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The market and high incomes September 30, 2009

Posted by Tomboktu in Economics, Social Democracy, Taxation Policy, The Left.

I think – but would be happy to be corrected – that one of the weaknesses with the Left is a shortage of ambitious and feasible policy ideas to change a key source of inequality in Western economies: the scale of the inequality in the income that those who are in employment receive for their labour.

Too often it appears that those who of us describe themselves as egalitarians have accepted that the ideal of ‘the redistribution of wealth’ boils down to developing policies to implement a version of that other cliché on what the Left is about: ‘tax and spend’. This does not mean that all tax and spend proposals are unradical. For example, the proposal for a basic income – an income unconditionally granted to all on an individual basis, without means test or work requirement – has been around for some time but is little implemented, and I suspect one of the reasons is that it is seen as a step too far for many. (If my memory is correct, it was a policy backed by Young Fine Gael about 25 years ago when Chris O’Malley was at the helm of the party’s youth wing.) Or another example: The US economist John Roemer has suggested “the creation of two kinds of money: one used for the purchase of goods and the other, referred to as ‘coupons’, for buying shares in companies.” The radical element of his proposal is that all citizens are given coupons through which they derive ownership rights in companies, including dividends and voting for the board, but cannot sell those coupons for ‘ordinary’ money. (This last is one of a number of proposals explored in the Real Utopias Project at the University of Wisconsin. Some of other books from the RU project have other suggestions that I would classify as tax and spend.) And nor does my worry with the extent of the focus on tax and spend policies mean that I think they should be abandoned. You only have to read the article by Brendan Hayes, the ‘refusnik’ on the Commission on Taxation, in the September issue of The Union Post to see why they are sorely needed.

However, the problem that I see with relying only on ‘tax and spend’ policies is that they do not deal with what happens inside the market. Some of them – like investment to combat educational disadvantage or Roemer’s coupons – are designed to give everybody an equal chance as they enter the labour market, but leave the big divergences that occur over the course of different people’s working lives untouched. Other tax and spend policies, like increased social welfare or the basic income, are an attempt to reduce the size of the differences that arise from market processes on an ongoing basis (although no social welfare proposal I have ever heard of would give a sustained income that is anything like that enjoyed by even middle managers, never mind senior executives).

There are two reasons why what happens inside the market should be scrutinised by egalitarians. The first is empirical: the divergence in salaries and other pay for work since the 1970s is the root of the increased inequality in western economies. The second is ideological and, for me, the more important: if we do not examine the inequalities in the market, we give them a credence and contribute to the view that they are somehow ‘normal’, that the natural order of things is for huge inequalities to exist.

Of course, it is not true to say that the only approaches to dealing with economic inequality have been versions of tax and spend. To illustrate: two Irish groupings on the Left have set out policy objectives that go deeper than tax and spend. John Baker and his colleagues at UCD (in Equality: From Theory to Action) have identified the reduction in the inequalities in pay as central to achieving an egalitarian society. And Mary Murphy (a former Labour member of Dublin City Council) and her colleagues in an ad hoc group named Is Feidir Linn (which doesn’t quite have the rhetorical pizzazz of Barak Obama’s original ‘Yes we can’) have gone further and named a specific numerical outcome to be aimed for:

Highest income earners should have no more than ten times the income of the lowest earners.

However, a problem, as I see it, is that all of the discussion is a long way from giving us the content of practical proposals that a policy maker from the Left could table in, say, talks on forming the next government or in negotiations on the programme of the next European Commission.

A comprehensive approach would require looking at the entire range of incomes and how they arise, but my particular interest is the high end of the income scale, and how it has pulled away from the average in the last thirty to forty years. (And for the purposes of this post, I deal only the pay of business executives: it would take too much space to deal with the pay elite of sports-people, rock stars, and ‘celebrity’ broadcasters.).

While I would dearly love to see ideas of the UCD team and Is Feidir Linn further developed, I am glad that they have not rushed ahead with more specific proposals that are poorly grounded, a virtue that cannot be attributed to the British think-tank Compass to justify its campaign for a Commission on High Pay. The Chair of Compass, Neal Lawson, said at the launch of their campaign in August

It’s time the government took action on excessive pay, it’s absolutely right that we now reign in the bonus bandits that created the economic crisis.

The more substantial briefing paper that Compass published expands on this as a key reason for establishing a High Pay Commission:

There is now a clear public interest in exploring the link between high pay, excessive risk taking and the stability of the national economy. That is why Compass is calling for the establishment of a High Pay Commission so that the threat of meltdown and the reality of recession are never repeated because of excessive rewards.

