Tag Archives: Labour

Irish Water: washing away the mandate fiction

I need to amend the prediction that I have been making since 2011 – that the next General Election would not take place in 2016 (politically dangerous, given the centenary) but in autumn 2015.

Who would I do that?

Because this government has all the signs of one that could implode at any time. It may limp on but it is in terminal decline, just as the Cowan coalition was in 2010.

Not just fractious backbenchers, but fractious coalition ‘partners’. Labour is the new Greens – facing disaster at the polls and with nothing to suggest that the situation can be retrieved. Searchers may comb the shipwreck, but the most they will find is a handful of survivors clinging to life in pockets of foul air.

Fine Gael backbenchers and local authority office holders are talking openly of leaving the party. Fine Gael cabinet ministers, just as previous ministers in the Fianna Fáil-Green coalition like Noel Dempsey and Dermot Ahern did, are issuing holding statements that bear no connection with the reality of the situation. Labour ministers are operating as if they were deciding policy around water charges, without reference to the senior coalition partner.

This is a shipwreck, for sure. The hole below the waterline is too big to be patched. The rusting hulk will not make it to dry-dock. Even if it did, the shipyard workers are in open revolt.

The sensible thing to do three weeks ago would have been to announce that the Irish Water scam would be mothballed for six months while a new plan was drawn up to be presented to the people. That would have bought time, and might have defused the situation. But arrogance is a blindfold.

This government talks of mandates to implement policies arising from the 2011 election. These are largely a fiction. Fine Gael secured 36.1% of the vote, Labour 19.4%, giving a majority of 55% and a larger majority numerically in terms of parliamentary seats, given the vagaries of the PR-multi-seat system.

That’s a mandate, isn’t it?

Not on water charges, it isn’t. Fine Gael’s policy since 2009 was for the corporatisation (and ultimate privatisation as an ideological consequence) of water, predating any appearance on the scene by the EU-ECB-IMF Troika and their austerity programme. Labour’s pre-election position was the opposite. Both parties offered these commitments in their manifestos. The Fine Gael position secured 36.1% support. That is not a mandate to create Irish Water. Combining it with Labour’s 19.4% for the opposite course of action does not, by any stretch of the imagination, make it a mandate from the people to implement a policy of such far-reaching importance.

Any tinkering around with  water charges, or with Social Welfare vouchers, or with tax credits – which we will pay for anyway through other taxes, will not work. It is too late now. This government is hated. There is open revolt on the streets throughout the country. The most recent opinion poll gives a combined support for Fine Gael-Labour of just 29%. In other words, 71% of the electorate will not, on that indication, support these parties next time out. That is rejection of this government by the people. Add in Fianna Fáil, the third of the parties of permanent government since 1922, and the poll figure is still less than 50%.

My advice to the alternative parties and independents, for what it is worth, is to burn the midnight oil now. Put policies in place now. Talk to one another now to see if a common platform can be created – those policies on which there is broad agreement to implement in the interest of the people who have suffered most, that can point a better way to deal with noxious debt, that can shift the burden of taxes onto the rich, that will put public services including housing, health and education onto a sound and equitable footing, that will protect public utilities within the framework of public ownership and without the possibility of privatisation, and so on.

In other words, a different, enlightened, progressive vision of this country to the corrupt, brutal, counter-revolutionary three-party hegemony that we have endured since quasi-independence.

If those parties and independents of a potential alternative government really do care about the people, and see the State as the servant and the administrative implement of the people, then they will be able to put a programme of essential policies together. If they can’t do that then we will know that, once again, party or personal ego is more important than the needs and demands of the people.

Let us have, for the first time in 92 years, an opportunity to vote for a viable government that is not some combination of the same old corrupt counter-revolutionary parties – Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil and Labour.

In the meantime, on the street, let’s keep up the relentless pressure on this rotten, incompetent, dictatorial government and its hangers-on.

The people are winning. Consolidate the last victory and move towards the next. Gather together the voices of dissent. There’s a change coming.

