Richard Boyd-Barrett says it’s a political earthquake.
He made the claim having just been elected to the new Dáil in the Dun Laoghaire constituency, a constituency which saw the combined vote for centre-right parties rise from 28,223 in 2011 to 34,261 in 2016 and the combined vote for left-wing parties fall from 25,579 to 21,612 over the same timeframe.
Even taking Labour out of the equation – for he would doubtless claim that Labour are not a left-wing party – the combined vote of the Anti-Austerity Alliance and Sinn Fein was 12,942, roughly one-third that of the two conservative giants of Irish politics.
Boyd-Barrett’s own result was exceptional – he increased his vote by almost 50% – but that doesn’t disguise the fact that Dun Laoghaire is in no danger of being declared a Soviet. That is perhaps something he can reflect over when sharing a taxi to the Dáil with his three constituency colleagues, all of whom are members of Fine Gael.
He wasn’t the only person losing the run of themselves. Fintan O’Toole declared the election a victory for social democracy – yes, that’s right, the same election which saw the loss of 31 social democrat seats – while Twitter was ablaze with people hailing it as a victory for the Repeal the 8th campaign, despite the fact that the only party to commit itself to that campaign was almost completely wiped out.
I wrote recently about how people look back at the 1916 Rising and see only what they want to see. It seems that the same is also true of current affairs. People look at the election results and see a complete vindication of whatever agenda they are trying to push.
The truth is that this was not a very good election for the Irish left.
Let’s look at the figures.
In the 2011 general election, Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and the deputies who would later form Renua attracted 1,188,986 votes. This time around, that figure was almost identical: 1,110,148.
Meanwhile, the number of people who voted for left wing parties (Labour, Sinn Fein, Green Party and the deputies who would go on to form the AAA/PBP and Social Democrats) over the two elections fell quite significantly from 741,817 to 642,478.
(The hard left will argue that Labour is not a left-wing party but they have also spent the last five years arguing that the people who voted for them in 2011 were, so no matter which way you look at it their voting figures should be included in this summary.)
While Sinn Fein and the AAA/PBP can be reasonably happy with their returns, overall the picture is quite grim for the left.
Following the 2011 election the left-wing parties had 55 seats. Today, they have 41.
Compare that with the other side of the ideological fence and you see that in 2011 the centre-right parties had 96 seats whereas today they have 94.
Sinn Féin has over 20 Dáil seats but the rest is divided between Labour, Social Democrats, AAA/PBP and the Greens. Between these groups there is an almost total lack of trust, which in many cases boarders on sheer hatred. The stated goal of the AAA/PBP is to destroy Labour, not Fine Gael, which is why their supporters spent the weekend celebrating as though they’d just taken down Ceausescu and not, in fact, secured the possibility of an Enda Kenny / Micheal Martin rotating Taoiseach.
Like a group of bald men fighting over a comb, the Irish left is entirely subsumed in pointless internal bickering. Nowhere was this highlighted more than in the Dublin Bay North constituency, where a collection of left-wing candidates fought each other for the spoils while Richard Bruton and Sean Haughey sailed into the sunset like newly weds.
I have previously written about how ridiculous all of this is.
The only logical way forward is for this squabbling to be put to one side and for the parties to work together. Sadly, however, the open hostility which exists between some of the people involved means it is probably more likely for Basher al-Assad and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to go for Sunday lunch together.
The end result is that we have a centre-right block enjoying sustained levels of support and a left block who can’t agree on what time of day it is, let alone an economic platform.
This isn’t a revolution. This isn’t a victory for social democracy. This isn’t a win for feminism.
This is a mess.