Labour, Sinn Féin and the…er… “Workers’ Party”… September 13, 2012Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, The Left.
I buy the Phoenix probably more than is good for me. But buy it I do. Didn’t think the most recent issue was much cop and the cover was puerile. There are political analyses to be had, but that wasn’t part and parcel of it.
More interesting was an article about Ruairi Quinn. I’ve always been interested in Quinn, not merely for his longevity, but also because he’s always seemed such an unlikely figure in the context of the LP – or perhaps all too likely, some might say. His brand of socialism, or even social democracy, appears to be near unidentifiable to me. And indeed the programme on RTÉ referenced on the site last week seemed to underscore that. But, as is the way with these profiles, information about Quinn was scant enough in favour of a – frankly – more useful appraisal of the Labour Party. And there was much to agree with. Not least the contention that the LP is shifting to social issues instead of economic ones.
And even more usefully the Phoenix reported that:
A series of LP commissioned poll analyses by RedC has identified both the target market and, perhaps more significantly, the non-target market for current Labour growth amongst the electorate.
Guess who the non-target market is… why ’the hardcore working class which is considered to have largely defected to SF and which is unlikely to return to the LP at the next election’.
And the target market?
‘… many of those who voted for FG and Independent TDs last year and who are regarded as potential LP voters. Thus the LP has switched political emphasis from economic issues as they affect its traditional base in the TU movement to social issues in an appeal to the middle class and professional women voters’.
Now consider if you will for a moment that in doing so the LP would appear to be defying the political approach of innumerable parties of left and centre and right where ‘it’s the economy, stupid’ is the essential mantra. Moreover if this is indeed LP policy then it is based upon the supposition that somehow for those ‘middle class and professional women voters’ the economy has somehow, in the midst of the worst crisis of living memory, taken a backseat to other ‘social’ issues.
It’s hard not to think that this is indeed the line the LP is taking, albeit given it’s wobbling on abortion they’re not exactly pushing the envelope of the political feasible, or being terribly courageous. Nor is it clear that the introduction of same-sex marriage, something that is from the perspective of many of us a good in and of itself and not a policy to be substituted for something else, will resonate in quite the way the article propose. The Phoenix, in fairness, casts the net wider pointing to Quinn’s role as enabling the removal of the Church(es) from education, though frankly how that works given the structural embedding of denominational education escapes me. And it’s not difficult to see a backlash building against it too – the Phoenix makes that point that ‘if south Dublin secular liberals believe that Holy Catholic Ireland is dead and with Squire Hockey in the grave they could be in for a shock’. I’d put it slightly differently, they may be shocked by the residual but quite real inertia that will face any such move.
But this approach raises other questions. Why does the LP believe it would provide a more congenial home for FG voters than… well, FG? Granted the latter party has been playing hard its more conservative inclinations on social issues, but in a context where movement forward on these issues is essentially stymied what does the LP bring to the feast that FG doesn’t? And if their votes were based in the main on FG economic policies why would they change them now? The same can be said, albeit to a lesser degree, in relation to Independent votes. This has been a cruel year for the Technical Group and assorted Independents, but as of yet – and we await a poll – their numbers remained consistently high. Perhaps the LP could prise some of those away, but again the question has to be asked – particularly given the left of Labour complexion of many of those TDs – why would they head back to the LP, an LP which has in economic policy terms shifted even further rightwards since that election?
And then there’s Sinn Féin. We’re told that the working class, or at least a considerable portion of same, has turned to SF. I’ve no reason to doubt that – the polling data appears to support that contention. But given that SF’s social policy approach is not enormously different to that of the LP why won’t that party be making in roads with precisely the same ‘target’ group?
As interesting in relation to the supposed Red C poll is the following:
Another of Gilmore’s electoral calculations flowing from [the] finding is that urban party TDs are less likely to lose their seats than their rural counterparts. The leadership believes that the last line of defence in a possible electoral onslaught on the LP vote is the urban middle class and that it may be pointless to emphasis traditional party policies – as well as failing to stand up to the Church – that still appeal to rural LP. With the latter more reliant on a support base of small farmers and rural workers, many of them still practising Catholics and trade unionists, Quinn stands at the opposite social pole.
This must send a shiver down the spine of many an LP TD – at least those outside urban centres. And they might reflect too on the almost miraculous appearance of SF TDs in 2011 in parts where they’d never been seen before, particularly in rural areas. That should provide a warning for the future. Though interesting that the RedC poll data doesn’t share with us who those seats might be lost to.
But… there are problems. If as noted above the working class is now more or less in the pocket of SF then surely the room for growth for urban party TDs is actually very limited? And for the LP to place its trust in (parts) of the urban middle class is in effect a counsel of despair. They may come over, but they may – and the Green Party discovered this in 2011 – not.
Personally I think any party that thinks it can shift its electoral base around in the manner described above is a party deeply in denial about the nature and process of politics and already in deep deep trouble.
But on a different tangent entirely, what of the following in the same article which was mentioned by Gearóid in comments here.
Quinn fought the Workers Party tooth and nail in Dublin, on the City Council in particular, bout following his elevation to the leadership in 1997 – this more or less fell into his lap after the ebbing of the Spring tide in that year’s general election – he moved in for the kill when the WP sued for peace, leading to a merger proposal that was consummated in 1999. Unfortunately, the sue of both parties did not exceed their separate parts and the parties went from 21 Dáil seats in 1997 (Labour 17, WP 4) to 21 again as a merged party in 2002.
Now perhaps this is merely being smart, a dig at the WP, or at those who were in the WP who went onto the Labour Party. But it’s a pretty pointless dig where it can equally well be interpreted as carelessness, or worse ignorance, by others. Thing is who is the dig aimed at? An LP leadership that couldn’t care less about its roots now that Ministerial office has been achieved (again, sort of)? An LP that is hardly divided from top to bottom over the same issue given that Quinn himself is the last LP leader who spent all his political days in that party and there have been two leaders subsequently from a DL background?
I’ll be the first to admit to significant problematical issues with the WP over the years, but it seems both glib and futile to pretend or assert that the formation which merged with the Labour Party in 1999 was the WP rather than Democratic Left – a party which I know from first hand experience of both was a distinctly different organisation structurally, in terms of membership and in terms of political position.
And the problem here then is that if it is a mistake then it would make one wonder about the credibility of all the genuinely interesting stuff about supposed RedC polling data etc. And if it’s not…