Be unified, be determined.

Bí ullamh! Be ready.

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Killing hegemony with a ballot box in both hands

And so, May 23rd 2014 may indeed turn out to have been a red-letter day in the politics of the 26-county spurious-republic of Ireland.

Local and EU elections have seen very significant shifts in voting patterns with serious repercussions for the three parties which have exchanged power over the past 92 years, and this result may indicate the imminent demise of hegemonic counter-revolutionary misrule that has lasted since 1922.

The quaintly-named Irish Labour Party – a misnomer, since that party substantially represents the interests of middle-class voters, has experienced a virtual wipe-out at the polls. Its first preference vote (19.5%) in the General Election of 2011 plummeted to just 5.3% in the EU elections, with a loss of its two European Parliament seats. In the local elections its share of first preferences was a slightly better 7.2%. The immediate outcome of this was the resignation of party leader Eamon Gilmore, Tánaiste (deputy prime-minister) and Minister for Foreign Affairs.

It is quite likely that in the shake-up to elect a new party leader, and its aftermath, that the old guard in Labour will be shown the door in a feverish effort to ‘renew’ Labour, although it is hard to imagine that anything will save the seats of many of the party’s TDs in the General Election, likely to be called well before its Spring 2016 deadline. While Labour might pull back a percentage point or two, it looks like a party that will need to spend some years finding itself – if it can. Its future may be out of its own hands by now.

Its senior partner in coalition, Fine Gael, now stands on the same EU election percentage as Fianna Fáil – 22.3%, down from 36.1% in 2011. Fianna Fáil, the other cheek of that ideological arse formed out of the Civil War, saw its share go up from its disastrous 2011 percentage of 17.5%, but it can draw cold comfort from that 4.7% rise, being now reduced to just one MEP.

On the EU figures, cumulative support for Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Labour stands at 49.9%. In other words more than 50% of those who voted have turned their backs on the three misruling parties. That, to anyone accustomed to the monolithic control of those parties, constitutes profound change.

But more!

In the EU election, in which it stood just one candidate in each of the three EU constituencies, Sinn Féin saw its support go up from 9.9% in 2011 to almost double that in 2014 – 19.5%. Not only that, each of the Sinn Féin EU candidates either headed the poll or was elected in early counts.

In the local elections Sinn Féin trebled its tally of representatives on the County Councils to 157. This pool of public representatives will provide new candidates in many Dáil constituencies in the General Election. They will, in the meantime, learn their trade, create local networks through highly-organised offices and the strong team-work that Sinn Féin is renowned for. The likely outcome of that is a further rise in the percentage of the poll that Sinn Féin will receive next time out, and a greater number of TDs in the Dáil.

Alongside that, various independents and smaller socialist parties and anti-austerity campaigning offshoots, together with other independents including some conservatives, received massive support in terms of percentages of the EU vote – 30.6%! Working against the big party machines, the independents still managed to win three European Parliament seats. The Socialist Party lost a winnable seat due to the intervention of a Socialist Workers Party candidate in the Dublin constituency, which victory might have been at the expence of Fine Gael’s high profile candidate, Brian Hayes, who barely scraped in.

In the local elections the various independents and the socialist/anti-austerity candidates combined won 237 seats out of 949, another remarkable result.

These results do not guarantee that we will not end up with yet another combination of the three parties of permanent misrule after the next General Election, but they do open up the possibility that we may, for the first time since quasi-independence in 1922, see the possibility of real choice for voters between the right and the left. For that to advance there needs to be an attempt at establishing a rapprochement between Sinn Féin and socialist parties, groups and individuals.

It is possible that the Labour Party, forced by the shock of its decimation at the polls, might sufficiently re-evaluate its stance and policies to reflect, in part at least, the core values for which that party was created. If so, it might be that Labour would also be available to achieve the numbers to form an alternative government, although the current candidates for leadership – one an accountant and the other a senior barrister – do not inspire confidence in any attempt to return to those values, but would appear opportunistic and cynical given those candidates’ track records in the current government.

