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What the election observers said about us April 10, 2011

Posted by Tomboktu in Irish Election 2007, Irish Politics.
1 comment so far

Our media reports regularly enough on the findings of international election observers in places like Belarus, Moldova, or Sudan. However, I cannot find any Irish media report on the international observers’ assessment of last February’s general election in Ireland. It was a light-touch mission, consisting of three officials from the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) who conducted a “Needs Assessment Mission” (NAM) between 7 and 10 February. Although the NAM identified shortcomings with the electoral process in Ireland, they concluded:

There is also a very high level of confidence of all stakeholders in the electoral process and the election administration. Based on the above and due to the short timeframe before the upcoming elections, the OSCE/ODIHR NAM does not recommend deploying an election-related activity for the 25 February Dáil elections.

[The reference to ‘the above’ includes some points I have not quoted — Tombuktu]

The report summarises the political institutions and electoral law, and contains — as standard for all OSCE/ODIHR election observation reports — sections on media coverage of the election, on women’s participation, and on national minorities in the election. (They don’t attempt a summary of the STV.)

The OSCE/ODIHR identifies two key weaknesses in the Irish electoral process: election funding and the quality of the electoral register, both of which had been identified in two OSCE/ODIHR reports on the 2007 general election: a Needs Assessment Mission Report in April 2007, before that year’s general election, and and Election Assessment Mission Report, published in September that year.

There are two problems with election finances. One is the identity of the sources of funding.

OSCE/ODIHR NAM interlocutors expressed particular concern about anonymous donations. Campaign donations under approximately EUR 600 for individuals and EUR 5,000 for corporations can be made anonymously and generally make up the bulk of all donations. In the 2009 European Parliament elections, no party reported any itemized campaign donations and in the 2007 Dáil elections, parties only itemized EUR 1.6 million of the EUR 11 million total in campaign donations. […]The Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) issued a report on party and campaign financing in December 2009, which highlights the need for increased transparency measures.

The second problem with election finances is the way in which the limits on spending work. The 2011 report notes simply “The OSCE/ODIHR made specific recommendations to improve the electoral framework in this regard following the 2007 elections, which have not been addressed”. A footnote refers to the following in the 2007 report:

Legal provisions on election spending limits and financial reporting establish an adequate framework for controlling campaign finance during the relatively short campaign period. […] However, practice shows that actual campaign spending begins long before the stipulated period, and some interlocutors expressed the view that spending during the pre-election period rendered limits almost obsolete. Consideration could be given to amending the 1997 Electoral Act, to extend the reporting period, and once the election is called, to undertake a backward review of accounts according to the established reporting timeframe.

And in 2007 they noted:

Originally, the Electoral Act 1997 had required reporting on all the expenditures incurred “at any time before the issue of the writ […] in relation to the election”. However, the Electoral (Amendment) Act 1998 limited the reporting period to that existing now.

On the quality of the electoral register, the OCSE/ODIHR found:

The accuracy of the registers was an issue that was brought up with the OSCE/ODIHR NAM by a number of interlocutors. There is no requirement to deregister in one constituency before registering in another area and it was assumed that there may be a number of double registrations. All expressed confidence, however, that although the registers could benefit from further improvement, their shortcomings would not be used for fraudulent activity, such as multiple voting.

The main problem, the people who spoke to the OSCE felt, would be that figures on the actual turnout would be inaccurately depressed because of double registration. The “all” referred to are those whom the OSCE met to conduct their assessment consisted of

  • 13 civil servants (from the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Department of the Environment, and the Standards in Public Office Commission),
  • two returning officers (the County Dublin Sherrif and the Louth/Meath County Registrar)
  • four party officials (FF, FG, Labour and Green),
  • four people with broadcast roles (three in the Broadcast Authority and one in RTÉ), and
  • six people from “civil society and commentators” (three from the Irish Traveller Movement, two from the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, and one “Noel Whelan, Barrister”).

The extent to which the OSCE’s view reflects their choice of interlocutor is left as an exercise for the reader!

I think two other recommendations are worth mentioning. One is the establishment of a permanent independent election commission or office, to consolidate responsibilities for the conduct of elections, the voter register, and campaign financing into one body. The second is that election law be changed to allow for the presence of international and domestic non-partisan observers.

The latest OCSE/ODIHR NAM report, its 2007 reports, and the Council of Europe’s report on political funding that is cited in the OSCE/ODIHR report provide useful data for anybody interested in the quality of the proposed bills on electoral reform, which the Government’s Chief Whip said on 5 April are expected to be published during the Summer Session.

Bye then, Bertie… April 2, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Election 2007, Irish Politics.
8 comments

Well, not quite the surprise it might have seemed at 9.30 this morning while I was waiting in a doctors surgery and heard on the radio that our beloved leader would make a statement on issues. Things had been coming to a head for a couple of weeks now.

A valedictory effort, heavy on the emotion, patriotism… and wise too to define precisely when he was on his way. So like Blair too, wasn’t it? The victor of an election brought low relatively soon after that election.

Who, which ingrates, would deny him his last sentimental victory lap, taking in Congress, no less? Well, let’s see the polls and then we’ll know better. Perhaps there are more ingrates than we’ve suspected out there, or perhaps not.

And, now at home suffering not so silently (I’m complaining to anyone who bothers to read here – aren’t I?), I caught the entertaining response on RTÉ from Eoghan Harris who prophesied a backlash against ‘those who had brought him down’, and even better this gem, that one merely had ‘to look at Berties face to see how honest he was’.

Our greatest political thinker – eh? (and more on him later in the week).

So what happens next? I wonder if this is going to pose problems for Fine Gael and the opposition. Unsurprising then that Pat Rabbitte was talking about the “Ministers”, Pat well remembers the concept of collective guilt from back in the day… but that may not work quite as he hopes [see reference to ingrates above!]. And he, Ahern, gets – no doubt at all about this – weeks of good press about his achievements (indeed there’s Liz MacManus waxing lyrical about those very achievements – and remember, once he’s gone, he’s gone. Yesterday’s political power is… irrelevant). There’ll be tears… and not necessarily just from his friends.

Meanwhile, will Cowen be Brown, or not? No early election I’ll bet… and what of the Lisbon neverendum? So many questions.

I’m off to bed for the rest of the day… sick, but not with sorrow, at the departure….

Sinn Féin’s nine months of madness continues December 26, 2007

Posted by franklittle in Democratic Unionist Party, Ireland, Irish Election 2007, Northern Ireland, Republicanism, Republicans, Sinn Féin, The North.
43 comments

Beginning with a public apology to WBS for leaving him so long to carry the site by himself, something he is more than able to do I should point out. But the strains of moving house in December caused more than a little difficulty in the Little household.

