Wednesday, June 23, 2010

New Political Party

I guess it is symptomatic of the silly season, but over the last few weeks, blogs and twitter have been abuzz about the idea of a new political party being formed or a massive revamp of Fianna Fáil from within. Following various articles from left leaning commentators (VinB and FOT) about the possibility of a Labour led government, it comes as no surprise that a letter proposing a new liberal party was published in today's Irish Times.

what is needed is a truly liberal party which would provide a real alternative to the social democratic Labour Party and the centre-right conservatism of both Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, now indistinguishable from each other?

Sounds great in principle, a third way, free from historical baggage of the civil war, purely focusing on the liberal agenda and with a strong libertarian streak. In fact, in a way, it is the type of political party that this country has been crying out for. With almost 90 years of uninterrupted, centre-right, conservative rule, politics in Ireland could benefit from a conservative/liberal/socialist split with a smattering of smaller parties like you have in most modern democracies.

The problem is that any new party will struggle, as has most recently been shown by the PDs. Their relatively brief existence certainly shook up the political system for a while, but they never made the major breakthrough and eventually faded to irrelevance for several reasons: their agenda was absorbed by FF and FG, internal fighting between Cox, Harney and McDowell, punishment for acting as the FF mudguard.

A new party has two ways to form, either a disgruntled section of an existing party jump ship or else a grassroots movement eventually evolves into a fully formed party. The former is where the PDs came from, the latter the source of the Greens. There is no great groundswell of support from the general public to a new movement, therefore the only realistic route is through a splinter group from an existing party. Currently it is conceivable that some of the anti-Enda section of FG could bail and be joined by some of the disgruntled FF backbenchers. There are several problems with this scenario though
  1. Neither FG nor FF or its members would be particularly aligned to the liberal movement. Sure FF sit with them in the European Parliament, but that is just to avoid having to sit with the nutjob right group they were in before.
  2. The most likely FF to jump are the likes of Mattie McGrath and John McGuinness, neither of whom have a particularly strong national profile. From the FG benches you might get some of the heavers of last week but probably not Bruton, Varadkar or Kieran O'Donnell. Having no heavy hitter to lead the party would be a problem.
  3. Were even a couple of FF deputies jump ship an election would quickly follow. Running a general election campaign takes between €10k and €30k per candidate. Were the party to contest every constituency they would need around €1 million. No fundraising that is within the SIPO rules could come close to that in the timescale required.
  4. In an election any FF jumpers are still likely to be punished by the electorate for the financial meltdown of the last few years. A wolf in sheep's clothing is still a wolf.

It seems unlikely that we are on the verge of seeing a new political force appear. A long summer recess for FG to heal its wounds, for FF to pray for some economic recovery and for Labour to recharge the batteries for another year of increasing support levels across the country.

1 comment:

  1. Completely agree with you Dermot. The problem with any new party today is the grass roots element imho. FF and FG have generational lock in, which allows them to survive, no matter how badly they govern. The PDs as a party were wiped out after one very bad election. Despite its past behaviour and poor polling, FF will certainly survive the next general election. The same cannot be said for the Greens. It is both a function of the rules of the system, and the size of our population, that a fourth 'big' party just couldn't work. All major parties are centrist, and all parties really differ cosmetically.