It might be in Sinn Féin’s interest instead to look to the smaller socialist parties which have done well in these elections and show signs of further growth if properly organised for the next campaign and if election pacts can be put in place to avoid losing winnable seats.

In a post-election article on the Socialist Workers Party website, J O’Toole wrote “Socialists want to relate to Sinn Fein supporters and work alongside them in the South to battle the water charges. We want to emphasise people power as the path to change and that struggle is the stage upon which different approaches to change will be tested.”

At a pre-election ‘Arms around Moore Street’ event, held to protect the historic GPO 1916 Battlefield Site, Socialist Party EU candidate Paul Murphy made a stirring contribution, reminding those present of James Connolly’s last days of freedom in those buildings, and of Connolly’s relevance to the peoples’ cause today.

These are promising signs which should be built on through dialogue between Sinn Féin and socialists. It would be interesting to know if, for example, there was to be contact between the three new Sinn Féin MEPs and Paul Murphy, outgoing MEP and likely to be a candidate in the upcoming General Election, on advice on relevant issues and potential alliances in the EU Parliament. Not only would that contact be valuable in itself, but it would also send a positive signal to socialists and their supporters, and to voters interested in new possibilities. No doubt the new MEPs will also receive advice from Nessa Childers, independent leftist MEP and granddaughter of Erskine Childers who played a decisive part in the lead-up to the 1916 Revolution and the proclaiming of the Irish Republic, and in the defence of that Republic in the Civil War.

It is certain that Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Labour will attempt to claw back support to prevent the Sinn Féin and socialist surge from gathering further momentum. But there are lessons in historical experience, one such being the Berlin Wall. In just one year, 1989, what seemed like an impregnable fortress, part of the Iron Curtain that separated the Soviet Union and its satellite states from the West, was virtually destroyed. Once the first crack appeared in it, its destruction seemed as if it might become inevitable but happened faster than most might have thought possible. That crack in the Berlin Wall first occurred in the imagination of a few determined dissidents, then spread until the imagining was unstoppable and became reality.

It is possible that a similar phenomenon is at play in this State, where hegemonic power has seemed impregnable during all of the years of this State’s existence. It may be that a sufficient number of voters have been so sickened by abuses of power, by institutional failure and corruption, by a system that ignores the fundamental needs of the many but panders to the excessive wants and desires of the few, and by the signs of a failed State, that they are prepared to take a chance on something different and not yet capable of being fully understood or predicted, overriding fears and prejudices in the process. It may be that this first crack in the fortress of hegemonic power cannot be covered over with political class PR Polyfilla, but that the crack will deepen until the wall falls and profound change comes about.

That might happen sooner than most people think possible. Too early to tell. But we live in interesting times!


Vote to kill the counter-revolution

If recent opinion polls are to be believed, Friday 23rd of May 2014 may turn out to be a red-letter day in the politics of the 26 counties, and by extension in the politics of the island as a whole.

For 92 years, since the narrow ratification of the Anglo Irish Treaty by Dáil Eireann under the British threat of terrible war if not voted through, the Free State has been continuously ruled by three counter-revolutionary parties – Cumann na nGaedheal-Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Labour – either as single-party governments or in various permutations as coalitions.

Far from creating a republic which this state is often erroneously described as, these three parties have worked assiduously to avoid creating any of the conditions that would allow the state to take the form of a republic. Instead, what these parties have created and presided over has been a theocratic state for much of the past 92 years, combined with a combination of plutocracy and oligarchy. That is entirely at odds with the aims of the 1916 Revolution as espoused in the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, endorsed and expanded by the National Programme of the First Dáil in 1919.

The culmination of all of those years of misgovernment has been to produce a failed state. The price for that has been counted in untold misery for millions of women, children and men. The prize, for the few, has been to maintain a privileged class who divided the spoils between themselves, making sure to maintain those three parties as their permanent political arm.

