The FF Ard Fheis with the strong television presence of various young candidates got me thinking about FF’s future; they do have one you know just as FG had one in 2002. It is just all too tempting for most of us (myself included) in writing commentary to simply write them off.
It occurred to me that with all the talk of the impeding collapse of the government that FF might have decided to stay their course and simply ride it out. The Greens appear not to be for moving no matter what the circumstances, I believe that to be a mistake but having made that decision for their own reasons they are determined to see it through. I would still hold that the real weak link come the next budget is the FF backbenchers, however I would have to blind to the reality to ignore the alternative which is that FF are simply playing for time at the moment.
In seeking to ride out the negative reaction to the current economic climate they could decide, much as they did partially in 2004, to throw the local and European elections. This would let the voting public get their venting out of their system and while not damaging the electoral prospects of the party at national level. In doing so it would suit them to get as much bad news and the taste of the awful medicine out of the way ASAP. Hell after all if they are going to lose the locals anyway then all the better reason to lose big at this stage while giving themselves 3 whole years to turn things around. As for the Europeans only in Dublin is the loss of a seat a serious prospect and even there it would require a strange set of circumstances for it to happen. I personally believe that a longer period than the current Dail allows for will be needed to return the country to sound finances. That said there is the small matter of a provision for the Dail term to be extended to up to seven years in emergencies, I wonder if FF might be tempted to go in that direction at some point. It was jokingly referred to back at the time of the FG/Lab coalition in the 80s.
Yet it is not impossible that were things to be looking a good degree more stable 3 years then FF support could be up. And up substantially from their current levels in the low 20s which to be fair are pretty much disastrous. Yet a scenario whereby FF and FG are tussling it out on 30% odd while Labour are floating in the high teens to low twenties would be just fine for FF. That situation would leave SF, the Greens and the Independents to fight over the remaining 20/25% of public support. Might the greens and SF be in a position to do a deal is that were the lie of the land. While not optimum for current TDs, it is considerably better than the prospects for the party at the moment.
Coupled with this is that fact FF’s candidate strategy which has offended so many local activists could also be marking a shift to a UK style central office directed candidate selection process for Dail candidates. Sure all the parties who stand for election want to win seats but FF want to be able to govern too and that translates that some minimum number of TDs has to be capable of being more than glorified councillors. Some of them have to be able to run ministries.
Of course, I can’t say for sure that this is the case but I wouldn’t put it past some element of the FF hierarchy or PtB to have sat down and done the maths and decided to take the long view on the prospects of that party. And part of that long view is that a retreat in support, if it is only temporary, could well suit the party in the long term.