United they stand: The Labour Party, under the leadership of Eamon Gilmore, is riding high in the polls

History repeats itself. The Labour Party's candidate selection strategy for the forthcoming general election proves that.

There are uncanny resemblances between Labour under Eamon Gilmore in 2010/11 and the party under the stewardship of Brendan Corish in 1969.

Just two years after Corish delivered his famous "the 1970s will be socialist" speech, the Labour Party adopted a strategy for the 1969 general election of running two candidates in constituencies where the party had a sitting TD.

Party strategists believed that if they had the confidence to do this they could take two seats in some constituencies.

But two independent-minded sitting TDs – Dan Spring in Kerry North and Michael Pat Murphy in Cork South-West – who were out of step with the leadership, rejected the two-candidate strategy and they had no running mate for the election.

Dan Spring, the late father of former Tánaiste Dick, and Murphy both retained their seats and the two-candidate strategy backfired on the Labour Party as it came back with four seats less than it had prior to the election.

Fast-forward 41 years. Labour will win more than its current 20- seat tally but the party is hoping to return two TDs in the constituencies where it already has a Dáil deputy. And like the hostility demonstrated by people such as Murphy and Spring in 1969, the 'Gilmore Gale' strategy has not been without its detractors.

As far back as August, veteran Kildare South TD Jack Wall told this newspaper he would oppose the party's two-candidate strategy as he believed that, even though Labour has been riding high in opinion polls, the party could not win a second seat there.

A Sunday Tribune statistical analysis of the 2009 local elections found that if the results of the locals were replicated in a general election, Labour would have just below one quota. Transfers would elect the popular Wall but the party would need to multiply its support greatly if it were to re­turn a second TD along with him.

Labour's selection convention for Kildare South took place in the last fortnight and Wall will be the only party name on the ticket.

As well as difficulties over the party's two-candidate strategy, other contentious issues have arisen in some constituencies such as Sligo North-Leitrim.

In July, the party headquarters was accused of landing 'parachute candidate' Susan O'Keeffe into the constituency. The highly-respected former journalist and unsuccessful 2009 European election candidate works for Labour in Dublin and grassroots activists were annoyed that she had "only lived in Sligo for a few years".

Selection row

The selection of another journalist on the party ticket for the general election caused a similar row in the Laois/Offaly constituency.

Rank-and-file members of the party staged a mass walk-out at the selection convention in that constituency on 10 December in protest at "being hoodwinked by head-office". Up to 40 delegates left just 15 minutes into the convention, leaving only a handful of people to rubberstamp the candidacy of journalist John Whelan. The convention chairman was, ironically, Kildare South TD Jack Wall, who reportedly ruled that no other candidate other than Whelan could be nominated.

Many angry members of the party are now refusing to vote or canvass for Whelan.

"There was no consultation and no communication from party headquarters ahead of the convention. And now 95% of the local organisation is not going to work for him [Whelan]," said Tullamore town council member Seán O'Brien.

"There has been a big swing towards Labour and there should be a candidate in Offaly. As Olwyn Enright is not running, the political landscape in Laois/Offaly has completed changed and there is now a window of opportunity for Labour to take a seat if we were allowed select our own candidate."

There is speculation locally that, if the issue is not resolved, the disaffected grassroots members may put forward an independent Labour candidate such as O'Brien or another sitting councillor in the election.

In defence of the Labour Party headquarters, the problems the party is experiencing with candidate selection are as much a result of the party's resurgence under Eamon Gilmore and Joan Burton's leadership as any other reason.

The two traditionally largest parties – Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael – regularly experience similar in-fighting over candidate selection and the current situation in Labour can, partly at least, be viewed as a consequence of its enjoying an explosion in popularity. Now it is trying to organise itself quickly across the 43 Dáil constituencies.

Dublin is key

While Labour has had its difficulties outside Dublin, a strong election performance in the capital holds the key to whether or not a massive 'Gilmore Gale' breakthrough is achievable in the election. Despite a drop of eight percentage points in the last Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll, Labour still stands at 25% – some 14.9 percentage points higher than the 2007 election. According to NUI Maynooth academic Dr Adrian Kavanagh, a 25% share of the vote would convert into 46 Dáil seats, 26 seats more than the party's current seat tally and 13 seats more than the 33 seats won in the 1992 'Spring Tide'.

While Dublin holds the key to Labour's election outcome, there have also been issues surrounding some of the party's selection conventions in the capital.

The Labour Party organisation in Dublin North-East acceded to the party strategy of running two candidates when it selected sitting TD Tommy Broughan and veteran councillor Sean Kenny to run at its selection convention on 6 December.

But there was some disquiet in the constituency when Kenny, who has been a Dublin city councillor since 1979, was selected ahead of younger councillors such as Cian O'Callaghan and Killian Forde, the former Sinn Féin councillor.

There has also been some controversy in Wicklow following sitting TD Liz McManus's decision to retire. Long-time councillor Nicky Kelly contacted party HQ to withdraw his name from the constituency convention due to "in-fighting" after Bray town councillor Ronan McManus, Liz's son, decided to seek the nod with only limited political experience.

The retiring TD's son was later defeated by Liz's constituency secretary and former councillor Anne Ferris at the party's selection convention in late November.

However, though voting pacts and candidate strategies can cause headaches for political parties, any political forecaster would still predict a 'Gilmore Gale' in Election 2011.