Socially conservative and economically ‘not particularly right-wing’… May 13, 2014Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics.
Breda O’Brien wrote in the Irish Times this weekend that:
There is now a significant minority of voters who feel politically homeless, not just the voters who felt completely let down by Fine Gael legislating for abortion but those who despair because there seems no real alternative to crony politics.
In a way this works into the rhetoric about a new ‘right’ party that we hear so much of. Indeed the most recent edition of the Phoenix noted that Lucinda Creighton and Michael McDowell have had something of a rapprochement since earlier in the year when in advance of the Reform Alliance big day out she was perhaps less comradely than might have been expected. Entirely coincidentally – no doubt – in the wake of that event which was, by any reasonable criteria nowhere near as significant as its boosters suggested beforehand, and did little or nothing to ease the RA towards actual party status, she appears to have reconsidered her stance to McDowell.
Which is nice.
But O’Brien’s thoughts come from a slightly different perspective:
Also, many Irish voters are socially conservative, but are not particularly right-wing economically. Where is the party that represents them?
The devil, if I may use the term, is in the detail. What exactly does ‘not particularly right-wing economically’ mean? Are they Fianna Fбil inclined (or once were?). Does FG not provide a right of centre home for them? It’s a big church after all.
What are their views on state intervention? State education? State health services? The mix between private and public and so on? All these have to be defined much much more clearly, otherwise, we’re really talking about people who have no very fixed idea at all about economic management. Nor, and this is crucial, are economic matters separate to social conservatism. Anything but. We know that those who are socially conservative often have very specific ideas in relation to tax, and so on as to how matters should be arranged – antagonism to individualisation, putting families first and so on and what about the definition of ‘family’?
Or is it just a sentimental thing of a vague support of social welfare programmes, more or less? Without more detail it is near enough impossible to have a serious conversation about this matter.
O’Brien points to the rise of parties further to the left or right in other states and perhaps implicitly seems to suggest that something along those lines could occur. Perhaps so, but perhaps not.
And she does make one point which I actually agree with which is that in some instances there is a distortion of rhetoric. She notes that Ronan Mullen is categorised as some as ‘extreme right’ which is absurd. He strikes me as being most easily defined as a Christian Democrat on many issues – albeit more socially conservative than many of his European peers. But this distortion of rhetoric occurs in many many different contexts. It is not fair that O’Brien should carry the can for Alive! magazine, but that publication is no slouch in making unusual categorisations from the other direction.
It is also true that sometimes the term ‘right-wing’ has been applied in this society in relation to social issues while ignoring economic issues. In part, I suspect, that is because it provides an easy short-hand, particularly in a context where there is a much broader and deeper right of centre consensus on the economic than on the social – or to put it another way, if it was all but impossible to shift the economy leftward it made sense to define social issues as being on a left/right spectrum and this had a self-reinforcing aspect to it. In some ways the current incarnation of the Labour Party typifies this dynamic in that it seeks to present its radicalism more on the social side of things than in relation to the economic. But that said there are left/right divisions on social issues. The overwhelming majority of leftists tend to be socially liberal on a range of issues, from divorce, same-sex marriage through to abortion (that’s not an absolute, there are those as we know who take economically left positions while being socially conservative on some issues and vice versa – after all it was David Cameron and the Tories who introduced marriage equality legislation in the UK). And I’m reminded of a point Wendy of Feminist Ire once made that – talking about such divisions in most parts of the world leftists are almost entirely pro-choice but in Ireland that breaks down.
As to the substance of her piece, I’m deeply dubious about the idea of a socially conservative, economically not particularly right wing party gaining any great traction. We’ve heard many times that there’s a silent majority out there on social conservatism and yet, since the 1980s this has to all intents and purposes on a political level remained silent. I’d also wonder if many of the struggles that fired up the socially conservative have faded – obviously abortion being an exception, and perhaps same sex marriage being another, though we shall see. But it is near enough impossible to see a roll back on divorce, or broad lgbt rights, or gender equality (however partial) let alone contraception. Which does suggests that the motive forces may be a lot thinner for a political movement.
And surely what is left, again something approaching a vague sentiment, is easily enough accommodated in Fine Gael, or perhaps Fianna Fбil on another day. And while it doesn’t have the dramatic impact of a shiny new socially conservative, economically not particularly right-wing, party the basic truth is that even after years of crisis that part of the economic spectrum hasn’t seen a force emerge. And if that’s the case. And returning to Creighton, the faces at the RA conference said it all. There’s just not the raw material there to build a party with a similar base which is economically some way further to the right, so why should there be for a party a little less to the right?