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Five simple reasons the government got the mood of the people so wrong

The government’s electoral campaign emphasised the two slogans of “economic recovery” and “stability” failed to convince many voters, writes columnist Julien Mercille.

IN THE 2007 election, the combined popular vote for Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Labour was 79%. In the current election, RTÉ’s exit poll suggests it will be down to 53%.

The establishment parties will thus suffer a massive decline of more than 25 percentage points. Regarding the current government, in 2011, Fine Gael received 36% of the popular vote and Labour 20%, for a combined 56%.

It is now expected that Fine Gael will drop to 25% and Labour to 7%, for a combined 32%, a significant decline of 24 percentage points.

The government’s electoral campaign emphasised the two slogans of “economic recovery” and “stability”. But those failed to convince many voters, resulting in them losing support.

27/2/2016. General Election 2016. General Election

Here are 5 reasons why this happened:

1. The “recovery” is two-tiered

In a national opinion poll taken just before the election, more than half said they “had felt no economic benefit from the economic upturn”.

This should not be a surprise given that Ireland now has the second highest percentage of low-paying jobs in the developed world, according to the OECD. The only worse country is the United States, hardly an example to follow because levels of inequality there are a real scandal.

Also, since 2010, Ireland’s top 300 wealthiest individuals have doubled their wealth. These 300 individuals alone have a combined wealth of €87.7 billion, a fifth of all the wealth in this country. Moreover, half of all Irish people have less than 5% of the country’s wealth whereas the top 20% capture 70% of the net wealth.

2. Voters don’t want the kind of “stability” Fine Gael and Labour have given us 

“Stability” may sound good, until one looks at what it has meant in practice under this government. As stated above, many have seen their life deteriorate or not improve.

We could add a long list of highly problematic aspects of Fine Gael-Labour “stability”, including the fact that the deprivation rate has climbed from 12% in 2007 to 30% in 2014 (the latest data available).

When the Fine Gael-Labour government took power in 2011, the deprivation rate stood at 23%, and it has not been able to reduce it. On the contrary, it has increased.

Moreover, we are now setting records on homelessness. There are now 1,570 homeless children in Dublin alone, double the numbers of only a year ago, which then stood at 780.

“Stability”, in this sense, means nothing other than a perpetuation of the same policies that have failed to improve ordinary people’s lives. Voters have thus rejected the government’s slogan.

3. The government wants tax cuts, but the people want better services 

Opinion polls reveal the gulf between ordinary people and the government on the issue of taxes versus public services. Voters’ priority is not to cut taxes but to use tax money to build and provide quality services. But the main parties keep talking about tax cuts.

For example, a recent Sunday Independent poll asked: “Which of the following objectives do you think the next government should place most importance on?”.

27/2/2016. General Election 2016 - Counting of Vot

The answers were almost the reverse of what the main political parties propose:

  1. “Improving public services” (39% of people)
  2. “Tax cuts” (25%)
  3. “Boosting social benefits” (19%)
  4. “Reducing the national debt” (12%)

In particular, the most important service for people is an accessible and good healthcare system. Yet, this government has moved aggressively towards transforming the system into a market-based one, even though it is more costly and less effective.

4. Death by a million cuts under austerity

Under the austerity regime implemented by the three main parties, so many cuts and regressive tax increases have been made that people have had enough. As one working class voter told me, “they took away the little we had”.

The Right2Change coalition has compiled a comprehensive list of all the austerity measures enacted, which have included: JobBridge, water charges, VAT increases, disability allowance cut, prescription charges for medical card holders raised, healthcare funding cuts, education cuts, lone parent’s allowance cut, etc.

27/2/2016. General Election 2016 - Counting of Vot Fine Gael's Dublin Bay North candidate Richard Bruton.

5. Anti-establishment parties have filled the vacuum

Almost two-thirds of people wanted a change of government and opposition parties and Independents have thrived on this discontent, many of them organised under the Right2Change banner.

Most importantly, Sinn Féin will benefit from this election, just like smaller parties like the Anti-Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit which should get a few more TDs elected. The Social Democrats and Independents like Clare Daly have also made gains or protected their seats.

One key issue here is that those parties have capitalised on Labour’s failure to make austerity fairer in any significant way. Indeed, Labour has become a rather enthusiastic proponent of such measures.

Anybody who canvassed in the last several weeks in working class areas, for example, could not fail to witness the disappointment and anger towards Labour and the desire for change.

Julien Mercille is a lecturer at University College Dublin. Twitter: @JulienMercille.  

LIVEBLOG: Bad news for government TDs as votes counted across the country>

Read: Is Ireland going for more parish-pump politics?>

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