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After Meath East March 29, 2013

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics, The Left.
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Byelections in this Dáil are different to those which came before – with the government parties actually managing to do better than might otherwise be expected. That said there’s an element of a divided opposition gifting such results to the government. But there’ll be more, and let’s also be clear that by-elections are simply not mappable onto general elections, at least not with sufficient precision to call it for next time. Though this result tracks the broad lessons from national polling data (which is not the same as mapping the results onto a general election).

Paddy Healy makes some useful points here, not least that the turnout was abysmal, and weather and other factors no doubt played their part on the day.

Independent votes still strong. FF and FG in contention. The LP in deep trouble. Deep deep trouble. The further left marginalised. SF doing okay, not brilliantly but still seeing an uptick from 2011. Considerable volatility still extant. A lot to play for, particularly in urban constituencies.

But, what of specific lessons, firstly, the fall of the LP doesn’t mean the rise of the left – and following on from that there’s no certainty that the LP votes in 2011 represented anything other than a ‘change’ vote as distinct from a ‘left’ vote, however soft left it might be. Pat Rabbitte may think the LP vote stayed at home, and yes, a lot of votes did stay at home, but such a vertiginous collapse when mapped against the rise of FF tells it’s own story. He/they might do well to ponder the grim story of the Green Party in the period 2007 to 2011.

Secondly the FF rise while impressive is not necessarily remarkably impressive. The solidity, relative admittedly, but still solid, of the FG vote is worth thinking about. They will weather the storm, outside urban areas, perhaps better than expected. Though more to come in terms of political trouble. But, time has obviously detoxified the FF brand – or the lack of an alternative has allowed it to contest.

Thirdly SF while doing well didn’t do stratospherically and will have its work cut out across a range of constituencies – though that SF vote still suggests they’ll do well come the next election in places that hitherto were resistant to their charms. They’re tilting into genuinely replacing the Labour Party as the third party in the state.

Fourthly we can look at the Independent bloc as holding promise, but it also holds threats, such as DDI which while in the greater scheme of things have limited influence, and probably limited impact, can act as blockers of more progressive alternatives. It seems to me that DDI, while worth keeping an eye on, aren’t yet a significant threat. And in all honesty they should have done well here if anywhere given that they’ve two offices in Meath. Indeed by-elections have always provided arena’s for fourth and no party candidates to do better than usual. And I’d suspect that their beating the LP into fifth place is more significant – in that it demonstrates how toxic the LP now is, than they themselves as a formation are. But. Well worth keeping an eye on.

Fifth… Fine Gael abides, as noted above. Specific circumstances here, and that’s true. FF might have won if not for those circumstances, and that’s perhaps true too. But FG did win. And that may be no harm in so far as the forward progress of FF, it’s return to political credibility – ahem – is stymied very slightly. The actual balance of power doesn’t change, albeit the tensions inside the Coalition will increase, perhaps severely.

Sixth… The challenge by the WP/CAHWT didn’t exactly catch light despite trojan work on the ground and a genuinely heartening degree of public support from others on the left. This is problematic. It’s not just that the constituency is conservative, though that is true a varying degree(and let’s be careful about not writing off ‘rural’ constituencies as if there’s some immutable law that they cannot vote left). But it’s certainly typical of many other constituencies across the state. And if the left isn’t even in shape to mount an effective challenge here in that category of constituencies then it’s far far from making much of an impact, let alone winning state power. Okay, we knew that yesterday, but worth reflecting upon today. The divided nature of the vote suggests that even in urban constituencies where competition on the left is so much broader there’s no sure fire guarantee that formations will come through in any numbers. There’s no reason to be absolutely downhearted by that. But as raised in comments here there’s problems, serious problems.

But one final thought for the moment. If the economy is driving politics in this state how precisely is that manifested in Meath East and what does it say about the tenor of the electorate there? Pro-status quo, anti-status quo or… and this might be a real issue, much more indifferent to these matters even after half a decade near enough of austerity than might be expected? I can’t quite decide but a lot to think about after all this.

Comments»

1. EWI - March 29, 2013

and following on from that there’s no certainty that the LP votes in 2011 represented anything other than a ‘change’ vote as distinct from a ‘left’ vote, however soft left it might be.

A Labour vote has stopped being a vote for ‘change’, because the LP itself is just as neo-liberal and against the interests of most of the public as the rest of them (gay marriage as the “civil rights issue of our day”, really that’s the priority right now?).

