Tag Archives: General Election 2011

Election Mania: the mud of political intrigue

Sometimes, up out of the mud that is political intrigue, comes a recollection that illuminates how flawed democracy can be when it is constructed on a foundation of ignorance, or prejudice or the unprincipled pursuit of power for power’s sake or for personal advancement.

In the mid 1990s, Eamon Gilmore responded to an observation that he was from the area of East Galway where Liam Mellows had led a successful campaign during the 1916 revolution, by saying that Mellows was ‘just another fucking Catholic nationalist’. That response was made outside RTE’s Television Centre after a ‘Questions & Answers’ programme, to me.

Eamon Gilmore is, of course, entitled to have an opinion about Mellows. In that, he may indeed have known more about Mellows 80 years later than did James Connolly in 1915. Did Connolly describe Mellows as ‘just another fucking Catholic nationalist’? He did not. Connolly said to his family that Mellows, then 20 years of age, was ‘the finest republican of them all’. So highly did Connolly think of Mellows, in common with the other members of the IRB Military Council, that when Mellows was placed under house arrest in England, Connolly sent his own daughter Nora to rescue Mellows and get him back in disguise to Ireland, so that he could command the forces in Galway.

There is a sad irony in the negotiations between Eamon Gilmore and Enda Kenny, the leader of Fine Gael, a party that has its political roots in the Free State’s first government. During the Civil War that ensued between that government and the republican anti-Treaty forces, Liam Mellows was captured along with Rory O’Connor, Joe McKelvey and Dick Barrett at the Four Courts, and held in Mountjoy Jail from June 1922. Six months later, on the 8th of December, the four genuinely heroic patriots of 1916 and the War of Independence were summarily shot – in brutal circumstances – in Mountjoy Jail by order of Fine Gael’s political ancestors, without trial. This is usually explained as an act of reprisal for the shooting of Sean Hales, a pro-Treaty member of parliament with which killing, as prisoners in the State’s custody, the four had no connection. But these extra-judicial murders were more probably a counter-revolutionary act, the clearing out of revered and therefore politically dangerous foes, and an act of State terrorism.

Eamon Gilmore claims to be a socialist, or at least a social democrat. What did James Connolly, the principal founding father of the Irish Labour Party say about socialism? He said that to be a socialist was to be a republican, and to be a republican was to be a socialist. How do Eamon Gilmore, and the rest of the old guard of the Labour Party, as they enter into negotiations with the right-wing Thatcherite Fine Gael Party, measure up to Connolly’s statement?

Neither Eamon Gilmore nor Enda Kenny bear any responsibility of the murders of Liam, Joe, Dick and Rory, or for the other awful acts of atrocity carried out by that first government. But they each have a responsibility, as political leaders, to know and understand the history of the State, of the Nation and of its people. More than that, they each have a responsibility to have their own distinct and identifiable political value system, and to transmit that value system, their personal political principles, to the citizens in a clear and honest way. There is no place in democratic political leadership for gross dishonesty, for playing the ‘cute hoor’, for ignorance, or prejudice, or the unprincipled pursuit of power for power’s sake or for personal advancement.

Did the voters not make that clear?


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Election Mania: notes from the asylum 6

As the last counts continue in the General Election, it is a black mark against the mainstream media in Ireland that across the board it is assiduously pushing the Fine Gael-Labour coalition as the only option. This  illustrates a deeply entrenched, internalised, unethical and unprofessional approach on the part of ‘professional’ journalists.

The fact is that there are at least four options available. Fine Gael can form a coalition government with Labour, or with independents, or with Fianna Fail, or can form a minority government with the agreed support of Fianna Fail and like-minded independents. If stability is a key requirement, then the coalition of two parties which share the same broad ideology is available, against the potential instability of a coalition of a left-wing party, which Labour claims to be, and a right-wing party which Fine Gael is.

There is anecdotal evidence of Labour Party workers at a Dublin count centre supporting the idea that Labour would lead the opposition and work toward leading a government at the next opportunity. A strong statement from Jimmy Kelly, Regional Secretary of the Unite trade union, echoes this line, with sound reasoning.

Should Labour insist that it will lead the opposition, that would force Fine Gael and Fianna Fail to hold talks, and to find the basis of agreement on which a stable government could be formed. The fact is that about 55% of voters gave their first preference to right-wing parties and independents.That says something, but this fact does not register as being of any consequence with the media.

Should Fine Gael and Fianna Fail not reach agreement then another General Election would be required if Labour held firm and explained the dichotomy of Labour being required to provide stable government, but Fine Gael and Fianna Fail not being so required. In those circumstances, Fine Gael would not wish to take the chance of going to the country again, and so a Fine Gael-Fianna Fail coalition of one sort or the other would have to be a runner.

Regarding international perception and confidence, neither the EU or the IMF, or the international bond market could lack confidence in such an arrangement – to adopt any other position would lack any logic.

It is difficult to imagine, given the ‘shapes’ that its spokespeople are throwing, that the Labour leadership will respect the mandate that the party and other left-wing parties and independents have been given to create real change in politics in the manner that Unite leader Jimmy Kelly describes.

Whichever way it goes with respect to forming a government, there is one  project that must be undertaken – it is vital that a proper examination of the deeply anti-democratic nature of media coverage across the printed press and broadcast media takes place, post-election, and that the findings are acted on. There is work here for academics, and we have no shortage of qualified people to do that work.

If a media hegemony was identified in any country outside Ireland, the Irish media would react indignantly. The parable of the Mote and the Beam comes to mind, a parable that has to do with hypocrisy and censoriousness. Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.