It’s a pity, because when I read this fantastic story  where, as I’m sure people already know, Sinn Féin’s former Unionist Outreach official Martina Anderson argued that immigrants were the wrong sort of Catholics I would have given a great deal for a good broadband connection. Beneath the lunacy there is a serious point that nationalist areas continue to be more economically deprived than unionist areas and there is, I suppose, a legitimate concern that Polish immigrants might skew the numbers due to their ability to get jobs when the Sinn Féin voters of West Belfast cannot. But the manner in which it was made, and Anderson’s failure to realise that it is Sinn Féin’s habit of thinking along sectarian lines (Not the same, before the crypto-provos that I was amused to see inhabit the site descend on me, as saying it is a sectarian party) that created the problem in the first place.

It is difficult to think back to the position Sinn Féin enjoyed in the second week of March. They had just achieved another triumph at the ballot box in the Northern Assembly elections, managing to give the SDLP a kicking on one of their flanks, and a motley crew of alternative republicans a kicking on the other side. The party leadership had delivered an endorsement of policing by the members little short of unanimous and they faced into an election here in May with every chance of doubling their seats in Leinster House and livening up their Dáil team. There was an expectation of a dividend from Southern voters for the Assembly being re-established and the image of Paisley and McGuinness sitting down together drawing a line under so much of the negotiations impasse. If there was a slight cloud on the horizon political anoraks might have noticed Adams’ appalling performance on A Week in Politics the night of their Ard Fheis, but few people watched that show and surely they would have sorted out the problems, such as not knowing what tax rates his party was proposing, by the election.

And then, it all went horribly wrong and has been continuing to go wrong since. The election result in May has already been analysed to death but the party has lost a number of councillors since then in the South. Some for political reasons, some for personal ones and some for ‘personal’ ones. I reckon a number of people saw the bandwagon was running out of steam and decided to get off before it collapsed altogether. The DUP have bitch-slapped them around the place on the Irish Language Act, which the Shinners concentrated their attentions on while ignoring economic issues. Caitríona Ruane has proved an unmitigated disaster in education with her handling of the classroom assistants dispute set to enter the textbooks of administrations on both sides of the border about how not to handle an industrial dispute. Her proposed alternative to the 11+ is confused, scanty on details and poorly thought out. There is no sign of any momentum for devolution of policing powers and indeed the resignation of their Fermanagh/South Tyrone MLA and former Agriculture Spokesperson Gerry McHugh along with the refusal of Sinn Féin councillors in Strabane to sit on the Policing Boards shows that the anti-policing section of the party retains some pull. Conor Murphy hasn’t done a bad job on water charges, approaching it in a sensible fashion regardless of what the far left thinks, and Gildernew has managed to hold the fort in Agriculture as well, but there has been nothing spectacular from Sinn Féin in the North. Except for attacks on Margaret Ritchie of course, which seems to have a lot more to do with attacking the SDLP regardless of what they’re doing than anything else.
Down here, the party has reviewed itself thoroughly and decided that it did nothing wrong, or at least its leaderships did not. It is telling that despite Fine Gael’s success Kenny fired Phil Hogan and a question-mark remains over Kenny’s leadership. Rabbitte and the authors of the Mullingar Strategy in Labour have been cast aside. Sinn Féin’s upper leadership remains intact and the move of key northern activists like Declan Kearney into positions of authority in the party in the South suggests that Adams, having listened to the opinion of Southern members for the last six months has decided to ignore it and continue to centralise control in the mistaken belief that someone other than him, and he alone, is responsible for the party’s disastrous election campaign. The murder of Paul Quinn brought out the standard Sinn Féin approach of blackening the name of the victim with accusations of criminality that seem unproven. What seems more clear is the eager desire among their political opponents to hi-jack the Quinn’s case to attack Sinn Féin, but they would have no campaign to manipulate were it not for Quinn’s murder and how Sinn Féin handled it.

WBS has already looked at the coverage of the Sinn Féin conference and the only thing I would add to that is McDonald’s comment that Sinn Féin does not have an ‘open door’ policy on immigration is no policy shift. The Shinners, despite the accusations of far-right lunatics on Stormfront, have never had such a policy but the party’s strong support for immigrant rights has often seen them cast that way, though like WBS I don’t think it affected their election performance. What interests me is the conference in Dublin Airport, at which the press were not welcome, held a couple of weeks beforehand. Criticism of the leadership, and of Ruane’s performance in education in particular, was much in evidence and my Southern SF based source who attended was slightly surprised to see the extent of the internal criticism of Ruane from Northern colleagues.

For the Shinners, they have two opportunities to get themselves back in the game in 2008. The first is their Ard Fheis in March. The reality is that the party is still shaken and still lacks energy. The Ard Fheis is also the most likely time and place for leadership changes to be announced with members of the current leadership not contesting positions and newer, probably Southern, people being put forward for one or two of them. It will also be interesting to see if there are candidates against leadership choices for the main positions from the grassroots. If there are to be some of the serious internal reforms the party needs and have yet to appear, this is the place for them.

The second is the EU Reform Treaty. This brings me neatly to a favourite topic, which is the madness of Vincent Browne who argues at the back of the current edition of Village that Sinn Féin has not made its position on the EU Reform Treaty clear and it is his opinion they are likely to back it. Ahh Vincent, take thy head out from the Mahon Tribunal and read a paper. Sinn Féin’s party leadership, and McDonald & Adams in particular, have been making clear their intention to not simply oppose the Reform Treaty, but to lead the opposition to it. Most recent press statement from the party on it is here. What makes Browne’s error all the more mystifying is that the former Sinn Féin European Director Eoin O Broin now writes for his magazine. This referendum campaign gives Sinn Féin the opportunity to portray itself as the ‘real’ opposition to establishment centrist politics and even the possibility of fighting a winning campaign, which would be a massive boost to a party going into Local Elections in 2009, and European Elections where only a miracle will save their seat in Dublin.

As for the party in the North, it’s not my area of expertise but I suspect the DUP and the Northern Ireland Civil Service will be allowed to continue to drive the agenda on important issues while Sinn Féin shout about the Irish language or wrestle with the conundrum of whether Polish Catholics are ‘real’ Catholics or some sort of ‘provisional’ Catholic. There is an old saying that in the land of the blind the one-eyed man is King. Lacking such a person, I suspect for Sinn Féin in the North it will be whichever one of them has the stick.

A long way from the heady days of March 7, 2007.