When Labour stop being radical and striving for progress then they fail. People aren’t fools.

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2. itsapoeticalworld - March 29, 2013

The fact is that the “further left” sat on its hands when Labour went into the coalition, spun the complacent and absurd line that “everyone knows that Labour is a right wing party” instead of visibly and publicly demanding that Labour members prevent the coalition, and forcing their political treachery into view. The main impression of the elected further left being that they were happy to go into tiny minority opposition and make themselves comfortable there. Their assumption that a disaffected Labour vote and objections to property tax would spontaneously drive masses of people into their fold, on the basis of a few propogandist stock phrases was predictably and totally wrong. As big a treachery as Labour’s in its own way.

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RosencrantzisDead - March 29, 2013

As big a treachery as Labour’s in its own way.

Really? If only Richard Boyd Barrett and Joe Higgins had said, ‘ Don’t go into coalition’, the scales would have fallen from Gilmore, Quinn and Rabbitte’s eyes and they would have had to moral strength to go into opposition?!?

That is one hell of a counter-factual. Further, the latter days of the 2011 GE, Labour were actively pushing the idea of a coalition. (Tomas O’Flatharta has contemporaneous piece on this here: http://tomasoflatharta.com/2011/02/23/why-does-the-irish-labour-party-seek-fine-gaels-kiss-of-death/)

It is one thing to blame Labour for being foolish (yet again) but to blame the Left because they did not warn them seems a stretch.

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fergal - March 29, 2013

What’s more didn’t Mick Wallace calll on Labour not to go into Coalition in his maiden speech? Didn’t he call on them to lead a left opposition to FG? So, even when Labour were warned about all of this, thay just ignored it. When you’re Rabbitte,Quinn and Gilmore and you have all the answers why would you listen to anybody ? Or when you have given up on even representing workers, does it matter that FG is a right-wing party?

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eamonncork - March 29, 2013

They could visibly and publicly demand all they liked, Labour were still going to go into coalition with Fine Gael. They always go into coalition if the numbers make sense. Perhaps you’ve forgotten the ‘rag bag’ attack by Roisin Shortall on the ULA during the campaign and a similar effort by Joan Burton. Labour don’t give a toss about the opinion of the Left. And the further left didn’t have any option but to go into tiny minority opposition. What else were they supposed to do? Ally with Fianna Fail, join Sinn Fein? Your post makes no sense at all.

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3. Pete - March 29, 2013

Yeah Mick Wallace, the Left’s champion. How long before Mick and Ben Gilroy team up?

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4. que - March 29, 2013

Good analysis. Hard to disagree.
FF will be very happy. Its a step change for them.

It would be too early for left formation to write off Rural constituencies but do left formations target rural constituencies or more those parts of the constituencies most urbanised.

I don’t think its yet time to write off the rural constituencies. If they left had made a concerted move into those and it had failed then okay maybe regroup but I don’t think the left really has found a way of building in rural Ireland.

My suspicion is there was a cant compute tendency when it came to rural Ireland overwhelmingly agrarian but because of our land distribution efforts held in the main by small farmers, some very very small farmers. An entire working class of business owners. I don’t believe personally the Left managed to square that circle in any manner. There was also a tendency to look at the farm labourer class as the natural constituency of the left in the country side but changes in productivity, wage changes meant the day of the labourer faded many decades ago.

What Irish left group has a well developed policy on the Irish Agri sector? Employs 200k – almost everyone in the country side either has a wider family member or friend in that sector.

Is there a dialogue already underway there? If so and it hasn’t worked then write off the country but if not isn’t it a bit early to do so.

Re the Workers’ party candidate McDonough. Saw on the Indo he/they took a loan out for the campaign. That’s commitment and if we had more like that then the country would be better for it.

On an incidental point is the Workers’ party logo striking anyone as looking very dated.

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LeftAtTheCross - March 29, 2013

Que, it’s a good point you raise about addressing the concerns of the rural areas. We discussed this at the kick-off meeting for the by-election campaign and only scratched the surface of the problem in the election material. I would agree entirely that the Left needs to look at identifying the class allegiences of not just small farmers but also small business owners / sole traders and the self-describing ‘squeezed middle’.

