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More on the point of LP style ‘social democracy’… May 20, 2016

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

Reading Pat Rabbitte again in the SBP the thought comes to mind that he still can’t quite join the dots in relation to the Labour Party. For example this week he writes that the LP leadership contest is essentially an unnecessary distraction – ‘an agreed candidate for leader would seem to be the more desirable course’. Okay, it’s a point. But…

The LP is not a flag of convenience hoisted to get past a General Election. Labour is the social democratic party in Ireland in the tradition of mainstream European social democracy. It is also the oldest democratic party in the state. Despite an awful mauling in the 2016 GE, the party has roots in the community, a tradition of public service, a committed membership and resource of experienced public reps past and present.

And he suggests that:

Whereas the legacy of the financial crash is the shadow that looms large ove rate LP, the sister social democratic parties across Europe are almost invariably in trouble or facing new challenges.

As a result SD influence in the councils of the EU are diminished. Often therefore the prescriptions of the EU are dictated by conservative forces that sometimes impose a disproportionate burden on those least able to bear it. The response of some voters is to lash out at constructive left parties for not protecting them and to cast their vote for ultra-left parties interest only in protest or, more dangerously, for populist far-right parties.

Now, some would say that this was a most expedient argument (he continues by listing the woes of Austria’s SDs, France’s Socialists and so on). Because note that he wrests autonomy from social democrats whereby events impact upon them, they don’t actually make them. So not a word about how social democracy and social democratic parties have shifted rightwards, have in many instances (New Labour is a good example) been in certain areas indistinguishable from centre and centre right political formations in their approach. Oh sure, I’d sooner live under New Labour than the Tories, any day of the week, but few would disagree that in reaching rightwards distinctiveness and more was lost and worse again it opened up those parties to counter attacks from the right who could argue why not vote for the real thing. Worse again Rabbitte can offer nothing really by way of a response.

For example:

In a reaction against Blair’s misadventure in Iraq the infertile left has won the leadership of the British Labour party, making it unelectable to government and therefore seriously diminished.

Is that really the history of those events. Has he forgotten the intervening leadership between Blair and his successor and before Corbyn? Did the inability of that leadership (however sincere) to craft even a distinctive left of centre message capable of appealing to the British electorate somehow evade him? But this is the problem, everything is collapsed into neat little categorisations.

And for Ireland, he argues that there was no choice but for Labour to be ‘involved in the rescue’ of this economy by participating in government. That there were no alternatives to the course it took:

In the communities most seriously affected the politics of anger are being stoked against the LP by those who pretend that the fiscal adjustment since 2009 could have been avoided.

But it was the Labour Party itself that said that they could have been avoided in some part – explicitly so prior to the election. Moreover there was no onus on the LP to go into government, indeed there’s a curious contradiction in the heart of his analysis. If the LP was so vital to ensure the interests of those in its ‘heartland’ as he describes it in 2011-2016, and save them from FG, then why not in 2016 – whenever? Why is he not urging the LP to join the current government? Logic, his logic still stands. But if not in 2016 why not in 2011? Why not let FG and FF sort out their mess?

And here I think we get to the heart of matters. He later calls for ‘the renewal of social democracy’.

A blind eye cannot continue to be the international response to money laundering and tax evasion on a gigantic scale that deprives our public service of badly needed investment. Migration is not going to go away. Climate chafe is the other side of the migration coin.

In Ireland the new LP leadership just avoid competing with the knee-jerk negative politics of SF and the Trotskyist Left. Instead it must focus on social democratic solutions to the problems confronting so many people. It must explain and argue for the living wage, a public housing programme and better childcare. Sensible progressive policies and a rising economy will maroon the politics of protest.

Entertaining that he pins his hopes on a ‘rising economy’. But look at his ‘solutions’. What pray tell are these sensible social democratic policies on those areas? How would they substantially differ from, say, SF? And how could they be realised – even if he could offer us a coherent policy platform – if the only way forward – again by his own logic given that he sets his face against any sort of common cause left of the LP – is in tandem with a party of the right like FG (or FF) which will given the numbers dilute them to homeopathic concentrations rendering them entirely meaningless?

