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That Labour leadership contest… redux June 17, 2014

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

Reading the stuff from the Labour leadership contest, now visiting somewhere close to you perhaps – so be warned, got to admit it’s depressing stuff. It’s as if there is just a massive disconnect between the contenders (and perhaps their party) and citizens. This manifests itself in myriad ways, at least to judge from the report in the Irish Times.

There’s a massive focus on Sinn Féin and the far left – and I’ll be looking at what I think are some sensible points from Pat Leahy in the SBP later in the week on just this topic – but there’s an apparent lack of examination of the fact that it is Labour’s part in policy implementation, or lack of same, that is the core problem.

On the Sinn Féin question put by retired Galway councillor Tom Costello, Burton repeated her view that it had questions to to answer about its nexus with the IRA.

White said he abhorred Sinn Féin’s association with violence but said the party should not be defined by Sinn Féin. He said that after an election he did not believe it realistic to ostracise them and put them in a corner.

White’s line is a lot less dogmatic than Burton’s, but really, after a peace process signed up to by the Labour party itself that unequivocally placed SF, once it accepted the dispensation, functionally at the heart of that dispensation there’s no point in complaining about ‘nexus with the IRA’ whatever that actually means. And what does it mean?

Then there’s this:

All spoke about taking the fight to the opposition, and taking on the far left, with Michael McCarthy saying Sinn Féin and others were “occupying the soft political space of protest while never telling us where they will find the money.”

But in a way much more depressing was the following line:

The favourite, Joan Burton, accepted that voters were unhappy. “We have not achieved the second part of our mission which is repairing society, as we have repaired the economy,” she said in her stump speech.


Sean Sherlock emphasised the difference between the economy of a nation and its society. Waterford TD Ciara Conway spoke at length about the deep injustices and sense of shock exposed by the disclosures of the mother and baby home in Tuam.

This is a Labour Party? A party that has taken pains to suggest it is social democrat and democratic socialist. And they think they can neatly divide economy and society? In a way I think this gets to the heart of the problem about Labour.

It is as if the economy is a force of nature almost beyond traction, and that the effects of what is done (or not) with the economy are somehow separate from the society, when of course the two are so interconnected as to be indivisible, though ideally the economy should be subject to the needs of society rather than the other way around.

It also speaks of an attitude that the economy is in a sense a neutral force as well, that its smooth running, or otherwise, is not a left or a right issue, but something that Labour and Fine Gael or a.n.others can pitch in a stabilise and that the effects are in some manner distinct from that – at least that is how I interpret the stuff about the society. And that presumably is the sticking plaster aspect of this, that Labour is there to mop up after the economy has done its worst, rather than attempt to rework the relationship with the economy in the context of a broader socio-economic approach.

And the curiosity is that the right tends to take a different line. For them there is clarity that economy and society (where they admit to the latter) are interconnected, and that the health of the former when placed within constraints that they determine and define is central to the latter.
Just to be clear, I’m not arguing that there’s no such thing as society, but saying that an economy and society are intertwined and that a left project should be attempting to harness the former to the needs of the latter.
Granted it is expedient if one wishes to step back from the impact of the policies that one has championed while in government. But I wonder how much purchase it will have on citizens who know only too well that economy and society, or rather the effects of the former on their lives, can’t be so neatly bisected.

As to the rest of the discussion:

Alan Kelly’s contribution was almost brutal in its realism, saying the past was over and though Labour members know what they have gone through, “people don’t care”.

Well, that sounds about right.


1. Paddy Healy - June 17, 2014

Miriam Lord in the Irish Times captures the total cynicism and detatchment from popular reality of the Labour Party and Trade Union Leaders. It is a remarkably well written and makes all the points without issuing a word of criticism!
Labour Leadership Race; Total cynicism of Labour and Trade Union Leaders Shown: http://www.irishtimes.com/news/politics/the-question-that-should-have-been-asked-at-the-labour-husting-was-why-are-we-all-here-1.1833442
Read More http://wp.me/pKzXa-kQ


2. hardcorefornerds - June 17, 2014

“the curiosity is that the right tends to take a different line. For them there is clarity that economy and society (where they admit to the latter) are interconnected, and that the health of the former when placed within constraints that they determine and define is central to the latter.”
Could you offer examples of this? What you say about the economy being a neutral force of nature, effectively politically untouchable (or *should* be so, which is the point of the budget deficit rules and the monetary union to start with) fits my current understanding of neoliberalism/ordoliberalism, but I’m wondering what control the conservative right really exert anymore – aside from setting the ground rules for this ‘natural’ economy, which they then (in theory, anyway) have to obey? Is it merely discretion over the remaining levers of state intervention (taxes, subsidies e.g. for pensions) or opportunism when it comes to the fact that the complete technocratic program, as rhetorically envisaged, will never be completely implemented?


WorldbyStorm - June 17, 2014

I tend to think of it in terms of the primacy of the economy to right-wing/orthodox thinking. That it is in their eyes a given that the economy, and a very particular form of the economy and economic activity is the primary element of all else. And that means liberalisation (so-called) of markets etc. We see that a lot in terms of some of the rhetoric from Fine Gael, Lucinda Creighton, elements in FF. And further afield the Tories in the UK. But in a sense that view is one where the market untrammelled (as they see it) is the only ‘natural’ form and that all else follows from it. Of course it’s a little more complex, for example where social issues intrude is dependent upon taste and complexion of the parties involved. But you get the gist.


hardcorefornerds - June 18, 2014

Ah yes, I get you. I wrote a post in response to one of Hired Knaves’ about the GAA/Sky issue and phrased it as “an interminable variation of ‘a society, not an economy’ without ever getting closer to determining the kind of economy that would allow the desired society to flourish or even exist” (on the left): http://hardcorefornerds.tumblr.com/post/81697058822/the-enclosure-of-the-cumann

Still, I’m more interested in the amoung of agency that exists for politics, left of right, once it signs up to the orthodox economic assumptions (of course the view of many on here is that is impossible to be ‘left’ without rejecting those assumptions and the state power which enforces them, but that seems to have the effect of removing the alternatives from any serious influence on power)


hardcorefornerds - June 18, 2014

‘left or right’, that should be


WorldbyStorm - June 18, 2014

As it happens I’d be probably closer to the view there is some agency possible even in the context of orthodoxy though it does raise questions as to what we mean by orthodoxy. In my view that is a mixed economy – after all the gains of social democracy were made in that context, and while it is true that globalisation etc have impacted on that I’m not convinced no gains or holds can be made yet.


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