Have we in Fianna Fáil survived our election punishment beating?

My column from yesterday’s Evening Herald (21/Feb/13) taking a very personal look at where Fianna Fáil is today; almost exactly two years on from the political meltdown of Election 2011 

Sums up the the response in many places in 2011
Sums up the the response in many places in 2011


Though I don’t share his politics I like John O’Farrell. O’Farrell, whose father hailed from Galway, is a comedy writer and British Labour Party supporter who is now their candidate in the Eastleigh by-election.

My reasons for liking him stem not just from his days as a script writer on Spitting Image but from his hilarious 1998 memoir: Things Can Only Get Better: Eighteen Miserable Years in the Life of a Labour Supporter.

In it he details the disappointments, frustrations and the heartache he endured at all levels of the Labour Party until he came to realise that “Michael Foot would never be Prime Minister… and that the nuclear arms race was never going to be stopped by face painting alone.”

A few months after the punishment beating that was Fianna Fáil’s 2011 General Election result I started to wonder if I should start work on my own homespun version.

I toyed around with several possible titles, including: I Thought That Things Could Only Get Better: Boy, Was I Wrong or Fianna Fáil: the view from the edge.

The idea never got beyond a few lines on the PC screen, however. This was partly due to my not seeing anything even vaguely humorous in my situation, but also to me not knowing any publisher sufficiently cracked to commission it. Back in 2011 it was hard to imagine a market for such a work.

I also had a slight suspicion that the party was not yet ready for the scrapheap, nor for 18 years in the wilderness.

Yes, it was in bad shape – very bad shape. Not just the organisation, but the people too. Friends and colleagues who had worked in politics were shell shocked by the result. Not just elected reps, but people on more modest salaries working behind the scenes. Researchers, press officers, organisers and administrators. Losing 51 seats meant HQ shedding staff over half its staff.

But along with this loss, a loss that many hundreds of thousands of other people have had to face, was the realisation that people of my vintage were the ones who had allowed the decline to happen: we could be the generation that not only wrecked Fianna Fáil, but damaged the values on which it was founded.

This is not to underestimate or disregard the mistakes we made and the anger we caused to those people whose support we had sought and won over the decades. Nor is it a plea for pity. It is just to acknowledge that the 2011 defeat had real consequences for many of us.

While there were reports of some particularly heated and fraught exchanges during the campaign, what I experienced at the doors was a harsh coldness. The voters had long since made up their minds on Fianna Fáil – we had let them down badly and we would pay the price.

I suspect many voters even surprised themselves with the scale and magnitude of the Tsunami that engulfed Fianna Fáil two years ago.

Two years is not a long time in the life of an established political party. While the coldness and mistrust may have thawed somewhat, there is still a lot of real anger out there that will take a long time to address.

This should not be confused, however, with the contrived disdain that characterises some people’s attitudes to Fianna Fáil. As Sean Gallagher discovered during his presidential bid, it is now almost McCarthey-esque. You can talk about us in a way that you could not about almost any other group.

It ranges from the scorn that perceives FF as unprincipled, gauche, maybe even a bit NOCD (not our class dahling) to the more visceral anti Fianna Fail-ism that sees us all as chancers and strokers.

But for as long as I know that I am in a party that works to give people the means and opportunities to succeed, I reckon I can live with that.


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