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Third party on the right and straight on ’til… where again did you say? February 7, 2013

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.
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Backroom in the SBP is banging a familiar drum, albeit coming to a somewhat different conclusion. Under the byline ‘Post Reporter’ and the headline ‘There is unexploited political space to the right of Fine Gael’ it lays out a by now well-worn argument.

And while the tone is gently mocking of Michael McDowell’s ambitions ‘the greatest leader FG never had (at least in his own mind)’, the substance isn’t far from his position. For example:

We have previously made the point that if you were to map Irish political parties on a left/right political spectrum, there currently is no party to the right of Fine Gael. It is not as if there isn’t a number of issues which a more right-leaning, less statist party could make its own.

Every party in the Oireachtas, bar Fine Gael, wanted to increase personal taxation on higher earners in the last budget. In reality, there was a majority in the Dáil for a higher USC on those earning over €100,000 if the combined votes of Labour, Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and the independent benches were counted.

The government collectively rejected the idea, but in the weeks before the budget, it was difficult to find a political voice prepared to publicly fight the fight against higher personal taxation.

But, but, but. The key point in the above is that the ruling parties (led by the predominant party FG) ‘rejected the idea’. It’s entirely irrelevant if all and sundry were for a higher USC, or higher taxation. When it came to the crunch the actual policy implementation was such that it was discarded. In other words, whatever about rhetoric in real terms policy is tilted towards lower personal taxation. And has been for decades.

And so with other examples:

Another rich vein waiting to be exploited politically is the level of social welfare dependency which has developed in this country. Recently, Dan O’Brien in the Irish Times exposed the fact that the proportion of the population in receipt of disability allowance – the most common disability benefit – has been rising fast and without interruption for more than a decade. In absolute terms, the numbers receiving this benefit doubled in a decade to exceed 100,000 people.

There is no party in the current political landscape which seems willing to ask hard questions about why studies show we are one of the healthier countries in the EU, but also have one of the highest and growing levels of dependency on disability supports.

Put aside the concept of social welfare dependency in a time of deep recession and extremely high unemployment and note that there’s no actual facts offered as regards the ROI being ‘one of the healthier countries in the EU’. Moreover it is unclear what the actual relationship between those two might be.

And:

In a debate on the household tax, Michael Noonan made the point in the Seanad that, despite all of the doom and gloom, 82 per cent of households in Ireland had paid television packages, with most of them having more than the basic package, paying up for sport and film channels. However, his intervention is more the exception than the rule.

Hard to know what to make of this. Given that he didn’t break down the figures into basic and premium television packages it’s not a useful statistic. As noted here that figure is far from clear – not least because people often pay bundled packages that incorporate TV and internet.

Anyhow, this is the substance of a right of centre party?

It’s not great is it, even when Backroom tries to dress it up in the garb of ‘personal responsibility’ (something which interestingly seems only to be a serious issue for those who have less in life, at least in these discussions, because the more one has the more that is an excuse and justification for the ‘extras’…).

That said, in fairness to Backroom, s/he does recognise a few home truths:

Alas, Backroom does not believe a new political party is feasible or sustainable, even if it were to be kick-started with an infusion of existing TDs. There’s a number of reasons for this.
First, there is no obvious leader-in-waiting. No matter what, every party needs a leader who embodies its core values. It would be interesting to hear McDowell’s view on leadership.

Secondly, building an organisation at a time when politics as a profession is held in such low esteem would be an enormous challenge. Finally, funding a new party at a time when public finances are tight and private contributions attract inordinate scrutiny would be at least problematic.

I think that’s about right. And I’d add to that two other issues. We’re now less than three years away from the next election.

There’s no nascent party in place and diminishing time lines to do anything about it. Perhaps there will be a party. But… And who amongst existing TDs would fit the bill. Hard to see Noel Grealish – who is no doubt a worthy local TD – as the titan who would pull together a party. Shane Ross seems to be the perfect sole trader. Donnelly likewise though his ambitions might be more expansive (though he also has the problem of not being quite right wing enough for such a venture).

