Will an early poll follow on from the Labour surge?
Although the chances of a 2009 election here in the UK may still be slim, by contrast the odds on one across the Irish sea have considerably shortened of late. Paddy Power had quoted 2009 at a meagre 11/10, but this has been slashed to just 1/2 in recent weeks. With Harper surviving the budget vote in Canada and Karamanlis still clinging on in Greece, Ireland is near the top of the watchlist of countries at risk of having early elections, as the economic downturn brings increased political turmoil in its wake.
It should be remembered that the current DÃ¡il is less than two years old, and how quickly Irish politics has changed since spring 2007. Then, Bertie Ahern won a third consecutive term as Taioseach, with Fianna FÃ¡il taking over 41% of the vote. Things began to come unstuck last spring, with Ahern being forced to step down over the growing corruption allegations surfacing at the Mahon Tribunal, and handing over power to his dour Finance Minister Brian Cowen, in echoes of Britain the previous year.
The last few months have been exceptional times for Irish politics as the recession has hit the country hard, with the Anglo Irish bank being nationalised and major employers such as Dell leaving the country, leaving the Celtic Tiger looking increasingly toothless, and Ireland being seen at risk of having its government debt downgraded as has already happened to fellow “PIGS” members Greece, Portugal, and Spain.
Traditionally, FF has been a party of government on a par with Japan’s LDP and Sweden’s Social Democrats – indeed, it has not finished second in an election since 1927. The economic crisis has turned the traditional political structure on its head however, with FF not only losing the lead in opinion polls to Fine Gael, but even down to taking an ignominious third behind a resurgent Labour in one poll. Fianna FÃ¡il is now down to the low 20s and has lost almost half its support since 2007 – a higher proportion even than Labour in the UK.
Although there is speculation about a June poll and a unity government, I wonder whether Paddy Power’s 1/2 price for a 2009 election is a little short, and if perhaps “Biffo” could yet soldier on into 2010. FF are in coalition with the Greens, and the mood music coming from the Greens recently is that for now at least they will stay with the government. Indeed, surely from a Green point of view chances to be in government may not be plentiful (this is their debut in an administration in Dublin) so they might well wish to stay there as long as possible, as an early election is unlikely to see them manage to get back in with a new government.
One PP offer that I do like the look of however is the 4/5 for the next government after an election to be Fine Gael + Labour – indeed to my mind this looks something of a shoo-in, especially if there should be an early election (although the opinion of Irish experts such as Yokel, Neil, and Caveman would be welcome). These two have been partners in government before, and entered the 2007 election as a government-in-waiting under the auspices of the “Mullingar Accord”. Certainly if an Irish election looks imminent I will be taking this bet – although I thought Likud at 4/6 looked good too, where Bibi is still trying to tie up a coalition.