ALISON O'CONNOR: Government may be re-elected if they go to the polls in November

If Kenny waits until March he leaves too much time for something to go badly wrong, and not enough time to fix it, writes Alison O’Connor

THERE is something in the political air this week, something which has been absent for quite a while. It is the notion that the Government might get re-elected. Their best hope of ensuring that would be to have the general election in November.

It is a big decision, and not one you’d envy the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, having to make, but if he waits until March he leaves too much time for something to go badly wrong, and not enough time to fix it.

There is no chance of us being asked to go to the polls when we’re drawing up our Christmas shopping lists, so that rules December out. Yes, in January we will feel the benefits of the Budget announcements, but, honestly, we are all so fat, so depressed and so broke then that only a Lotto win could raise the mood.

February is an obvious option, but you’d have to wonder why he would wait until then.

Government may be re-elected if they go to the polls in November

In politics, there is nothing like a little momentum and that is just what Fine Gael and Labour have at the moment. This makes a November election a better idea even than it was last week. In weather terms, there is usually not that much difference between November and March. Both will be equally cold and miserable, and the poor politicians will hate knocking on doors on winter nights, and the householders will hate having to open them, and many of them simply won’t bother. Much of the action will be played out on television and radio.

Canvassing will have to be done, but there is the added bonus for the Taoiseach and the Tanaiste, and other high-profile Cabinet members, of the limited daylight hours restricting the opportunities for the anti-austerity/water protesters to sabotage their meet-and-greets.

However, it is to be hoped that the charges for the attack on the Tanaiste in Tallaght will discourage these ‘protests’. It would be a sinister turn for this sort of combative action to form any part of our campaign, or to be allowed to alter the campaign plans of our politicians in any way.

So, back to November. Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan, has said that there is no scope to go beyond a package of up to €1.5bn in new spending for the Budget, on October 13. But there is no doubt that he will make juicy announcements on the universal social charge, childcare and for the self-employed. All going well, these would create as good a backdrop as this Government is going to get ahead of a general election.

Government may be re-elected if they go to the polls in November

Noonan will also paint a picture of an economy that, in the right hands, will keep recovering, and of how those benefits will be spread over the next three Budgets. They will paint themselves as prudent, but also turn their attention to those areas that have been neglected. There will be good news for deputies to bring to constituents.

It is not that long ago that the Government parties would have bitten your hand off for the poll ratings they received in the Red C/Sunday Business Post poll — a combined 38%, with the Labour party back into the all-important double-digit territory of 10%, compared to Fine Gael’s 28%.

This puts them just two points away from where they need to be to form a minority Government, and to then enlist the assistance of a few independent deputies. Labour would rather wait longer for the general election, to give them more recovery time, but maybe they should recognise that things mightn’t get better than that poll rating.

An unseemly row between the two Coalition parties, concerning the election date, would hardly add credibility to the notion of re-electing them as a package. However, on the available evidence the professional dynamic between Enda Kenny and Joan Burton appears to be good, certainly much better than between her and her deputy leader, Alan Kelly.

The tales of serious tension between her and Kelly are not helping that party with its considerable pre-election nerves.

The Anti-Austerity Alliance and People before Profit are to join forces to launch a new left-wing party. It will mean a little less fragmentation on the Left, but it is too little too late, both in terms of giving the voters a cohesive election offering and in presenting themselves as a viable alternative to the current Coalition parties. It comes back again to people not particularly liking our leaders, but looking around and not seeing any alternatives, in terms of competently running the country and sustaining our economic recovery.

During my summer holidays in West Cork, I heard people say they were finally beginning to feel the economic recovery, and that it wasn’t just ‘us crowd above in Dublin’ reaping the benefits. Despite the fairly appalling weather, there seemed to be lots of tourists about, not least Irish people holidaying at home, and business people were reporting a good season. Who knows, maybe some gratitude may even begin to kick in?

We kicked off the new political season with Fine Gael’s meeting last week in Adare, Co Limerick. They began building mental images in our heads of how we should vote them and Labour back into Government as a Coalition package. Last Sunday, we had the Red C poll, and, on Monday, the Labour party got together in Wicklow, and they attempted to build more mental pictures of continuity and stability.

Government may be re-elected if they go to the polls in November

Now, this little bit of momentum for the Government is about as solid as a bowl of jelly, but there are stirrings that they would not have even dreamt of a year ago. We’ve had various post-general election narratives, swapping back and forth in our recent political history, about how we’d have to get our heads around the idea of a Fine Gael/Fianna Fail coalition, or that the country would be run by a bunch of Lefties, after the public had decided that all ‘establishment’ politicians were only good for the scrapheap.

There remains, among many people, a simmering rage against the Government, especially among those who are still willing to take to the streets and protest, and who will never vote for either Fine Gael or Labour in a general election. It is only quite recently that Enda Kenny was booed in Croke Park, which is a particularly Irish, and very cutting, kind of put down of a Taoiseach.

This anger, while obviously abating a little, could be stirred again as easily as a hornet’s nest. But pragmatism appears to be coming to the surface, and a shift in mood is perceptible. Enda should strike while the iron is hot.


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