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Quite some parties we have found… more problems for the left. May 27, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Election 2007, Irish Politics.

It’s easy to be wise after the event. But perhaps that’s the only way to be wise. Or maybe in politics there is no wisdom, just events which one deals with.

Certainly this election has brought some very difficult home truths for the left to the fore. Basically this remains a strongly centre, centre-right society. Fianna Fáil retains more than a residual core vote in the working class (perhaps one of the reasons pundits and others called it so badly wrong). Fine Gael retains a strong share of the electorate. The left, has for the past five years borrowed from both of these but has been almost entirely unable to hold onto them and all the talk of rising votes masks an inability to transform political success into political longevity.

In previous posts I’ve covered the rise of splinter factions such as Éirigí (now trading as a party, rather than a campaiging group). I wonder how this will impact upon them. While there was the prospect of continuing Sinn Féin gains in a sort of electoral determinism writ small the idea that others might also develop and grow may have seemed less incredible, even the idea that a Connollyite group might do so with a message of ideological purity allied with modish anti-globalism. The SWP projecting itself as People Before Profit might also have thought things could only get better.

Today that seems rather unlikely. If Sinn Féin, surely a serious political formation if ever we saw one, cannot make gains, is in fact largely dependent on hijacking elements of the FF and Labour vote, what possible chance is there for other much much smaller groups?

In a way, perhaps, my worry is that we will look back over the last five years and see that as something of a high point for the Irish left where indeed a thousand flowers bloomed albeit in a patchy and disconnected way.

Meanwhile the coalition behemoth rumbles through town. The combinations are alternately risible, disastrous or unlikely. Fine Gael is still arguing that it is in with a shot. Well, sure, if they bring SF into the fold. I wouldn’t place money on that combination. Fianna Fáil is being coy with various distinct and entirely contradictory messages being sent out. One rumour that was relayed to me from deep within the heart of the Green camp was the conviction on the part of some of them that Labour was already in ‘secret’ talks with Fianna Fáil. Maybe. Who knows? Meanwhile a raft of unlikely names are being tossed around as possible partners in an FF/PD/Independents coalition.

I noted before how this could have been the election for Independents. And yet neither the media nor the Independents themselves played it that way. Cold comfort for those who fell on Thursday. But perhaps we will see the Lowry Deal, or the McGrath Deal or whatever. Somehow though I doubt it. That sort of gun to the head politics is something I suspect Ahern will eschew. A comment he made I think yesterday on the radio very much struck me, and that was the need for ‘stability’ particularly from those outside the country. Localised deals with non-FF gene pool Independents are neither stable nor particularly good politics.

We’ll see.

Apologies to John Cooper Clarke for the title… 


1. chekov - May 27, 2007

Nah. You’re taking it too seriously. It really doesn’t tell us much about anything any more than the respective sales figures for coke and pepsi tell us much about the public.


2. Craig - May 27, 2007

You mention that FF retains a strong support among the working class. This is true and quite intruiging. Any ideas on how FF manage to do this, if they are indeed a centre-right party, as most believe?


3. chekov - May 27, 2007

Craig it’s not much of a mystery – almost all capitalist democracies revolve around competition between two factions of the ruling class, one of which does better amongst workers. In this case, FF do this as they other lot are seen as the West-Brit snobby wing of capitalism, a much less popular bunch than the gombeen wing.


4. WorldbyStorm - May 27, 2007

Actually chekov, I’ve written a response to some of your earlier points and haven’t had a moment to post it. But I have to say I think that Éirigí’s headlong rush to electoralism tells us much about where most – even on the left – regard the centres of power in this society, whatever about their own tactics. And I think you’re fundamentally wrong when you reduce it to the coke/pepsi analogy. There would have been differences whichever option made it in. Perhaps not differences along left/right lines, but others.

Obvious examples of how these differences impact on working people is as with that between FF/PD and FF/Labour, Thatcher and Kinnock in 1992, even Gore and Bush, or indeed Conservatives and Labour in 1945. Now we can call these cosmetic, or indeed merely a facade to retain ‘ruling’ class control, but they exist and they are of considerable importance to ordinary people in the absence of effective alternatives.

A signfiicant difference in the next government might be the approach to environmental issues if FF do a deal with the Greens.

I’m not dismissing class aspects of this but I’m not entirely certain that it’s the only or indeed the predominant issue here. In any event that doesn’t even begin to address the question as to why both FF and FG have in their time adopted, and for the most part, retained or even expanded social democratic rights and reforms. Even if it’s merely a process of buying off the working class – which it might well be in part, it does suggest a level of complexity a bit greater than that you propose.


5. ejh - May 27, 2007

In this case, FF do this as the other lot are seen as the West-Brit snobby wing of capitalism, a much less popular bunch than the gombeen wing

This isn’t so far off the mark, is it? Particularly as contempt for the Irish electorate is a barely-hidden characteristic of much pro-PD/FG comment.


6. chekov - May 27, 2007

“A signfiicant difference in the next government might be the approach to environmental issues if FF do a deal with the Greens.”

FF will be able to use the Greens as a mud-flap for the introduction of consumer-based regressive taxes based on some nominal connection with things vaguely associated with the environment. I’m on tenterhooks.

