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Well…..that was certainly fun May 28, 2007

Posted by franklittle in Greens, Irish Election 2007, Irish Politics, Labour Party, Sinn Féin, The Left.
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Two little soundbites from activists on the frontline on Friday. The Shinner who compared what he was seeing in the RDS and hearing from Tallaght, where they were about to lose the seat, to ‘…being repeatedly kicked in the balls by people you’d thought you’d beaten.’ A Labour comrade, asked where her friends in Labour Youth were, told me they’d all gone out of the RDS to sit in the pub and ‘stare vacantly into space, shell-shocked and numb.’

Since Friday I have been unable to open a newspaper and I have yet to check out politics.ie, I’m simply not up to it. It’s difficult to pick yourself up from the floor after seeing some of the most corrupt and incompetent political leaders our generation has ever seen, be swept back to power.

But before we descend into a morass of depression, a bit of perspective. This wasn’t a great election for the Left in Ireland. But it wasn’t a disaster. This wasn’t a Fine Gael style 2002 meltdown. Labour and the Shinners both dropped a seat each. The Greens held firm even though they lost Dan Boyle. The loss of fine working class representatives like Seamus Healy, Catherine Murphy and Joe Higgins are deeply regrettable, but the world has not stopped turning. The left vote broadly held up, in part because more candidates were run by the Greens and Sinn Féin, but the percentage share of the Left vote didn’t collapse.

On the credit side, the Progressive Democrats are likely finished as a political party. Michael McDowell, a man I personally believed was one of the greatest threats to civil liberties in this country, has been kicked out of public life. The ideological core of our opponents has been gutted, and gutted far worse than us.

Our depression is so great not because we lost five seats, but because our hopes and expectations were so great. All of us expected Sinn Féin and the Greens to make breakthroughs. I thought the SP would pick up one and Labour hold it’s own. Instead we took a battering. There was a shift to Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil as the voters approached the election as a choice between two Taoiseachs. There was a swing against the left. In terms of specific political parties, Sinn Féin must rue a poor national campaign with a policy platform that seemed to change day by day and some disastrous media performances. Labour too must re-examine it’s strategy in the run-up to the election.

Broadly defined, the Left in the Dáil lost five seats. Bad day at the office? Cause for re-examination and debate? A few tears? A lot of booze to number the pain? Absolutely. But it’s not quite on a par with Thatcher’s re-election in ’92, Bush’s second term or even, in the Irish context, some of the dark days in the North. We’ve taken worse hits than this, a lot worse, and we’ve come back at them.

To paraphrase Joe Hill, don’t mourn — organise. We lost an election but resistance continues right across this country. From the comrades fighting in Rossport and elsewhere against multinational exploitation of our resources, to those at Tara fighting to protect our heritage, to the anti-war activists at Shannon, to newly founded Choice Ireland, to the willingness of the nurses to take on the Government, to anti-racists and communities fighting against incinerators or planning decisions.

Electoralism is only one front in our struggle. An important one, both in itself and because gains electorally can be used to strengthen our work in other areas through access to more resources and publicity, but not the only one.

So let’s sit down and analyse. Let’s see where we made mistakes, what went wrong, what went right. Let’s be honest and forthright, but above all, be comradely in our discussions. Make sure and remember, for those of you too young to maybe have experienced it before, what being beaten feels like. For those of us who’ve been throught it, open up some of the old wounds and lash the salt into them and remember why we hate to lose.

And then pick yourself up, dust yourself down, quit your whining and get back out there.

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1. Ideological opponent - May 28, 2007

”On the credit side, the Progressive Democrats are likely finished as a political party. Michael McDowell, a man I personally believed was one of the greatest threats to civil liberties in this country, has been kicked out of public life. The ideological core of our opponents has been gutted, and gutted far worse than us.”

Uhh, I think the celebrations are premature. the PDs are hardly the ideological core for anyone which is presumably their problem. Maybe from your neck of the political woods the PDs seem very ideological but the differences between themselves and the major parties were always very slight and once the other parties decided against raising taxes, what was left that made the PDs stand apart? What did they stand for? All voters were left with in sight was the massive ball of ego that was Michael McDowell.

And he was easily the primary threat to civil liberties. the damage is done though, how many of his laws are going to be repealed?

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2. ejh - May 28, 2007

All voters were left with in sight was the massive ball of ego that was Michael McDowell.

Oooh, don’t say that on Crooked Timber. Particularly not on the thread mourning his departure from politics, I implore you.

