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Formation of government

Thankfully, we seem finally to have heard the end of the line of questioning that implied that Fine Gael and Labour should have put forward a joint policy platform so that people would know what they were voting for. Fourteen months ago, I outlined how I believed this election would be about a fight between Fine Gael and Labour on the balance of the next government. I had presumed rough figures of Fine Gael around 65 seats, Fianna Fáil around 50 and Labour around 40, and that the fight would be about whether Fine Gael or Labour get Minister for Finance.

In such a circumstance, even with figures closer to current expectations, where we were nearly certain that there was going to be a coalition, it wouldn’t make sense to negotiate details of a programme for government before an election. The fine balance of the weight of such a programme between preferences of the two parties would have to depend on seats. For the two parties to arrange details before the election would deny voters the chance to decide that balance. I believe there were only such formal pre-election arrangements in 1973, 1997 and 2007. The idea that it is a problem that two different parties have different ideals seems to me nothing more than a Fianna Fáil ploy to confuse matters, and which someone like Vincent Browne likes to tag on to just as a consistent line of questioning. It shouldn’t even make sense a Fianna Fáil scare tactic when they point to differences between Fine Gael and Labour; if voters want coherent government, they should surely then vote for Fine Gael to make coalition less likely.

But consider even the stated aims of the two parties. Labour’s aim is to lead government, as we know from their poster slogan, Gilmore for Taoiseach. In all honesty, when I saw the first one of those, I presumed it was an overenthusiastic attempt by a private Labour member. On current seat projections, Gilmore could only be Taoiseach if he led a coalition of Labour, Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, the United Left Alliance and Independents of different hues. Put another way, Labour are standing 58 candidates and Fine Gael currently have 51 TDs. To lead a coalition with Fine Gael, nearly every Labour candidate would have to win, while Fine Gael made only modest gains. Labour should be questioned on the maths as they see it working out for this slogan which I’d imagine has only damaged them. They claim to be offering the people of a Labour-led government for the first time, but the electorate always had that choice; what makes this election any different? To 1992, for example?

Fine Gael’s ambition on the other hand, is single-party government. A lot of work yet needs to be done to achieve this, but as a goal, it is realistic. The Sunday Business Post/Red C poll certainly shows things trending in that direction. The party’s Five Point Plan is well known by now, and in government the party would wish to have the freedom to implement it all. Of course, if the numbers stack such that a coalition is the only option, it will be negotiated based on the parties’ strength, as has been done before. But it would be an unwieldy government, with strongly differing tendencies. So single-party government is the aim, with no wish to compromise on it at all.

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