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Counting on that economic upturn… January 10, 2013

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics, The Left.
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Pat Leahy makes a useful point in the SBP at the weekend about the prospects for the Labour Party in a future election. Leahy correctly notes that Eamon Gilmore was rather vague about the start date of a period of recovery, Gilmore suggesting that the potential for growth would become apparent at the end of this year, 2013. One could be excused for finding that somewhat unlikely. But as a ‘not even the end of the beginning’ statement it’s a perfect example of the sort of rhetoric this government is becoming pretty good at delivering. Whether it has a positive effect for them is another matter entirely. But as Leahy notes:

There are some important points to be taken from what Gilmore said and what he didn’t say. The first is his assertion that an improved economic landscape will shore up support for the Labour Party.

It’s a general – and pretty obvious – law of politics that strong economic growth is good for governments. When voters feel wealthier, they are more likely to support the incumbent government.

Of course it doesn’t always work this way. Strong growth can be the spur for electorates to cast aside incumbents, or to take chances they might otherwise not choose. And yet I think Leahy is on the right track when he argues:

But the belief that strong growth will happen and that it will provide a political dividend for Labour looks like an assumption built on an aspiration.
Even if strong growth does manifest itself this year or next, there is no guarantee that Labour will get any credit for it. You’d think after “Labour’s way or Frankfurt’s way” that Gilmore would be careful about giving hostages to fortune, but he has made a rod for his back if Labour’s poll numbers continue to decline. Nothing puts the wind up politicians like a few crap opinion polls.

This is an interesting line, because Labour has had some experience of this very dynamic. The 1994-7 FG/LP/DL coalition oversaw considerable growth, and was in some respects not a bad government. And yet at the polls in 1997 the party fared very poorly, losing a significant tranche of the historic number of seats it had won in 1992 and being reduced to the sort of numbers five or six TDs above the level that had been its lot prior to that.

The point being that economic growth is in itself no guarantee of success. Furthermore often one feels that there is a mapping onto the Irish context of other polities experiences, experiences, as in the UK or US where there are two large competing formations and rarely if ever third parties involved. And so for a smaller party in coalition there is the problem that the larger party will share the spoils. For all that the PDs had an influence on FF led administrations its hard to argue that their representation was ever quite as considerable as that influence. And their results in 2007 before the end of the boom period suggests that even in good times there’s no guarantee of electoral success.

There’s also the point that a recessionary/austerity situation is significantly different to politics as usual. In this instance the party which delivered and implemented austerity policies must somehow transform into the party which lifts,
or at the very least ameliorates, them.

None of which is to say that if the situation stabilised and began to significantly improve there would be no chance for the Labour Party. Even today it still remains above its standard operating levels during the late 1990s and early to late 2000s. But truth is it seems much more likely that at best the LP may be able to contain things rather than see any great growth. And perhaps not even that.

Interestingly Leahy suggests small enough policies might have the greatest effect, he points to the success of road safety campaigns initiated by FF led coalitions as one example. And it’s true, but those don’t reap significant electoral rewards and it’s unlikely that the LP will pin its hopes on them. And even those contests where the LP appears to be focussing upon, such as abortion legislation, remain even by its own lights so partial given their chosen objectives that it’s difficult to see how they will resonate all that broadly.

And finally that raises the thought that we’ve not seen this level of attrition in a governing party… well, since the last one when FF began to fray around the edges fairly rapidly towards the end. But prior to that hardly at all in the recent and not so recent political past. In other words this is uncharted territory for the Labour Party. And how does that attritional dynamic feed into the overall potential for a clean getaway by them?

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1. irishelectionliterature - January 10, 2013

In that 1997 Election, despite economic growth Labour were punished for having gone into Coalition with FF. FF ran a campaign centred around the then popularity of Bertie (“A Young Leader for a Young Country”) and a Zero Tolerance policy on crime.
At the minute all Labour have to show is that they stopped Fine Gael making certain cuts.
Given the number of Gardai being reduced FF might do well to resurrect their Zero Tolerance policy on crime.

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WorldbyStorm - January 10, 2013

That was certainly a part of the 97 dynamic. So is the LP going to be punished for going in with FG?

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irishelectionliterature - January 10, 2013

No, it was expected that they’d go in with FG. What wasn’t expected was that they’d let FG walk all over them.
They also built up expectations way way way too much.
I presume a good few of their TDs will retire, so at the minute they are probably looking at 10 to 15 seats. They wont be getting the same transfers as they got in 2011.

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2. greengoddess2 - January 10, 2013
3. greengoddess2 - January 10, 2013

There is the question too of what kind of country will we be livi g in ‘after ‘ the recession. It will remain the same for many. Does anyone care, though?

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LeftAtTheCross - January 10, 2013

“It will remain the same for many.”

