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What is the nature of Labour’s dissent? January 18, 2012

Posted by Tomboktu in Minor Left Parties, Social Democracy, The Left.
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I’ve been wondering about the Labour Party’s dissenters. The public face of that dissent is Broughan and Nulty (I don’t count Penrose as dissent — he resigned the whip but he hasn’t inhaled, as his voting record shows), but there has also been the three councillors (now two with Nulty moving up), and more importantly, I would say, those members who are involved with the likes of Claiming Our Future and TASC, who have consistently critiqued current government policy (although not naming their analyses as attacks on the party to which they belong [belonged?]). Are we witnessing a period in which the Labour Party’s leadership has captured the party, relenting on woeful policies only on an issue-by-issue basis when the howls from backbenchers get too loud — e.g. DEIS cuts — or does the Labour leadership reflect the broader Labour membership, and had they (leadership and broad party membership) captured those “mid-Left” activists who have a harder edge to their analyses?

I don’t have an answer to my question, but I cannot see how the current set-up can continue, and I wonder what will give: will the dissenters walk or will they galvanise the party’s membership and call time on the leadership?

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1. ivorthorne - January 18, 2012

I suspect that Labour’s unhappy supporters will be Labour’s real problem. Will Labour face a green party like meltdown? And if so, where will those votes go?

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2. Justin Moran - January 19, 2012

I think it’s hard to see them leaving. I’ve always thought people underestimate the social and cultural element to being a party activist. If you’ve spent ten years of your life passionately involved in a political party, building your friendships around it, your relationships, your social network of contacts, maybe even family – breaking away from it is very challenging.

You’ll look, consciously or not, for reasons not to make the break, you’ll see the problem as the leadership leaving the party’s principles and live in the hope the pendulum will swing back your way.

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WorldbyStorm - January 19, 2012

+1

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Mark P - January 19, 2012

You can see that already in the stance adopted by Nulty, retaining Labour membership.

However, if things get bad enough for Labour (and I think they will), you’ll get all sorts heading for the exit doors.

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3. Mark P - January 19, 2012

One thing to remember about Labour is that a lot of extra-Labour left wing rhetoric and assumptions about the left of that party come from a long time ago or are imported from other countries. There used to be a strong Labour left in this country, locked in perpetual conflict with the right, with the support of almost half of the activists, its own nationally known leaders, its own institutions, control of branches, its own alternative programmes, its own publications etc. That all collapsed, really quite quickly, between the late 80s and mid 90s.

That does not mean that from that point on that there was nobody of left wing views left in the party. It means that that they were insignificant in number, disorganised, without real influence and without any coherent plan to change that situation. The totemic issue of the left was always coalitionism, but for the last decade and more there has simply been not one voice raised at a Labour conference opposing coalition with the traditional right wing parties on principle and just a handful pushing tactical anti-coalitionism. There is a distinct reluctance on the part of some outside Labour to realise that there has been a very significant change and that old formulas simply aren’t relevant when it comes to analysing Labour today.

That said, there are still small numbers of genuine leftists in the Labour Party. Nulty for instance was amongst the 50 or so Labour members who voted against the programme for government, and while he may have blotted copybook with some Dail votes on bondholders and the like, he’s always struck me as a sincere traditional social democrat. There are a couple of councillors of similar ilk and there are scattered individuals at a rank and file level, some, like Michael Taft, of greater prominence than others. These people will certainly find themselves in conflict with government policy and some will leave as a result, some will try their best to have one foot in and one foot out, and some will cling desperately on out of party loyalty come what may.

There are significantly larger numbers who may cause trouble however, just not out of particularly left wing sentiment. TDs and councillors don’t like losing their seats after all, whether they be Labour or Fianna Fail. And career minded reps of both of those parties have to pay a little more attention to the opinions of less well off strands of society than Fine Gael do. Labour is likely to take a hammering over the next few years in the polls, and to a lot of people Mattie McGrath’s political fate is going to look more attractive than Martin Mansergh’s one. Participation in an extremely unpopular coalition will also take a toll on rank and file activists of the “slightly socially concerned liberal” variety and also on the ngoish and quangoish professionals who often support Labour.

In my view, there will be left wing dissent in Labour, but it won’t amount to much. There will be much broader dissent and squabbling and defections of a not notably left wing sort, which may actually have something of an impact.

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4. greengoddess2 - January 19, 2012

It might be seminal to include MEPS in your analyses. We are after all not only members of Labour but the Party of European Socialists. The incoming fiscal compact may cause significant policy differences between us and the PLP. Also unrest among members. One of your posters in “last chance saloon for the left ” made very apposite comments on this issue.

Nessa Childers MEP
Otherwise known as “GG”

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5. irishelectionliterature - January 19, 2012

There are also issues with optics, at the start of the government there were all sorts of things like the cabinet traveling by bus , no family members being employed, less use of state cars , government jet and so on….
That has been destroyed by the pay of various government advisors making the press. Especially when some of them came not from private industry but from working in party HQ or the like.
That stripped any vestige of an argument that we’re cutting back too. The ordinary Labour TD must be rightly pissed off not alone having to defend cutbacks but also giving the public ample ammunition for the ‘ye are all the same’ refrain.

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