The Fianna Fáil mudguard on the Green Party? or how else to explain how almost 1 in 10 of us support the Green Party (apparently)… November 28, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Election 2007, Irish Politics.
23 comments

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It took me a while to realise there was something very odd about the latest RedC poll in the Sunday Business Post. Sure, Fianna Fáil has dipped precipitously. Well, after the month they’ve had one would think they’d better be down, at least a bit. Provisional Licences, pay increases, the latest noises from the Tribunal and sundry other issues have conspired to make life difficult for the government, but it is… and this is becoming a cliche, very early days yet.

It would be foolish not to see calculation in all this. Fianna Fáil must have made a strategic decision to front load the bad news in order to remove it from the electoral cycle early. Sensible. Having said that bad news has a habit of running away with itself. I suspect that they didn’t quite envisage the perfect storm that has engulfed them. And they’re beginning to look – rather like Gordon Brown across the water – unlucky. Perhaps not quite as unlucky as the seemingly hapless Brown and UK Labour (after all, to lose a Party General Secretary isn’t just misfortune, it’s downright idiocy), but unlucky nonetheless. The current mutterings amongst FF deputies as regards the vote of confidence in Mary Harney is indicative of that. I don’t expect any to break ranks – although the temptation must be strong, since the perception is of a rock solid coalition – but who knows?

And then there was Finian McGrath’s entertaining solo run at the weekend. Will he or won’t he vote with the government. Again, my money is on him voting with. Still, Finian must be a man torn. After all, the heady days of May and June certainly didn’t seem to presage this… the unpleasant nitty gritty of serious political conflict and choices. And whatever about other parties an independent is… well, just that. Independent. And while answerable ultimately only to themselves on one level, there’s a whole world of pain out there in the form of disappointed or enraged constituents and covetous political rivals. Which leads to another thought. Just what is the status of the agreement between the Independents and the government. Are they similar to contracts? And if so how does that work if one side or the other decides to withdraw? And that leads to another thought again. In the past ‘deals’ by Independents were a bit like political alchemy, the sort of thing that turned base politics to electoral gold. The “Gregory Deal” remains the standard. Tony Gregory leveraged himself and his supporters into the political stratosphere by engaging with Charlie Haughey. That ‘deal’ did have clear outcomes. But so has this one, and perhaps less palatable ones for Independents (note too the way Michael Lowry is remaining schtum). Gregory had, of course, one great advantage. The government with which he ‘dealt’ fell shortly afterwards. So, he picked up the cheque with none of the pain of standing over the less palatable aspects of it. Perhaps this is one set of deals which in the long term will seem to have been a trifle too limited, and too costly in political terms. Who will in 2012 dare speak of the McGrath deal in hushed tones? Who indeed?

Meanwhile Fine Gael must be clapping themselves on the back. 31%. Remarkable. Except it’s not really. That’s actually not quite good enough. After the last two weeks the best they can do is claw back 4%? That doesn’t quite look like a party in waiting. But I’ve been very struck by just how slipshod their presentation (and ignoring the chorus of disdain from their latest overly loud recruits in the Dáil) seems. My favourite example? Seeing Enda Kenny (hair uncharacteristically askew) speaking on RTÉ at the weekend flanked by four party worthies. Suddenly halfway through Olivia Mitchell snuck into frame behind. A display the likes of which I hadn’t seen since the sort of elbowing last seen during the release of the Shell to Sea prisoners… never a great advertisement for politicians.

As for Labour. Well, one would have hoped that they’d get 3% simply off the back of their party conference. It’s not great either. Gilmore is an improvement. I’d wager that he’d get 3% simply off the back of his being someone other than one P. Rabbitte. But they’ll need to do consistently better.

And parsing the rest of the figures the PDs are becalmed, or more probably sunk, on 2%, Sinn Féin sits at about 7% (1% down as it happens, but that’s neither here nor there) and the Independents are also slightly down on 7%.

Two thoughts on that. Everyone appears to be here to stay, with the possible exception of the PDs (and rumours abound, but precious little hard data as to their future). All have nice large chunks of support that will tide them through the next four years. The media spin that SF is bound to disappear is simply that… spin. So for the more strategic perhaps it’s time to consider the ramifications of their presence as a force in five years time, with perhaps six or seven TDs if they play their cards right.

But let’s turn once more to the Greens who in yet another gravity defying feat managed to increase their share from 7% to 9%? How on earth is this being achieved? I genuinely don’t understand it. If I’m puzzled, and I’ll bet many GP members are too, then the incomprehension down at Government buildings must be a sight to behold. Because after all, this surely wasn’t part of the plan in June of this year. Wasn’t the idea that the Greens would soak up criticism of the government with their middle class whinging over the environment and their zany carbon taxes? By contrast Ahern et al would appear statesmanlike and sensible for deigning to invite the loons into the tent and half-listening to their pronouncements. Even better, issues such as incinerators and the M3 could be expedited as judiciously as possible while the Greens would take the heat and the rap.

Odd isn’t it that that is far from the way it’s worked out? I can’t help thinking that this is one instance where FF have been too clever by half. Great to dump those issues on the laps of Ryan and Gormley, to the genuine discomfiture of the new Ministers. But wait! It seems that to a very real degree almost no-one is that pushed about those issues. Some planners must wonder why they didn’t just route the road across the hill, for all the upset it’s actually causing. Shannon might as well play host to legions of US troops for all the interest that has evoked. And while the incinerator has real political potential as a problem for one GP TD in particular, well, hey, if anything there seems to be some sympathy developing abroad as regards the way in which the GP was left holding those particular parcels. And the near-tedious reiteration by Ahern that Gormley couldn’t exercise any powers over the issues doesn’t make Gormley look bad – after all the current narrative that the electorate seems to be buying into is that ‘the poor man is simply doing his best, and fair dues to him for going up against the shrewdest and most cunning of them all’ – it just makes Ahern and FF appear somewhat duplicitous. Add to that the continual Green mantra of ‘we’re here to save the whole world, don’t blame us if some bits of it get mislaid in the process’ which continues to have an enduring power.

I’ve suggested before that that latter message might get old. It surely will in time. But, there’s two aspects to front-loading issues. If I were the GP I’d get the incinerator out of the way pronto (although this will be a serious problem for the Minister in 2012). In fact I’d clear the decks of all the post-dated FF decisions. And then… settle down, exercise the power they can and hope that all things being equal they’ll make it to the finish line.

And what a line. A 9% rating. Now that’s a base to build on, after all, there’s a whole heap of former floating and PD voters, broadly middle class, suspicious of but not pathological about Fianna Fáil and so forth, who might well like an edge to their politics. Save the planet as well? Why that’ll do nicely.

