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Setting out the electoral stall… Eamon Gilmore and 30 Labour seats… August 31, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Election 2007, Irish Labour Party, Irish Politics.
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Interesting post by Simon on irishelection who seems to be dubious about Eamon Gilmores opening leadership campaign gambit, the idea that Labour should aim for 30 seats. Easy to say one might think, and a good five years until it was proven one way or another. But I suspect that if Gilmore gains that many he may well have a headache.

But I’ll return to that in a moment. In a way I don’t want to write much about the leadership election (if indeed there will be one with the field narrowing swiftly to E. Gilmore and A.N.Other) so let me throw out a few thoughts about the Party itself.

At the weekend Gilmore proposed that: The Labour Party must “regain confidence in its core values”.

It’s actually not a bad line. Problem is that the sort of permanent modernisation of Labour over the past thirty odd years, something that seems uncannily akin to the Maoist permanent revolution, had obliterated a clear sense of what those core values might actually be.

I was at the merger conference in 1999 in the Rotunda. A strange occasion. Many of my former comrades from DL were wandering around in a dejected fashion. This certainly wasn’t what they had struggled over the best part of a decade for, and I was glad that I had effectively left the party years before. That certainly wasn’t the destination of my political journey.

As Gilmore relates we should look to its achievements, and in fairness they’re not inconsequential:

“More than any other political movement, it was Labour and its allies which drove the modernisation of this State, he added.

“Who modernised the laws on personal freedoms and legalised contraception and divorce?

“Who started equal pay for women and introduced most of our equality legislation? Labour. Who brought in most of our social protections? Labour.” He said it was the labour movement that first thought of social partnership.

“And was it not a Labour finance minister who who brought us the euro and who lowered corporation tax to stimulate investment. The reality is that some of those who now appear as modern celebrities were still cowering from the crozier while Labour was doing battle with conservative forces to make Ireland a modern country.”

Well it may be overegging the pudding, but much of that is more or less true [although is it just me, or doesn't that read a bit oddly considering he happened to be in a different party all the while?]. How this fits in with the siren voices who talk about reforming Labour, name changes and such like is another issue.I never joined – although believe it or not in the early 2000s I came as close as writing up an application form and trying to work out how much I might donate to the party – because when I looked at Labour I seemed to be seeing not one party, but a multiplicity of parties. Which was the real one? That of Michael D. Higgins, or Declan Bree or indeed Eamon Gilmore? I couldn’t work it out. Was it Labourist, Social Democratic, Democratic Socialist? Any or all of these things?

Clearly it was socially liberal, but was it somewhat too focussed on that, too caught up in one form of the modernising agenda to the exclusion of others? Or was it more socially conservative than often thought? What about economics? A bit more tax and spend than other parties, but in a curious way unconvincingly so. And what about the North? One of the most telling political acts of the 1990s had been the way in which during the Fianna Fáil/Labour government Dick Spring had been seen as the person more sympathetic to Unionism in that administration, and in the subsequent “Rainbow” somehow overnight he became the greener nationalist in contrast to De Rossa and Bruton. That’s a hell of a change whatever way one cuts it.
I’d also always found the vitriol from LP members (not all, but some) about Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil to be curiously off-putting. Sure, I’d have my political difference with both those organisations. But somehow it all seemed both unpleasantly righteous and also curiously ineffective. It’s like anything, arrogance to be even slightly convincing demands at least some substance and achievement, and with contemporary Labour that simply wasn’t visible.

Quinn was an interesting leader. I’ve already written about Rabbitte, and now the field is full of contenders for the next stint. And this is, of course, the big one. Whoever is leader has to bring Labour back to power because, as has been noted here before otherwise we’re talking about 15 years outside government.

Which brings me to the magical number 30.

30 is achievable. They did it once, they can do it again. But last time out was 1992 and in the context of a weakened Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. I’m not sure that that set of circumstances will be replicated.

Being completely hard headed about it I suspect that this government will survive intact to the next election. The individual components are locked in tight. They won’t budge – although interesting to see Finian McGrath go on something of a solo run at the weekend.

In that context I think we might see a dynamic of many independent candidates, all eager to replicate the McGrath/Lowry/BCF deals – and some of those may well be disenchanted FF and FG members not given the nod. Of course, independents tend to be self-limiting, the more there are the less influence they wield, but so what, the people will speak.
In that context, as with 2002, it seems to me the likelihood would be a bleed in support from both major parties. It might only be half a dozen seats or it might be more, and note that there will be a process of natural attrition from candidates who hung on for Enda in this last election and FF might lose some as well. No Bertie, perhaps no bounce. But then again, we seem to live in a state where people are nervous about no FF.

