worrying a lot of people within the party. “If the Fine Gael brand is damaged it damages our chances of re-election,” a TD, who has a job on his hands to hold his seat, neatly summarised to us recently.

Contrast that with the mood around Labour right now which couldn’t be further from where the party was at just a few short months ago when it took, in Burton’s words, a “shellacking” at the polls.

Access

Labour TDs and Senators speak of having more access to the leadership and ministers than ever before.

One stark example of this came on the Leinster House plinth during the week when we witnessed a very good-natured conversation between a Labour senator and a minister who was going to pay a visit to their constituency this coming week.

Of course constituency visits by ministers are not unusual in the slightest – it’s part of the job – but the directive has gone out in Labour that more should be happening and more are happening.

One of the chief complaints about Burton’s predecessor, Eamon Gilmore, was that centralisation of power around the ex-Tánaiste and the stamping out of any dissent.

At the leadership hustings and in subsequent interviews, including with this website, Burton identified a need to listen members who said they had felt silenced.

Labour sources say that parliamentary party meetings on a Wednesday are much-changed from the Gilmore era with no fear of speaking out, no cliques and everyone seemingly pulling in the same direction.

“Availability, visibility and access have all been addressed,” is how one Labour source summed it up this week.

The power of Joan

Joan Burton’s recent attendance at the Ploughing Championships went down a treat with the Tánaiste said to have been extremely popular amongst the public.

“Joan gave a masterful performance all day,” said one senator who was in attendance adding that she is helping to push the party up in the polls every day.

Out on the Dublin South-West campaign trail last Friday, the party’s candidate Pamela Kearns said she was encountering a much better reception on the doorsteps compared to May, saying that people could see the economy is improving.

The big test of Joan Burton’s effectiveness as Labour leader will be how she can improve the party’s rating in the polls in the run-up to the next general election.

One things for sure, Labour will not return as many TDs (37) as they did in 2011 but the party is more focussed on re-establishing it’s traditional support of between 10 and 12 per cent.

Under Burton that now appears to be a realistic possibility with almost everyone in Labour now seemingly pulling in the same direction.

Minister: There’s a new optimism around Labour, people are prepared to listen to us again

Read: Lots of Fine Gael and Labour people are angry about this man’s appointment to a state board

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About the author:

Hugh O'Connell

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