On the finances, it’s not too bad in fact, we don’t have too much debt hanging over us after the campaign. Hopefully we’ll get to clear it soon enough and get in a good position for the local elections next year. Democracy comes at a price and some are better able to pay it than others. I’d be very curious to know how much SF spent on their campaign, they had posters in places that the other parties didn’t even know existed.

On the logo, do you mean the clasped hands? Personally I really liked the style of the election material produced in this campaign, it was a huge improvement in look and feel compared to previous recent outings.

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irishelectionliterature - March 29, 2013

Have to agree there LATC on you’re election material. It was a vast improvement on the 2011 stuff. It was clearer, focused on the candidate and the message.

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LeftAtTheCross - March 30, 2013

Thanks IEL. Always easier for the party organisation to concentrate on a single by-election rather than different campaigns spread across multiple areas.

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LeftAtTheCross - March 30, 2013

Que, on the question of the rural constituency, we issued one press release that set out our position on how the rural economy needs to be overhauled in the interests of the people who live and work there. It’s a press release rather than an in-depth policy statement but it provides hooks for further eleboration in due course.

https://seamusmcdonagh.wordpress.com/2013/03/22/mcdonagh-focuses-on-need-to-overhaul-the-rural-economy/

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que - March 30, 2013

Thanks LATC.I will give that a read.

I appreciate its just a release rather than a complete policy. Whats important is that its an indication of intent. There are clearly going to be policy development issues for all parties especially so the smaller ones but that should not mean there is no intent to do so if the resources were there. Other parties wouldn’t even go that far if they were loaned a dozen agri-economists for a decade. So the intent is whats important.

Actually I like the clasped hands image. Its more than starry plough against the red background as per the party website. It looks very dated to me. Now I am not suggesting it be replaced with something like what FG have*. Actually no need to get rid of the plough/red etc just that the current incarnation strikes me as being old.
Will review the WP election lit also to see. Maybe its just the webs site image looks a bit dated.

* and as strange as the FG logo is its to me quite representative of them – marketing gimmick, developed to appeal on a bland level without letting substance get in the way, and just void of purpose.

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LeftAtTheCross - March 30, 2013

That’s it Que, intent trumps detail as a starting point.

On the logo, there was an issue on the ballot paper that the returning officer used the white plough on the red background, whereas on the election material we used the clasped hands. Not saying it cost us 1,000 votes or anything but it’s something we have to streamline for next time. As I understand it the old logo is the one registered with the Oireachtas office which oversees elections so we’ll need to sort that out.

Agreed that the party website needs work. That’s well recognised and needs to be addressed as a priority.

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5. Johnny Forty-Coats - March 29, 2013

Face facts: socialist rhetoric has no resonance with the people.

After more than thirty years of activity, the Workers’ Party could only persuade 0.4% of the electorate in Meath East to vote for them. And why would anyone in their right mind brave the elements to support former acolytes of the Dear Leader, late of Pyongyang? Not that the local branches of the English Trotskyite sects which masquerade under the “Socialist Party” and “Socialist Workers’ Party” labels would have fared a whole lot better. I suspect that David Vipond of the Communist Party of Ireland (Marxist-Leninist) would probably have performed about as well if a by-election had been held in Limerick West in early January 1974. Indeed, he might have done better.

The only opposition parties to perform respectably in Meath East are Sinn Féin and DDI. Their philosophies can be encapsulated in the phrases “national sovereignty” and “popular democracy” respectively. Those are two ideas that really do resonate with people who are sick and tired of being governed by bankers, by bond-holders, by Angela Merkel, by the markets, by the IMF, by the EU commission – none of which have the slightest shred of a mandate to dictate to anyone in this country.

The most revolutionary idea in Ireland today, indeed the only truly revolutionary idea in Ireland today, is “the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies”.

Those parties that assert that right will make headway in the coming years.

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LeftAtTheCross - March 29, 2013

Take you national sovereignty and your right-wing populism somewhere else Johnny.

“the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies”. My hole.

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Branno's ultra-left t-shirt - March 29, 2013

‘And why would anyone in their right mind brave the elements to support former acolytes of the Dear Leader, late of Pyongyang?’

They talked of little else in Ratoath. This morning’s threats of nuclear retaliation are directly linked to the election result. Get a grip soft lad.

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smiffy - March 30, 2013

“the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies”

Isn’t that socialist rhetoric, collective ownership of the means of production and all that? Unless, of course, you’re just using the terms in a meaningless populist way, of course, with no actual strategy for translating it into reality. The ‘destiny’ kind of stuff. Don’t forget the ‘soul of the nation’ while you’re at it.