Somebody needs to tell Compass – whose tagline is “Direction for the Democratic Left” – that the logic of this is not particularly of the Left. Applying Compass’s reasoning, if the bandits had not created the crisis, then the level of their pay should not be an issue. Or, could it be that Compass thinks that if those who had created the crisis had not been highly paid, there would be no need to examine their behaviour – that it is OK if medium or low paid workers create global chaos. (For fairness, I should point out that others who provided quotations for Compass’s press statement did offer sounder rationales for examining high pay.)

A second – and potentially much more significant – possible source of change on high executive pay that I have seen discussed recently is an institution I would not have thought of as being notable for its Left stance: the US Supreme Court. Even more surprising is that the intellectual basis is an argument made by Richard Posner, a prominent US scholar and federal judge who would be described as being on the political Right  (albeit he hasn’t become a turncoat:  his rationale is not in the slightest bit egalitarian). In a dissenting opinion in a case called Jones v Harris, he says

executive compensation in large publicly traded firms often is excessive because of the feeble incentives of boards of directors to police compensation.

And after a slew of academic papers to support that point, Posner goes on:

Directors are often CEOs of other companies and naturally think that CEOs should be well paid. And often they are picked by the CEO. Compensation consulting firms, which provide cover for generous compensation packages voted by boards of directors, have a conflict of interest because they are paid not only for their compensation advice but for other services to the firm—services for which they are hired by the officers whose compensation they advised on.

That seems to me to be a pretty good definition of ‘crony capitalism’, a term I associate with Joe Higgins (in the sense, of course, that he uses that term to attack the business elite).

The subsequent appeal in Jones v Harris now means that, as the New York Times put it ‘Supreme Court to Hear Case on Executive Pay’. (Both the jurisprudence and what might be called the judicial politics of Posner’s dissent are also interesting although they are not relevant to my discussion. Links to some of the discussion of those topics can be found here, here and here.) The importance of Posner’s dissent is that it has moved a well-established critique to executive compensation out of the relative backwater of academia into a legal-political sphere, and within that sphere an arena with some bite.

The question is whether egalitarians can provide responses to that critique, or is sophisticated analysis of that section of the labour market the preserve of the Right?

Nevermind the data, it’s got to be true, it just has to be! Private sector pay cuts. September 30, 2009

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics.

Well, there I was, standing in a newsagents scanning the front of the Irish Times and what do I see but those comments by John FitzGerald of the ESRI who speaking in perhaps the most unforgiving environment possible at the Small Firms Association’s annual conference questioned whether

…costs had actually come down in the private sector. “In our modelling we felt that wage rates, for example, would fall by 7 per cent over two years in the private sector. However, the latest data suggests that, in spite of what people are saying, costs are not coming down significantly. They are still rising, according to CSO data.”
He said there had been a 7 per cent wage cut in the public sector, and many of his European colleagues were “staggered” this had been accepted by Irish public sector workers.

That’s quite some statement in itself. One of the tropes abroad in this state is that somehow the 7 per cent (which by the way I’m pretty agnostic about) was entirely minimal. That in international terms it is regarded as otherwise is instructive.

But he continues…

“In terms of where we go from here, it will be important that it is seen that here is some reaction from the private sector and so far the data suggests that there has been no significant cuts in labour costs or wage rates in the private sector . . . Until we see the data from the CSO, there cannot really be further cuts in the public sector.

What a turnaround in this debate. For up until now the idea has been that the public sector must follow a private sector that has taken all the pain. But… if there have been ‘no significant cuts…in the private sector’… and for the record I know a number of people who have taken wage cuts so it’s not unknown, merely not anywhere near as pervasive as IBEC or the SFA or indeed the median economic commentariat would like us to think… then that necessitates the private sector absorbing pain.

I’m no more convinced by that particular argument than its opposite. Firstly, and in fairness FitzGerald doesn’t use the word pain, job losses across the private sector are a very real phenomenon (I can point also to the loss of contract workers in the public sector and there are many many of us hanging on in similar positions unsure as to what happens next). But as ever, how this can be ‘applied’ across the society seems difficult to gauge. Unless the argument is that the private sector must now impose reductions in pay in order that more still can be cut from public sector wages.

A race to the bottom indeed.

Anywhow… immediately IBEC sprang to the defence of it’s previous position on this matter…

His claims were refuted by a representative of employers’ group Ibec, who said payroll costs had fallen by 12 or 13 per cent in the private sector, although this was not attributable solely to reductions in pay.
“Pay reductions account for around 2 per cent of falling costs, but we’re seeing it in reduced bonuses, reduced working time and unemployment increase,” he said.

Hmmm… a 12-13 percent fall in payroll costs, but only 2 percent from pay reductions.

I think they might want to shore up that argument a little.

