All politics may be local but it is genuinely astonishing how, since 1997, politics here have mirrored politics in Britain. The similarities between Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern – young, charismatic, telegenic, three election wins in a row – are obvious.

As they are between their finance ministers who succeeded them – more austere, less expressive characters who shared a deep reluctance to play the game of politics, preferring to emphasise substance over style. After initial high hopes, Brown and Cowen have bombed with the general public (thanks in no small measure to the worst global recession in a century) and seen their parties plummet in the opinion polls (and in Brown's case in the actual general election poll).

The respective leaders of the opposition David Cameron and Enda Kenny share similarities – both have turned their respective parties around; both are seriously untested in government.

And then there is the emergence of a third force in both countries in the shape of Nick Clegg and Eamon Gilmore.

Clegg was the surprise package of the British election campaign and was snapping at Labour's heels only to be hamstrung in part by the vagaries of the British first-past-the-post electoral system. And it seems legitimate to speculate that at least part of the extraordinary bounce the Irish Labour party received in last weekend's opinion poll (jumping seven points to 24% and overtaking Fianna Fáil) was a knock-on from events in the British election campaign. A kind of 'If the Lib Dems could shake up the system across the water, why can't we have the same thing here?' effect.

Cleggmania in the end did not materialise as British voters looking for change and stability returned to traditional voting patterns. And despite all the hype about Gilmore for Taoiseach, there is a very real chance that Labour here will also fall short of heightened expectations.

There is no question that Gilmore and Labour will have a very good next general election. The party will likely either come close to, or even possibly exceed, its 1992 Spring Tide performance, when it won 33 seats with 19% of the vote.

In Gilmore, the party has the most politically astute leader in the Dáil. He is not particularly brilliant on the economy or policy issues. But he has a ruthless streak and a hunger that Cowen and arguably Kenny lack – just ask John O'Donoghue.

Gilmore has also surrounded himself with some very smart advisors, who know exactly what they're doing.

The strategy in opposition has been taken straight from the Fianna Fáil handbook of opposition. Do the work on the ground organisationally. Take a blatantly populist approach to the issues of the day. Indulge and encourage every protest group. Avoid taking a stand on contentious issues (like the Croke Park pay deal). And use highly emotive language but shaped in sound-bite friendly language for media purposes.

It is paying enormous dividends for Gilmore – who the polls show is by far the most popular leader – and his party. For the first time ever, Labour can credibly make a case for inclusion in the leaders' debate come the next general election. But despite that, and the surge in the polls for Labour, it is impossible to see Gilmore doing any better than the job of Tánaiste – already in the bag – after the next general election.

An opinion poll rating of 24% points to a minimum haul of 40 seats in the next election – effectively a seat in every constituency in the state. But despite the progress Labour has made in improving weak organisational structures in many constituencies, that 40-seat target seems beyond it.

Take, for starters, the 23 constituencies where Labour don't have seats. In a dozen of those, Labour got less than 5% of the vote in the last election. In six, the party got under 2%. It's hard to see how any of them can be turned into seats, regardless of Labour's national profile.

The party has made headlines for attracting well known names in areas such as Donegal, Roscommon, Mayo, and Longford, but nobody in politics expects any of those candidates to win a seat. There is no question the party will do well in Dublin. It will top the poll in many of the 11 constituencies, secure seats in Dublin North and Dublin South and probably add a second TD in Dublin South-Central. But the odds are no better than 50-50 of unseating Finian McGrath in Dublin North-Central, where Labour hasn't won a seat since 1997. And taking second seats in the likes of Dublin South-East, Dublin North, Dublin Mid-West and Dun Laoghaire is far from certain. In fact, there are only five constituencies nationwide – Carlow-Kilkenny, Meath East, and Dublin North, South-Central and South – that you would say are bankers.

In all likelihood, the party will gain more seats than five. It has a real shot in the likes of Kerry North/Limerick West, Cork South-West, Louth, Tipperary South, Dublin Mid-West and Dublin South-East. If the party gets support in the high teens percentage – which is a more realistic target than the 24% suggested in last weekend's poll – many of those seats will go their way and some more besides. It's easy therefore to make the case for a Gilmore Gale replicating the Spring Tide of '92. But beyond that? The reality is the talk of Gilmore for Taoiseach will prove as realistic as Nick Clegg's chances of becoming prime minister.