Sunday, May 30, 2010

Leaning Left

Today's SBP/RedC poll is significant even though there are no changes outside the margin of error. Mainly it shows that the seven point bump that Labour gained last time out has by and large been retained. Secondly, it shows that last month's poll was a blip in SF support, rather than a nose dive. Thirdly it shows that no matter how bad things are, there is still a quarter of the adult population who will support FF through thick and thin. And finally it demonstrated that FG are not making the sorts of gains that they should. Being down 5 points over a two month period is not good.

Taken as a whole I would say it reflects well on the left as a credible alternative to the tried and untrusted policies of FF and FG. Together Lab, SF and G have 37%, which while not currently enough to oust the conservative blocks, is a huge step forward from the last general election. This is especially welcome when you consider that in areas where SF are likely to hold and/or gain seats, Labour is well off the pace (both Donegals, Cavan/Moneghan) or looking to gain an extra seat themselves (Dublin SC, Dublin SW).

It is a pity, therefore, that the various left groups spend more time fighting amongst each other than working together. I attended last week's Right to Work protest having missed the first two. The event was dominated by SWP, PBP and Eirigí with some support from SF and Labour. Listening to the speeches though, the groups spent more time slagging each other off than actually making headway against the government and promoting job creation. Luckily the event passed off without incident and a very good natured march down to Dublin Castle rounded out a nice evening in the sunshine. Hopefully the complete lack of potential violence and disorder at the last march will convince more people to join. Until all the trade unions and Labour come out officially in support of the campagin, I can't seen it getting more than a few thousand attendees at best.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

DSE conventions

Last night the Labour party in Dublin South East selected two candidates to contest the next general election, sometime between now and June 2012. Due to the determinations of the Candidate Selection Board there were two separate conventions held, one for Pembroke-Rathmines where Ruairi Quinn was selected unopposed, and another for South-East Inner City where Kevin Humphreys beat Ivana Bacik. Each convention also discussed a motion disagreeing with splitting the constituency in two and the motions were passed in both wards.

All throughout the process I have been opposed to the split conventions as they effectively disenfranchised about 70% of the membership in the constituency. By my reckoning the same outcome would have been achieved by holding a standard, open selection vote and the process would have been far less acrimonious and not split the membership in such a divisive manner. It is going to take a bit of work to heal the wounds of the last few months. However, a good start along the path to reconciliation was made in the bar of Bewley's Hotel last night.

The motions are not binding on the Executive Board or Organisation Committee, but it should send a clear message that the ordinary membership was not happy with the arrangements. It might make the party think a bit more deeply when it comes to other selection conventions where a split is being considered. If some lessons are learned then the debates, emails and phonecalls will not have been in vain.

PS, Dear Phoenix, if you want more details, please forward a brown envelope filled with unmarked €20 notes. X series notes preferred.

Friday, May 21, 2010

For whom the road tolls

It has been announced that two new toll roads will be opened in the next few days as part of the ongoing motorway building programme. The controversial M3 that passes close to the Hill of Tara will open as will the final section of the M7/8 from Portlaoise to Culahill. As someone who semi-regularly drives the M8 to Tipperary and Cork I will be glad to see the back of Durrow and especially Abbeyleix.

What makes these road sections stand out is that both of them are tolled. The M7/8 will have a toll booth just before the split between the Limerick and Cork roads at a cost of €1.90 for cars. Added to the other €1.90 for the Fermoy bypass and a trip to Cork (250km) will now cost €3.80. The new M3 (60km) will feature two tolls of €1.30 each meaning a trip to Cavan and beyond will now set you back a total of €2.60. This will bring the number of tolls to 11, with four in the Dublin area, one at Waterford and six on the inter-urban routes. On top of this the new tunnel/bypass at Limerick will add one more section to the mix and the long term plan is to toll the entire M50 around Dublin.

I am quite opposed to most of these tolls, not for ideological reasons, but for traffic management reasons. Take for example the Fermoy bypass - while an occasional traveler like me sees no harm in paying the toll to avoid the bottleneck in the town, a commuter from Mitchelstown working in Mahon will think twice about paying an additional €3.80 every day. Instead they will drop down the hill into Fermoy and then follow the twisty road through Rathcormac down to Watergrasshill where they will rejoin the main road. While the indirect time and fuel costs probably outweigh the toll, the instinct is to avoid the direct cost of the toll.

The situation is even worse when it applies to a distribution road like the M50 around Dublin. While it may have been planned as a bypass taking traffic from the Belfast road around to the Galway, Cork and Wexford routes without having to travel through the city centre, it has become a key route in local travel with most trips being for three or four junctions length rather than as a minor part of a longer inter-urban journey. Extending the toll to the full length of the M50 is madness as it will just force traffic back into the link roads and estates of suburban Dublin. Again the occasional traveler will just stump up, but for people who rely on the road to get quickly from on part of the city to another will suffer. Taxis and delivery vans will just pass the charges on to the customer, but what will a plumber do who is called out to a job in Firhouse and is currently in Lucan?

If you want to employ a system of tolls, the French model seems the best. Distribution roads in urban areas are not tolled to allow the towns and cities to keep the heavy traffic out of the town centre. However, once away from the city, the entire length of the inter-urban route is tolled, with the price increasing the longer the distance you travel on the road. This is also the system employed on many of the tolled turnpikes in North Eastern US with the exception that key bridges and tunnels are also tolled near cities such as New York in an effort to reduce congestion in downtown Manhattan.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

RTE Frontline III

I have posted previously (here and here) about RTE's The Frontline programme with Pat Kenny. Having avoided the show for much of the spring, I found myself at home last night with not much else on TV and decided to give it another go.

