With just two days to go before polling in General Election 2011, the latest opinion poll shows Fine Gael on the cusp of achieving power, possibly needing the support of Independents but not necessarily the Labour Party.
For Fine Gael, such an outcome would have been unimaginable a month ago and would represent an historic breakthrough. It would lead to great satisfaction within the Party, and no doubt jubilation. But it would isolate the Party in power, making it fully responsible for all of the potential failures of policy, of dealing with the legacy of Fianna Fail’s grotesque betrayal of the people and the State, and of handling all of the upsets that will happen, both nationally and internationally. For instance, uncertainty in the Middle East and North Africa will lead to great turbulence in oil markets, and price instability, and will affect economies around the World – few of them in as precarious a state as Ireland’s.
For Irish citizens, particularly those who are struggling financially, or suffering the effects of health or education cuts, etc., the elevation of Fine Gael to single party government will be a far from pleasant experience. Fine Gael, without anything approaching the grassroots base that Fianna Fail has had traditionally, will be relatively uninhibited in pursuing its Thatcherite approach to budgetary and fiscal matters. Blinded by its commitment to being ‘good Europeans’ and its membership of the Christian Democratic bloc in the EU, Fine Gael is unlikely to force essential changes to the EU/IMF plan. As for Fine Gael’s much-vaunted 5-point plan, it is the stuff of smoke and mirrors and won’t work, certainly not in the short-term.
For the Labour Party, to be excluded from government would be evidence of a failure of strategy and of leadership. Certain that the Party would have its hands on the levers of power, it would now find itself consigned to opposition. That would be a source of great disappointment to party members and supporters, but should not be. Provided that Labour emerges as the opposition party with the greatest number of deputies, Eamon Gilmore would lead the opposition, a first for Labour, and with a strong cohort of other left-wing parties and individuals. Facing across the chamber a right-wing party grappling with known and yet-to-be-known problems and catastrophes, Labour would be in an ideal position to enhance its credibility with the voters while developing a policy platform for an election that would most likely come far sooner than might be expected.
Should Fine Gael win government and Labour win leadership of the opposition and use that opportunity wisely, then the future might open up in an unexpected way. With the centenary of the 1913 Lockout just two years hence, Labour will be forced to re-evaluate its core values, its history, its constituency, and its duty to inform and educate citizens about the value of progressive policies and politics. Given that the centenary of the Irish Revolution, in which the labour movement led by James Connolly played a fundamental part, will occur just three years after the centenary of the Lockout, transformative shifts in attitudes on the part of the citizens towards politics and the preferred nature of the Republic become very possible.
Far from being despondent, should that scenario play out, left-leaning citizens, particularly those who believe in the Irish Republic as opposed to the corrupted and socially skewed ‘Republic’ of Ireland, might rejoice. With a re-focussed Labour leading a left-wing opposition in the circumstance described, the project of finally completing the Revolution of Easter 1916 and establishing the progressive Irish Republic becomes even more attainable. Now, that would not be a bad outcome to a less than satisfactory election!