Still, yet more evidence that the arguments that we have seen arrayed have been built on partial and anecdotal evidence. And if they remain so thin on matters such as this which are relatively easily amenable to a degree of objective analysis it does make one wonder about other, less transparent matters.

No Free Speech for, um, the No Campaign September 30, 2009

Posted by Garibaldy in Lisbon Treaty.

Just spotted this statement courtesy of sometime contributor here Thoreau at politics.ie. A Fianna Fáil councillor in Wexford has been spotten taking down No posters in New Ross, with over 10% of the People’s Movement posters in the area having been pulled down. The individual responsible has been reported to Gardaí. We all know this sort of thing goes on at election time, but nice to see that someone has been caught in the act. It’ll be interesting to see what happens next. I doubt we’ll see a resignation from the council or an explusion from FF but you never know.

Polls… so many polls… And Eamon Gilmore too… 2 September 30, 2009

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics, The Left.

There’s more fascinating data to be found in the latest set of polls. For example, what to make of the latest polling data that suggests that:

On the issue of whether the Greens should vote to remain in Government at its convention planned for October 10th, there are key differences between various categories on what the party should do.
Critically, 75 per cent of Green voters want to remain in coalition and a majority of FF voters share that view. While supporters of the Opposition parties say the Greens should pull out, a quarter of them want the coalition to continue.
In class terms 44 per cent of AB voters want the Greens to stay in while just 29 per cent of DE voters want the coalition to continue.

Well, perhaps that points up the class nature of GP support. But what to make of a quarter of supporters of Labour, Fine Gael, Sinn Féin and others arguing the coalition should remain in situ?

And what of this?

Fine Gael and Green Party voters are the next most supportive [of NAMA], although a majority in each camp is opposed to the measure. This still represents a significant turnaround among Green supporters who were the most strongly against the plan three weeks ago.

That, surely, is music to the ears of the GP Ministers as they nervously anticipate October 10th. Such a turnaround is precisely what one imagines they hope to manage with their membership, or rather to minimise dissent against NAMA. One wonders again if the public pronouncements by GP elected representatives has staunched that political wound.

The polling data on other aspects of the economic situation are of equal interest.

Telling to see that most voters do not want reductions in welfare or taxation of child benefit. One might wonder, perhaps a little cynically, whether this is because such payments are amongst those most likely to be used by the voters (or potentially most likely to be used, as in the case of welfare payments).

But, notable that:

In spite of the strong opposition to welfare cuts and the taxing of child benefit, 70 per cent of voters said the Government should put the emphasis on cuts in the budget. Just 14 per cent favoured an emphasis on tax increases as the best way of dealing with the crisis in the public finances.
Supporters of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael were equally strong in their preference for spending cuts while Labour and Green voters were less enthusiastic. Sinn Féin voters were most strongly opposed.
Ironically, the strongest support for putting the emphasis on tax increases came from the wealthiest AB social group, who already pay a higher proportion of their income in tax than any other category.

Ironic too that those in other ‘social groups’ are most likely to have to avail of services that spending cuts threaten [edit – my point being that although those outside the AB group might well have good reason to not want tax increases they are more likely to ultimately have to depend upon the very services tax increases will help fund… see comments below]. One has to hand it to the media management of the current crisis. And there’s more…

The strongest opposition to tax increases came from the middle and lower-middle C1 and C2 social groups who want the emphasis to be placed on spending cuts.
When asked if the Government should put the emphasis on pay cuts or redundancies in order to reduce the public sector pay bill, voters favoured salary reductions by a margin of more than two to one.

It’s therefore timely that Eamon Gilmore has announced his opposition to public sector pay cuts.

Asked if he thought pay-cuts in the public sector were inevitable, he said: “I don’t accept they are inevitable first of all because there already has been a pay cut for people who are working in public service organisations – it was the so-called pension levy”.

Over recent weeks, some Government sources have suggested pay cuts of 5 per cent for most public sector workers and deeper reductions for those at the top could be introduced in the Budget.

That figure of 5% is certainly gaining currency, it was on the front page of the Sunday Times at the weekend, and here it is again. But Gilmore is adamant and in terms not a million miles away from those used on this blog and others. That’s a pretty strong statement to make, given the orthodoxy arrayed against that position and it will be instructive if the media affection for him dims somewhat now that he is seemingly positioning himself in a more hard-edged mode on the subject.

I was very struck by the tone of the reporting in the Irish Times yesterday on this matter, a sort of non-too veiled disbelief that an adult human being could put forward such a position…

Asked if he accepted that public expenditure savings of €4 billion would have to be made, he replied: “I don’t accept the €4 billion figure. The question that has to be addressed [is] what happens if you take €4 billion out of the economy.
“There’s been a huge chunk of money taken out of the economy already this year. We see the consequences of that: walk down any street in Ireland.
“There’s nobody going into the shops, there’s no spend. Because there’s no spend, there’s no sales taxes coming in.” The question of whether €4 billion was the correct figure was “something that the Labour Party is looking at”. The Government still had not given a date for the budget.

