This year’s Formula One season has been, to the eyes to the casual viewer, an utter snoozefest: Until yesterday’s Singapore Grand Prix, the Red Bull team had won every race of the season, and reigning world Champion Max Verstappen had won ten races in a row. If it’s exciting competition at the front you’re looking for, the car racing has not, this year, been the sport for you.
But for those of us who are devoted petrolheads, that hasn’t mattered as much as you might think, because behind the processions at the front of each race, there has been heated and intense competition in most races to finish in the top ten. You take your excitement where you can get it, and this year the excitement has been confined to watching McLaren and Aston Martin duking it out for positions 6 and 7 in most races.
It’s almost like watching the next Irish General Election.
We can be fairly sure, whatever the exact outcome in terms of seat numbers, of the first three positions at the next election: Sinn Fein, Fianna Fáil, and Fine Gael will divide up 60-75% of the seats between them. Independents will gobble up another 10-15% of the seats. That leaves all the minor parties – Labour, The Soc Dems, the Greens, People before Profit, and Aontú – squabbling between themselves for a cumulative 15-20 seats. Not enough to shape the destiny of the country, but maybe vital in shaping the destiny of their own political projects.
Until now, Aontú has been the rank outsider in that little fight, often struggling to exceed 1% in the opinion polls. But this weekend, Red C plonked them right back in the middle of the “class B” fight:
POLL/POBALBHREITH — Dáil Éireann
SF 🟩 31% (+2)
FG 🟦 21% (-1)
GP 🟩 4%
LAB 🟥4% (-1)
SD 🟪 4%
AONTÚ 🟧 3% (+1)
PBP-S 🟥 3%
+/- vs. Lúnasa/August 2023
7-12 Meán Fómhair 2023
— Tom O’Hanlon (@TomOHanlon17) September 16, 2023
A point back from the Green/Labour/Soc Dem trio, and tied with people before profit puts Aontú right in the mix with those parties for final seats in the constituencies that really matter, and even more importantly, would free them of the one major disadvantage that they currently have in that fight – at present they are the only one of the five small parties not to get state funding. 3% would rectify that and give them the resources they needed to grow further ahead of the subsequent election.
The “class B” election is only, however, partly about polls: When parties are at 3 and 4% in opinion polls, individual candidates matter a whole lot more than party brand. Aontú, like all the parties in that fight, will be looking to individual constituencies more than they’ll be looking to the nation as a whole. Even with increased vote share, more seats will depend almost entirely on selling people like Sarah Reilly in Cavan Monaghan, and Becky Kealy in Cork to name just two, as viable and possible winners of seats in their individual seats.
This is the area where Aontú’s competitors retain a significant leg up on it: Labour, the Soc Dems, the Greens and People before Profit all have five or six sitting TDs who have already proven to the electorate that they can win, and are therefore viable candidates for a first preference vote. Aontú only has one such candidate – its leader – and while he should be favoured to be re-elected, his constituency is perennially challenging, especially with an aggressive Sinn Fein asking his voters to “come home” to them.
You get the sense that with five parties so closely bunched, in a fight for a very small number of seats between them, the next general election is almost existential for all of them: The Soc Dems “Hollymentum” appears to have significantly dissipated in recent months, with the party’s bounce for a change of leader having almost entirely ebbed away. Going backwards with a new leader for them at the next election might well be both destabilising and potentially fatal. Ivana Bacik, meanwhile, is in grave danger of leading Labour to electoral wipeout, and the Greens may well suffer transfer toxicity that costs them disproportionately in terms of seats.
The one advantage that Aontu has is that alone amongst the small parties, it is not fishing exclusively in the left wing pond for votes. In theory, it should have a much wider appeal and greater ability to appeal to disaffected voters from Fianna Fáil and, to a lesser extent, Fine Gael. It will need to do this, because disaffected Sinn Fein voters simply will not be enough – and they’ll be in short supply if current trends continue.
If anything, more differentiation from Sinn Fein on tone and policy is important. The wavering votes that currently reside with FF and FG are there – many of them, at least – because of fear of a Sinn Fein Government. Those are not votes of the left, but of the pragmatic centre. Aontú has room to differentiate itself even more from both the two old parties, and Sinn Fein, on issues of law and order, migration, and social radicalism. It can also, in rural areas, make a big play for the farming vote. It has been doing this to some extent in recent months, and that – per this poll – is paying off. The trajectory is encouraging for them. It’s just one poll, but this is the best news the party has had in some time.