Counting on that economic upturn… January 10, 2013Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics, The Left.
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?