And lest this seem like an undigested paean to continuity he noted:

Reiterating that he was saying no to public sector pay cuts, Mr Gilmore continued: “We’ve already said there are areas where economies could be achieved in the public service pay budget.
“One of those is at the top end, and we have proposed that there should be a cap on salaries at the top end and we have said what that cap should be. Secondly, we have argued, in terms of equity as much as anything else, that there should be a third taxation band and it should apply to earnings of over €100,000.
“We are already saying quite clearly, let me be clear about this, there has already been a cut in pay for people who work in the public services, that people who are on low and middle incomes are not in a position to bear further pay cuts.”

I can think of other areas economies in public expenditure could be found as well, some, believe it or not, suggested by McCarthy. But the point is that at least he is willing now to articulate however imprecisely an alternative view. In political terms this is intriguing. Does this point to a sense on the part of Labour that they can cohere what might be a formerly Fianna Fáil ‘public sector’ (for want of a better term) vote that has come their way and that in doing so they can maximise their vote? Because the logic of the polls would seem to suggest that that is the most fertile ground for them to operate upon (given that other left parties have already appropriated terrain that might hitherto have been productive for them).

Already the Irish Times editorial is concerned about this. Yesterday it reiterated orthodoxy.

There is an urgent need to reduce official borrowing. The Government is committed to trimming expenditure by €4 billion next year. Pay reductions, rather than job losses, are publicly favoured. And Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan has no appetite for further tax increases. The Government has confirmed it will reduce the cost of children’s allowances. Such a measure will be extremely unpopular, as the recent Irish Times/TNS mrbi opinion poll made clear. The same holds true for cuts in social welfare. But it would be a travesty if welfare benefits were reduced while the pay and conditions of a privileged group of employees were protected.

Note how the discussion has shifted subtly from the former trope of public sector pay versus private sector pay. That the figures did not support the contention that pay cuts were widespread in the private sector punctured that balloon. So now the comparison is made between those on social welfare and those in the public sector. Of course, any public sector employee paying the pension levy could easily turn around and say that they have already seen their pay and conditions reduced. Now I don’t know if that’s a travesty… but…

And the ugly prospect, for the Irish Times, of Eamon Gilmore going off-message is also noted…

Eamon Gilmore of the Labour Party has opposed a cut in public sector pay and questioned the need for €4 billion in savings. His pro-trade union stance places him at odds with Fine Gael and raises questions about future government policy.

Note that his apostasy is positioned not within an ideological economic framework but in the context of being ‘pro-trade union’, which is a fairly disingenuous way of putting it. One can be in favour of retaining consumer spending or not cutting public sector wages (or at least not in the currently proposed form of the currently proposed ends) without being in thrall to unions. But we are getting more than a hint of how this will be worked through in the media over the next while.

One can also predict that this will be a source of ammunition for the Government benches in the Dáil, well, not this week given Lisbon, but perhaps next week.

Meanwhile, back in the polls, there’s some odd contradictions, or at least part contradictions… this is particularly eye-catching…

Labour remains the biggest party in Dublin and it has also taken over as the most popular party among the AB social category where it edges out Fine Gael. Labour’s lowest level of support comes from the least well off DE voters.
By contrast Fine Gael is now the most popular party among DE voters where it has overtaken Fianna Fáil.

Fine Gael? Really? How does that work? It reminds me of something an acquaintance in one of our smaller left parties said, that the biggest problem isn’t convincing people that Fianna Fáil are useless, but persuading them that Fine Gael aren’t the obvious alternative.

Still true.

Communities Against Cuts Protest March September 30th at 1pm September 29, 2009

Posted by Garibaldy in Economy.
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Just to remind people about this march tomorrow, assembling at Parnell Square at 1pm to march to Dáil Éireann.

“The implications for services and communities are real and devastating,” said David Connolly, chairperson of the ‘Communities against Cuts’ campaign.

“Projects that deliver vital childcare, youth support, drug rehabilitation, education, training, literacy programmes and community development will have to cut services and many will face closure as the result of the government cut-backs and the McCarthy proposals.

“These cuts are financially reckless and will end up costing the State more in the long run. For example, for every €1 that is spent on quality childcare the State saves €10; for every €1 spent on drug rehabilitation the State saves €3.”

“The quality of life for all communities in the country will be damaged if the Government is allowed to force through these drastic cuts in community services. We are calling on every community to support the protest and march to the Dáil on Wednesday,” he said.

