Friday 28 October 2016

Our politicians can learn plenty from UK election upset

So even Russell Brand needs to eat some humble pie. "The only poll that counts is on election day" may be an irritating cliche, but Britain's voters have just proved it once and for all.

David Cameron is safely back in 10 Downing Street, while the granite rock on which Ed Miliband carved Labour's promises has become his political tombstone.

The Conservative Party's victory is not just a stunning upset for pollsters and pundits. It also has some eerie parallels with the Irish political battlefield.

This is why party leaders in Leinster House have been glued to the results ever since 10pm on Thursday night -and wondering what lessons they can learn for our own general election in less than a year's time.


Enda Kenny must be almost as happy as David Cameron himself. The Taoiseach will note that his British counterpart triumphed by preaching a message of economic competence, insisting that austerity was necessary and showing that things are finally going in the right direction.

"Stick with the devil you know" is not the most inspiring of slogans, but it obviously paid huge dividends for the Tories - and Fine Gael see no reason why it couldn't work here too.

Joan Burton, on the other hand, should be feeling a shiver go up her spine. The Liberal Democrat bloodbath shows yet again that when small parties enter coalition, they tend to get blamed for all its mistakes and are eventually crucified by voters.

During the campaign, Nick Clegg trotted out some very familiar lines - "We took the hard decisions", "We stopped our partners from being too right-wing" and still suffered the sort of meltdown that gives Labour TDs sleepless nights.

Fianna Fail have often claimed to be the real Irish labour party, which right now looks like nothing to crow about. After all, Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair were both charismatic leaders who came to power in 1997, won three elections in a row and then handed over to grumpy finance ministers before their economies went down the tubes.

Since then, Micheal Martin and Ed Miliband have been pleading for another chance but 'Red Ed' turned out to be a loser and the 'Cork Choirboy' is starting to look dangerously like one too.

For Sinn Fein, the outcome is mixed. They naturally contested the election in Northern Ireland and lost hunger-striker Bobby Sands' old seat of Fermanagh and South Tyrone, which is a bit of a psychological blow.

On the other hand, the Shinners can take solace from the Scottish National Party's superb result which suggests that a mixture of extreme nationalism and left-wing economics does at least appeal to an awful lot of Celts.

While our Government seems totally fixated on Election 2016 these days, the re-election of David Cameron should force them to think a little bit more long-term. Speaking outside 10 Downing Street yesterday, the jubilant Prime Minister confirmed that he will hold an in-out referendum on Britain's EU membership in 2017.

Watching our biggest trading partner go it alone would obviously be a disaster, but it really could happen so Enda Kenny might be wise to come up with some sort of Plan B as soon as possible.

There is another lesson here for commentators as well as politicians. Always remember that opinion polls are snapshots of what the public is thinking, not rock-solid forecasts of how they will actually vote.

We may never know if a big chunk of the British electorate simply lied or changed their minds at the last minute but either way they gave us a useful reminder that no election is ever over until the polling stations finally close.

Of course, British politics is not a carbon copy of Irish politics. There are more than enough echoes, however, to give everyone in Dail Eireann some serious food for thought.

David Cameron has just proved that a government can inflict terrible pain on its people, ride out the storm and recover to win a second term so no wonder Enda was boasting yesterday about their "very close relationship".

In 2016 Ireland is due to hold a massive national commemoration that celebrates its independence from Britain. How ironic it will be if our general election verdict proves we are not so different after all.

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