The trouble with ‘foolish consistency’…

Nice Emerson quote from Brian Feeney, who reckons, not unreasonably, that Pat Rabbitte’s over zealous consistency was his political undoing…Feeney reckons that Mullingar was Rabbitte’s undoing:

The origins of his failure lie in his incomprehensible decision to push the ill-fated Mullingar Accord through his party in 2004 tying Labour to the right-wing Fine Gael.

To the consternation of many Labour TDs Rabbitte then supported Fine Gael spokespersons making a series of announcements on policy documents in the year before the general election.

His insistence on remaining joined at the hip to Enda Kenny left the pair looking like Tweedledee and Tweedledum as they toured the country. It doomed Labour because a vote for Labour meant a vote for Enda Kenny as taoiseach, yet it was evident that the majority of voters preferred Bertie Ahern.

Simon over at Irishelection.com thinks the problem is more fundamental than that.

Their really was not much Pat could have done to save Labour. One of Tony Blair’s masterstrokes was call them New Labour the re-branding made people think again about the party. Re-assest them. No policy change can really do it is down purely to cosmetics.

And he reckons Irish Labour should learn lessons of Blair:

One of Tony Blair’s masterstrokes was call them New Labour the re-branding made people think again about the party. Re-assest them. No policy change can really do it is down purely to cosmetics.

Something Rabbitte himself conceded last month.

But as Ivan Yates pointed on the day of the resignation, Labour’s failing organisational health and rising average age may also be something the new leader will have to tackle with some gusto,

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  • The Penguin

    “The American poet and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson in his 1841 essay Self-Reliance said: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.”

    You can judge for yourself what that says about Senator Eoghan Harris who has recently been pleading his political consistency despite switching and swerving from Stickie to Fianna Fail taoiseach’s nominee.”

    I’m sorry, but this coming from Brian Feeney is just too laughable for words.
    Seeing that he has never adjusted his own position even in the slightest, I’m too busy judging what it says about him to bother thinking about Eoghan Harris.
    Has the man no sense of irony at all.

  • Urquhart

    The analogy with new labour is grand, but those who think it holds any potential for Workers Party / Irish Labour are missing the point.

    The lessons of Blair’s ‘third way’ and positioning of his party into the middle ground have already been learned and applied in Irish politics. By Tony’s good friend Bertie Ahern.

  • Garibaldy

    Rabbitte’s only consistency has been in his personal ambition and pride. It was this that prevented going back on Mullingar, not any principled hostility to FF.

    The Penguin has also hit the nail on the head about Feeney.

  • George

    I actually think Feeney hits the nail firmly on the head except for the bit about Spring and pulling out of the coalition with FF.

    Mick,
    This from Myers in Wednesday’s Independent where he says it’s all over for Labour. A very abridged version:

    The idea of an Irish Labour Party was, from the outset, a rather anomalous concept in a country that was largely under-capitalised and in the south, almost totally unindustrialised, with a small and powerless working class…

    …Moreover, it’s hard to say what clearly defined and principled social democratic role Labour has played in Irish life ever since.

    It could have been in the forefront of working-class opposition to the Provisional IRA in the Seventies, but it shirked that historic duty. It could have pioneered a secular agenda through the Seventies but it didn’t have the stomach for that fight either. Instead, it settled for supporting a right-wing Catholic party in power, perhaps to spite the real labour party of Irish politics, Fianna Fail. And that is the paradox of Irish political life: the party of capital is also the party of the working class…

    Class warfare in the classic British model simply didn’t exist here. The class warfare which did exist — peasants versus landlords — was won by the peasants, who in organised political form became known as Fianna Fail.

    So the Labour Party was always a stranger at the wedding of Irish political life. It had no clear historic duty, and no great devoted class following. Instead, it finally became a fashionable career option for middle-class university graduates: but as for actual principle, it barely seemed to have any at all….

    But whatever vision the Labour Party might have had was born in the industrial slums of Britain, and like some Himalayan plant, never really prospered once it had been relocated to Ireland.

    Moreover, the political climate is now changing for ever, and the imported plant is dying; as it finally expires, we might reasonably ask — what did it ever actually do for Ireland?

