Today FF chose former Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin as its new leader. Martin was in poll position following the abortive challenge to Brian Cowen earlier last week. During the first attempted heave Brian Lenihan came out in support of Brian Cowen. This saved Cowen. In an interview with Sean O’Rourke backbench FF TD John McGuinness suggested that Brian Lenihan had been encouraging back benchers to challenge the leadership. He essentially accused Lenihan of bad faith. Lenihan strenuously denied the McGuinness charges. However the damaged was done. Lenihan’s future prospects were crippled.
When the Greens torpedoed the planned reshuffle Cowen was a dead man walking. There was consternation throughout the party. The intervention of former Finance Minister Ray McSharry –who launched a coded attack on Cowen-was a political exocet
Once Brian Cowen resigned on Saturday it was inevitable that Micheal Martin would win quite easily. Within minutes Martin supporters flooded the media with declarations of support. The Lenihan campaign failed to take off whilst Eamon O’Cuiv lost time in making a decision. It was never likely that Mary Hanafin would win. So game set and match to Micheal Martin.
Whilst there was no great bloodletting there are undoubtedly quite a few bruised egos within the party. Indeed De Valera would turn in the grave at the level of criticism meted out to Cowen in public by some FF TDs. The level of disloyalty shown to the leader by some TDs was unprecedented.
Much nonsense is spoken about the likelihood that Sinn Fein will be the major opposition party in the next Dail. There is an over reliance on public opinion polls for this assertion. The reality is that many FF supporters will not openly declare their loyalty to the party-Spiral of Silence. Come Election Day they will troop into the polling stations and vote for the party. Only a fool would write off the party. The election of a new leader and the huge level of publicity in the last two weeks will boost support somewhat. If FF is in opposition it will be far larger than Sinn Fein -a party that lacks sufficient organisation and candidates to take full advantage of an increase in support. In addition each constituency is a mini general election. The “local” man will garner support. Hence some FF TDs will be re-elected on the basis of support from their immediate neighbourhoods notwithstanding the economic problems.
The FF party has yet to select candidates in many constituencies. However this task will be completed quickly. This is a task fraught with difficulty.
The selection of too many candidates in constituencies could be catastrophic in the event of the party polling in the 20s or low 30s.
It is likely that FF will target Sinn Fein and Labour in an effort to win back lost support. Labour and Sinn Fein are the parties, which have taken most of FFs support.
FF will seek to drive a wedge between FG and Labour on the basis of policy differences. However the problem for FF is that its policies differ radically from Labour and Sinn Fein. So this criticism can be levelled at FF also. If FF argues that FG and Labour policies are incompatible it is setting itself up for the rejoinder that its policies are incompatible with those of Labour and Sinn Fein.
Another imponderable is the number of independent candidates. The election of too many independent candidates is a luxury that this country can ill afford at this juncture. The electorate must give a clear-cut verdict.
FG and Labour will underestimate FF at their peril. This election may be more open than is commonly realised.