Current opinion polls, taken in the run-up to the European and Local elections, and the two bye-elections, indicate that support for Sinn Féin, smaller socialist and republican parties, and independents of various hues stands at between approximately 43% and 50%, depending on the poll. If that tallies with the count results then it indicates that majority support for the three parties of permanent misgovernment has either disappeared or has been very considerably weakened. With a General Election to take place probably before the end of 2015 such a result, if built on by the alternative political forces in the intervening period, could lead to the potential for a fresh political dispensation in the form of an ideologically different government to what we have known since quasi-independence.

With an electorate that appears increasingly willing to try something different, it is important that that potential is exploited by parties and individuals who claim to be different, who seem to offer a different ideology, a different vision of the future in political, economic and social terms to that imposed by the counter-revolutionary parties.

Whether those parties and individuals ultimately measure up is not the immediate issue. What will be important about a result that would show a marked abandonment of support for the combination of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Labour, and a shift towards other possibilities, will be the psychological effect it can have on the way people think about possibilities for the future.

If there is a decisive shift, the sky won’t fall. Life will go on, god will not smite the unbelievers, the seas won’t rise to engulf the island, the economy won’t collapse. Instead, more people may become emboldened, more engaged, more optimistic. It is important to use Friday’s vote to help that process. The most certain way is to try to ensure as many defeats as possible for those three parties of permanent misgovernment by voting for potential winners among the alternative parties of the broad left including republican parties, and worthy and potentially successful independents.

Inflicting defeats on the counter-revolutionary parties will lead to them changing their strategies – but not their core beliefs although they will try to spin new messages to hold ground. But that will be finger-in-the-dyke stuff. Once the first crack appeared in the Berlin Wall there was no going back.

“There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

Vote! Vote strategically! Say goodbye to counter-revolution. Say hello to the Republic.


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.


Election Mania: notes from the asylum

With five days to go to polling in the general election, momentum appears to be with the Fine Gael party which may attain power without the need for Labour in coalition. That is a daunting prospect both for Fine Gael and for Irish people who are struggling to survive the economic disaster that has been visited on them – those dependent on social welfare, on inadequate incomes or who are burdened with excessive levels of debt including mortgage debt, on those out of work and students waiting to take their place beside them in the dole queue or, more likely, the emigrant ship.

The upside for Fine Gael in taking power on its own or with a number of independents is having a free hand to introduce its policies without the need for compromise, but this brings with it the significant downside of having sole responsibility for the failure of those policies, and there will be failures. Despite its PR literature, Fine Gael is not a centre-right but rather a right-wing party. Its roots are an interesting reminder. Born in 1933 out of the remnants of the regressive and repressive Cumann na nGaedheal party which joined forces with the  quasi-fascist National Guard – better known as the Blueshirts, Fine Gael has always been on the right of the Irish political landscape. Broadly speaking it is a ‘law and order’ party with a strong impulse towards ‘Thatcherite’ economic policy and a marked subservience towards the ‘European project’.

The upside for Irish politics is that Labour would be placed in opposition, which it would lead for the first time in that party’s existence, but would be under pressure from other opposition parties of the left – Sinn Fein and the  ULA, and leftist independents. That would force Labour to rediscover the core values of the party and to re-engage with its principal founder, James Connolly, with his socialist republican analysis and ideas, and with the values of the Irish Republic of 1916. This would become even more necessary with the attempt by a greatly diminished ‘new’ Fianna Fail to reconnect with its early radicalism so as to challenge Labour and Sinn Fein in the subsequent election.

Ultimately this scenario, while creating additional short-term suffering for those currently experiencing hardship, would lead Ireland away from the Tweedledumb-Tweedledumber politics of the past 80 years and towards a politics that spans from left to right – the norm in western parliamentary democracies. In the run-up to the centenary of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic this would be a boon for the citizens.

In the project of creating the enlightened, progressive Irish Republic it is not this election that matters, as much as the one to follow. Wishing for short-term right-wing success this time out is not as crazy as it seems!


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