So, what’s the worst that can happen? Ahern and Fianna Fáil. September 16, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Fianna Fáil, Irish Election 2007, Irish Politics.
2 comments

Reading about the current events down the Tribunal in the Sunday Business Post is illuminating. Sure, Bertie Ahern had a rough day on Friday. Those jeers outside can’t be good – to put it mildly. Whether they’re quite up there with Haughey is a different matter. And… protestations notwithstanding, this constant batting too and fro about just how much was lodged or purchased while somewhat esoteric may well have a cumulative effect.

As Vincent Browne notes:

The investigations of the Planning Tribunal into all of this have been impressive, but the laboriousness of the procedure in public sessions, the long-winded questions – sometimes going on for over a minute at a time – and the sheer tediousness of it all may dull the reaction to its findings.

And yet, it doesn’t really matter which is one of the reasons – I suspect – there has been much less concentration on it on blogs than might have been expected previously. If things turn really nasty, and there is little reason to believe they will at this point, then no doubt some sort of sacrifice will be required, our hero may have to fall on his sword. And…er…that’s it really.

Because that really is it. In the run up to the election it did matter, or at least somewhat. The opposition could take comfort in Ahern’s woes. Fianna Fáil could do little but wonder how they would impact upon the poll. But thats all history now. The coalition is locked tight. One in all in. Everyone signed up at the beginning. They knew the score. Talking to some Green Party people in recent months it is clear that they’re settled in. If they’re not leaving, who then? And despite the best efforts of the Irish Times (with multiple page reports from the Tribunal), there is a sense that all this is yesterday’s story.

Pat Leahy in the SBP points to:

… [with] another five years of government stretching before them, the mood among government TDs is pretty buoyant, despite their leader’s troubles. In truth, the processes of adjusting to the departure of Taoiseach Bertie Ahern started a long time ago, probably before his definitive statement in the wake of the general election.

I’d take very slight issue with how he characterises the processes ahead:

Brian Cowen, the Minister for Finance, will be taking over as party leader anyway, they reason. Later probably, but no big deal if it’s sooner. Politics is not a sentimental profession.

Nonetheless, the question of Ahern’s departure from office – its timing, its consequences and the manner of it – will be a huge issue on the Irish political landscape in the coming few years.

Ahern has dominated Irish politics for a decade and, although Fianna Fail insiders confirm that power is already flowing to his nominated successor – this process would appear to be a law of politics – his departure will deprive the state’s largest party of a phenomenon of modern electoral politics.

I think the political landscape is already determined. And … whisper it quietly… perhaps both FF TDs and their coalition partners might actually prefer the rather more technocratic, and apparently emollient, style of Brian Cowen. A safe pair of hands to guide them to a successful election in 2012.

So much better than a situation where as Leahy argues there is considerable cognitive dissonance between entirely contradictory views held by the political class and the general public over the current events.

In a curious way all those valedictory party political broadcasts in the run up to the 2007 Election provided the eulogies. Weren’t many of Ahern’s dearest friends in world politics dragged in? And now, well now it is just a question of waiting until he departs the stage.

No doubt he, and we, would prefer that it might be otherwise, but as Leahy notes:


If there’s a tide in the affairs of men, that tide ebbs and flows more dramatically in the world of politics. Last May, with a stunning third election victory on the back of a robust economy and peace in the North and against the expectations of many of his closest colleagues, Bertie Ahern reached his high water mark.

As involuntary spectators we have no say in the matter. For many of us watching, who support the left, our ship has sailed and we have to hope that there is better news in 2012. The internal affairs of Fianna Fáil are a different country. And that lends a certain distance. Still, interesting to contemplate just how this might be playing out had the numbers turned out tighter and had the Green Party not been in government. Perhaps we might have seen a more 1994 like situation in those circumstances.

In any case, the timing is difficult. The opposition is preoccupied. Fine Gael is – finally – undergoing a period of introspection about its ‘nearly but not quite’ result. Labour, with the new guy at the helm is just settling in and Sinn Féin is busily otherwise engaged.

But in establishing this particular coalition – unlikely as it appears to be – may well have been Ahern’s last political masterstroke, if only because it is so well built that it can outlast its creator.

Labour, Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and the working class. September 9, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Election 2007, Irish Labour Party, Irish Politics.
3 comments

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It’s always good to see one’s thoughts – and prejudices – supported by some external authority. In this instance I’m talking about Fintan O’Toole who in the Irish Times two weekends ago echoed (entirely unknowingly I’m sure) some of the points I made the previous week about the Labour Party. In particular he noted that both Fianna Fáil, and to a lesser extent Sinn Féin, were able to call upon the support of a significant tranche of the working class. As he notes:

What really marks it out from other mainstream social democratic parties in Europe is that it doesn’t get the support of the old working class. Fianna Fáil and, to a lesser extent, Sinn Féin, occupy too much of Labour’s natural territory. One of the things the party has to do if it is ever to become even the largest party in a coalition government is, oddly enough, to connect with the working class.

This isn’t just a detail. Labour projects itself as the major party of the left in the 26 counties. So if the left is able to get, what, 11 to 12% of the popular vote, and a minority of the working class vote then we have to question the nature of that left.

I’ve mentioned how I always found the vociferously negative attitude of some I knew in the LP, people I would have considerable respect for on almost every axis bar this, to Sinn Féin (but this also carried through to Fianna Fáil) extremely off-putting. And I’ve found it not just off-putting but actually counter productive. Because if one has a contemptuous attitude towards political rivals who are actually (and obviously in the case of SF I’m talking about particular instances, not the generality) more successful than one is in political endeavour then isn’t it plausible to suggest that such an approach might not connect with those very people the electoral rivals are doing so well with. If one maintains an effective pretense – and it is a pretense, because as I know from direct conversations the LP was willing to go into coalition with FF and as we know from the Senate was also willing to work directly with SF – that somehow either FF or SF are somehow more than simple electoral rivals and in some strange fashion embody all the ills of this society then this attitude will be seen as not just a reflection on those parties, but those who vote for them.

I talk to a lot of LP people (indeed I’d count them amongst my friends 🙂 ) and I genuinely think that the discourse some of them use is in political terms bizarre. It may well be that other parties are composed of crooks, or that others are only a step away from terrorism. But in both instances there are parties which the LP has worked with – or subsumed – who could have had similar charges made against.

How does this play in the world beyond pure politics? How does a Labour Party which appears to be unable to deal with Fianna Fáil in even the most basic pragmatic terms – re: government building, and at that building government with one of the most popular administrations of recent history – go to the working class and explain this disdain? How can it propose that it is serious about power, serious about the working class, or even serious about the concerns of a working class which maintains an unfortunate loyalty to the other party?