Firstly, I still think that at times Pat Kenny is one of the best broadcasters that RTE have when it comes to current affairs. He has the knowledge and sharpness of wit to deal with most issues adroitly. After ten years in the wilderness of light entertainment on the Late Late Show his return to serious TV presenting is welcome.

Unfortunately, last night's show reminded me of why I gave up on The Frontline. Firstly, the makeup of the audience is about as predictable as the one that used to attend Questions and Answers. After about two sentences it is easy to determine people's loyalties. In fact with the advent of Twitter and the #rtefl hashtag, spotting plants in the audience has turned into a drinking game of sorts. Sinn Fein member - drink! SIPTU shop steward - drink! Barrister - drink! Libertas conspiracy theorist - neck the bottle!

My next gripe is the politicians that appear on the show. Last night we were treated to the third division duo of Michael Kennedy (FF, Dublin North) and Brendan Howlin (Lab, Wexford). Kennedy must be one of the poorest media performers in the Dáil. He spent five minutes going around in circles, with incomplete sentences, cliches and effectively kicking for touch on every issue. Now maybe that's the batting the Government want their backbenchers to do but we the public deserve better from our public representative. Howlin didn't do any better - in fact he probably did worse. He should have read the document he was waving around before trying to quote from it. Joan Burton must have been screaming at her TV watching his inept performance on Labour's proposals to close the gap in the public finances.

Constantin Gurdgiev did provide some light entertainment with his witty comments about how the Rainbow coalition balanced the books by accident rather than by design. I tend to not agree with much the man has to say but I strongly objected to Howlin's repeated interruptions when he was trying to elaborate on how he would try to balance the books. After Kenny's questions to Howlin on the specifics of the Labour document which took an age to answer I gave up again.

Maybe over the summer break The Frontline's team will have a look at the format and figure out how to improve the show. The Joe Duffy on the Telly style only goes so far and the repeated efforts to turn lots of issues into a public sector vs private sector fight don't help either. There is potential but a fair bit of work is required before I am going to become a regular viewer again.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Heaven and Hell

Not a politics post today - just a snippet of Ronnie James Dio. One of the greatest rock and metal singers, he died yesterday from stomach cancer aged 67.

Monday, May 10, 2010

What exactly did they say?

The results in the UK election are in and as the wise man once said, the people have spoken but we're going to have to figure out what they said. With 650 seats, the magic figure is 325. However, when you count the Sinn Féin abstentions and the speaker the total shrinks to 644, giving a majority figure of 322.

The Conservatives on 306 are very much in the driving seat. The obvious route to power is to sign a deal with the Liberal Democrats and be done with it. However, the thorny issues of electoral reform and the complete opposite views on Europe will make this a difficult deal to broker. There is also the question as to whether the two parties will join in formal coalition or will the LibDems agree to support a Conservative minority government on the main issues but still feel free to oppose them on certain other topics.

Labour on 258 along with the Liberal Democrats on 57 are still only on 315 and so would have to pull in at least another 7 supporters from the minor parties. Support from SDLP and Alliance in the North will give them 4 meaning that either the SNP or PC, or more likely both to keep things stable, would be required. Were this grouping to agree to push through electoral reform and agree to call another election within the year under the new system I could see it lasting the required distance.

From an Irish perspective I don't see what the great rush is. If you are putting together a team to run a country, a hastily cobbled together agreement in not the way to do it. Cool, calm heads are required along with a reasonable period of debate and discussion both between the potential partners and within their own groupings is required. Consider how long it took the Greens and Fianna Fáil in 2007, FF and the PDs in 1989 or most spectacularly the FF and Labour negotiations in 1992. Gordon Brown can be left steering the ship for a few days more to make sure the right deal is put in place.

Monday, May 3, 2010

May Day bump for Labour

It's been a while since I commented on an opinion poll, mainly because in the last 6 months or so all changes have been within the margin of error. It's been just two days since the results of the most recent RedC poll were published. Since then there have been two depressing rugby matches and one awesome gig so I almost let it slide. However, the result is so unexpected that it is worth commenting on even at this remove.

The headline story is the 7 point increase for Labour pushing them above Fianna Fáil into second place on 23%. There are a few plausible explanations for this massive increase in support in such a short period of time.
Party Conference
The Labour Party Conference was held in Galway a few weeks ago. The televised leader's speech by Eamon Gilmore was positive and well received generally. Generally after a conference a party's support can be expected to increase somewhat.
New Recruits
The party has been actively recruiting members and potential candidates in the last while, especially in areas where previously there would be little support for Labour. With a plausible candidate in place, voters who might previously have only been inclined to vote for the party will now actually come out and declare their support.
UK Issues
Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats in the UK have shown that it is possible to become a new force in a stale electoral situation. While Clegg's star seems to be fading again, over the polling period a lot of the news cycle from the UK was centered on his excellent performance in the first leaders' debate. There is now serious momentum for Gilmore to be included in a three way debate with Kenny and Cowen whenever the next general election is called.
The left vote is consolidating behind Labour most notable with a 4% drop in support for Sinn Féin. Again with Labour being seen as a serious threat to the two larger parties the protest vote will move Labour rather than start off as a PBP or the like and then transfer to Labour at a later count

The real question is how much of this jump is permanent or is it actually a rogue poll that sometimes just happens with the random sampling. If June's RedC shows Labour still above 20% then I would see this as a sustainable increase in core support rather than just a flash in the pan.