Polling day has come and gone, and the posters have come down, and with everything said and done, nothing much has changed. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael increased their seats, the Green ripple shocked our media to its erogenous core, and Londonmary Lou is dealing with yet another misstep for Sinn Féin.
The return of the duopoly wasn’t exactly something surprising, but nor is it some mystical divine rebirth. The boundary reforms passed in the Oireachtas went no small way in consolidating the party system. In Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fáil’s vote share was down slightly (17.9% in 2014 to 17.3% in 2019) but their total seats on the council went up, from 7 to 8. Fine Gael’s increased vote share was up from 14.7% to 17% and netted them an extra seat too, up one to 7.
Both parties outperformed their vote share, Fine Gael marginally (17.5% of the seats, for 17% of the vote) but Fianna Fáil much more drastically taking 20% of the seats in the council for 17.3% of the vote.
The trend holds out nationally too. While both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil’s national vote were up, they were rewarded somewhat disproportionately. While Fianna Fáil took 26.9% of the national vote, they took almost 30% of the seats. Fine Gael took 25% of the vote and 27% of the seats.
The only other party which took more seats than votes was the Labour Party, who took 6% of the seats with 5.7% of the vote. Every other grouping was under-represented for their vote share. Sinn Féin took 8% of the seats for 9.5% of the vote, the Greens took 5% of the seats for 5.5% of the vote, A-PBP took 1% of the seats for 2% of the vote. Granted, the differences are relatively marginal, but when you’re polling on the margins, every seat and every vote matters.
By re-consolidating the county councils around Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, it will have a knock-on effect in selecting Seanadóirí and in providing resources, candidates and organisations for parties to contest national elections.
Between constant coverage of environmental issues, positive profiles of candidates, and the frenzied reaction to a blatantly wrong exit poll, the media has sought to have turned a good result for a marginal party into a pseudo-referendum on ‘Green issues.’
Sure, some parts of the media have walked back their ecstatic behaviour in the aftermath of the ‘Green ripple,’ but they’ve also changed its measurement too. Where before it was heralded as a political earthquake to shake up the Government and part of the dawning of a broad Green tide throughout Europe, it’s now downgraded to a ‘clear message from voters’ because a party operating on the margins did slightly less terribly.
If we dig into the rationale behind such voters’ behaviour, we can of course disregard the belief that it was solely environmentally-focused. Firstly, parties in Government tend to take a kicking in local elections (yet FG increased its vote and seats). Secondly, where else would Fine Gael voters exasperated by the Government be expected to go? Many of them would never cross the partisan divide to vote for Fianna Fáil, and even fewer again would willingly vote for Sinn Féin. Labour was and is moribund, they’ve lost even more vote share since the last General Election.
As we can see from the transfers, the bulk of the Greens’ new voters came from Fine Gael, who promptly transferred back to Fine Gael. This wasn’t the act of an electorate impatient for carbon taxes, it was a reaction to the god-awful mismanagement of the public finances by Fine Gael.
The changes were also marginal. The Greens are up to 5% of the vote on a turnout down 20% from standard, meaning 95% didn’t vote for them, yet the media has trumpeted this result as the complete and total expression of a populace determined to see businesses crushed under carbon taxes, in a Nanny-State coming for their private transport, and as just another notch on the belt of the progressives in tearing apart the old Ireland they hate so much.
Collapse of Sinn Féin
Sinn Féin can’t be feeling comfortable. After their disastrous showing in the Presidential election, where their candidate put up an absolutely abysmal ‘anti-establishment’ campaign, they’ve walked head-first into decimation, losing half of their total European Parliament seats and half their local representation.
Where Sinn Féin was hit particularly hard was in working-class areas, where their vote just didn’t materialise. In McDonald’s own local electoral area, they managed to elect a single Sinn Féin representative. In their traditional border-heartland in Cavan, Aontú now has as many representatives as them.
