And so we are induced by commentators to believe that the Irish Labour Party is to be saved from total oblivion by its ‘new’ leader, Joan Burton, who will with newly-discovered reformist fervour wipe the slate clean, disassociate herself and the party from broken promises cynically made in the run-up to the last election, and demonstrate with the assistance of a regime-compliant mainstream media that Labour will from now on be all heart and less head.
Despite this bullshit, it is likely that enough voters can be found to rally to Burton and give Labour some opinion-poll bounce on the basis that she is indeed ‘new’ despite being for almost three decades an integral part of the Labour Party and one of the architects of its acquiescence in putting into practice neo-liberal policies so as to be and remain part of coalition government, and on the basis that she is a woman – that somehow that is a good thing in itself. Countering that notion, Margaret Thatcher springs to mind, as does Mary Harney.
There are some good, strong, principled and progressive women in Irish politics, and some who fall far short. Joan Burton is one of the latter. The fact that she is a woman should not excuse her from her share of the blame for the punishment inflicted on a very substantial proportion of the Irish people, located principally in the middle and lower socio-economic groups, punishment that includes mass unemployment, enforced emigration, a serious spike in austerity-related suicides, a serious decline in the provision of essential services such as health, housing, education and nutrition, and a widening of the gap between the rich – who have got richer as a result of government policies – and the poor who suffer penury that can be related directly to the policies of the government in which she has been an active, influential member and a defender of the course this government has steered.
Burton has also shown herself to be a hectoring bully, and a spoofer (although the latter trait seems to be standard behaviour for TDs and Senators from each of the three parties of permanent misgovernment). Her loutish and dishonest performance on TV3’s Vincent Browne Tonight show on January 24th 2011 provides all of the necessary evidence to show that. She may be no worse than many of the male politicians in that regard, but she is certainly no role model to encourage either women or young people to become involved in politics.
Despite all that, Labour will get some bounce from the ‘change’ at the top, enough that it will not be a total wipe-out for the party at the next election. But it would be delusional for Labour Party members or supporters to imagine that Burton’s appointment represents something ‘new’ and therefore ‘good’ in Irish politics. It most certainly is neither. It is the same old, same old, just dressed up differently.
Since the Burton leopard is most unlikely to change her spots she will provide an excellent target for Sinn Féin and leftist parties and independents to expose her intemperate, condescending and peevish disposition when challenged. Expect sparks to fly!
Meanwhile, those who want a new and better Ireland should not let-up in the battle between insipid and spurious ‘reform’, and revolution. Nothing less than revolutionary change can create the new and better Ireland that most citizens desperately need and deserve, and that the Labour Party, under each and every one of its 10 previous leaders since 1917, has abjectly failed to deliver.
It falls to Sinn Féin and parties, groupings and independents of the left to formulate policies and develop an electoral strategy to ensure that the real alternative to the current failed state – a modern, progressive and egalitarian Irish Republic for the 21st century – is offered to the electorate with some prospect of success.
Burton is not the answer. Labour, once again, must wait.