How then does it engage with another section of the working class (and in truth these may overlap) which supports Sinn Féin? A section which is clearly voting for a left message as well as (or perhaps sometimes in spite of) a Republican message. And I’ve noted previously how a fair chunk of the old DL/WP vote seems to have crossed over to SF – although in fairness another chunk of that vote went with the DL TDs after the merger with the LP – a vote that thankfully was sufficiently concentrated to boost them from their more usual 16 to the 20-22 mark. Handy, no doubt, but hardly a revolutionary step forward.

If the message coming from Labour on the personal level, and on the political level, is one that abhors the choices made by the Irish working class time and again, and refuses even to work with those choices, isn’t it possible that Labour is rendering itself slowly redundant as a party of the left (and this is a dynamic I think we often see with the much smaller left parties – being told one doesn’t get it isn’t the most apposite of tactics for increasing support)?

Again, for me the most bizarre aspect of the Mullingar Accord was not the Accord itself, but the seeming inability of those within the LP to attempt to push post-election for the implementation of a strong social democratic voice in the government of this state. To me that seems not so much a principled position as an incredible failure to recognise responsibility. And while I accept there are arguments regarding various issues are those issues more important than the character this society would reflect – even tangentially – with a strong social democratic voice in government? Because if, as I believe, Labour has even a residual potential to shape this society for the better – and the optimum situation would be the LP working with other progressive forces – then the onus was on it to make an effort to see if it could actually implement aspects of that programme in government. It might have failed in the effort, but in failure it could then turn and say it had taken a principled left stand, rather than stayed true to what should have never been more than a tactical alliance with a right of centre party.

The nature of that alliance, again with a party whose links with the working class and indeed the left appear rather tenuous at best, also calls into question whether there is any understanding of the shape and tenor of our society on the part of those who proposed it. The logic of coalescing in a failed alliance with a party arguably somewhat further to the right of FF escapes me. What great principle is at work here?

This isn’t an argument for falling for the blandishments of FF. Indeed the option of refusing power in such a context might also be instructive to a growing political constituency. But… the point is that at the very least it might convince some elements of those who vote for FF and SF that Labour was willing to engage…and would appear very different from the recent SF tactic of chucking policy ballast over the side of the boat as the election neared if only because there is a distinction between being serious about being politics and appearing simply to try to mould ones political beliefs to the general consensus.

Again we return to a distortion of our political system, one which Labour has happily done it’s inimitable bit to perpetuate, whereby a clear left/right ideological course where parties with a greater political affinity on that axis are somehow transformed into antagonists of the darkest hue rather than parties further right again. There is an argument, and it’s a valid one, that during the 1970s and 1980s the ‘liberal agenda’ necessitated close ties with Fine Gael. I’m perhaps being a bit unfair here, but isn’t it possible that that tilt tended paradoxically to detach Labour from the working class, identifying it as an outrider for FG, even ironically as the society broadly accepted, even quietly welcomed, the social changes? And no one thanks political parties for what they’ve done, it’s what they intend to do that grabs the voter. Social change, the North, neither linked in in any clear way to either the FG/Lab vote or indeed the FF vote. The thing is, other than a proper secularisation of the society (the necessity being something that Wednesday has pointed to recently) and a number of obvious other issues the ‘liberal’ social agenda is close to completion. In that context is it entirely surprising that the most recent version of Fine Gael has, in real terms, been of a rather more centre right hue than the glory days of FitzGerald? So why then did Labour strap itself to the mast in order to avoid the Siren voices of FF, only to see the good ship Mullingar Accord crash to pieces on the rocks of a successful, but really not quite successful enough alliance?

In a way, at this remove, I’m beginning to have a certain admiration for the Green Party. They knew exactly what they wanted, which was government, and once focussed on that goal they did all they had to to ensure they were in power. Of course it helps if one has an issue such as climate change which can pretty well trump all others as the end goal of a political project – what is larger than the fate of the planet? The choice being beetween seeing everyone broiled alive in twenty years as temperatures and sea levels rise across the planet or build a road? Er… well if I’m a GP supporter or member most likely I’ll take the road, and that pesky airport and indeed the shiny new private hospital. Yet, for all the paradoxes implicit in those selections (a very political form of triage) there remains a certain iron rigour – indeed a logic, even if one adopts very different viewpoints on those other issues – in the approach of the GP. But wait, Labour also has an issue, the construction of a truly social democratic (or democratic socialist – and yeah, therein lies another story) Republic of Ireland (incidentally as I write that I’m conscious of the curious fact that of Labour, the GP and SF, only Labour has no clear links north of the Border – how very interesting). That’s no less a project in terms of the impact it would have on Irish people… yet you’d go a long way before you heard any hint of putting real substance to that rhetoric in recent times. That’s as important, perhaps more so, than the sins of commission and omission of Fianna Fáil, a party which even it’s most ardent proponents accept will assume to some extent the character of those it is allied with.

This may appear to be a harsh analysis of Labour. Yet as a party it actually has considerable potential. Fintan O’Toole noted that:

it needs to avoid the temptation to follow the line most often articulated by media commentators who are queuing up to present Labour’s problem as a failure to connect with the values of the Celtic Tiger (and a big hi there to John Waters on Monday). For a start, it is simply not true that Labour’s biggest problem is that it is out of synch with a young, vibrant prosperous Ireland. The RTÉ/Lansdowne exit poll for last May’s general election tells quite a different story. Labour values are not meaningless to the young: Labour did better – at 14 per cent support – with 18- to 29-year-olds than with any other age group. The party has in fact been steadily increasing its appeal to first-time voters over the last decade: 10 per cent of them voted Labour in 1997, 13 per cent in 2002 and 16 per cent in 2007.

Shadowboxing with Fianna Fáil is great craic. Pat Rabbitte made a fine career in the 1990s from it. Dick Spring a somewhat shorter one. And indeed Fine Gael can tell us that, particularly now that they have the luxury of 50 plus TDs and five years to contemplate just how great it is. Being of the ‘one more push’ school perhaps they have high hopes for 2012. I wouldn’t. But by contrast Labour has a real opportunity to rework itself, to establish what it’s aims are and then to engage. Eamon Gilmore has made something of a start by ruling out pre-election alliances. And if they and he are going to stick to that perhaps they should do more than shadowbox and sit down and consider just why is Fianna Fáil more representative of the working class than they are, and just how Sinn Féin reaches the parts they can’t seem to?

Incidentally, is it just me or is Mark Hennessy’s rhetoric in the IT last Tuesday not a bit inappropriate. Apparently we were treated to the prospect that: Labour TD Éamon Gilmore is expected to be crowned leader of the Labour Party on Thursday, following the decision of Dublin North East TD Tommy Broughan last night to rule himself finally out of contention.