Election Mania: notes from the asylum 5

There they go again! ‘We must have stable government’ says the political class – more specifically the Labour leadership and the bourgeois press.  ‘We need a broad-based government to send a message to our partners in the EU and the international financiers’, they say.

What they mean of course is that Labour must do its ‘duty’ – again. It must, for the Labour leadership, get into power. For the bourgeois press, Labour must prop up the hegemonic right-wing political system, or the sky might fall.

We have had stable government for 14 years, with a minority Fianna Fail government relying either on small parties or a number of compliant independents, so stable that the government was able to bankrupt the country in broad daylight with the assistance of the small parties and independents without any significant protest from them until Black November when the IMF and EU were gifted our sovereignty by that government.

And what of Labour’s claim that its presence in government will make it more ‘broad-based’? A glance at the profile of the Labour TDs elected this time will reveal very few TDs from the working class, self-employed manual workers, small farmers, the unemployed, working mothers, carers, people with disabilities. Oh, but Labour lawyer-TDs, and Labour economist-TDs, and Labour academic-TDs, will, they say, ‘represent’ those people. The truth is that a ‘Labour’ party that does not have a healthy cohort drawn from the working and lower middle class among its parliamentary representatives is just another bourgeois party.

A Fine Gael – Labour coalition would have upwards of 115 seats in the Dail, leaving about 50 seats to the opposition. Such an imbalance, far from being just ‘stable’, would amount to a parliamentary dictatorship, free of the possibility of dismissal from power, and capable of governing without the need for accountability.

It makes no sense to read the voters’ intentions in this election as an endorsement for this sort of ridiculous coalition of Left and Right, particularly when it is obvious that there could be a very stable government formed between Fine Gael and the remaining rump of Fianna Fail, thus really ending Civil War politics. The two parties are in complete ideological agreement, are two sides of the same coin.

A proper reading of the voters’ intentions is to be gauged by the massive increase in support for left-wing parties, which in the mind of the electorate includes the Labour Party, Sinn Fein, The United Left Alliance and leftist independents. Matched by a significant decline in the number of centre-right and right-wing TDs coming out of this election, this is not just an urban phenomenon but is spread around the country.

The appropriate response of the Right to the wishes of the electorate is a coalition of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, and some in those two parties may already be discussing this option. That would leave us with a powerful opposition, the first left-wing opposition in the history of the State.

This election has been revolutionary in its outcome. It cannot be, for the convenience of a few, turned into a counter-revolution. The next election will be even more important. It will likely take place in 2015 in the run-up to the centenary of 2016, the most appropriate moment to finally create the sort of Republic envisaged by the revolutionaries of 1916. It would be a travesty if the Labour Party, so central to that revolution, should, by its actions in going into government with Fine Gael, ensure that a rejuvenated Fianna Fail and a burgeoning Sinn Fein have their hands on those levers, to the exclusion of the Labour Party.

Labour – listen to the voters. Their intent is clear, that Civil War politics must end, and that we should finally have a democracy mature enough to take seriously the Left as well as the Right. It is called democratic choice!


Election Mania: notes from the asylum 3

The outcome of the election won’t be known until the weekend, but if the last Red C poll is reasonably accurate in forecasting the likely support for parties and independents some observations are valid.

With 40% support, Fine Gael could get close to 80 seats in the Dail which would allow that party to govern with the support of a number of independents, or with the Greens and fewer independents. If that were to happen we would have a government with a first preference support of, perhaps, only 42% of the electorate who cast a ballot.

Another possible outcome would be for a minority Fine Gael government with the support of Fianna Fail in a ‘Tallaght 2’ type situation. Despite protestations that Fine Gael would not enter into coalition with Fianna Fail, Fine Gael could opt for this ‘hands off’ relationship in order to achieve power on its own so as to pursue its policy objectives, undiluted.

The third scenario would see Fine Gael and Labour in an agreed government, but with Fine Gael holding the whip hand in terms of policy and the allocation of ministerial portfolios. On that note, it is pitiful to observe a panic-stricken Labour leadership virtually pleading with their Fine Gael counterparts for seats at the government table, and explicitly pleading with the electorate to rescue them from the opposition benches.

Labour has been badly served by its strategists, by a loutish, hectoring Joan Burton, by a lethargic Pat Rabbitte, by a grumpy, jaded Ruairi Quinn, by its foolish attempts to distance itself from the left in the mistaken belief that that was necessary to hold on to middle-class votes. Even more so, it was badly served by the absence of a recognisably distinct ideology – a set of values and beliefs, and by its consistent distancing of the party from its key founder James Connolly and his model of a republic that should be Labour’s strongest selling point. Fine Gael is talking  about creating a ‘new’ republic – what is certain, given Fine Gael’s record and ideology, is that it won’t be the Irish Republic of the Proclamation.

Should Labour succeed in entering coalition, the new government would likely command 100-110 seats, with a much-reduced opposition of roughly half that number – not a recipe for government being held to account. The opposition would, almost certainly, be led by Fianna Fail, which would use that opportunity to rebuild the party. In that case, Labour would revert to being the buffer between the two rightist parties, with Fianna Fail selling itself as back-to-its-roots radical, and challenging Labour as the voice of the working man and woman. From that, it is back to square-one for another 10 or 20 years.

Labour’s duty is to look to the next election, not this one, as the route to achieving power on behalf of all of the people. To do otherwise would be an indelible mark of failure. There is a very slight chance that Labour will opt for leading a strong opposition, but little grounds for optimism on that score. Perhaps electoral fortune will force that on the party, to the benefit of the citizens and the republic.


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