Saturday, November 03, 2007

INSIDE POLITICS - THAT OPINION POLL

The latest opinion poll tells us that Fianna Fail is on the way out and if we are patient enough to wait out the other 1,500 days between now and the next General Election, we can collectively wave them goodbye.

In one sense, the findings of the TNS mrbi opionion poll are meaningless in the greater scheme of things. We're all still descending to base camp after the tough high altitude exertions of the elecyion – it will be next year before we will see the ambition expeditions towards the next electoral Everest begin.
But having said that, the result is very illustrative of the internal dynamics within Fianna Fail and the party's complacency and mediocrity since the Summer.

Since forging its very cute and very clever deal with the Greens, the PDs and the four independent TDs, Fianna Fail's leadership has spent the last couple of months doing what it's become good at (making sure that it feathers its own
nest) and doing what it's become bad at (looking after the rest of us).

It has to be said that the timing of this poll could not have been worse for Fianna Fail. The sampling was taken in the immediate wake of the cringe- inducing reverse over provisional driving licences and a couple of days after they accepted Biblical pay hikes for themselves and the top brass of the civil service, universities, local authorities, army, gardai and the judiciary.

It also came a week after another farce, the Department of Transport report about who knew what about Shannon losing its Heathrow slots and why Noel Dempsey was the last to find out. And On top of all that, Bertie Ahern's remarkable filmic tale at the Mahon Tribunal encompassing amnesia and his experience with international money markets was still fresh
enough in some people's minds to be reflected in this poll.

There's no doubt about it, it's a stinker of a poll for Fianna Fail and for Ahern himself.

When it comes to pinpoint accuracy, opinion polls have the same record as the Limerick hurling team in the All Ireland final. The three per cent margin of error, plus or minus, is too often ignored by the media. So a party showing 12 per cent could be on 9, and equally could be on 15. So
they're not good at picking up small shifts in support for smaller parties.

The corollary of this is that polls are good at reflecting large shifts of support (ie outside the margin of error) for the larger parties. And so we can take it that nobody in Fianna Fail can quibble with its monumental nine per cent drop in support.

Nor can Bertie Ahern. His stock has fallen dramatically. What is unclear is whether this is a one-off (an immediate reaction to a dismal week for FF) or whether the Teflon coating on his Anorak is finally beginning to wear thin. My own
inclination is that that massive pedestal on which we put this remarkable political animal is finally beginning to totter and topple.

A couple of people said to me: what difference does it make? Sure, won't he be hanging up the Anorak at the next election? It makes a big difference. Ahern wants to stay on until he decides to go. And he has given no indication so far it's going to be earlier than 2011, even though most others within FF are thinking of 2009 (and before the European and local
elections).

So, if the figures for FF continue to slump at its core support figure of the low thirties and if Ahern's own popularity fails to recover, you will begin to hear sounds from the FF committee rooms not heard for many a year – the nervous shuffling
of feet and the sharpening of long knives.

A lot of FFers believe that the Irish Times is out to get them. Their paranoia won't be alleviated by the inclusion of Tánaiste Brian Cowen among the leaders for the first time.
One of their backroom people told me Thursday night that he believed Cowen was included deliberately to make Ahern look bad. I think the reason for his inclusion was simpler – he is, after all, the anointed one.

But his popular showing of 49% compared to 43% for his leader will have a ripple effect within FF – and may see some of Cowen's supporters (who are more impatient for
the big prize than he is) begin to make subtle moves nudging him in that direction.

I'd love to think that the poll was a reaction to the disgraceful pay rises the top brass got last week. It wasn't solely that. People expect politicians to do that – that storm was only a one day blow. I really believe the pay rises to politicians, higher civil servants, and other high-ranking state employees was an affront to democracy. Ahern said there was no review in seven years. In fact the body awarded an interim increase of 7.5% two years ago. And Ministers and
TDs like Ahern, Cowen and company have benefited from every single national award and benchmarking award over the past seven years. And the body is independent but for most of its world-of- business membership, big six figure
salaries are par for the course.

Have politicians made one personal sacrifice over the past decade? No. The new class that has grown up to run our
State and its institutions has become self-perpetuating - looking after its own interests first and foremost.

1 comment:

Dan Sullivan said...

The sad thing is that the voters think they are taking some sort of stand by shifting their support now but when it mattered they gave Bertie a free pass. It's very petty I know but I'd love to run a full page ad in a nation newspaper asking those who have switched support back and forth so much over the last 18 months to do everyone a favour and take themselves off the register.