Will it? For whom will it remain the same?

Many if not most working people have had pay cuts and tax rises. Anyone surviving on social welfare has had cuts. Small business owners are suffering. Private pensions have been reduced by the pension levy. So incomes are down across the board, few have escaped.

Mortgages are increasingly in arrears. Negative equity is a reality for many.

Fuel and food poverty are increasing.

The public healthcare system is just about functioning. Private health insurance have increased, and participation rates have reduced, putting further pressure on a hospital system that is shrinking with cutbacks.

Property tax, septic tank and water charges are around the corner.

Public transport coverage has reduced. Petrol/diesel costs have rocketed.

A generation of young people are leaving the country by the plane full.

College fees are increasing. Of those who graduate, many have loans they can’y repay, as there are no jobs for them. New entrants to teaching and nursing do so on vastly inferior terms and conditions of employment. Graduates consider themselves lucky to get a few hours working in convenience shops or to get a place on a slave-labour Jobsbridge scheme.

What world do you live in GG where things have remained the same for ‘many people’?

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LeftAtTheCross - January 10, 2013

In my frustration I neglected to mention unemployment at 14.6%, 423733 people on the live register, 187144 for more than a year.

What would those numbers be without emigration?

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LeftAtTheCross - January 10, 2013

You know GG I’m just thinking that probably I misinterpreted your statement. Did you mean that it will be the same for people after the recession as it is now, i.e. no material improvement from ‘recovery’? I took it earlier that you meant the same after as it was before the recession, but I’m thinking that I should have given you more credit than that. Apologies if so.

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4. greengoddess2 - January 10, 2013

Yes, you did misinterpret! I actually think a recovery will lead to an unmissable opportunity for the worst sort of neo liberal agenda. It s the same in the other bailout countries. Low wages, people not having medical care, all of those things. And they will be PERMANENT . The only hope s the Labour Party INMOP.

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WorldbyStorm - January 10, 2013

That’s precisely my fear, that in this and other states the basic structures of the welfare state (not that we’ve ever had much of one) will be so weakened that they won’t be reimplemented and that there will be little or no political will to do so. And it’s not hard to envisage a US style situation with decreasing capacity to push back because simply getting by is so tough.

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LeftAtTheCross - January 10, 2013

Apologies so GG, my bad.

Is there a best sort of neoliberal agenda though in fairness?

So what is the LP going to do about it then? Genuine question. What measures do you see the LP red-lining to reduce the harm that neoliberalism is inflicting? And will that be enough, not for the people here at CLR who clearly enough wouldn’t agree, but for the membership and electoral support base of the LP, and for society in general? Will it be enough?

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5. greengoddess2 - January 10, 2013

There are no red lines anymore for those in control. It is almost as if the people that get to ‘ top’ of labour here are indifferent. Maybe the two are connected. The others’ underneath’ are not but seem in thrall or subject to punishment. Really I don’t know if we need some other alliance the left at this stage. I personally do not want to collude with what I can see happening. Many members will probably despair. How often as that happened before? Pasok in Greece as been annihilated. ( not an absolute comparison, btw).

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LeftAtTheCross - January 10, 2013

It’s pretty clear that there is a need for an alliance of the Left, and that any such alliance would have to be seen as being in the context of a long term project to move politics Leftwards, via cultural, societal and political channels. There’s no quick fix.

In my personal opinion, expressed here on CLR a number of times, that journey Leftwards would need to start on the terrain of traditional social democratic politics and would necessarily have to include those on the further Left who are open to such a project but equally importantly would need to include those constituent parts of the rump of social democracy such as still exists within the centre-Left, the trades unions, community groups etc.

But such a project would not be a lifeboat for the LP, it’s not something to avoid the fate of PASOK etc., it’s a multi-decade (probably) process of moving through and beyond social democracy to democratic socialism, rolling back the gains of capital over the past 20-30 years, regaining ground to the point for example where Tomboktu’s post the other day again becomes the political norm, where the type of transformative restructuring of the economy becomes possible as was being discussed by the serious Left in the early 70s. Etc etc etc.

Tomboktu’s post is here is you’re interested:

http://cedarlounge.wordpress.com/2013/01/09/a-reminder-of-social-democracys-ambitions-in-times-gone-by/

I appreciate it’s early days for the CLP and the PLP dissidents, but maybe this is the type of alternative politics that would be worth colluding with…

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6. CL - January 11, 2013

The Labour Party is fully on board with the neoliberal project of massive transfers of value from the working class to international capital, and Labour cabinet minister, Joan Burton, is overseeing the transition from a welfare to a workfare state.
Far from curtailing predation by Fine Gael the very presence of Labour, -the putative party of the working class-in the govt. is facilitating capital’s triumph; those who are part of the problem cannot be a part of the solution.

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