Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Labour cannot go into opposition

Okay, so Labour had their best election ever. I get it, but it would be a huge mistake for them to go into opposition now. They went into the election hoping to catch the mood, build momentum and come out the biggest party with Eamon Gilmore as Taoiseach. It didn't happen.

Half way through the campaign they changed tack, admitted defeat and pleaded for votes on the basis that Fine Gael couldn't be trusted with an overall majority. That was the new pitch: we need to be in coalition with Fine Gael to ensure they don't do all these 'nutty things they're promising.'

That seems to have worked as Fine Gael's upward movement stalled around the same time. So, credit to Labour for adjusting the message and managing to come out of the vote with lots of positives.

However, if they now decide to opt out of coalition with Fine Gael on anything other than the most solid, irrefutable grounds, they will be doing just as they did after the '93 vote when Dick Spring put Fianna Fáil back in power. Those who wanted a left wing opposition grouping have that, but I would bet that most Labour voters thought they were voting for a party they thought was actually going to serve in government, was actually going to do something other than complain and debate.

I can see the attraction, but if being the biggest party in opposition was their goal they should have campaigned against Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and the ULA and not Fine Gael. They didn't do that and any move towards that now will open the door for Fianna Fáil to reclaim that space as the populist, center-left movement they've been for most of their existence.