Polls… so many polls… 1 September 29, 2009

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, The Left.

It’s been quite a weekend for polling data. As much as one could comfortably hope for, and yet, given that the Lisbon referendum is now but a few short days away that leads to a certain emptiness to the numbers offered up. We’ll know, one way or another, precisely how that shakes out. It’s hard to predict given that there still remain significant reservoirs of Don’t Knows at this point, something that surely is a remarkable achievement for both the YES and NO campaigns in the context of the onslaught of posters, leaflets and other ephemera to persuade us of their viewpoints. And if I were to be pushed to give an opinion on the overall outcome I’d think it might be narrowly shaded by the YES side. The RedC poll certainly seems to demonstrate that the DK’s are now at a relatively small percentage of 18%, as against 55% YES and 27% NO. But… who knows? I shop up Artane/Finglas way and the relative weight of NO to YES posters were at least 3:1. Now it comes down to a lot more than that, but… if the working class turns out on the day the YES side is sunk.

But of more interest to me politically is the slight upswing for Fianna Fáil.

When people were asked who they would vote for if there were a general election tomorrow, the adjusted figures for party support, compared with the last Irish Times poll on September 3rd, were: Fianna Fáil, 20 per cent (up three points); Fine Gael, 31 per cent (down three points); Labour, 25 per cent (up one point); Sinn Féin, 9 per cent (down one point); Green Party, 4 per cent (up one point); and Independents/others, 11 per cent (down one point).

Now, the idea that Labour is significantly ahead of Fianna Fáil has always seemed a little dubious (and can I repeat I’d be delighted if it were correct). But look at the movement – all within the margin of error it should be noted – Sinn Féin down 1%, Independents down 1% and Fine Gael down 1%. If accurate that means that some of the FF vote detached by Labour may, just may, be coming home. What is equally interesting is that the Labour vote remains coherent.

But look then at the core vote for the parties which seems to me to give a better read in terms of overall strengths and intriguingly no less cheery for Labour.

The core vote for the parties (before undecided voters are excluded) compared with the last Irish Times poll was: Fianna Fáil, 18 per cent (up two points); Fine Gael, 23 per cent (down three points); Labour, 18 per cent (no change); Sinn Féin, 9 per cent (no change); Green Party, 3 per cent (up one point); Independents/Others, 8 per cent (down one point); and undecided voters 21 per cent (up one point).

All those undecideds, many of them former FF voters… some of them perhaps open to persuasion to return if the situation stabilises. But note too that Labour is level pegging Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are not that far in front. And the strength of Sinn Féin in all this is equally remarkable.

The position of the Green Party is also worth note. What is driving that very minor upward swing? Is it the shapes thrown over the Programme for Government, or perhaps as likely, the fact that with the upcoming negotiations on that there has been a renewed focus on them in the media. No news being good news as it were, and so on. That though raises a further problem. It was notable during the last week that the Green Party Ministers were asked whether they were aware of the Rody Molloy issue. Unlikely given that the events occurred in different Departments, but testament to a creeping dynamic whereby as they become more important in the scheme of things, and in government continuation in particular, they also are pushed into taking ownership to a greater and greater degree even in areas which in truth they have no oversight.

It’s a useful exercise to look at an example of a poll from earlier this year in May to see how core votes have changed…

The core vote for the parties (before undecided voters are excluded) compared with the last Irish Times poll was: Fianna Fáil 20 per cent (no change); Fine Gael 29 per cent (up 5 points); Labour 15 per cent (down 2 points); Sinn Féin 8 per cent (no change); Green Party 2 per cent (down 1 point); Independents/ others, 6 per cent (no change); and undecided voters 20 per cent (down 2 points).

Again, it is the undecided voters who were in the ascendent. Still, in the context of the latest poll what a time when the good news for Fianna Fáil is that its core vote is at 18%.

Let’s rewind the clock a little further back, to May 2007 just before the last General Election. Then the situation was as follows:

The core vote for the parties is: Fianna Fáil 35 per cent (up 3 points); Fine Gael 22 per cent (down 1 point); Labour 10 per cent (up 3 points); Sinn Féin 8 per cent (no change); Greens 4 per cent (no change); PDs 1 per cent (down one point); Independents/others 5 per cent (no change); and undecided voters 15 per cent (down 4 points).

On the day Fianna Fáil achieved 41.5%, Fine Gael 27.3%, Labour 10.1%, Sinn Féin 6.9%, Green Party 4.6%, the PDs 2.7%, Independents 5.1% and all others under 2%.

What’s striking about this is that without the shadow of a doubt given current polling data the Fianna Fáil vote is now hugely lower, but there’s still a stubborn tranche of (presumably) previously Fianna Fáil support hanging out in the undecideds. If Lisbon is won for the Government then I’d imagine that another segment of that vote may go home. A successful renegotiation of the Programme for Government. A few percent more. The Government surviving until the December Budget, a few more again. And… a softer Budget than previously advertised, a few more again.

