Local elections – not Europe – best indicate national picture

Euro candidate Anne Rabbitte tries her hand at basketball, on the canvass in the Bish Seconday School in Galway. Photo: Andrew Downes, XPOSURE
Euro candidate Anne Rabbitte tries her hand at basketball, on the canvass in the Bish Seconday School in Galway. Photo: Andrew Downes, XPOSURE

World of Politics with Harry McGee – harrymcgee@gmail.com

It’s hard to make money from the horses – but one of the best at it, Barney Curley, had an interesting take on it at times. He would stand on the finish line and, when there was a photo finish, he had an unerring eye for identifying which horse had won. Equally, sometimes in politics, predicting the winners is best served by taking a different approach from those who spent their lives studying the form.

We have two elections coming up at the end of the month – and Europe will hoover up a lot of the oxygen…before most people return to not paying a blind bit of notice to what our MEPs will be up to for the next five years.

In fact, most people would be hard pressed to name at least half the MEPs or what they have done in the past five years.

But for the next few weeks we will be getting wall-to-wall stuff on Ming, on Peter Casey, Anne Rabbitte, Mairéad McGuinness, Maria Walsh, Brendan Smith, Matt Carty and the rest.

The European elections offer parties the chance of an electoral boost, an injection of adrenaline into the veins. But the prosaic truth is that the local elections are a much better indicator of the ‘form’ of parties.

Rewind to 2009 and the local elections then. Fianna Fáil got a hammering and the Greens got pasted – losing all but three of their 16 local authority seats.

Fine Gael and Labour both did fantastically. Fine Gael became the biggest party wining 340 seats while Labour went up to 132, close to a historic high. Eighteen months later, they replicated the results in the general election.

The only party for which the 2009 election was unreliable was Sinn Féin. It won only 54 seats, which was a poor performance. But the party wasn’t really going anywhere at the time. It had seen its seats total reduced from five to four in the 2007 elections.

After the local elections, the party changed strategy. Gerry Adams announced he was moving to Louth. Pearse Doherty then came and had a massive byelection win in Donegal South West in 2010 (after winning a high profile High Court case). So it had a good election winning 14 seats, with almost ten per cent of the vote.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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