SHAUN CONNOLLY: Labour further rattled by collapse of UK’s Lib Dems

AFTER so many fiscal cuts, Taoiseach Enda Kenny must now make the trickiest calculation of all and weigh up the political consequences of going for a cut-and-run general election after the October Budget.

A growing number of people in Fine Gael see this as the best path to re-election, but Labour are dead set against the idea.

The pro-lobby says a generous give-away budget in October will be the perfect launchpad for an early November election.

They caution it would be a mistake to let things drift on to late February/early March, which is the only other window available.

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The Coalition cannot risk hitting the buffers at the end of its term, in early April, and of being accused of politicising the centenary of the 1916 Rising celebrations, which climax in late March.

Cut-and-runners point to this Coalition’s unfortunate habit of losing control of events with alarming speed and regularity, as recently exemplified by the Siteserv controversy.

And Mr Kenny gave the Novemberistas much excitement when he appeared to shift his previous, rock-solid attachment to going full-term. You could not call Mr Kenny’s comments subtle, because he does not do subtle, but he is good at doing vague. So, suddenly his tone shifted to calling a general election, not when he hits the buffers, next spring, but when “our programme for Government is completed”, and he pointedly noted that only he has the power to decide the date.

This was a direct shot across the bows of all those clinging onto the good ship Labour, which is looking increasingly like the sinking ship Labour.

The election hangers-on say an early election could kill off the political benefits of the banking-collapse probe, which would be abandoned, along with the present Dáil. They argue it would be better to let the benefits of the Budget appear in January pay packets, before risking the revenge of a seemingly perpetually angry electorate.

And it is clear Labour also just wants to cling on to power for as long as it can, for fear that it may not do so again, as a rout could put the very existence of the party in doubt during this era of a surging Sinn Féin and of a ragtag of sectional alliances of independents, all clogging up the political climate.

The latest outbreak of political flirting in the Dáil will not have helped Labour’s nerve, with talk of a new centre-left party containing tycoon Denis O’Brien’s dogged tormentor, Catherine Murphy; formidable ex-minister, Roisin Shortall; and skillful communicator, Stephen Donnelly, whose rather neo-liberal economic views seem at odds with the leftward thrust of the endeavour.

However, these are unusually frenetic times in the Dáil, and just like the slow dance at a teenage disco, all sorts of political couplings are taking place.

Not that one needs slow dances anymore, in the age of Tindr, though, of course, the political version, T(D)inder, is purely platonic and all done in the best interests of the people and not for cheap, short-term political gain. Oh dear, no — just ask the political publicity missile, Lucinda Creighton.

Labour’s confidence suffered a severe jolt with the near wipe-out of the Lib Dems, in the British general election last month.

A formerly progressive party was so tainted by partnering with austerity-junkie Tories and quickly reneging on key policy commitments — such as tuition fees and benefit cuts (ring any bells Labour?) — that the Lib Dems saw their share of the vote collapse from 23% to 8% and their MPs down from 56 to 8.

The fact that deeply unpopular leader, Nick Clegg, said this was because the party put the national interest ahead of its own, when it went into a rightward coalition, will only have exacerbated Labour’s fears, as that is exactly the excuse Eamon Gilmore, and now Joan Burton, have given for the present predicament, which sees Labourites giddy if a poll puts them on a dismal 10%.

Of course, the PR system will save Labour from some of the worst ravages inflicted on the Lib Dems by Britain’s ruthless first-past-the-post system, which gave the SNP 56 seats on just 4% of the vote, while UKIP has just a single MP, despite coming third in the popular vote, with 13%, But, nonetheless, Labour is not heading for a pretty poll day.

Another echo of the Tory template for regaining power, which Mr Kenny is keen to steal from across the water, is the relentless playing of the chaos card.

David Cameron was devious enough to get a walk-on part in Game of Thrones when he repeatedly used the image of the SNP sweeping down like the savage, frothing Wildlings from across The Wall (in this version Hadrian’s Wall) to hold Ed Miliband hostage on the Iron (Bru) Throne in Downing St.

The message was drummed home with such force that disillusioned voters returned en masse to the Tories in marginal seats, and Cameron took a shock, though slender, majority in the Commons.

Mr Kenny and co are already attempting to paint Sinn Féin as the party of chaos, not the party of change, and that will bring many of their 2011 supporters back into the fold.

At least Fine Gael won’t be able to cannibalise their junior coalition partner in the way Cameron did to the Lib Dems, and while transfers will help, Labour is looking into a grim ballot box, despite the boost of the the marriage equality triumph.

The Lib Dems thought personality politics would save many of their best-known figures from failure, but that proved to be clutching at false hope for a gallows reprieve, as Mr Clegg only survived due to a massive switch by Tory voters.

But there is unlikely to be such a swing to save Ms Burton. As there is likely to be just one Coalition seat in Dublin West next time out, the Tánaiste will be in a battle to the political death with Leo Varadkar, and, given Varadkar’s post-outing profile boost, the smart money must be on him to take the day.

Yet another reason why Labour will be hoping a spring tide will raise a few more of their voter boats, rather than see the party washed-out and swept away in the November rain.

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