Of course it’s not pre-destined. The new found heights of the Labour support does speak of something significant happening. Without an election, though, it’s hard to know precisely what. What is clear is that at this point the three parties, Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fáil now have core votes that are remarkably close to one another. That’s a remarkable situation, it truly is. Our two and a half system, or even two and a half and two quarters system has been decisively torn apart into a new and fascinating configuration.

BTW, Conor McCabe of Dublin Opinion and I were discussing the remarkable prognostications of the Irish Times political correspondent last week, and here… let me offer you one of his gems…

With the Government facing so many difficult choices there is always the possibility it could come a cropper, not on a major policy issue, but over some event that comes out of the blue. The re-emergence of the Fás scandal in recent days is a reminder of “the little things” that can trip up a Government.

Well I never. Who’d have thought it?

Independent Senator (quietly) (re)joins Labour Party. Not that she really left. September 28, 2009

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, The Left.

It may have slipped peoples notice, but the strangest thing happened last week when Senator Ivana Bacik, formerly Independent Senator, moved onto the Labour benches. Granted her candidacy for the Labour Party in the Dublin Central by-election, and her previous membership (and perhaps continuing, I’m not entirely certain of her status in that regard during the past two years since her election as an Independent) were great big clues that the life of the solitary Independent weren’t necessarily a permanent course she had fixed upon. But… one wonders what her plans are next. Can’t see a grateful Trinity electorate necessarily giving her the same support now she’s flying a party flag – they seem uncomfortable about such things. That is if there is even a TCD electorate if the government lasts and certain proposals come into play as regards the future of the Seanad. And that puzzles me a little. I’ve always had enormous admiration for her and she has taken an extremely courageous stance on a raft of issues over the years, and I quite respected her not quite in Labour approach over the past two years or so (which also, perhaps gave her more freedom than one might have expected) and it’s hard to see how this benefits her.

The comments in the illustrious second chamber on this topic were… well, read for yourselves…

Senator Joe O’Toole:In the meantime, I would like us to have a discussion on the public sector and what it is contributing to the economy in order that those working within it would see there is respect for them in some parts of public life.
During the summer the Leader of the House issued a statement on Seanad reform. Is he ready for it? We know about the University Senators and will go along with it. What about the next reform? There has been no word about it. The media hopped onto it and it is the one issue on which everyone is agreed. A House in respect of which every citizen of the State does not have a vote in its construction is no longer acceptable in a democracy. The McCarthy report is correct. The Seanad either needs to be reformed or abolished. That is the end of the matter.
I would like the House to note, with some sadness on these benches, that we have lost one of our illustrious Members who has moved slightly forward and to the right.
An Cathaoirleach:The Senator on the Order of Business please.
Senator Joe O’Toole:Senator Bacik has moved to the Labour Party benches.
Senator Cecilia Keaveney:Just as well she ran. [huh?]
Senator Alex White:In so far as Senator O’Toole is allowed to express his sadness at the loss of Senator Bacik to the Labour Party benches, I note with great pleasure that she has joined us on them. I am sure she will impress and prosper as much as she did on the other benches which, I notice, have been augmented by another Senator. We were not informed about that before the House met.
Senator Joe O’Toole:Of course, we were informed.
Senator Alex White:I wish the Sinn Féin and Independent Senators well in the forthcoming session.


Senator Ivana Bacik:I thank Senators Alex White and O’Toole for their kind words. Although I have made a small physical move forward and to the right, of course, I stay politically exactly where I was before, which is firmly on the left. I have the privilege of having been elected by the graduates of Dublin University to represent them in the Seanad and I will continue to work hard to do so.


Senator Rónán Mullen:That individual indicated that there is a certain irony in the EU providing the freedom to work and live in its different member states, yet Ireland will not grant the means to vote for those of us who may be out of the country on polling day. Can we have a debate on the need to change that position soon?
On a final point, I compliment and wish well my colleague, Senator Bacik. In moving to the Labour Party she has clearly wrestled with her conscience.
An Cathaoirleach:That is not relevant to the Order of Business.
Senator Rónán Mullen:I am not sure if she has won or lost that wrestling match.
An Cathaoirleach:The leaders of the groups have spoken on that matter.
Senator Rónán Mullen:Neither Senator O’Toole nor myself——
An Cathaoirleach:The Senator is not the leader of his group.
Senator Rónán Mullen:——is sure whether there will be a by-election on the Trinity panel but we would like to wish her well in any case. I can assure her that physically at least I will be behind her all the way from now on.
An Cathaoirleach:Senator Mullen, please desist. I call Senator Walsh.
Senator Cecilia Keaveney:Senator Bacik should watch her back. [huh- again?]
Senator Ivana Bacik:I will.