And after that, who would there be? A few apostate FG TDs in the wake of some rupture over abortion? Hardly the stuff of a right liberal party, which is of course the model being presented, albeit implicitly.

Mind you, Backroom has an idea so deeply mischievous that it’s hard not to feel that s/he is fomenting trouble.

So, if a new party is not on, which existing party should be eyeing up this gap in the market? Backroom has long argued that Fianna Fáil should be looking hard at this space. That advice has fallen on deaf ears as, in recent months, Micheál Martin seems to be more concerned with protecting his left flank and putting pressure on Labour. Ironically, if Labour had the courage to take a slightly right-of-centre view on social welfare, instead of its current defensive position, it might make itself more popular with low to middle-income earners who are entitled to none of the benefits available to social welfare recipients.
That leaves Fine Gael, which is also in the happy position of having plenty of bright and underworked TDs. Occasionally we have seen flashes of the party’s TDs filling the gap. Eoghan Murphy’s stance on increments and allowances in the public sector is an example. So were Olivia Mitchell’s musings about the impact of the household tax.

Both those parties have lived and died as broader class coalitions. Yes, always pushing rightwards, but never ignoring their centrist flanks. Because all this raises the question, how big a party could prosper to the right of FG as it currently is. The answer? Not hard to find. We know from the Progressive Democrats that their average size was around ten or so TDs across their lifetime.

That’s the great new ground to be found by FF or FG – and at no risk to their current vote?
Give me a break.

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Comments»

1. Jonathan - February 7, 2013

“Recently, Dan O’Brien in the Irish Times exposed the fact that the proportion of the population in receipt of disability allowance – the most common disability benefit – has been rising fast and without interruption for more than a decade. In absolute terms, the numbers receiving this benefit doubled in a decade to exceed 100,000 people.” Without actually knowing the facts, I wonder how much of this was due to an expansion of the criteria of disability to come in line with European norms; i.e. that before this we had a very narrow criteria of what constituted disability and many of the disabled were expected to stay at home and be looked after by a relative for nothing? I’m just speculating, but when you consider the way Ireland has treated any vulnerable minority, it’s hard not to wonder. And is the Irish media looking to start a ‘Phony disabled stealing your money’ style campaign and in a few years we’ll have an Irish ATOS certifying that people with broken backs or one leg are fit for construction work…

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LeftAtTheCross - February 7, 2013

I don’t know that ATOS are needed. I’ve heard stories of applications being refused a number of times before eventually being accepted on the 5th or more attempt, with each iteration of that loop taking a number of months, presumably as a deterrent to bogus or speculative claims. Barbaric system if that is simply the policy.

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Ghandi - February 7, 2013

Some of the increase came from redesignating long term drug addicts from being unemployed – to bring down that figure , as being eligible for disability.

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CMK - February 7, 2013

Skimming through ‘Business Plus’ magazine this morning and in an article on public finances they labelled the three biggest spending departments – Social ‘Protection’, Health and Education – as the ‘freebie’ departments. No reference to need, social solidarity. No, these departments and their functions consitute a ‘freebie’, paid for by business of course. Given that ‘busines’ only contributed 4 billion euro in corporation tax last year that argument is even more idiotic than usual. But still, I agree, the war on our threadbare welfare state will intensify and we won’t have an ‘Irish ATOS’ operating we’ll no doubt have ATOS itself installed pretty soon. Probably under some EU directive on the privatisation of public services.

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LeftAtTheCross - February 7, 2013

Agreed CMK.