Wow. That’s a long way from the old WP line….So that’s why I never sent the application form in… 🙂

Setting out the electoral stall… Eamon Gilmore and 30 Labour seats… August 31, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Election 2007, Irish Labour Party, Irish Politics.
6 comments

Interesting post by Simon on irishelection who seems to be dubious about Eamon Gilmores opening leadership campaign gambit, the idea that Labour should aim for 30 seats. Easy to say one might think, and a good five years until it was proven one way or another. But I suspect that if Gilmore gains that many he may well have a headache.

But I’ll return to that in a moment. In a way I don’t want to write much about the leadership election (if indeed there will be one with the field narrowing swiftly to E. Gilmore and A.N.Other) so let me throw out a few thoughts about the Party itself.

At the weekend Gilmore proposed that: The Labour Party must “regain confidence in its core values”.

It’s actually not a bad line. Problem is that the sort of permanent modernisation of Labour over the past thirty odd years, something that seems uncannily akin to the Maoist permanent revolution, had obliterated a clear sense of what those core values might actually be.

I was at the merger conference in 1999 in the Rotunda. A strange occasion. Many of my former comrades from DL were wandering around in a dejected fashion. This certainly wasn’t what they had struggled over the best part of a decade for, and I was glad that I had effectively left the party years before. That certainly wasn’t the destination of my political journey.

As Gilmore relates we should look to its achievements, and in fairness they’re not inconsequential:

“More than any other political movement, it was Labour and its allies which drove the modernisation of this State, he added.

“Who modernised the laws on personal freedoms and legalised contraception and divorce?

“Who started equal pay for women and introduced most of our equality legislation? Labour. Who brought in most of our social protections? Labour.” He said it was the labour movement that first thought of social partnership.

“And was it not a Labour finance minister who who brought us the euro and who lowered corporation tax to stimulate investment. The reality is that some of those who now appear as modern celebrities were still cowering from the crozier while Labour was doing battle with conservative forces to make Ireland a modern country.”

Well it may be overegging the pudding, but much of that is more or less true [although is it just me, or doesn’t that read a bit oddly considering he happened to be in a different party all the while?]. How this fits in with the siren voices who talk about reforming Labour, name changes and such like is another issue.I never joined – although believe it or not in the early 2000s I came as close as writing up an application form and trying to work out how much I might donate to the party – because when I looked at Labour I seemed to be seeing not one party, but a multiplicity of parties. Which was the real one? That of Michael D. Higgins, or Declan Bree or indeed Eamon Gilmore? I couldn’t work it out. Was it Labourist, Social Democratic, Democratic Socialist? Any or all of these things?

Clearly it was socially liberal, but was it somewhat too focussed on that, too caught up in one form of the modernising agenda to the exclusion of others? Or was it more socially conservative than often thought? What about economics? A bit more tax and spend than other parties, but in a curious way unconvincingly so. And what about the North? One of the most telling political acts of the 1990s had been the way in which during the Fianna Fáil/Labour government Dick Spring had been seen as the person more sympathetic to Unionism in that administration, and in the subsequent “Rainbow” somehow overnight he became the greener nationalist in contrast to De Rossa and Bruton. That’s a hell of a change whatever way one cuts it.
I’d also always found the vitriol from LP members (not all, but some) about Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil to be curiously off-putting. Sure, I’d have my political difference with both those organisations. But somehow it all seemed both unpleasantly righteous and also curiously ineffective. It’s like anything, arrogance to be even slightly convincing demands at least some substance and achievement, and with contemporary Labour that simply wasn’t visible.

Quinn was an interesting leader. I’ve already written about Rabbitte, and now the field is full of contenders for the next stint. And this is, of course, the big one. Whoever is leader has to bring Labour back to power because, as has been noted here before otherwise we’re talking about 15 years outside government.

Which brings me to the magical number 30.

30 is achievable. They did it once, they can do it again. But last time out was 1992 and in the context of a weakened Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. I’m not sure that that set of circumstances will be replicated.

Being completely hard headed about it I suspect that this government will survive intact to the next election. The individual components are locked in tight. They won’t budge – although interesting to see Finian McGrath go on something of a solo run at the weekend.

In that context I think we might see a dynamic of many independent candidates, all eager to replicate the McGrath/Lowry/BCF deals – and some of those may well be disenchanted FF and FG members not given the nod. Of course, independents tend to be self-limiting, the more there are the less influence they wield, but so what, the people will speak.
In that context, as with 2002, it seems to me the likelihood would be a bleed in support from both major parties. It might only be half a dozen seats or it might be more, and note that there will be a process of natural attrition from candidates who hung on for Enda in this last election and FF might lose some as well. No Bertie, perhaps no bounce. But then again, we seem to live in a state where people are nervous about no FF.

Put that together with a dynamic Labour party (that of course is a whole different ball game. Dynamic in what way, pitching to the middle class, or retrenching in the working class, trying to prise away FF seats or FG, or both? Straw in the wind, the rapid jettisoning of the Mullingar Accord since the new government came into office, let’s see if that lasts the next five years) and the chances of them gaining an extra 10 seats are not beyond the bounds of possibility – intriguingly in 1992 DL had four seats and there perhaps 2 more seats that could be counted as ‘left’. This time out a bloody but somewhat unbowed SF will probably pick up two or three more, but that would still leave sufficient space for Labour to expand.

Of course the major fly in that ointment is that they would then probably be unable to go into coalition with FF unless FF was weakened sufficiently because the divvy out of Ministries would be too great. So that route to power is blocked. Fewer seats, a weaker Labour party and then the electoral game comes out more in their favour. So while it makes good political sense in the short term for Gilmore to talk up seat number, in the longer term, perhaps not so wise and cooler heads in Fine Gael might have a story to tell about the pleasures and pain of sitting on 50 plus seats but condemned to opposition for the next five years.

I’m all for Labour gaining 30 and sitting there with allies to provide a genuine ideological opposition. But politicians are human and I wonder how keen they would be to see such a scenario develop, even if it was to see the back of the 2.5 party system (incidentally kudos to Pat Rabbitte for sticking to the Mullingar Accord as long as he did, a bizarre policy but at least it was consistent)?
Of course this is all shooting the breeze at this stage. I could probably make a counter case as easily. But the basic point is that 30 seats is realisable. It’s what you do with them once you get there that’s the question.

Collateral damage: The latest casualty of the Mullingar Accord… Pat Rabbitte resigns August 23, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Election 2007, Irish Labour Party, Irish Politics.
13 comments

So, the political catastrophe for Labour that was the Mullingar Accord continues to work its dark magic. First it skewers the Labour Party in the General Election, now it fells Pat Rabbitte.