Irish Left Archive: TILT (The Irish Labour Tribune) from the Labour Party, 1997 September 28, 2009

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Labour Party, Irish Left Online Document Archive, Irish Politics, The Left.


TILTgo copy

Many thanks to Damian O’Broin for this guest post.

TILT, an acronym apreciation for the The Irish Labour Tribune, had a relatively brief existence over a few years in the late 1990s, either side of the 1997 election.

This issue was produced in the immediate aftermath of the 1997 election and is dominated by post-mortems of the 92-97 governments and the subsequent election defeat.

At a time when it seems likely that Labour will end 12+ years in opposition by entering a coalition after the next general election, it is instructive to look back at how the party viewed their last such experience.

But first a bit of background on TILT. It was very much driven by the party young guns at the time. The editors were Aidan Culhane, now a councillor and a defeated candidate at the last general election, and Ronan O’Brien, soon to be appointed Ruarí Quinn’s chef de cabinet.

But that’s not to say that the heavyweights of the party weren’t involved. This issue contains pieces by Quinn, Stagg and Kathleen O’Meara, as well as a lenghty piece by James Wrynn.

Some of the snippets are interesting. There’s a short piece on Sinn Féin:

“One of the least talked about performances in the General Election was that of Sinn Féin. The election of Caoimhín Ó Caoláin could have been accompanied by the election of Martin Ferris in Kerry North and Sean Crowe in Dublin South West. Ferris’s performance – he garnered 5,691 votes – in Kerry North was particularly impressive. Had Dick Spring not been the Labour candidate, it is not inconceivable that Ferris could have been elected. And all this before the second cease-fire was called. Sinn Féin now pose a considerable threat to the Left and Labour, not unlike that of the Workers’ Party in the 80s. And, they are ruthlessly organised, usually on a full time basis subvented by the state as Ó Caoláin’s own career testifies.”

Note the attitude that Sinn Féin (and the Workers’ Party) pose a threat not just to Labour, but to the ‘Left’. Elsewhere, the editorial talks about ‘our cohesiveness almost cosiness with Fine Gael and our other Government partner’ (my emphasis). An indicator, perhaps, of future tensions within the new, merged party, and continuing reluctance today among many in the party to engage with Sinn Féin.

Of course, what this also shows is just how different the political world was is 1997. And that’s a sense you get throughout the magazine. This was the time just after Bertie’s first election, before the drip, drip of tribunals had kicked in, with Ray Burke still in the cabinet. Several columnists anticipate an early election – a reminder that the decade of Fianna Fáil hegemony that was just starting had shaky foundations and required considerable skill and strategy to build and maintain.

It’s also worth rememebering that in 1997 Eamonn Gilmore wasn’t even a member of the Labour Party – the merger with Democratic Left was still a year away – and the Good Friday Agreement had yet to be signed.

So what do they say about their time in government and their failure in the 1997 election?

Emmet Stagg blames the media for a relentless campaign against Labour over the preceding 5 years, the decision to campaign as a government, rather than as the Labour Party, and the difficulty the former campaigning politicians who were swept into Leinster House in 1992 had adjusting to backbench or ministerial life.

Quinn points to being out-maneouvred on taxation by Fianna Fail, with the public being swayed by their focus on nominal tax rates rather than the tax band and allowance approach of Labour.

Interestingly, Quinn, talks aboiut the Celtic Tiger economy already delivering increased prosperity and 200,000 extra jobs. A useful reminder that the good years had already started before Fianna Fáil returned, despite what they’d have you believe.

Quinn’s most interesting point is that Fianna Fáil’s message really hit home with those already in work – so while 200,000 more people had found jobs, those who already were in work were frustrated that their incomes weren’t rising fast enough – hence the success of the ‘It’s payback time’ message.

Like Stagg, Quinn expects that the minority government won’t last and forsees an early election. How wrong they were!

Pat Montague contributes a realistic assessment of the state of the party, and calls for Labour to become a campaigning party – good advice, sadly not heeded.

But the most interesting and insightful piece is the one by James Wrynn.

Wrynn is adamant that entering coalition with Fianna Fáil was not the problem, and was not the reason for defeat in 1997. Amid references to Fine Gael’s ‘superior demeanour’ in 1992, their insistence on including the PDs and refusal to countenance coalition with Democratic Left, Wrynn argues that the 1992 Programme for Government was a remarkable document in the extent of its inclusion of Labour Party policy. Faced with a choice between an arrogant Fine Gael and a supine Fianna Fáil who rolled over and agreed to everything, it was an obvious decision to make.

