We may wake after vote to ask ‘what have we done?’

The only combination that has nowhere near a majority is the outgoing Government, writes Fergus Finlay

We may wake after vote to ask ‘what have we done?’

SPARE a thought for the candidates. They are all, right now and without exception, in the grip of a phobic condition, and it drives them mad.

A complete personality disorder, it is. You mightn’t see it, but everyone who works with them will be suffering from it. It ought to be called candidatitis.

It manifests itself in unreasonable demands, in blaming everyone else for every mistake they make themselves, sometimes in a complete fear of knocking on that first door.

It’s worst in sitting TDs, and its causes are many. There’s the fear of losing your job, and perhaps of being saddled with a large debt the day you become unemployed. But it’s deeper than that.

Every candidate has to have a streak of narcissism (some have a lot more than others, of course) to put themselves forward for election, and hand-in-hand with that goes a deep-seated dread of rejection.

It can scar people for life. I’ve even known some who narrowly got elected, and still felt the loss of support more keenly than the victory.

In the early stages of a general election, it affects everybody. If you’re in the national engine room of a campaign, you despise the candidates. All they have to do, after all, is knock on the doors and answer the questions.

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They have no understanding of how complex your job is, developing policy, working around the clock to try to deal with their petty concerns. They don’t have to face the media, after all.

If you’re a candidate, you hate the people in the engine room. They’re always sending you out unprepared; they never have your posters ready on time; they just don’t understand how hard you have to work. They don’t have to face the public after all — not like you do.

It’s the nature of election campaigns, especially in their early phases. I’d bet that right around the country just now there are massive tensions within all the political parties, with people bitching and moaning at each other.

Within TDs’ offices there are harried and over-worked staff, all wishing to God their boss would get out of the way and go off to do what they’re good at (assuming they’re good at anything, the staff will be muttering under their breath).

Candidatitis settles down. As the campaign unfolds, it tends to be replaced by hope or by resignation. Relations get restored, at least until the election is over.

Then, in some of the parties anyway, the blame game will begin. But in which ones?

Well, if the first opinion poll of the campaign is anything to go by, there’ll be plenty of blame to go around. Thursday’s poll (IPSOS-MRBI in the Irish Times) gave us the numbers for the parties, and yesterday’s poll told us that the people, by a significant majority, want to change the Government.

Surprise, surprise. We always want to change the Government, and in 10 of the last 15 elections we’ve voted to do just that.

Of course poll results change, and events have a huge influence. Especially in an opinion poll that shows a lot of undecided voters, there’s still a huge amount to play for.

But one of the mistakes party activists make (I plead guilty, your honour) is to believe an opinion poll is wrong just because they don’t like it.

I know polling has got a bad name after the UK elections — and they got it spectacularly wrong for the Republicans in Iowa a few days ago — but in Irish elections they have a very good track record, by and large.

And this first opinion poll, published in The Irish Timeson Thursday, is raising a lot of unmentionables.

First, if any expert had been told five years ago that the Government elected then would be presiding over high economic growth, falling unemployment, a banking sector getting back to health, and pay packets looking a lot healthier even than they did in December, the only possible conclusion would be that the Government would be re-elected with acclamation. Well, IPSOS-MRBI says they’re a million miles away from that.

The first election I remember where the unmentionable happened was in 1989, where Charlie Haughey’s Fianna Fáil dropped enough seats to lose an already shaky majority. On the night of the count the former Labour minister Barry Desmond said the result was plain — FF and the PDs would have no choice but to do business together. There were loud guffaws all round, because he had mentioned the unmentionable. But that was exactly what happened.

Look at the unmentionable possibilities in this poll. The only combination that has nowhere near a majority is the outgoing Government. But taking the figures at face value, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil combined would have 50% of the vote. That’s more than a working majority.

Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin combined would also have a right shot at forming a workable government with 40% of the vote.

And what of the ‘left’? I’m putting that word in inverted commas because it covers an extraordinary amalgam. Sinn Féin, a pretty decimated Labour Party, the Social Democrats, the Greens, Anti-Austerity Alliance, People Before Profit, and (say) half the non-aligned independents would also add up to 40%. I wouldn’t want to be involved in those negotiations, but there’s a workable majority, or damn close to it, on the figures.

Notwithstanding what I said earlier, there is also the possibility of the present Government getting a look-in, but to get to 40% they would need to add on the Social Democrats, Renua, and a couple of other independents. Shane Ross’ chance of becoming minister for finance might finally be at hand in that scenario.

So, and forgive the cliché, it’s all to play for.

If these opinion poll figures pan out (a big if, because it’s still far too early to know anything really), there would be a significant chance that we’ll see a government the like of which we’ve never seen before.

Even though Enda Kenny must remain the odds-on candidate to be Taoiseach again, these figures make you wonder — Taoiseach of what?

And it certainly places a huge premium on his performance from start to finish of the election campaign.

Fine Gael don’t just have a bit of ground to make up, they simply can’t afford any more slippage.

None of us, I suspect, want to wake up the morning after the election and say “Mother of God, what have we done?”.

However, if the current figures don’t change significantly, that’s the unmentionable that lies ahead.

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