Put that together with a dynamic Labour party (that of course is a whole different ball game. Dynamic in what way, pitching to the middle class, or retrenching in the working class, trying to prise away FF seats or FG, or both? Straw in the wind, the rapid jettisoning of the Mullingar Accord since the new government came into office, let’s see if that lasts the next five years) and the chances of them gaining an extra 10 seats are not beyond the bounds of possibility – intriguingly in 1992 DL had four seats and there perhaps 2 more seats that could be counted as ‘left’. This time out a bloody but somewhat unbowed SF will probably pick up two or three more, but that would still leave sufficient space for Labour to expand.

Of course the major fly in that ointment is that they would then probably be unable to go into coalition with FF unless FF was weakened sufficiently because the divvy out of Ministries would be too great. So that route to power is blocked. Fewer seats, a weaker Labour party and then the electoral game comes out more in their favour. So while it makes good political sense in the short term for Gilmore to talk up seat number, in the longer term, perhaps not so wise and cooler heads in Fine Gael might have a story to tell about the pleasures and pain of sitting on 50 plus seats but condemned to opposition for the next five years.

I’m all for Labour gaining 30 and sitting there with allies to provide a genuine ideological opposition. But politicians are human and I wonder how keen they would be to see such a scenario develop, even if it was to see the back of the 2.5 party system (incidentally kudos to Pat Rabbitte for sticking to the Mullingar Accord as long as he did, a bizarre policy but at least it was consistent)?
Of course this is all shooting the breeze at this stage. I could probably make a counter case as easily. But the basic point is that 30 seats is realisable. It’s what you do with them once you get there that’s the question.

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Comments»

1. Ciarán - August 31, 2007

While it’s understandable that Gilmore would talk up the party’s socially progressive achievements, the economic stuff he flaunts is fundamentally neo-liberal. Social partnership and lower corporation tax? What leftist would be proud of those “achievements” (whether they be Labourist, Social Democrat or Democratic Socialist)?

And on the topic of the six counties, I basically lost any hope of Labour being progressive on that issue when Cruiser walked from the UKUP into the waiting arms of his old party with barely a blink of the eyes.

I wasn’t sorry to see Rabbitte go. It’s been possibly the best thing to happen to the prospect for a coming together of the mainstream left, centre-left, or whatever, in some time. No matter how short-lived it may be, I couldn’t help but hope that you’d get a Michael D-type character in there as leader of the Labour Party, so that you cold have some kind of left-leaning development to challenge the right-wing neo-liberal hegemony. I doubt that will happen with Gilmore, and unless something drastic happens it looks like the FS Labour leadership contest will end up a lot like its British counterpart’s.

2. WorldbyStorm - September 1, 2007

I’d agree to some extent, still is social partnership per se ‘neo-liberal’? Sounds more corporatist to me, or even – whisper it – reformist.

Surely it is the way it is implemented that gives it a ‘neo-liberal’ or other character.

3. Ciarán - September 1, 2007

You’re right of course that it’s corporatist more than anything else, but reformism shouldn’t be such a dirty word if it’s actually able to achieve… well, anything, I suppose.

4. WorldbyStorm - September 1, 2007

Very true, I’d completely agree.

5. Ed Hayes - September 11, 2007

On re-reading Gilmore’s comments on the liberal agenda; see Niamh Puirseil’s book for labour’s record on standing up to the church when it mattered, ie the bad old days of the 1930s, 40s and 50s. The point is they didn’t and the party had not one, but two leaders who were in the Knights of Columbanus. They helped shaft Browne over the Mother and Child scheme. Corish cliamed to be a ‘Catholic first and an Irishman second.’ They went with the sectarian crowd over the Fethard on Sea boycott. During the 1980s the party was split over contraception, split over divorce and split over the abortion referendum. The idea that Labour led the way when the going was tough is a joke. Plus as you pointed out Gilmore wasn’t even in the Labour Party then anyway.

6. From the CLR Vaults… Part 1 – It’s 2007, Gilmore has announced a goal of 30 seats for Labour at the next election and many have gone ‘meh’… « The Cedar Lounge Revolution - August 5, 2010

[...] what of this from late 2007, a mere three years or so ago? 30 seats for Labour under Gilmore – well that was what he was arguing was feasible… changed times, obviously. And a [...]


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