He doesn’t deny that there were problems with the FF coalition, and biggest amongst these was the tax amnesty which he recognises as Labour’s biggest mistake from this period. His account of it is interesting:

“It is important to understand the context of the tax amnesty, although this is only a slightly ameliorating argument. The budgetary position was extremely tight unlike the situation in recent years. The prospect of a windfall income for the exchequer couple with a greater flow of taxes in subsequent years from newly captured miscreant taxpayers who would not escape their tax liabilities any longer seemed a worthwhile trade-off against some tax evasion by the about to be captured culprits. We were wrong and I was wrong in supporting it. The electorate were not interested ina scheme to give high income tax evaders a greatly reduced tax bill, even if we were guaranteeing they would pay their way from then on. But they were most grieviously upset that the Labour Party were supporting this measure. This was a breach of trust. The ‘passports for sale’ controversy was less damaging but added to the loss of trust.”

But even with this, Wrynn argues that Labour still carried the expectations of the public to a higher standard.

“The silence which descended in pubs, places of work and anywhere with a screen as Dick Spring stood up in the Dáil to articulate where the Labour Party stood in relation to the Brendan Smyth / Harry Whelehan affair was a measure of what the public expected of us and of the regard in which they hold us when we are true to our values.”

I distinctly remember that silence myself, watching the speech on a TV in the office with me colleagues gathered round. It was an electric moment. And, Wrynn argues, at this point “our stock was at a new high, 22% just two and half years before June ‘97”. More evidence that it was not entering coalition with Fianna Fáil which the electorate disliked, but something that happened later.

And Wrynn believes that something was the ‘lacklustre’ programme with FG and DL, the budgetary conservatism of the 1994-97 years, and two and half years of gradual decline.

On top of this was an extraordinary failure in organisation. Wrynn calls it ‘neglect on a grand scale’:

“a party with 19% of the vote in 1992 continued to behave organisationally as if it were a 6-8% party. Constituencies with newly elected TDs or Senators were left to flounder to their own devices in building a constituency organisation and electoral machine. It is ironic that a party which believes in active intervention in the market place where the market place fails to provide appropriate necessary services to a society, should leave the building of its organisational capacity to the laws of chance and luck.”

Like the other writers, he also takes aim at the media, and Independent Newspapers in particular, for an anti-Labour bias. He also points out, as does Montague in his piece, that Labour had come out of government in a far stronger postion than ever before – which was true. However, his critical faculties desert him when describes the election as:

“a complete failure for FF.They stalled at 39%, after almost 3 years in opposition and the majority of their gains were achieved by sucking reluctant PD No. 2s into their net – an unlikely repeat prospect. The new government is lacklustre in the extreme and semi-paralysed by the fall-out of Haughey and what may follow.”

So what lessons for today?

Let’s leave aside the questions of whether Labour should enter coalition and whether they should consider FF as potential partners and instead look at how they should approach things if they do.

Well, Fine Gael’s ‘superior demeanour’ has definitely returned and there seems to be an expectation that Labour will inevitably support them in coalition. Labour’s first task therefore is to ensure that they don’t allow themselves to be bounced into a bad deal, in the way the Greens were in 2007. The situation cannot be allowed to develop that coalition with Fine Geal is the only option. Strategies should be prepared to handle an alternative coalition with Fianna Fáil or indeed a refusal to enter coalition with either. Ultimately is should be about the programme. If it’s not Labour-hued then it shouldn’t be agreed to.

And clearly the second task is organisational. Others are probably better positioned to say how the current organisation compares with that in 1997, but it seems clear that if Labour are to enter government, as much talent and energy needs to be devoted to maintaining and buidling the organisation, as there is to running the country.

Hanley/Miller Interview on Indymedia September 27, 2009

Posted by Garibaldy in Irish History, Workers' Party.

Thanks to Godot and Anarchaeologist who both point to the interview in the comments zone of a couple of other threads. Definitely essential reading, and kudos to those who put it on Indymedia too.

Ó Brádaigh to Step Down September 27, 2009

Posted by Garibaldy in Republican Sinn Féin.

I guess this is the end of an era, with Ruairí Ó Brádaigh announcing he will be standing down as President of RSF at their next Ard Fheis “for reasons of age and health” although he will seek to be on their executive body and be their patron. I can’t say that I regard Ó Brádaigh’s leadership of either Provisional or Republican SF as a positive force in Irish politics. But the fact he is standing down is certainly a moment of significance for his organisation, and possibly for its future. Be interesting to see who takes over – someone of his generation, or someone younger. And whether the next leader is from the north or the south might give some indication as to how far they have been able to tap into the undoubted disaffection of some young people in the north and channel it.

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