Credit: Houses of the Oireachtas

Poll: The Government’s relentless slide continues

Looks like I wasn’t the only one who paid €2.14 for diesel last week:

To save you doing the maths, that’s the three Government parties – Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, and the Greens – on a combined 37% support. The main opposition party is on 36% support, but if you include all opposition parties, that rises to 50%. And if you include independents and others, the anti-Government vote rises to 62 or 63%, depending on rounding.

The Government would not, in other words, be re-elected in an election held tomorrow, putting it mildly.

In fact, both FF and FG are on course to exceed their worst ever general election results, in 2011 and 2002, respectively. Fianna Fáil got 17.4% in the catastrophic election of 2011, when they lost 51 seats. This poll puts them on 14%. Fine Gael’s worst election in living memory was in 2002, when they got 22.4% under Michael Noonan. This poll puts them at 19%.

There are two interesting observations I’d make about this poll, though, and its wider cultural and political significance:

First, it strikes me that we have a political establishment in dreamland. Contrast, for example, the political coverage of the Irish Government’s very serious political difficulties with those of Boris Johnson in London. In the latter case, the Irish media has no reluctance – and indeed has actual enthusiasm – for highlighting the political plight of the conservatives, and the deep unpopularity of the British Government. In their own country, though, with a Government in just as much (if not more) trouble, there is hardly any mention of the Government’s unpopularity at all.

If one was to transplant the entire Irish political press corps to London, it’s not hard to imagine the questions that would be asked: “Is it time to change course, Prime Minister?” “Do you recognise that your policies are unpopular, Prime Minister?” “Haven’t the public lost faith in you, Prime Minister?”

Not questions like, or even from the same universe, as  the ones they pose to the Irish Government, which is the one they are supposed to hold accountable.

And this, I’d wager, is not helping the Government. It’s one thing being in a bubble, refusing to see how bad things are. That’s bad enough. But there’s no chance of escaping that bubble when the press are in it with you. The Government is desperately unpopular, but it’s not feeling it. To use a grisly anaology, it’s like a man who’s been given a local anasthetic before having his arm dunked in boiling water – he should be screaming and trying to get out of it, but he’s sitting there calmly not recognising the immense damage being done.

Second, I wonder if, even if any of that changed, there’s anything Government can do, at this stage. Some Tories in the UK, for example, believe that changing their leader will get rid of many of their problems. They may, or may not, be right. Say that to FF and FG politicians, by contrast, and they’ll mumble at you that there’s nobody better, or at least, no obvious alternative, than the leaders they have. Is that true? There’s nobody in Fianna Fáil who might shake things up and do better than…. 14%?

Mr. Martin can always consider an alternative career as a limbo dancer, because the bar set for him is always very, very low.

The public are crying out for change. If I was a Government backbencher, I’d want to provide an obvious sign of change, by producing a new leader with a new perspective. What does it matter if that leader isn’t as polished as Mr. Martin? He’s only got to improve from 14% in the polls to be a marked improvement, after all.

The bottom line here is that the Government has two options: To change, or to be swept away by a public that wants change. At the moment, partly from ignorance and complacency, and partly from paralysis, they’re sticking rigidly to option B. I wonder, as the months between now and the next election tick down, how long that will hold.

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