Saturday 22 October 2016

Andrew Lynch: Labour see damage limitation exercise as their best chance at polls

Joan Burton
Joan Burton

When Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the British Labour Party earlier this month, he celebrated by going to a pub and singing the socialist anthem The Red Flag.

Over here, some Labour people are waving the white flag instead. Robert Dowds, TD for Dublin Mid West, has become their seventh deputy to walk away by announcing that he will not defend his seat in the upcoming general election.

Dowds' noble gesture makes perfect sense. He figures that Labour can, at best, hold only one of its two seats in the constituency, so has decided to stand down and give his colleague Joanna Tuffy a clear run.

As the Bible does not quite say, greater love hath no man than that he lays down his life for his political party.


In other words, Labour is quietly admitting that it sees this election as a damage-limitation exercise. There will be no pretence that the party can come within an ass's roar of repeating its 2011 performance, when Eamon Gilmore won a record-breaking 37 Dail seats.

It also seems safe to assume that Gilmore's successor will be not be ordering posters, mugs or T-shirts with the slogan: 'Joan Burton for Taoiseach'.

At Labour's annual think-in last week, former leader Ruairi Quinn gave a robust defence of the party's record. "Because we don't believe in capitalism, we know how to f***ing manage it," he thundered.

"We have been a lonely tribe of adventurers, of pioneers, of visionaries ... we have defeated the Fine Gaelers and the Free Staters and we have defeated the Fianna Failers and the nationalists."

While Quinn gets full marks for passion, his declaration of victory is a little hard to swallow. Labour is hovering around the electoral death zone in most opinion polls - with some surveys showing it as low as 6pc.

As Robert Dowds delicately put it yesterday: "People are still feeling sore". That is why almost every TD from the Government's junior party can consider themselves to be on the endangered species list.

Labour's defensive strategy should be a morale boost for its left-wing political rivals, particularly Sinn Fein. It will also encourage new arrivals such as Lucinda Creighton's Renua, Shane Ross's Independent Alliance and the three-headed Social Democrats.

It is definitely bad news for Fine Gael, which has just agreed a voting-transfer pact with their Coalition partners and want to see more Labour faces on the ballot papers.

Despite all these problems, however, Joan Burton is doing the right thing. A sensible general must know when to retreat as well as when to advance.

By swallowing her pride and concentrating resources on a smaller number of candidates, she will give herself the best possible chance of staying in the Tanaiste's office.

For an example of how to do it wrong, look no further than Fianna Fail. At the last election, Micheal Martin's party decided to ignore its shocking poll ratings and ran two or more candidates in almost every constituency.

As a result, their votes were badly split and they got just 12pc of the Dail seats, despite winning 17pc support.

Ominously for the Soldiers of Destiny, there are signs that they may not have learned anything from this terrible mistake. Tension is running high in Dublin Bay North, where Deirdre Heney recently won a selection convention - but party headquarters insisted on adding Sean Haughey to the ticket anyway.


As Heney herself has bitterly complained, this runs a major risk that the two Clontarf-based councillors will be fishing from the same pool and end up with no seat at all.

To put it another way, Fianna Fail are still trying to win the political championship when they might be better off settling for a respectable mid-table position. Labour have no such delusions of grandeur.

Joan Burton will consider the general election a success if her surviving TDs cannot return to Leinster House comfortably in a couple of taxis.

Robert Dowds deserves great credit for putting his party over his career. How many other deputies in Labour's lifeboat are willing to jump overboard and give the others a better chance of staying alive?

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