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smiffy - March 30, 2013

Also, Fianna Fail did pretty well. They’re an opposition party.

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6. Johnny Forty-Coats - March 30, 2013

@Branno:
If the Young Leader had sent over a bag of those “super” $100 bills Ratoath might have been impressed and the psychologically important 0.5% barrier might have been broken, but he isn’t half the man his father was.

@Smiffy:
Yes, it’s a radical left-wing programme – James Connolly signed up for it. No, that rhetoric would never be heard from any of the socialist groupuscules – see LeftAtTheCross above. After all, that right-wing populist P.H. Pearse signed up for it.
Fianna Fáil is a pro-Troika party. Indeed, it’s the original pro-Troika party.

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eamonncork - March 30, 2013

Always nice to hear from someone whose political knowledge derives from reading Phoenix in the pub with one eye on the TV set.

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Jonathan - March 30, 2013

““the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies”
Can you explain what this means, and how it would be applied in practical terms?

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que - March 30, 2013

well I guess as Smiffy says its a socialist definition isn’t it. How it might be applied in practical terms is of course the great question that also brings great trouble to the socialist traditions.
I think 40 coats is right to say that the phrase and the idea it embodies is going to be a touchstone for politics over the next decade.
I recall that there was mention that the phrase Irisih men and Irish women and other like minded lines were attributed to Connolly. Well then at the least a chance that the same line was if not Connolly then something he could live with.

@Smiffy – Indeed Socialist but isn’t it often the case that many phrases used on the left tradition is also well meaningless and actually populist or well purposeless but reassuring – a code for our ears alone.

@Johnny – I think your wrong when you say that Socialism has no resonance with the people. I would think it does. That’s very separate to saying that the socialists have their finger on what they people desire from sociliast ideas – frequently they do and frequently they come across as knowing better. There is a problem there and as a lefty I recognise that. Its a work in progress. yes the Irish left is operating way below par but I believe that’s because of the above rather than an unreceptive audience. If you see above I was discussing rural Ireland with LATC and fair play the WP are engaging on that. Other Irish left parties wouldn’t even consider there was a gap in their analysis. That’s not because there is nobody willing to listen to socialist ideas in the country side but its because the Irish left today is an urban based polity and their understanding of rural realities is often lacking so sometimes its easier just to say sure there conservative out there – a here be conservatives on the map of Ireland if you will. Is that then because the rural Irish aren’t interested in Socialism or is that the Socialists already wrote off rural Ireland. Whats failing then – Socialism or the Socialists.

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Johnny Forty-Coats - March 30, 2013

In practical terms, it would mean the repudiation of the “bank annuities” (as the first Fianna Fáil government repudiated the land annuities), public ownership of financial institutions (not as a temporary measure to put them back on their feet but as a permanent strategy to give the Irish people control of the Irish economy), public ownership of natural resources (including Corrib gas – Norway provides a model), public ownership of utilities (including Eircom), national control of our fisheries (licenses could be auctioned to other countries until the national fleet has expanded enough to exploit Irish waters on a sustainable basis), a national development corporation to establish manufacturing industries based on Irish resources (especially in the agri-business area), devolution of power to counties and towns with provision for local plebiscites (Switzerland provides a model), repatriation of powers from the EU (including, the most important single prerequisite for meaningful change – the re-establishment of a national currency). The public sector should be decontaminated by capping salaries for politicians, civil servants, academics and executives in semi-state bodies at €150,000 (not just as an economic measure but in order to clear out the mercenaries who are driven by greed and to make room for others who are driven by an ethic of public service). Unaccountable quangos should be re-integrated with their parent departments. A wealth tax should be instituted and anyone owning a dwelling in the state should ipso facto be resident for tax purposes.

The rhetoric should be around the principles of sovereignty, democracy, fairness and solidarity. For a timely example of the approach that is needed, little to Theo Dorgan’s radio column (entitled “Home Rule at last”) broadcast on yesterday’s Drivetime – it’s at 56m 45s on the podcast available at the RTE Radio 1 website).

What we don’t need is any of the tired old eye-glazing rhetoric about socialism, the workers (which is either as outmoded as “peasants” or as general as “the people”), capitalism, left wing, right wing, class struggle, vanguard party, revolution, Trotsky, etc.

