Labour is at war — Eamon Gilmore has finally conceded the ugly truth.
But while the Tánaiste believes it is valiantly waging an “economic war” on the nation’s behalf — to the rest of us it looks increasingly like a civil war threatening to tear the party apart.
Mr Gilmore’s war analogy was unfortunate as it reminds us that he is just not a lucky general, and it handed Colm Keaveney the ammo to fire back a volley demanding to know why the casualties were disproportionately Labour rather than Blueshirt.
Indeed for the Tánaiste, as long as Mr Keaveney remains party chairman he will be the political headache that just keeps on giving.
Free from the Labour whip, Keaveney will be able to turn a position which Gilmore did everything in his power to stop him obtaining at party elections last April, into an alternative authority source.
King Keaveney — leader of Labour in exile, the lightning strike conductor for the “soul” of the party. But the previously trigger-happy headline- grabbing Mr Keaveney will have to pick his battles carefully if he is to continue to draw attention. Don’t expect to hear from him again for a while — at least not until the next poll due at the end of the month registers a budget backlash.
And how does a Tánaiste solve a problem like Colm? Letting him be branded a “narcissist” and “political prancer” has only shored up support for the Galway East TD from grassroots activists alarmed at the direction the party has taken.
Labour postponed its April conference so Mr Gilmore could strut the continental stage as Ireland takes over the largely empty ceremonial role of the rotating six-monthly presidency of the European Council.
To force an emergency delegate meeting to try and oust Keaveney will look rather parochial when Mr Gilmore is supposed to be “running Europe”. But allowing Mr Keaveney to remain in situ until the planned October gathering has its own dangers.
First, the vote will inevitably be a referendum on Mr Gilmore’s leadership, not Keaveney, and if the Tánaiste loses, he’s badly burned toast.
But what else is also planned for next October? Yes, the new-look budget, which due to Eurozone harmonisation is set to be brought forward two months. Not a good backdrop for an unpopular Labour leader to assert his authority, especially one still unable to rule out further child benefit and carer cuts in that budget.
Next autumn also sees the re-negotiation of Croke Park and the supposed end of the bailout when Ireland prepares to return to the cowboy casino markets of European capitalism for its funding. But what if there is still no deal on the bank debt, as Germany will only have just gone to the polls itself at that stage?
No deal means no end to the bail-out and Mr Gilmore will carry that failure just as hard as Michael Noonan.
So you can see why Mr Keaveney is keen to cling on as chairman of a party whose parliamentary wing he was unceremoniously thrown out of.
And all the while anxious Labour TDs look down the barrel at an angry electorate. Like Fianna Fáil at the last Dáil poll, Labour knows everything will be stacked against it next time. Indeed, Labour is well and truly FF-ed whatever happens.
Even if by some miraculous political rebirth Labour could repeat its record 19.4% share, it would still lose a huge swathe of the 37 seats it gained, due to the transformed political topography. Labour has traditionally swiped the last seat in many constituencies, usually when the Shinner or the Green has been eliminated and their transfers redistributed to push Labour over the line.
This will not happen next time because, with Sinn Féin polling 17-20%, their candidates will be in a much stronger position and thus will not be eliminated early, and the Green vote will be virtually non-existent.
Also, Fianna Fáil will run just one candidate in all but a handful of seats, in order to maximise their Dáil potential, which was greatly reduced in 2011 by allowing competing egos to split the vote and let in Labour. The only party running multiple candidates will be FG, and though its vote is likely to hold up well, it is doubtful its candidates will have meaningful surpluses to transfer to Labour.
It seems Mr Gilmore may yet come to agree with that legendary political theorist Edwin Starr and conclude: “War — what is it good for? Absolutely nothing.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved