Third party on the right and straight on ’til… where again did you say? February 7, 2013Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.
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.
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.