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7. Anonymous Coward - March 30, 2013

Writing as a non-supporter of the Irish left …
“The challenge by the WP/CAHWT didn’t exactly catch light despite trojan work on the ground and a genuinely heartening degree of public support from others on the left. This is problematic.”
The bail-out in December 2010 was a major turning point in voters’ attitudes to oppositions, which is why the winning slogan in the 2011 General Election was “Fine Gael have a five point plan.” What the actual five points were was never important – the depth of the crisis meant that even when opposing the most discredited government imaginable, convincing people that you had an alternative had become more important than your ability to attack the incumbents’ policies, which Labour had done better.
We saw that again shortly afterwards, when the difficulty the No side had in the first half of the Fiscal Treaty campaign defending their alternative cost them the referendum.

Joe Higgins’ career as a national politician was built on a broad-based campaign against a government charge, which de-emphasised his broader political convictions, allowing him to win respect and support both from the left and from people on the right who just didn’t want to give more money to the state, giving us the strange phenomenon of the Sunday Independent fawning over a Trotskyist TD. Political movements tend to become fixated on the play-book that gave them their biggest win and, proving no exception, the Irish left have spent the last 20 years trying to replay that victory, with diminishing returns.

The very name “WP/CAHWT” is a good example – it emphasises the movement’s opposition to two very unpopular government charges, but de-emphasises its own vision for the country. That approach does damage the government, but doesn’t convert people to the movement’s convictions or, in the current climate, win votes for those involved – it’s helping to create opportunities for uninvolved parties and the way it’s almost monopolising the left’s energies has been a factor in their relative failure to benefit from the greatest political vacuum in living memory.

It’s also worth noting the contrast with the name “Direct Democracy”, which focuses attention on their alternative to the status quo, not on their criticisms of it. I disagree with their proposal and wouldn’t be shocked if this were their high-water mark, but there are lessons to be learned from them. There’s lots of opposition to the status quo, but the left are losing by default the argument about which alternative, if any, is best.

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LeftAtTheCross - March 31, 2013

Anonymous Coward, if you look at the WP material from the by-election you’ll find opposition to the home tax there alright but it’s actually at a lower level of emphasis than either SF or DDI, which may or may not have been a tactical error on the WPs behalf in retrospect. Strangely enough I find myself in agreement with you that it should not have been the main emphasis, and the pre-election meeting in Kells attended by local and national membership and party leadership endorsed that approach. In fact the WP did not seek national CAHWT endorsement for the candidate as the CAHWT position on elections is not decided and we didn’t want to waste time and effort navigating that quagmire when time was of the essence.

The election material, again, is on the Irish Election Literature blog here (see the box on the meath east by-election at the top right of the page):

http://irishelectionliterature.wordpress.com/

The WP on-line statements during the by-election are here:

http://seamusmcdonagh.wordpress.com/

If you actually have a look at that material, with an open mind, you will find that (1) the WP sets out in very broad terms an alternative vision, and (2) the WP doesn’t attempt to build that vision on a single-issue in a Higgins-esque manner in any replay of the bin charges campaign.

Clearly I’m speaking here in behalf of the WP, not the CAHWT.

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8. Tawdy - March 30, 2013

And here comes the easter bunny!

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9. Tomboktu - April 1, 2013

Some speculation on my part.

It’s been clear that some in Labour are looking for change. Of those who are, I would expect that a change in leadership or a change in policies of the coalition is not the aim any more, the party is too damaged and the possibilites too limited for that to be of any use.

For those people there are probably two strategies. Some will probably de-activiate and sit it out, hoping to be able to use the routing at the next election as a basis for pushing the party left-wards. Other are probably looking at leaving to join other parties.

The outcome in Meath doesn’t suggest there are a lot of options.

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10. CL - April 1, 2013

The anti-worker U.S. Chamber of Commerce has more influence on govt. economic policy than do Labour Party members.

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11. doctorfive - April 9, 2013

Vote #1 Ben Gilroy advert in this month’s Alive!, with an endorsement from non other then Richard Greene.

https://pbs.twimg.com/media/BHcHtOLCMAEHXsU.png:large

Click to access alive_april_13.pdf

Fr McKevitt also claims the man he was fighting with on Liveline last month over Enda & King Herod was in fact Derek Keating’s parliamentary assistant. Undisclosed of course. The Church is only trotting after Joe & Politicians for craftiness.

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12. Leonardo - May 2, 2013

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