Useful article in yesterday’s Guardian on the “obsession with outsourcing public services”:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/feb/07/public-sector-outsourcing-shadow-state

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Jonathan - February 7, 2013

You have to love that reference to freebies, considering that we just turned €30 billion plus (manufactured out of thin air and handed over to financial gamblers who didn’t deserve a cent of it) from promissory notes into sovereign debt…

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2. Jonathan - February 7, 2013

Note: Delete reference to ‘one leg’ there, if possible. I’m sure there are many people with prosthetics who are well able for construction work!

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3. Ciaran - February 7, 2013

Dan O’Brien’s article on disability benefits was a disgraceful disfigurement of statistics and a naked propaganda piece. Note the frequent switching between figures for the eurozone and the EU27, depending on what suited the narrative.

And how right-wing does the Irish political landscape have to get before the author of the article thinks there isn’t room for the kind of regressive movement he/she clearly desires?

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4. Ciaran - February 7, 2013

One more thing : the citing of instances of people having satellite or cable TV is an infuriating and recurring memento in any right-wing screed on social welfare. It’s the kind of curtain-twitching that’s designed to breed resentment towards people on the dole.

The quoted article should tell you all you need to know about the right’s cynical reliance on resentment and hatred for the purpose of establishing any political foothold.

And they accuse the left of fostering ‘the politics of envy’!

Preaching to the choir, I know, but you would have to be brainwashed and/or a sociopath to believe that the right-wing of Irish politics isn’t well populated.

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Ciaran - February 7, 2013

Memento? Meme!!

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WorldbyStorm - February 7, 2013

Great point Ciaran. There is an huge hypocrisy at work there.

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doctorfive - February 8, 2013

Isn’t it remarkable that in the Dáil, Michael Noonan has no concrete figures for tax exiles or the effective corporation tax rate but knows without doubt how many people have Sky TV

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5. CL - February 7, 2013

The higher USC rate on those earning over 100,000 euro was rejected after a lobbying campaign by IBEC and the American Chamber of Commerce.
This right-wing American Chamber of Commerce has been waging class warfare on American workers for the last 100 years. Its incursion into Irish politics is a reactionary development. That their influence is apparently welcomed by the F.G/Labour govt. shows how regressive this governing coalition is.
(Note the erroneous conflation of ‘right-wing’ and ‘anti-statist’ in the SBP piece)

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6. fergal - February 7, 2013

Noonan should be delighted that 82 per cent of the population are hooked to satellite TV. Wall to wall covrage of multi-millionaires chasing after a piece of leather. A godsend for the Right. Who knows what prople would do if they didn’t have a telly?
This kind of reminds me of what Bourdieu said about those having a go at the poor spending their dole on fags and booze. This is to miss the whole point about poverty,how come the poor can’t afford fags,booze and a decent lifestyle, that surely this is not too much to ask for?
Wouldn’t it be great if some party started to compalin about how much the rich cost us. They’re way too dear. Irish rich people are the richest in Europe. They cost us an arm and a leg. Take China for example you can be stinking rich there on 1 per cent of the average Irish rich person’s wealth..You can get a 10 roomed villa in Bulgaria for 10 per cent of what it would cost here Our rich are just not competitive and they don’t even “create” jobs anymore

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Dr. X - February 7, 2013

FWIW, a few years ago I did some market research work on people’s drink buying habits.

The firm I was working for sent me out to Jobstown in Tallaght, a place where you would be unlikely find “affluent job creators”.

And again and again I met people who told me they didn’t drink, or smoke.

It’s not like booze is cheap in Ireland (here in Germany it’s so cheap it’s practically free).

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LeftAtTheCross - February 7, 2013

No, apparently we’re a nation of alcoholics, it must be true because Des Bishop is doing a new series about in on RTE starting tonight.

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7. Another Poll – Fianna Fáil Voters Abandon The Fine Gael Fold | An Sionnach Fionn - February 9, 2013

[...] the Labour Party who one suspects will be Fine Gael’s only hope of a coalition ally unless the much-prophesied PDs Mark II emerges from the shadowy wastes of Ireland’s political Right (with a few [...]

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