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3. WorldbyStorm - May 28, 2007

I’ve always had a soft spot for the PDs, as I think I’ve said before, we could be much more badly served by different and much more dangerous types of right of centre parties. But McDowell, for all his charm in a personal context (and I know strong ideological opponents – ahem – of his who liked him enormously once meeting him) did the state, his party and ultimately himself no service over the past two years. Indeed one would wonder was there a sort of lack of balance there on some level, an inability to see how disproportionate and actually downright worrying bad some of his decisions were.

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4. ejh - May 28, 2007

I do seem to recall a time when “liberal” meant someone who defended civil liberties, government spending and labour organisation rather than somone who believed in low taxes, welfare cuts, longer sentences and crackdowns on immigration.

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5. WorldbyStorm - May 28, 2007

Ah, now, the PDs are “classic” liberals…. :)

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6. ejh - May 28, 2007

I don’t think we’ve heard the last of them, by the way. I think there’s quite a market in Europe generally for that sort of thing: among metropolitan people with careers, fairly (or very) successful people, people who tend to think of themselves as rather more modern and dynamic than everybody else. They’re against crude discrimination and they would tend to distance themselves from old conservative parties (but even more from the left and the unions, who they dislike immensely) but other than, that their agenda is basically Getting It And Keeping As Much Of It As You Can – with a big dose of law ‘n’ order for anybody who nicks things. They’re very fond of themselves indeed, they’re very used to being at the front of the queue (where they feel they belong) and they’re convinced that political freedoms and civilisation are inextricably linked with their success and their values.

There’s a lot of them about.

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7. Gerry O'Quigley - May 28, 2007

A good friend of mine, who was a WP activist years ago, recalled standing outside a polling station offering what we were pleased to call “literature” to the oncoming voters. An old codger, chatting amiably to a FFer, suddenly pointed at my mate and PD person engaged in the same avtivity: “Them lads are the future, yous are all redundant”. Back in the late 1980s it did look as if there might be more ideological polarisation, with the WP and PDs being mirror images of each other to some extent.

Such predictions did not materialise of course and it is regrettable that much of the left has lost its cutting edge in terms of policy in the rush to the centre and the desire to travel light, ideologically speaking. So let us indeed “sit down and analyse”. We have time enough to give it a good go.

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8. joemomma - May 28, 2007

Fun it may have been, but did you realise that this is the sixth CLR post in a row to include an ellipsis in its title? And the eighth in the last 10 posts?

Is this a house style?

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9. WorldbyStorm - May 28, 2007

Yes…it is

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10. thepillionpassenger - May 28, 2007

as a person of the left i felt like a bit of a gobshite on friday watching the tide wash over us. joe higgins was beaten by a fine gael bloke with no policies or national profile. but he got his voters out whereas Higgins struggled to get over 20% first prefs in his Mulhuddart stronghold.

it does – or at least i think it should – make me examine my political ideas when the people who represent them get so roundly beaten. that said, Dublin West should be a 4 seater as there are 32000 people for every TD, so joe will return.

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11. WorldbyStorm - May 28, 2007

One wonders was the SP campaign perhaps spread too thinly. How large is the SP anyhow, and how many activists can it field? These things matter when it comes to the crunch. Perhaps two serious campaigns in Dublin were just that bridge too far at this point…

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12. Wednesday - May 29, 2007

I’ve been wondering how much of this was a return to Civil War politics, with FF gene-pool types who might have been voting SF and Labour in recent years being persuaded to return to the fold in order to prevent the ghastly spectre of a Fine Gael-led government. True lefties wouldn’t have done this, but as you note, the left vote did broadly hold up – it was just diffused amongst more candidates.

On Higgins and Daly, I think their results have to be seen in view of the incredible demographic shift that has taken place in Fingal over the past few years – much greater than in most parts of the country. The percentage of the Fingal electorate that would have considered voting for them might just not be anywhere near as high as it was in the past.

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13. ejh - May 29, 2007

Is this a house style?

I should add that I have already killed one innocent civilian in furtherance of my earlier pledge regarding apostrophes. And I will kill again.

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14. ejh - May 29, 2007

It’s difficult to pick yourself up from the floor after seeing some of the most corrupt and incompetent political leaders our generation has ever seen, be swept back to power.

Well, this is what 1992 was like in the UK – and bear in mind we thought Labour was going to win right up until the results started coming in.

much of the left has lost its cutting edge in terms of policy in the rush to the centre

As a rule, the reaction of left parties to electoral disappointments is to continue that movement rather than to reverse it. It’s hard to convince people whose morale is low that they should fight their corner harder than before.

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