“I’m not dismissing class aspects of this but I’m not entirely certain that it’s the only or indeed the predominant issue here. In any event that doesn’t even begin to address the question as to why both FF and FG have in their time adopted, and for the most part, retained or even expanded social democratic rights and reforms.”

I’m not saying that class is the predominant issue – in fact I’m saying the exact opposite – it’s not an issue at all. An acceptance of the fundamentals of class society is a pre-determined prerequisite position which renders the whole election thing a great big charade. The fact that FF, FG and the british Tories have, at one time or another, had positions far to the left of any modern socialist party speaks volumes too – governments have to respond to pressure and they mostly do so regardless of where they sit on the political spectrum (actually the acceptance of this is why I marginally prefer FF in power to any of the others who normally deceive themselves into thinking that they aren’t ultimately pragmatists and do all sorts of stupid things as a result when they should just bow to pressure).


7. WorldbyStorm - May 27, 2007

I’d doubt your contention in your first sentence.

Re your second I’d disagree. We live in vastly more complex societies today than even when I was born in 1965. The spread and interconnectedness between state, civil society, commerce and so on is much greater and pervasive that ever before in human history. Part of that, I suspect an intrinsic result of that, has been a broadening and strengthening of social supports and structures albeit – as you say – with no class spin on them whatsoever. (Incidentally I’m intrigued as to when you think the Tories had a position far to the left of a modern socialist party – surely not Heath’s paternalistic corporatism which was hardly left wing in any meaningful sense?). That doesn’t make this a left wing society, but it does plant us much more firmly in the Berlin camp rather than Boston and to my mind suggests that the society is in a diffuse way more ‘left-wing’ in terms of approach than it was – althought this is unrepresented by any strength of clear left politics at national level.

And it’s also worth noting that it wasn’t just class which didn’t matter. You pointed previously to Éirigí achieving more as a campaigning organisation than it would as a party wrt Shell to Sea. But these campaigns had almost zero traction on public consciousness throughout the campaign – which on one level proves your point, but on another suggests that there is a significant problem about centring ones politics exclusively around campaigning etc.

Oddly enough I actually agree – although for a different reason – with you as regards Fianna Fáil. Since they assume aspects of whatever group they work with it seems to me to be perverse that the left continually refuses to work with them even if only to marginally advance left goals…


8. Ed Hayes - May 28, 2007

Look it was a bad day for the left in its broadest sense. There also seems to be some changes in traditional voting patterns. I’d always have agreed with Chekov re the traditional image of FG but their vote is now coming largely from the poorer regions of the west and must include some who are not large farmers, shopkeepers or landlords. FF have hoovered up what was supposed to be the discontented celtic tiger communter belt stuck in motorway traffic, no school places for their kids vote. Given FF’s domination of Irish politics since 1932 this probably shouldn’t surprise, being all things to all men still works. Someone told me that FF must be the only party thats been the establishment for so long that can still convince some people that its anti-establishment to vote for it. But thats a relatively minor factor I think. Ireland is a wealthier place than 20 years ago. The consensus has shifted to the right. Look at the Dail speeches made by WP TDs in the 1980s, when it was not regarded as loony to talk about class and class conflict. On that note, I’m gutted Joe Higgins lost his seat but note the way the media saw him as an interesting eccentric rather than someone who would make them shit themselves. As for the party who used to do that for other reasons, its sit down and think time for SF. I’m not a provophobe so unlike some I don’t take any great delight in seeing them do badly, (except for Mary Lou but thats just reverese class prejiduce, and WBS yer mate Perry did take a few of those Cabra votes that would have gone to Nicky!) but it will be a bit of a shocker for the Pearse Doherty generation; they have never had a bad election day before. I don’t beleive Adams, Gibney, hartley and co. have a class analysis of southern politics so you wouldn’t know how they will try to fix this. I have heard that the word among the activists was that the Belfast leadership were practically demanding that everyone accept that a coalition with FF was the only option. Will the urge be to return to protest politics or move further right and just become a small niche party to a much larger northen body? Checkov called it right on the SP a few weeks ago, they could have gone either way with 2 TDs or nothing and they got nothing. No joy in saying that. As for the SWP, even John Bowman doesn’t know Richie is in them. He would have been a poor substitute for Joe in my estimation, but I still hoped he would make it, if only for the novelty value of Kieran Allen delievering scripts to RBB on whatever took his fancy. The SWP may pour everything into a Dun Laoghire strategy now. Thats my tuppence worth, we live in country where two right wing parties have dominated the scene since the 1920s. Their main rival lacks ambition beyond propping up one or the other. I still think an FF/Labour coalition is on the cards, with the hugely ambitious P. Rabbitte on board.


9. WorldbyStorm - May 28, 2007

Broadly speaking I agree with you Ed. And yes, Perry might well have taken some of MLMs which NH would have retained! Mind you, so did Bertie.

I’ve heard rumours of FF/Labour. Interesting how quiet Labour were today about that…


10. Gerry O'Quigley - May 28, 2007

Craig, “how do FF manage to do this?” – in a word, “populism”.


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