More on that Carton House speech from Eamon Gilmore… October 2, 2012Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Economy, Irish Politics, The Left.
There’s more from Eamonn Gilmore’s speech at the Carton House think-in (and notable that some media commentators suggest the choice of that location was dictated by the relative security it afforded from protests. Even so not great optics, to put it mildly) that is worth considering, particularly a section close to the end.
Myself and LATC have been having an on again off again on again discussion about the nature of social democracy and social democratic formations over the last while (which in a sense Tomboktu joined here, and more on that later in the week). Just a few comments here and there where we’ve been trying to tease out some of the shape and form of contemporary social democracy and how and why it is important to the broader left. We both think that it is important, though whether as example of what can go wrong or because of the tranche of those who overtly or not hold some allegiance to social democracy can (or at least should) be open to being pulled leftwards is somewhat open to question. Of course in practice as we know identification with a specific political project can be great and immune to criticism, constructive or otherwise.
Anyhow, Gilmore says:
That brings me to a key theme about the nature of Labour politics. Labour must always be a reforming party. There are some on the left of European politics who see our role as simply to conserve. To protect the institutions of the post-war welfare state. To protect and defend institutions and ideas that have been in existence for generations. Sometimes, particularly during this crisis, that is necessary and important. But Labour is not a conservative party. Labour is a progressive party. Our purpose and role is to achieve social progress, and that means that we drive ahead with reform. Reform in education. Reform in health. Reform in the management and delivery of public services across the board. The agenda here is not just about saving money. It’s about ensuring that we deliver a higher quality of service to our people.
So much to wonder about here. For a start this state has never had the institutions of the post-war welfare state. Sure, we’ve had some of the protections, but the implementation has been partial and patchy. There’s no proper National Health Service. Welfare provisions is good in some parts, terrible in others. State education has been a sort of sleight of hand and education has been underfunded, particularly at national and pre-school level. Broader state endeavour perhaps better than might be expected, at least in the form of some of the semi-states, but now a shadow of its former self. Housing? Even the most cursory read of Conor McCabe’s Sins of the Father will demonstrate the appalling lack of effort in that area across the decades (and I’ll link again to this post from the Summer which points to the attitude of the state in such matters and an attitude that wouldn’t exactly be unknown to many even in this generation. State transport? Another area of underfunded and only partial services. And so it goes on.
If Gilmore were talking about some Platonic ideal then his words would carry some greater weight, but he’s not. He’s talking about Ireland. And when social progress has never been achieved – or only in part, and rather minimally (given the indifferent populism of FF and the antipathy of FG with the LP along generally to make up the numbers) it is hard to take such rhetoric entirely seriously. We’re so far from a genuinely progressive society of the centre, let alone a social democratic society that it’s genuinely frustrating to read this.
When I speak about innovation driving economic growth, I’m not just talking about much research goes on in laboratories. Economic innovation requires not just new technologies, but new skills, new infrastructure, new ways to finance ideas. As Will Hutton puts it, successful economies are built on an eco-system of innovation. And that is true of society as well. Our country has changed enormously in our lifetime, and the only certainty we have about the future is that change is guaranteed. As a country, we have to be able to respond to change. We need an innovative society. A society where people have the freedom and the opportunity to realise their own future.
This is all grand stuff. But where precisely is the social democratic content as regards the means by which it will be achieved? The reference to Hutton is neat, and I’m quite a fan of the man’s thinking, but it’s insufficient, a reference rather than something more (and I know LATC has serious question marks about Hutton). This seems to typify an LP in the current era (with those exceptions amongst its membership and representatives noted) which simply does not have a sense of what a social democratic economic programme might look like. And it’s notable how there’s no effort at all to link the above with the points in the preceding paragraphs quoted about the welfare state. It is as if the two are entirely separate, whereas – of course – in a genuinely social democratic approach they would be intertwined.
And it’s not as if there’s no recognition at all in respect to this. His very next line goes…
As a social democratic party, we know that doesn’t happen by chance, or in isolation. It happens when people elect a progressive party to Government.
But there’s nothing to suggest what the shape of this might be.
Yes, we have to fix the economy. But we cannot, and will not, put our social agenda in the deep freeze. We will continue to embed the right to decent work in labour market reforms. We will see the opening of an innovative Constitutional Convention this autumn. We will continue to modernise our education system, so that it is inclusive of all religions and none. And we will fight and win a referendum that will, for the first time, recognise the right of children, regardless of background, to be cared for and protected.
The problem for me reading this is that it would appear that whatever about the social agenda – and the waxing and waning over the X Case is instructive – they appear to have put their economic agenda in the deep freeze. It’s not that these other issues aren’t important, they are of course. But it’s not as if the economic situation is being addressed in a progressive fashion so there’s little comfort to be gained from that.
In a sense the use of the term social democrat in the above is a bit like the previous mention of Hutton, there to denote certain significations but entirely detached from the actual content of the speech. Interesting.