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Labour dissidence January 24, 2013

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

There’s a great point in the most recent Backroom column in the Sunday Business Post where in a discussion of the travails of the Labour Party (and it is soon approaching the point where any sentence about the LP will have to include that term ‘travails’. That said it’s not the only formation to which the term can be applied at this moment) and consideration of the dissidents it argues that:

What the leadership needs to do is a lot more straight-talking, show a bit of humility and back down less in the face of Fine Gael’s obsession with the tax rate on higher earners. If Labour is going to take the hit for breaking its big promises, Fine Gael should be seen to do so as well.

Whether the Labour leadership is capable of doing this is quite a separate thing.

And it continues:

Eamon Gilmore and the highest profile Labour minister, Pat Rabbitte are not men known to do humility. They are also not men known for allowing a bit of flexibility when it comes to party discipline. What they’ve never done before though is lead a party of nearly 40 TDs through such difficult times.
They are not instinctively inclined towards valuing internal debate. Dick Spring, who saved the modern Labour Party, faced down and threw out the Militant Tendency, but he always understood that Labour is a broad church and it was not possible or desirable to stop all dissent.

This is an under considered thought, is it not? That those able to manage small enough parties of less than a few dozen public representatives simply have not been equipped with the skill set to manage (and/or lead) parties touching on 40 TDs and a score more Senators. It’s something that on the left is well worth thinking more deeply about. Because if there’s any seriousness to the efforts to grow the left then it is essential that there are structures in place to ensure the cohesiveness of those platforms (or parties or whatever) as they develop and grow.

Another interesting aspect of the Backroom column is the negative spin put on Colm Keaveney, something that suggests that it has a genuinely problematic aspect for the LP:

The Colm Keaveney affair returns to bother the party every Sunday and sometimes also during the week. It may well be a distraction from the serious business of government, but it keeps rumbling on and causing major damage.
To be clear on this, there is virtually zero sympathy for Keaveney in Labour or in any party. There were just as many broken promises and ‘anti-Labour values’ measures in last year’s budget when he was happy to vote Yes. He has sought every opportunity to escalate the dispute and to talk about his deep connection to the voters of Galway East.

In contrast, the other Labour rebels have been more consistent and less prone to self-promotion. Tommy Broughan and Patrick Nulty went overboard the first time they were asked to vote against what they saw as core Labour values.

Róisín Shortall gave up ministerial office and the chance of ever getting to cabinet because she would not quietly sit by as Fine Gael worked its magic in Health.

There’s more than a measure of truth in that, though it’s not the whole story. Minds change over time. Though for all the lack of sympathy for Keaveney tellingly Backroom doesn’t actually disagree with most of what he’s saying:

While you can question Keaveney’s motives, it doesn’t mean that whatever he says is wrong, and this is a point the party leadership should take time to appreciate.

And Backroom suggests that three aspects of Keaveney’s critique are worth considering, firstly that the party has reneged on its electoral promises, that the leadership appears ‘rudderless’ and that unless the LP starts to ‘deliver’ on those promises it will be in deep trouble. Backroom disagrees with the last – Backroom being wedded to the notion that ‘the only thing this government can point to as … achievements… [would be] getting the deficit down and returning to the bond markets’. Perhaps that will be sufficient to haul the LP and FGs coals out of the fire, but I wonder. I think that those issues are such abstractions to the day to day enterprise of running the administration that they will be so much fluff to the electorate. The deeper problem is that even were the government able (or willing) to rescind the changes made – and let’s not forget that there’s been so much talk of ‘reform’ and ‘change’ for its own sake as a part of the discourse in the past few years that to muddle that message would be highly problematic, not to say contradictory – that it will be insufficient to reverse them. Taking something away, even when it is projected as a good in and of itself is rarely the best way to win friends and influence people. And eschewing giving any of it back doesn’t help any, either.

But here is where the TINA argument enters the equation.

Perhaps if Labour had refused to go into government and insisted that Fine Gael go alone or pucker up to Fianna Fáil it would be in a better place.
Today there is no option but to go all-in on the strategy of taking the punishment and praying for the day when the economy really turns around. Anyone who makes this more difficult is not serving the interests of the Labour Party.

Hmmm… well. Hmmm… Given that under the current approach the LP is likely to see its representation halved at the next election, at best – given current polling data – that’s an interesting definition of ‘interests’. But then there’s little evidence that there’s much consideration for the post-election environment other than a pious hope that the figures will stack up for a return to power with Fine Gael. That might work, but with an LP so diminished and an FG not looking entirely healthy either it would seem like that others will be necessary to make up numbers, and somehow one doubts that those others will be that left-leaning. Which makes Backroom’s parting thought more than a little academic:

Talk of an Old Labour/Workers’ Party divide is much overblown. What is significant though is that this talk still exists. This government is rock solid for at least two more years. Labour is going nowhere because it has nowhere to go.
Anyone who genuinely wants to run as a Labour candidate next time out should understand this and act accordingly.

If Backroom believes that Keaveney is partially correct in his analysis and the LP leadership is incorrect to not to allow for ‘flexibility’ in dissent then it seems odd for her or him to argue that LP candidates must essentially keep schtum… and how far will that get people in the future?


1. irishelectionliterature - January 24, 2013

You’d wonder if the focus on Keaveney isn’t such a bad thing for the Labour leadership. By that the focus is on the individual and his role as chairman of the party as opposed to the actual policies that caused him to quit.


2. hardcore for nerds - January 24, 2013

On the last point of contradiction, isn’t it more that ‘dissent’ is valued in the abstract, while the political and economic bases on which that dissent would or could be made are excluded from the argument? Seems like the Swiftian paradox of our democracy currently.


3. 6to5against - January 24, 2013

Embedded in the article is the belief that an exit from the bailout and a return to the markets would be considered a success by the electorate, and might therefore pay an electoral dividend. But any exit from the bailout will only allow us to borrow money internationally, probably at rates higher than we are now paying.
That can only be considered a success if it allows us to follow a different economic policy, and it is often presented in that light. But what different policy are we even considering?
In order to ram through the austerity over the last few years, all parties (FF,Greens, FG and Lab) have portrayed their actions as necessary and good in their own right. The IMF might have been blamed when all other arguments fell, but we have constantly been told that we needed paycuts, welfare cuts, tax rises (of sorts) service reductions, less hospitals etc. regardless of any programme. In that light, its hard to see how they will be able to tell us things are looking up when we continue with similar policies while paying higher interest rates.
It really is a political mess – as well as an economic one – on a grand scale, and one that will damage all politics here for a generation.


smiffy - January 24, 2013

Absolutely right. Underlying the entire piece is the assumption that austerity policies are the correct, and only, way to achieve economic growth. If we keep going as we are, the thinking goes, things are bound to improve, the only question being when. Those in Labour questioning this strategy are seen as only short-term wobblers, afraid of the immediate electoral punishment, failing to see the bigger picture.

Of course, if the initial assumption is flawed, then the entire argument falls. But it can’t be flawed, because there is no alternative ….


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