He talks dismissively (and inaccurately) of the politics of protest. But in truth his own political approach is one which has less hope of success.


1. Jonah - May 20, 2016

“In a reaction against Blair’s misadventure in Iraq the infertile left has won the leadership of the British Labour party,”


Way harsh Tai.


2. Mick 2 - May 20, 2016

This is all very auto-pilot Pat Rabbitte. (Is there another kind of Pat Rabbitte?) What has struck me over the past few years as the LP has ceded any remaining foothold in the social democratic space (incidentally, the choice of two former LP members to name a party the Social Democrats is a nice touch) is the repeated insistence that the party in 2016 has anything vaguely to do with social democracy. Amid the standard schoolboy petulance of Alan Kelly’s anti-anti-water charges “tsunami of hate and invective” in the Dáil a week or two ago was one revealing non-argument. He made the false comparison (the one you get daily in Indo/IT op-eds) between the abolition/suspension/whatever of Irish Water and the 1977 abolition of rates, founded on the false presupposition that Irish Water widens the tax base in the first place. He asked rhetorically whether we wanted to go back to the 1980s, when “people paid income tax rates of up to 60%”. By “people” he of course meant higher earners. In other words he was rueing the possible return to a more steeply progressive income tax regime, a pretty basic fiscal policy plank for even the most inconstant social democrat. The Irish LP in 2016 (and yes, many other social-democratic parties in 2016) is not even a pale imitation of good ol’ fashioned social democracy. It’s not social democracy at all and is not even trying to be. It just keeps saying it is.

I was living in England during the UK Labour leadership election. I remember one of the bits of bumf posted through my letterbox was a letter outlining the organisations, LP sections, unions, NGOs, etc., supporting each of the four candidates. Three of the contenders’ supporters ran to a weighty paragraph. Liz Kendall had a sad-looking single supporter, and it stuck out for being her single supporter. And it stuck out because it was the Irish Labour Party. I wish I hadn’t thrown that letter in the recycling.

Re Irish Labour’s Howlin coronation, it looks bad for Kelly because, as Oireachtas Retort put it, he couldn’t get a job that no one wanted, and it looks bad for Howlin because he doesn’t have any meaningful mandate. And it looks bad that the party has had essentially to stifle grassroots party democracy to prevent the wrong person getting the job, which, again, is pretty remarkable for a party self-identifying ad nauseam as social democratic, but then again…

Liked by 1 person

WorldbyStorm - May 21, 2016

+1 to everything you right there Mick 2. Auto-pilot is the word, particularly evident in recent weeks.

It is odd about social democracy. The more they drift from anything recognisable as traditional SD the more they shout about being it to the point that they ultimately come to a position where SD = what’s the LP does! Neat that.

I would love to see the Liz Kendall leaflet. That says it all.


Peter James - May 21, 2016

“In the 80s High Earners were taxed at 65% ”

I paid tax at that rate then and was no a high earner, a worker on normsl union rates doing overtime went into those brackets. That was the cause of the mighty Tax Fairness marches of that time.

It was a time when the Self Employed, Farmers & Directors of Companies could effectively avoid tax on almost all their income.

The Labour Party was in government for much of this time. They not only sat on their hands in relation to fair taxation but actually supported every measure to increase PAYE taxes, leaving wealth untouched. Hence the massive protests of the time. Protests on such a scale have not been seen again until the recent Water Charge protests.

The Labour Party was nowhere in this movement and indeed ICTU had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the protests. The main vehicle for leadership of the demonstrations was the Dublin Council of Trade Unions. Later on most unions moved to defang the trades councils, lest they be a vehicle for discontent ever again.

Interestingly the Workers Party, in which Pat Rabitte made his political name, gained support during that period. Starting out as a party with a critique of capitalism, it drifted rightwards under the influence of the new Eurocommunism, Rabbitte has always haf a thing about Trotskyisn. He and others won the leadership on that basis but were not above Populism and sniping to the left of Labour.

So when you say if 2016, why not 2011……
then why not the 90s 80s or 70s?


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