There might be a few reasons why Sinn Féin’s vote has collapsed so utterly, but I think most precisely it’s their mainstreaming. The party’s leadership decided to make a conscious decision to appeal to middle-class Ireland and abandoned the working-class. To embrace immigration, abortion, and to champion every other progressive cause under the sun, they’ve forgotten about the people who were instrumental in building their base, and they’ve abandoned their nationalist core. “It’s not time for a border poll,” said Mary-Lou, at a time when support for one is in vogue in mainstream discourse.
But this loss of working-class support hasn’t been off-set by middle-class adoration. Why vote for a transfer-toxic party with a PR problem and a knack for bullying and authoritarianism, when you can vote for Labour, the Greens, the Social Democrats, Independents 4 Change, the ‘Independent’ Independents or the newly ascendant progressive wing of Fine Gael?
The election was very disappointing for socially conservative voters overall. Vapid media coverage was certainly partially to blame, but the lacklustre campaign and result for Aontú and Renua brings into question their continued existence. Aontú went into the election with 7 councillors and only elected 3, one of whom is personally connected to the party’s leader in his own area.
Renua’s was just as bad, returning only a single councillor whose popularity was never in doubt. The Social Democrats had a good election, just one seat shy of their goal of 20 seats, and so too did the Greens with almost 50.
I would put this failure down to Renua and Aontú’s own poor organisational structures. Aontú clearly didn’t have the people or the resources in place to carry out this campaign. Meanwhile Renua has just been an absolute calamity since its launch.
In many places (Lifford-Stranorlar, Galway City East, Clane, Portlaoise, Newcastle West, Drogheda Urban, Birr, and Athlone) the two parties ran candidates in the same LEA, competing against each other for the same section of pro-life votes. In most of these areas, the combined candidates took over 5% of the vote. In Portlaoise, Renua’s two candidates had enough of the vote between them to potentially have taken the final seat. Instead they returned a grand total of 4 councillors, at least two of whom were incumbents.
If we, socially conservative Nationalists, are to have any hope of making gains in the next General Elections we need to to agree to put aside differences and withdraw candidates from areas where the other may do better. We need to agree to vote-pacts and to publicise the damned things.
Aontú and Renua have damaged their brand with their poor showings in the local election, and if they don’t manage to take additional seats in the Dáil (likely a seat in Offaly for Leahy), both parties are going to have to step aside and allow someone else to lead conservative Ireland. We simply don’t have the time to waste on niceties and giving everyone their turn.
Surely, the biggest message delivered by the electorate in the recent elections was the one regarding the growing disconnect between the public and politics in general. This year’s turnout in the local elections was 50.2% which compared poorly with 51.6% in 2014 and 57.7% in 2009. Although held on the same day, the Euro elections managed the curious distinction of achieving even a lower turnout at 49.7%! But even that is not the full story on participation rates in the Euros as it is reported that thousands of voters returned blank or spoiled ballot papers – close on 37,000 in Ireland South alone.
For all of its spin and PR, perhaps it is this voter switch off which will be remembered as the enduring legacy of the Varadkar era. Is it really all that surprising therefore, that perceived single issue parties of the right find it difficult to resonate with an apathetic electorate? Would a single issue party of the left be any more successful – unlikely.
If parties of the right want to succeed, they will need to put economic issues front and centre of their political campaigns. That is the reality of politics in 2019. The right to life may be an essential part of the message but on its own it’s never going to electrify an increasingly apathetic electorate who are, above all else, focused on the money in their pocket at the end of the week. Perhaps it’s time for the right to take a leaf out of the book of Ireland’s centre left political establishment.
Yeah, I knew that Aontú was a load of old cobblers and that Renua had something vaguely to do with a hopeless Corkonian financial advisor that was never going to end well. Also, the only ones who voted appear to have been Referendum Heads (c) determined to cement their Pyrrhic victory; just about everyone else balked at the prospect of obtaining a signature from a garda or even being seen in the vicinity of a primary school. Oh, and the state media bias was terrible and the ballot was rigged. Nevertheless, the ability of ‘middle-class’ gombeen Ireland to vote for the EU vassals in Leinster House never ceases to amaze and annoy in equal measure…but for how long more?