    I also agree with a lot of what Myers are saying.

    Garibaldy,
    Rabbitte’s hatred for FF wasn’t principled, but it was hatred nonetheless.

  • Garibaldy

    Cheers for that link George. Myers is right about the many failings of the Labour Party over the years. He’s wrong though about the nature of class in Irish society. The Land War was not peasants versus landlords, but an amalgamation of tenants, led by strong and middling farmers, with the small mercants and creditors at local level, added to the professional elite that led nationalism. And of course the church. Myers’ analysis not only ignores this complexity, but also ignores the struggles between the landless labourers and their employers. Never mind class struggle in the towns, and the continuing relevance of class to health, education, life expectancy etc in modern Irish society.

    Interestingly though, Myers’ analysis clearly draws on a discussion document issued by The WP in 1977, The Irish Industrial Revolution. And it was The WP that led working-class opposition to all sectarian terrorism and played a leading role in efforts to secularise Irish society, and articulate the socialist alternative. Rabbitte and co wrecked it.

    As for Rabitte and FF. I think the Mullingar accord made sense at the time, and I also think that it had a lot more support within Labour than people are now letting on. People say that it meant that there was no difference between voting for FG and Labour. Yet with the possibility of going into government with FF, then what was the difference between voting for them and the PDs. The inflexibility came after the election. And again, huge segments of Labour did not want to go into government with FF.

    Rabitte for all his very many faults is to some extent being made the scapegoat for collective decisions.

  • páid

    Myers hits the mark, again, it kills me to say.

    Except, of course, when he claims, without any explanation, that it was the ‘historic duty’ of the Irish Labour Party to oppose the IRA.

    The South missed out on the shipyards and steelworks; slag heaps and mineworks you will not see down Mexico way.

    They missed the industrial party, but then again they missed the decades-long hangover.

    Today the Irish, all of them, are Nationalists of one type or another. Much as they always were.

  • Urquhart

    Excellent link George – thanks.

    I think it also backs up the theory that it was Bertie and FF who learned and applied the lessons of Blair and New Labour.

  • GavBelfast

    “Today the Irish, all of them, are Nationalists of one type or another. Much as they always were.”

    Even the Unionists?

    😉

  • sammaguire

    “over zealous consistency”?? Is this not the guy who stated that there was absolutely no difference between voting FF and voting FG? And a few months later he forms a pre election pact with FG and portrays FF as the bogeyman of Irish politics! The bogeymen had the last laugh as usual. And they know how to use PR too which Rabbitte didn’t seem to realise.

    “Class warfare in the classic British model simply didn’t exist here. The class warfare which did exist—peasants versus landlords—was won by the peasants, who in organised political form became known as Fianna Fail.”

    Agree with Myers on this. To this day the doctor’s wives,high flying lawyers,lecturers, and private rugby school types in Labour still haven’t worked out why FF mops up the voters they like to think they represent. A FF TD in the 70s once referred to the Labour front bench as “The College Of Surgeons”. Priceless!!

  • Obscure Reference

    I’m surprised Myers didn’t mention Labour’s decision not to contest the 1918 UK General Election, the first in Ireland since the electoral franchise was greatly extended which maybe established voting patterns for many, and the continuing role of Civil War politics in Ireland (which other European country has two right wing parties forming it’s political axis?), both key elements in Labour’s historic irrelevance.

  • Ginfizz

    “which other European country has two right wing parties forming it’s political axis?”

    Ermmmm. USA, UK.

  • andy

    Garibaldy
    Hi I would question what opposition to sectarian terrorism emanating from the loyalists or the british state the Workers party actually articulated or acted on…

    Apart from the issue about the Provisional IRA, which I think is more symptomatic of Myer’s own hobby horse, I think his analysis is right. They didn’t have a big industrialised section of society to draw on, and the patrician politicis of FF denied them a large proportion of the working class.

  • sammaguire

    “which other European country has two right wing parties forming it’s political axis?”

    What about Labour while you’re at it? That makes three. The truth about FF is that it is actually a coalition of centre left and centre right. The other two main “right” wing parties have drifted in this direction too. Truth is extremists on either side of the political spectrum thankfully won’t get too many votes.