Tomorrow is the big day, where the next Dáil will be elected in Ireland. I had hoped to write more about the actual campaign, but sadly real life got in the way. So instead, here's the election boiled down to one badly-written post:
Trends and Strategy
Fine Gael, the centre-right party, looks set to win almost 40% of the vote, which could get them a single-party majority in the Dáil - something which hasn't happened in Ireland for decades. They'd a good campaign, deciding to hide their leader, famous for his poor media performance, while presenting a good team to fight the election battle on the airwaves. There were 4 leadership debates (and Enda Kenny only took part in three of them, which caused a bit of a fuss), where Enda simply had to not say anything incredibly daft and Fine Gael wouldn't be harmed.
Labour had a terrible campaign. The popularity of their leader, Eamon Gilmore, tempted them to run a presidential campaign with the slogan "Gilmore for Taoiseach" (Labour have never led a government in Ireland before). Given that Labour is the third party of Irish politics, it would have been hard to conduct a cabinet election since they had a more limited gene pool to draw on from their last Dáil cohort, which might explain the lack of a Plan B when the presidential campaign failed. Their finance spokesperson, Joan Burton, was disappointing on TV - the now famous outburst on Tonight with Vincent Browne damaged her image, and the strategy of selling a vision meant that in debates with her competitors she rarely got around to the detail (time limits and impatient presenters made sure of that): not a good position in a generally policy-dominated election. The "vision" point goes for all Labour performances: the party seemed more concerned about its brand than the policy. This changed after the first week and a half, with Gilmore doing well in the debates and trying to insert more substance, and Labour's poll ratings consolidated, but I wonder how much it will add anything to Labour's vote.
It should be said that Labour haven't had a good campaign in the light of their ambitions, but they will increase their vote and their seats. With a different strategy they could have done better yet.
Fianna Fáil probably had as good an election as they could have. In the last leadership debate, Micheál Martin was on the attack, and probably turned people off by talking over the other leaders, but it made clear that FF needs to consolidate its core vote. It seems to be around the 14-16% mark, which means that it's disasterous, but there was little that could be done about that after its record in government.
Sinn Féin and the ULA seemed to have done well for themselves with their messages of withdrawing from the IMF-EU bailout and insistuting a socialist economy with nationalised banks respectively. They will still be small parties, but it shows a fragmentation of the left, and it probably attracted support away from Labour.
The Greens look like they might be wiped out. I agree with Jason O'Mahony that this would be a pity, since they actually tried to achieve - and did achieve - some of their manifesto promises. that's not to say that they don't deserve punishment, but a wipe-out is a bit disproportionate in my opinion.
There are a record number of independents running this year, and around 17 could get elected (how votes split and transfer may decide this). There are still very localist independent who only care about constituency matters, but there are a new breed of independents who are campaigning on national issues, either from the left or the right. The phrase most often uttered by these independents is: "I will work with like-minded independents", to which my brain can't help muttering "what, you mean like in a party?". One of the tensions in democracy is between having independent-minded representatives, and the need to build broad coalitions to enact change. the party system has many faults, but I'm not convinced that independents will improve things much.
A European election?
Europe was a big issue in this election, but only in the limited sense of discussing what could be won from a renegotiation. There was no proper debate about what would need to be done about the entire Eurozone, though there was a brief mention (I counted 1 time during the campaign!) of Eurobonds being a good thing for Ireland. The level of tax harmonisation or budgetary convergence that might be negotiable in return for this and renegotiation of the bail out deal wasn't discussed, except to restate over and over that the coporation tax would not be for sale. In many ways it's natural that parties don't want to give away their negotiating position beforehand. However, these changes will require a referendum in Ireland, and perhaps in other Member States - we need to start speaking in a language of what is just for everyone in the Eurozone, and not simply "if it's good for us, it's good for everyone, because then we can pay some of the money back". The shape of the Eurozone will stay with us after we recover (however that happens, and however long it takes), so there should have been a more open discussion about this.
The Next Dáil
It's pretty clear from the poll trends that FG will near a majority on its own, and could form a government with the support of some independents. I'd like to see Labour stay out of government and lead the opposition. That would be a massive change in Irish politics as it would help solidify an opening left-right divide and end the old civil war political divide. Being in opposition and having that bigger gene pool (because Labour has done well in the election in that it will increase its seats, just not reach the huge ambitions it set itself in leading the next government) to construct a better alternative/shadow cabinet government. It could have big consequences for FF, who might not recover to lead a government in the forseeable future, and become the third party of Irish politics. Irish politics will be fluid in the future, so much depends on Labour's position over whether or not the civil war divide returns...