Bertie Ahern's interview with the Irish Independent is all about framing the election contest in terms of who will be Fianna Fáil's partner in government after the votes are counted. His own personal preference is for a continuation of the present coalition but, being a good democrat, he is prepared to leave the composition of the next government in the hands of the people. Ahern said it would be "arrogant" for any party to dictate to the electorate which combination of parties should constitute the next Government. We are assured that Bertie has "no ideological hangups" about a coalition with Labour, pointing to the generous social policy measures in the last budget. "It is up to the Irish people to decide the election outcome and I will negotiate on the basis of the results".
This appeal over the head of Pat Rabbitte to ordinary Labour voters that 'no' shouldn't really mean 'no', is more than likely based on polling numbers and focus group results that show that a Fianna Fáil/Labour combination could be popular. But even in the absence of such figures it makes very good sense for Fianna Fáil to strategically position itself as the indispensable party of government and that the election be reduced to who will make up the numbers with them. This is exactly what happened in 2002.
It will be much more difficult to pull it off this time. Fine Gael is not the basket case it was last time out and Labour was also much more equivocal in its stance. So it might be a tighter race but Fianna Fáil must be slightly favoured to retain office. A putative FF/Labour alliance is now on the table and no commentator will be able to resist looking at it regardless of the official alignment of parties at the start of the actual campaign. This is hardly surprising in that there is really nothing to divide the Rainbow and the current coalition in terms of policy fundamentals or have I missed something? As usual attention will be on the horse race.