So the deal has been done and public, media and local and international political reaction has by and large been good. It's Feb 2013 and an election is coming up in 2015/2016. What should the parties do in order to maximise their position? What coalition can be put together to remove FG/Lab? What do FG/Lab have to do to stay in power?
My own 2 cents:
1. FG. I can't see a way where FG don't lead the next government. They've been solidly in the low 30%s since they got into power, despite tough budgets, despite a comical Health minister and despite Enda pretty much putting people into a coma when he speaks in the Dail. But now they have the deal. I'd expect a bump to 35% in the next poll with FF/SF suffering but then a more realistic 33% target for the GE.
To get there what do they need to do? 2 stable budgets, no tax hikes, giving a little bit back would go down a treat. If they want to be nakedly political they could just cancel the water charges.
But really one of FG's priorities would seem to be making sure Labour can get enough seats to be a comfortable junior partner (While of course not doing well enough to be an equal partner). Whatever goes back in the budgets, some of it needs to be for a Labour market, and needs to be seen as Labour's victory.
A rejig in Health is clearly needed. Kenny owes Reilly for his impressive work ensuring Enda stayed as leader prior to the 2011 election. He was a good man on the life raft. But there comes a point when you're off the life raft, on a nice yacht and need to kill and eat your former saviour. That time's come. Take a breath, take a month, move him on.
2. Labour: Irrevocably linked to FG. Any bolloxology from them that they'd entertain a more left leaning government should be treated with the derision it deserves. But they can comfortably come in 27-30 seats if they be seen to be positively influencing the govt come budget time.
They need something Labourish in the budgets to appeal to their base, they need gay marriage/abortion to get sorted out to an acceptable level to their base and some cheap wins for the Foreign Affairs dept. Gilmore (If he's to lead them into the next election) needs to be seen to have achieved something.
Oh and find something for Shorthall to do. That'll help your base as well, it's hard for a cold viewer not to totally understand why she walked from her dept.
3. FF: The toughest one to pick really. Barring a significant degradation, they just can't attack FG on the economy. They can't attack them for getting a bad improvement on a deal they themselves set up. I can't see how they get into power. I don't get the feeling Martin can see how they get into power.
So you do what the Tories did when they were under Howard and Smith: You rebuild your base. And your base is anti-gay marriage and anti-abortion and that's got to be a central plank of your campaigning. Also, it's 2016 and that's a big date in the calandar and you certainly don't want SF eating up all the nationalist votes. Time to start talking tough about a United Ireland.
Billy Kelleher needs to up his game. There's an incredibly weak MOH right now, everyone seems to be gaining points off him except Kelleher. He needs to be on the radio after every single Health fiasco talking about what he'd do if he were in power. And if he can't do that then move him on.
Oh and continue to tear strips off the govt everytime they make a cut you'd have made as well. Form must be kept up.
That works for the existing base. But FF are still an old party, despite Martin's protestations to the contrary, I still see Willie O'Dea, Smith and a bloody Cowen on your front bench. You can't break from the past with these people. Martin needs to do an Ed Milliband and tear down the legacy himself. Go after Ahern, go after Cowen, point out the mistakes of the past, mistakes that you believe FG are repeating, but that you will endeavour to never allow occur again.
Except Martin can't do that. Because he was in power all those years and a senior member, not like Ed. So the question is if Martin's the man for the next election. A younger voice, not tied to the past seems to be needed (See below)
4. SF: The deal's done. Accept it now and move on. There's no way SF are going to win much arguing that the current govt didn't get a reasonable improvement on a bad deal signed up to by the previous govt.
Go after what you're good at. Demand capital injections to help unemployment, every time Europe does something not in our favour be there pointing out how you're against it and how you'd have stopped it, talk up increases in welfare. 2016 is coming up, and the mooted border poll is a good idea (although with risks) to keep a united Ireland in people's minds. FF are going to gain seats in this election. You need to try as much as possible to make sure those are Labour seats and not SF's.
Gerry Adams is going to be 66 years old if the election takes place in 2016. There's still a (shrinking) section of the voters who won't vote SF because of who he is. There's still a section who won't vote SF because they know no other party will go in with them. It's time for him to step back. If he wants to run again (and be 71 when his term ends?) then fine, but, similar to FF, a younger voice, not tied with the past offers the potential of an SF/FF potential alternative govt, if not this term then in 2020 if they cosy up to Labour.
Assuming Labour don't take leave of their senses, the only alternative govt would seem to be SF/FF/Inds. Both parties need to realise that and take appropriate action.