Nothing rogue about polls as Labour faces cold hard truth

They won’t be pushing the panic buttons just yet.

But the cold hard truth is now dawning on Labour: voters are rapidly deserting them.

If this were an election year, results like yesterday’s opinion poll, which showed the party on 10%, a whopping 14 points behind Sinn Féin, could spark a leadership challenge.

The party’s only saving grace is that it is in year two of a five-year government term. But the remaining years will have to be an awful lot better if Labour is to avoid a bloodbath at the next election.

Labour always knew it was likely to be bad. Not for nothing did Pat Rabbitte admit, during last year’s election campaign, that he wanted to “pull the duvet over my head and hide” when he thought of the “mountain” that faced the incoming government.

It took little foresight to realise that implementing austerity would do little for the party’s popularity.

But Labour genuinely did not seem to believe it could get so bad, so quickly. When an opinion poll was published in February showing the party at just 10%, senior Labour figures were quick to dismiss the results.

They believed that the poll was a “rogue” one, the kind that, through no fault of the pollsters, occasionally throws up an aberrant result.

After all, the party had won 19.45% of the vote in the Feb 2011 general election. Were the poll to be true, it would have meant Labour support had effectively halved in just a year.

But the latest poll has produced the same result — Labour on just 10%. The “rogue poll” defence is no longer sustainable, and Labour is in a worrying position.

Instead of consolidating support in government and building momentum for the future, Labour appears on track to replicate the past.

In the 1992 election, as referred to in yesterday’s Irish Examiner, Labour under then leader Dick Spring won 19.31% of the vote and garnered 33 seats.

But after spending five years in government, Labour haemorrhaged support and won just 10.4% in 1997, falling back to 17 seats.

Bear in mind that those five years in government were, on the whole, very successful by political standards, with the economy booming and unemployment steadily reducing.

The Gilmore Gale which Labour enjoyed in last year’s election was even better than the Spring Tide, with the party winning 19.45% and 37 seats.

But by stark contrast, Labour is now in a government term that is proving, as Mr Rabbitte anticipated, nightmarish in terms of the spending cuts and tax hikes that must be implemented.

A year and a quarter in, it is Labour, not Fine Gael, which seems to be taking the brunt of people’s displeasure with the Government’s performance.

Some Labour TDs and supporters will, no doubt, suggest all kinds of changes to reverse the slide — from becoming more bolshy in coalition to improving its media communications.

But the wiser heads will probably feel such changes would be largely cosmetic, and help only a little at best.

The only thing that will help a lot is a steady turnaround in the country’s economic fortunes. In that respect, the period from now to 2016 may seem like all the time in the world to turn the economy around and restore the party’s approval ratings.

But it is already four years since the economy tanked, and the pain is continuing — which goes to demonstrate that, contrary to clichés about a week being a long time in politics, three and three-quarter years doesn’t give Labour all that much time, considering the scale of the challenge faced.


Kim Sheehan is an opera singer from Crosshaven, Co Cork, and is this year’s recipient of the Jane Anne Rothwell Award from Cork Midsummer Festival.A Question of Taste: Cork opera singer, Kim Sheehan

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