Tag Archives: opposition

Democracy’s Child, Dictatorship

Contrary to what the German ‘elite’ think of the Greeks at the moment, we can generally expect to find the pearls of wisdom we need there, even if they have to be excavated from 2,500 years ago.

Plato had something to say that might sound warning signals about the Fine Gael-Labour coalition: “Dictatorship naturally arises out of democracy, and the most aggravated form of tyranny and slavery out of the most extreme liberty”.

With a combined strength for the Coalition of 113 Dail seats, just 52 TDs will occupy the opposition benches, and several of those are likely to be sympathetic to Fine Gael on a range of issues and policies, with Fianna Fail already indicating that it will be supportive where government policy is in accord with the previous administration’s. That leaves fewer than 30 Dail Deputies between Sinn Fein, the United Left Alliance, and left-leaning independents, who are ideologically opposed to the stated programme for government.

In these conditions, there can be no expectation of close-run votes in the Dail, even on the most contentious of issues. When it comes to the matter of standing orders in the Dail where these affect issues like speaking time and order of business it will largely be in the gift of the governing parties to make concessions and not because it is right, or equitable, or fair, or indicative of parity of respect for the voters who put those Deputies there to give voice to their concerns.

Between the parties that make up the Coalition there will undoubtedly be tensions, and within the parties too. But given the likelihood that the opinion poll ratings for both parties will drop substantially there will be little appetite for publicly expressed discord within or between the parties. Despite Eamon Gilmore’s closing oration at the Labour Delegate Conference when he presented a rosier outcome for Labour at the next election than history would indicate, many of the newly elected Labour TDs will have a serious fight on their hands to hold their seats. It is likely that Fine Gael’s position will be little different. The need for survival is a great gagging device.

It is quite likely that we will see legislation or regulation proposed that under normal conditions would either not be proposed or would be modified because of tight voting conditions that normally prevail in the Dail. With the majority it will command this government need not be so restrained, and those who think that Labour would guard against the introduction of repressive legislation don’t know their recent history. Section 31 of the Boradcasting Act is one example, introduced by a Labour Minister, Conor Cruise O’Brien, and there are others.

It is likely that Sinn Fein will shine in opposition. The party has seen returned as Dail Deputies not just a cohort of intelligent and highly articulate TDs but also a leader who has demonstrated exceptional political skills, is a good communicator, and is a person with considerable international stature. There is no doubt that Sinn Fein is ready in the starting blocks, rarin’ to go.

The United Left Alliance too will shine. Again, they have a group of intelligent and highly articulate TDs, with street ‘cred’. They will relish the thought of getting stuck into Labour from the word ‘go’.

It may well be that the most effective opposition will have to be fought on the streets outside Leinster House, and the United Left Alliance and Sinn Fein will be primed for that too. That may well be the place that dictatorship will be denied, and democracy enhanced. The republic is after all, according to another Greek, Cicero, “the property of the people”.

So it must remain.

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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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