My feeling is that the electorate is looking for a new government that is serious about implement a consistent policy platform. Politicians in Labour have settled into thinking of the next government as coalitions as usual. It is true that the most likely government after the election will be the familiar coalition of Fine Gael and Labour, but we not simply rest and assume this will be so. If both Fine Gael and Labour truly believe in our respective manifestos, the differences between them and the importance of achieving as much as we can of our side, representatives of each should talk more openly of doing without the other.
We can’t expect this of Labour, whose fear of any association with those further to their left, whether Sinn Féin or the United Left Alliance, has locked them into negotiating over power in a coalition. Though they will still claim that it is their aim to be the larger party in such a coalition, with a 10 percent gap behind Fine Gael in the latest Sunday Business Poll, this does not have the credibility it might have had last summer.
So what of Fine Gael? I believe we need to firmly be talking of single-party government, and I welcome that Enda Kenny on The Week in Politics (30 Jan) has stated this as the aim and didn’t even get drawn into the idea of coalition. We might like to get the overall majority Noel O’Flynn thought was within our grasp. A next best would be getting over 70 seats, and relying on the support of Independent TDs, who may be quite critical and out-spoken, but who would broadly be closer to Fine Gael economic stance than to Labour’s. It was with the support of similar Independents that Cumann na nGaedheal led government to 1932. But even there the numbers seem difficult.
Micheál Martin has indicated that he might offer support to such a Fine Gael minority government. If Fine Gael don’t get enough seats to be able to depend on Independents, this would be, as far as I see it, a better situation than forming government with Labour. This would be as long as it would be on Fine Gael’s terms. Enda Kenny said that he would not support the Fianna Fáil view of the economy. Labour’s views, however, are that bit further from Fine Gael’s. In the national interest, some agreement, even if only on confidence and supply with no cabinet or other positions for Fianna Fáil, could be in the national interest.
It would also make arithmetic sense. Most governments formed in Ireland have been minimally winning, i.e. the smallest feasibly arrangement of parties over 83. In no election till now would an agreement between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have been anywhere near minimally winning, whatever their ideological proximity. Going on current polls, however, this will be the case. Adrian Kavanagh has projected seats of 68 Fine Gael, 40 Labour, 24 Fianna Fáil, 14 Sinn Féin and 20 Others based on the 30 January Sunday Business Post/Red C poll. Helpfully, he also tots up possible government combinations, showing only two combinations breaking 83, Fine Gael with either Labour or with Fianna Fáil.
If Fine Gael are to show that we are serious about getting as much as what is an ambitious series of policies implemented, we must be open to this confidence and supply arrangement, while our aim must be governance independent of any other party.