I have two reasons to thank Pat Rabbitte for assistance he gave me over the years. So while politically I fear his tenure will be seen as a period of retrogression for the Labour party I still wish him well. But I am convinced that his leadership was, if not quite a disaster for Labour, one of the most pointless interludes in that party’s existence.

A strange time to choose and in a way an unusual man. Clearly very clever, but with almost completely the wrong personality for the job at hand as leader. The conference this afternoon seemed to typify that. The references to ‘regime change’, ‘a party more united than it had been since 1922’ and such like seemed a tad too glib. He told us he ‘gave it his best shot during the election but he failed’… Well, yes.

He reminds me of other examples of clever men who arrived in positions of leadership in various political parties, one thinks of Alan Dukes, etc, etc. Each personally clever, indeed in some cases brilliant, but each lacking some intuitive capacity to connect with either his own base or the general electorate. And that former problem is as important, if not more, than the latter. Knowing people in Labour I was struck by the bitterness of those who might be termed ‘old’ Labour to the new arrivals from DL who had carried out a reverse take-over of the higher reaches of the party structure in the early 2000s. I’m used to political bitterness, the circles I was in thrived in it. Come to think of it they still do.

In a way what was most striking about his leadership was the almost complete avoidance of a defining ideology. For a man who had come from one ferociously ideological party, and been a member of another which was reasonably clearly defined there was no sense that he had any vision which linked into a broader sense of what it was to be ‘left’ in this society. But why is this such a puzzle. Even in the WP I never had any feeling that Rabbitte was an ideologue. His popularity with the media seemed always to be a function of his closeness to journalists down at Doheny’s. Never the best constituency upon which to base a judgement of broader popularity. Although he was a pleasant man in such company, being both witty and quite generous. This personal warmth never translated to the larger canvas of the Dáil chamber or the party conference. Indeed in these contexts a certain autocratic aspect, whether true or not, seemed to be evident.

Add to that a career littered with the extravagant, the exaggerated, the simply incorrect (who now remembers about the documents that would – and I paraphrase – ‘shake this state to its very foundations’?) was one which quite frankly should have given Labour pause for thought when they elected him leader. Because that style, born of student politics but clearly impossible to transfer to the more staid world of party leadership in this democracy, was not what was going to be presented the electorate.

And it wasn’t. Instead we had Rabbitte the rather dull. Not bad by any means. Just nit-picking. Hesitant to strike, hesitant to withdraw, and in that respect more similar to Enda Kenny than some might imagine (albeit without Kenny’s clear ability to organise, an ability that probably secures him the leadership of FG for a number of years yet – although who knows?). That first little contretemps regarding the Ahern finances said it all. The aggressive politician of yesteryear unwilling or unable to risk a throw of the dice (a la Dick Spring in the early 1990s) for fear of what? Losing the mantle of sober gravitas – something Irish politicians seem to think in and of itself is sufficient preparation for government? It’s not guys, because it’s so transparetn. Eventually that left the sense that this was a version of the Labour party that was averse to any risk taking at all.

The egregious errors that he made as leader now seem almost incomprehensible. The oddity of taxation policy, making gestures that simply didn’t resonate with the public (or worse alienated parts of the party support). The inability to publicly countenance coalition with Fianna Fáil. Great, in theory, if one wishes ideological purity. But an awful awful strategy for a group of politicians looking at the wrong side of 50 with no clear alternative route to power. And awful awful too for anyone who wanted even a hint of social democracy added to the political mix over the next five years. And not just an inability to countenance it, because soundings I took with people I knew in Labour indicated to me that there was, and I have to be honest, a hugely cynical agenda that if the nod came Labour would make a deal with the evil ones.

Which made the retention of the Mullingar Accord up until the vote for the Taoiseach all the more inexplicable, since it thereby allowed those seeming neophyte Greens the opportunity to race ahead of their larger and older rival and place their feet firmly under the Ministerial tables. And look, I still suspect that one Bertie Ahern would, given the opportunity, have much preferred to do a single deal with Labour than multiple deals with Independents and the PDs and GP had it presented itself to him. The faces of Labour in the subsequent time period as the reality of a relatively solid Fianna Fáil government sank in told its own story. Lashed in the public mind to a Fine Gael that was resurgent within itself but still unable to connect more widely the slight nod to Sinn Féin perhaps indicates that there is a recognition that the centre ground is perhaps a little too crowded for the party.

So no agenda, no ideology, no clear path forward. If anything just a sort of muffled complaint against an Ireland that had ‘changed’ in some remarkable fashion, particularly and specifically in relation to leaving Labour the also ran – except it hasn’t. Ireland has over the best part of a century taken a look at the Labour Party, and bar one shining moment in 1992 it’s hasn’t particularly liked what it has seen. Now, one can take away a number of lessons from that. One might be that Fianna Fáil remains the predominant ‘workers’ party. Another that ideology is of little interest to the Irish people. A third might be that the left is better served by a number of competitive formations than ‘one smallish party’. A fourth that Labour has never seemed particularly serious about taking any measure of state power except with Fine Gael. And so on.

I can’t state this enough. If anything this is a vastly more social democratic society than it used to be – particularly in the 1980s, but terrifyingly that has little enough to do with the Labour Party. We’re more social democratic (and I mean this in the sense that civic society is vastly more complex, that benefits have been extended and so on) because we’ve been able to afford it and Fianna Fáil remains hostage in no small part to its own populism, but if things go sour, well then perhaps some who haven’t had the pleasure may have a chance to experience 1983, and those of us who did will have the chance to relive it all over again). And part of that process will be an FF which willingly talks populist and acts centre right.

But for FF to act even half way decently it is necessary to have a left which is confident of being a left. With Labour, whatever the evident sincerity of those involved this seems strangely unfocussed.

And Rabbitte’s talk this afternoon begins to seem strangely in keeping with this. Vague talk about a need to change, a need to relate to Irish society. But in what way? The wild mutterings about name changes seem of a piece with this too. Now it has to be said that some of these mutterings appear to come from beyond the party itself, but even so.

This is a society that on a profound level requires some alternative vision of the future, some sense that the nostrums of the right and the market are not uncontested,

But what next? More of the same? Can they afford that? And in fairness to Rabbitte I look at the selection of potential contenders and it strikes me that for all his faults there’s not one that I could say with all honesty had he or she been there for the last five years they would have done better.

Could anyone? Will anyone?

