30 May 2009

Represent y'all, represent!!

Ah, the wonder and glory that is the June Bank Holiday weekend. It has always been a source of some consternation that as a nation we could find no better excuse for a national holiday than celebrating a day that the banks are closed not once, but thrice a year. No "Presidents Day" for us, no "Memorial Day" or celebration of the birthday of slain statesmen (of which we have a not inconsiderable amount), not for us even the celebration of tree planting, a pagan festival that still manages to occur in the heart of the most conservatively christian nation on earth.

No, alas, for us there is nothing more worthwhile to celebrate between June and December than the fact that occasionally we might catch a brief glimpse of that fiery orb in the sky that other nations have come to call "The Sun", and as a result our elusive masters in the banking classes have decided to take a break from the illegal transferring of billions of Euro between their own personal accounts and the outright destruction of our economy long enough to nip away to Bermuda or Switzerland to deposit the fruit of their ill-gotten gains.

Perhaps in these dark times when the banking classes have fallen somewhat out of favour, we could push to have our three nameless national holidays renamed in honour of something slightly more appropriate? Taking a look back through the annals of Irish history, we can see that on June 1st 1762 was born Edmund Ignatious Rice, founder of the Christian Brothers; on June 1st 1866 we apparently attacked Fort Erie, Ontario, as part of our comically misplanned invasion of Canada, and finally on June 3rd 1919 proportional representation was introduced into local authority elections.

While I believe that both a Memorial Day to commemorate the heinous acts of the Catholic orders, or a Veterans Day for the perpetrators of poorly thought out and quite frankly embarrassing revolutions (of which, it has to be said, we have also had more than our fair share of), I think that given the weekend that is in it we should spend some time celebrating the introduction of proportional representation into Irish elections, and allowing for the development of one of our favorite national past-times, the traditional election-day game of "How far will my vote go before it ends up discarded on the floor?".

In the latest Irish Times ins/MRBI poll, published in today's Times, there has been some interesting movement in the Dublin Euro constituency. Front runners Prionsias De Rossa of Labour (25%, +4%) and Fine Gael's Gay Mitchell (28%, +2%) have both seen increases since the last poll, but of more significance is the fact that we now appear to have a three horse race for the third and final seat. Sitting MEPs Mary Lou McDonald of Sinn Fein (11%, -3%) and Fianna Fail's Eoin Ryan (9%, -2%) have both seen their vote collapse even further, with the surprise news that Joe Higgins of the Socialist Party is now in striking distance of both (9%, +2) based on first preference votes.

Former Green MEP Patricia McKenna's projection (5%, -3%) has dropped significantly since the last poll, leading credence to the suggestions at the time that her numbers were due to her high media profile in the days immediately prior to the poll over her well-publicized resignation from the Greens. This is good news for official Green candidate Senator Deirdre De Burca, though she herself appears not to have benefited directly from the drop in McKenna's vote and remains unchanged on 6%.

Thus with voting taking place in six days time the game begins of trying to figure out how to allocate your single transferable vote in such a way as to ensure it benefits as many candidates as possible over the course of the count. On one hand you want to support candidates that actually stand a chance of being elected, but on the other hand if everyone only voted for candidates who looked like they would get in then the smaller parties would never stand a chance, defeating the whole concept of our PR electoral system. The decision to make, as always, is whether to allocate your vote first to candidates who are unlikely to get a substantial vote, will be eliminated first, and thus have your second preference allocated to an eventual winner, or whether to cast your vote for someone who looks likely to win on the first or second count with a substantial surplus, and thus your vote goes on to help a smaller candidate battling for the final seat.

At the moment De Rossa looks likely to top the poll, and could be elected on the first count. As the man who took left the Workers' Party over its continued links to the IRA, founded Democratic Left and then brought it into the Labour Party, his left-wing credentials are pretty solid and one would expect a substantial amount of his second preferences to go to Joe Higgins. The converse may not be true, as Higgins is picking up a large working class vote in the north and south inner city that may otherwise go to Sinn Fein's Mary Lou, and help her defeat Eoin Ryan and take the final seat should Joe Higgins be eliminated.

De Burca still looks likely to be eliminated early on; while she may pick up transfers from McKenna and her core vote in Dublin is polling at double the national average for the Greens, its unlikely to be enough to put her into serious contention. Conversations that I had with various Green campaign managers at the start of the campaign suggested that they were targeting Fianna Fail second preferences, or even first preferences from disillusioned traditional Fianna Fail voters who want to punish the party, but can't bring themselves to vote for Sinn Fein. As a government party they are unlikely to pick up too many transfers from outside their core vote, and with McKenna running any De Rossa or Higgins second preferences that may have gone to the Greens are now likely to go McKenna's way. So with an early elimination the most likely result, focus now turns on where her transfers will go. While the Greens have decided not to pursue a vote transfer pact with their government, I would assume that her core vote represents the pro-government faction with the party, and McKenna's vote represents the anti-government faction. While McKenna's transfers are unlikely to go to Fianna Fail, the same cannot be said for De Burca.

So the real question to me seems to be will De Burca's and Eibhlin Byrne's (Fianna Fail's second candidate, currently on 5%) transfers to Eoin Ryan help him beat Mary Lou, or will De Rossa's surplus and McKenna's probable transfers be enough to get Joe Higgins over the line before his own second preferences are allocated out to Mary Lou and propel her into the final seat ahead of Ryan. Not since McKenna's own historic election as the first Irish Green MEP back in 1994 have I been so interested in a European election.

And that, my friends, is why Proportional Representation is worthy of being commemorated with its own national holiday, as much as any tree, dead President or turkey. PR is part of our national psyche and helps define who we are as a nation along with alcoholism, failed revolutions and really crappy weather. Just think how dull life would be without it.



At 8:19 pm, Blogger Snag Breac said...

It is Whit weekend....

At 11:57 am, Blogger Unkie Dave said...

maybe, but then I wouldn't have had anything to write about, so I'm going to choose to ignore that little nugget of information.


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