Nineteenth Desmond Greaves School – ‘Labour and Republicanism – The Way Forward?’ August 21, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Election 2007, Irish Labour Party, Irish Politics, Republicanism, The Left.
1 comment so far

Just to echo Mick Hall’s excellent reminder which can be found here with details…
Not before time some might say…

Defeat for SP in ’07, but where is the internal debate? August 12, 2007

Posted by franklittle in Irish Election 2007, Irish Labour Party, Irish Politics, Labour Party, Marxism, Northern Ireland, Sinn Féin, Socialist Party, The Left.
47 comments

It has been a bad year for Trotsky’s representatives in Ireland, the Socialist Party.

In the North hopes that water charges were going to be introduced, allowing the SP through it’s dominance of the We Won’t Pay Campaign to take a lead on the issue, were dashed when the new Assembly suspended the Charges. The issue is not dead by any means, and the introduction of water charges is still a strong possibility, but the opportunity that was there for the SP to take on a position of being a serious player in Northern politics through the non-payment campaign has disappeared, at least temporarily.

The Assembly elections were equally disappointing. The party’s two candidates each polled less than 250 votes with Thomas Black coming 13th out of 15 candidates in East Belfast and James Barbour 13th out of 18 in South Belfast. The SP’s explanation for this is that they were too busy working to build the mass non-payment campaign to take seriously such minor matters as Assembly elections. It is an explanation that lacks any real credibility.

The SP had undoubtedly done more to build the campaign of opposition to water charges than any other party yet in an election where the charges were one of the biggest issues, their two long-standing candidates failed to register anything more than a ‘friends and family’ vote. The use of non-payment campaigns like this to raise the profile of election candidates was standard SP practice for Higgins and Daly in their respective Dáil constituencies and for Mick Barry and Mick Murphy in the Locals. With the election of Brian Wilson as the first Green MLA, Anna Lo as the first from an ethnic minority background and Kieran Deeny retaining his seat in West Tyrone on a hospital services ticket there are tiny green shoots of an alternative politics to the unionist and nationalist blocs. It is one that seems to have no room for Peter Hadden.

But all of this was secondary to the disaster that was the party’s performance in the 2007 Elections. Like most observers I expected to see Higgins retain his seat with relative ease though I did suspect he might drop a few votes to a growing Sinn Féin organisation in the constituency. Though he dropped votes, it was certainly not to the pretty poor Sinn Féin performance. Again, like most, I expected to see Daly take a seat in Dublin North and so did she by all accounts. Yet even if the constituency had been a five seater, it simply wasn’t on the cards.

What is interesting to me is the reaction of the SP to this compared to Labour and Sinn Féin, both of whom had poor enough elections. Senior members of the Labour party have gone public with their criticism of the party’s strategy. There seems at events like the Tom Johnson Summer School to be an effort to try and identify what went wrong. The deal with Sinn Féin, which covers more than Seanad nominations but also a deal in the Dáil the details of which have not been made public, suggest a re-orientation of Labour, however embryonic it is in form.

Sinn Féin threw the pages of the party paper open to criticism, sometimes quite aggressive in nature, of the party’s leadership and announced a complete review of the party’s election strategy consisting of meetings around the country. According to reports that appeared in Phoenix and that I have heard myself, these meetings have been extremely critical of the party leadership and at times quite heated and the review process is not yet complete.

The Socialist Party on the other hand, seems to have decided that the reason for the party’s poor election in 2007 is simple. It was everybody else’s fault. Presumably there is no reason for an internal debate when Kevin O’Loughlin has explained the party line on what went wrong as he did in an article published on their site on the 29th of May. The failures of the ‘official opposition’ and the trade union movement are blamed for people choosing Fianna Fáil. The lack of a ‘better mood and general combativity by the working class’ prevented seats in Dublin West and Dublin North.

Equally interesting, was O’Loughlin’s forthright statement that ‘the Socialist Party stood by its principles and politically and organisationally did everything in its power to withstand the shifts in opinion’. In other words, if something went wrong, it certainly was not our fault and therefore criticism of the party leadership or strategy, should it even exist, a red herring.

There is, in fairness, justification for one of their complaints. Had Dublin West been properly represented as a four seater, Joe Higgins would have retained his seat. But concentrating on this and claiming, as O’Loughlin does, that the strength of the party in Dublin North insulated them from the damage done by the ‘Alliance for Change’ ignores a steep decline in Higgins’ vote from 21.48% to 14.91%. Daly’s vote went from 12.52% to 8.92%. Some insulation. Only in Cork North Central and Dublin South West were they votes up, albeit marginally, on 2002. Either way, the best the SP can hope for in 2009 is to tread water at a local election level.

Losing Higgins’ seat is a disaster for the organisation on a number of levels and there is more than a little truth in the pompous claim from O’Loughlin that it is a disaster for the working class. Higgins was probably the most effective and articulate left TD in the Dáil and his media profile, far in excess of what one would expect for a single TD party, was a valuable resource. He was one of the few TDs who genuinely unnerved Ahern during Leader’s Questions and seemed to have a better grasp of the use of the Dáil as a platform from which to articulate one’s views than Labour and Sinn Féin who found themselves sucked into the institution. But more even than the political or propaganda loss, which is quickly appreciated, is the financial damage done to the party.

With the loss of the seat goes the full-time salary for Higgins, the two staff he had working out of his office, the use of the office and Leinster House facilities, the money Higgins donated to the party from his wages and expense and the Leader’s Allowance, which was worth almost 70,000 Euros per annum alone. All told, the financial cost to the SP of losing the seat, including wages, must add up to over 200,000 Euros per annum. For any political party to lose a sum of that size would be damaging. For the Socialist Party, who must have become used to being able to rely on such state funding and who are a small organisation with little fundraising capacity, it has the potential to be crippling.

Members of the Socialist Party, including its incredibly aggressive ad hoc group of bloggers and internet monitors, have been putting the best face on this. Arguing, rightly, that elections are merely one aspect of their work. That they continue to campaign in the unions and communities. That Joe Higgins will return. And so on. But one of the things the SP has done well is use the resources and profile that came with Higgins’ elevation to the Dáil to support those campaigns. With other Independents and the Greens defeated or neutralised through coalition, it opens up a space for Sinn Féin to assert dominance of the radical left in Ireland, with Labour taking the more moderate space. What kind of campaign, for example, will the SP be able to mount against the EU Constitution? What kind of local or European election campaign can they run in 2009?

These are important considerations for any political party. A debate around them could be taking place within the SP but there is absolutely no sign of it and the indications from the party’s paper is that the O’Loughlin analysis of the election, putting responsibility on everyone else and failing to address the way forward for the party in the short to medium term, is the accepted truth.

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