#GE11 Profile: Labour now the second largest party in the State…

And by some way. Dublin North West has two Labour seats and one that’s newly Sinn Fein. No Fianna Fail TD for the first time since the 1920s. There are a further two in Dublin South Central. And Ann Phelan took the first seat in Carlow Kilkenny (you can pick up my RTE Audio Boo interview with her here). And in Galway East, they’ll pick up a seat for the first time ever.

The Gilmore for Taoiseach posters aside, this is a great leap forward for Labour and the Irish left in general. If it were not for the current political institutions, it could have the  capacity to re-align Irish politics from the duopoly of competing Woolworths stores of the past to something akin to ideological blocs.

But there are difficulties ahead, not least the level of irreducible debt. Whilst Labour seek to fast track into government, everyone else will be where the left so often likes to be, in opposition. The new Left independents (incorporating three members of the Socialist party) may come in just short of a technical group, but they will be looking to make Labour uncomfortable in the age of even greater austerity.

They will be the junior partner (traditionally, the ‘mudguard’ role) in a government that has to make some pretty tough decisions, for which they will almost certainly be derided by their colleagues in wider left.

It remains to be seen how that arrangement will work. It may go without saying that Fine Gael are not Fianna Fail. And Enda Kenny is not Brian Cowen. But they will have to find a way to marry the back to back promises they each made to different audiences.

As Pete noted earlier from the Cedar Lounge Revolution:

Whether on the levels that count it will make any great difference as we emerge from our three week holiday from the economic situation is a different matter.

Both Labour and Fine Gael seem confident a deal can be put together in short enough order to get the new Government up and working by the end of the week, then it will be eyes down for the new programme for government.

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  • ItwasSammyMcNally

    It is arguable that Labour (and SF) will be privately disappointed with the results.

    Gilmore, most comentators agreed, is a a far more effective leader than Kenny and Labour give off more of a whiff of commonsense than socilaism and yet although less implicated in the cosy consensus than FG in the run up to the crash they still only got 20% of the vote.

    You have to wonder what it takes to raise the Plain People of Ireland from their conservative slumbers if the current economic chaos is not enough?

  • Mick Fealty

    Most Irish people disagreed with the commentators, and a large slice of commenters on Slugger. You might as well return to that old banker, “The people have spoken, the bastards”.

  • ItwasSammyMcNally

    Mick,

    The evidence suggests that people voted for FG in spite of Kenny (except of course in Mayo) – he couldnt even command support within his own party of his most able deputies.

    FG have a great victory, but that does not mean it is down to outstanding work by them – rather that FF’s imposion has left them as the right (wing) party in the right place at the right time.

    If there had been no crash Enda would have been on his bike and his party in considerable turmoil.

  • Mack

    About 60% of the vote went to the right-of-centre. 80% if you include Labour (as Politcal Compass does – right in my quadrant, along with Milton Friedman)..

    http://www.politicalcompass.org/ireland2011

  • Mick Fealty

    Sammy,

    So you wanted to talk about SF on the FF thread, now you want to talk about FG on the Labour thread?

    Discipline Sammy. Discipline.

  • Dewi

    The Mayo result (4 out of 5 to FG) must say something about Kenny’s popularity.

  • ItwasSammyMcNally

    Mick,

    re. discipline, humblest apologies – it been all the excitment.

    Dewi,

    (Another breech of discipline coming up)

    The Mayo result (4 out of 5 to FG) must say something about Kenny’s popularity.

    Politics is extremely local in Ireland.

  • Comrade Stalin

    The evidence suggests that people voted for FG in spite of Kenny (except of course in Mayo) – he couldnt even command support within his own party of his most able deputies.

    You need to be careful with that argument, it could just as well be applied to the Baron himself.

  • ItwasSammyMcNally

    Comrade Stalin

    Sorry but you heard the guy – this thread is about Labour.

  • Jimmy Sands

    Labour appears to be heading for combined Lab/DL total from 1992. Any other year they’d be happy but this certainly looks like a missed opportunity largely I suspect the result of a failure to decide whether they were running with FG or against them and finally settling on both.

  • ItwasSammyMcNally

    Jimmy Sands,

    “I suspect the result of a failure to decide whether they were running with FG or against them and finally settling on both.”

    It would have been interesting if Labour has gone into the election at least playing hard to get – I presume they calcualted that such a strategy would have simply put up to the FG percentage.

    ..and I cant recall ever seeing a clear explanation (from Labour) of why they would not do business with SF although I presume the obvious reason was they felt that it would not play well with their potential electorate and FG would exploit it.

  • Jimmy Sands

    “I cant recall ever seeing a clear explanation (from Labour) of why they would not do business with SF”

    You mean apart from the obvious one?

  • ItwasSammyMcNally

    Jimmy,

    “You mean apart from the obvious one?”

    did you read my final paragraph?

  • Zig70

    Mack, nice link, took the test and it puts me with Ghandi. I was worried my wife’s assertion that I’m a complete facists would be borne out. I’ll sleep easier tonight. It’s a pity they don’t justify the placement of the dots. Looks to me the Irish electorate don’t think too much in left and right more about the cut of their gibe.

  • Jimmy Sands

    ItwasSammyMcNally,

    I did. I don’t think it just about FG or even floating voters. There are still some of us who regard SF as the antithesis of progressive values. For me it would be an absolute dealbreaker.

  • ItwasSammyMcNally

    Jimmy Sands

    “I did. I don’t think it just about FG or even floating voters. There are still some of us who regard SF as the antithesis of progressive values. For me it would be an absolute dealbreaker.”

    I appreciate that SF evoke very strong feelings – I was wondering what the official explantion from the Labour Party was regarding theIr position on SF – hopefully a quote or a link.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Sammy,

    I’m not sure why you need a link, don’t you know anyone from the south you can ask ? Probably not, I guess.

    It’s common knowledge that all of the parties have in one way or another ruled out coalition with SF. Granted, it’s an easy thing to do because there is no likelihood of a prospect of such a coalition in the near future. That will change if SF is able to make the leap from being a repository for protest votes into a permanent part of the fabric of Irish politics. I remain to be convinced that they will accomplish this. If they are smart enough to keep the 26-county based guys (not the blow in) front and centre and if they are able to land a few punches on the coalition while toning down the hard left rhetoric, then this might work.

    I’ll be watching carefully to see if FG are able to deliver on their promise of renegotiating a better deal with the EU/IMF. If they are able to do so, convincingly, that’ll set them off to a good start and if the recovery can be secured then so will their tenure in the Dáil.

  • Boglover

    Does this mean the EU400m promised to the NI road schemes is dished? Labour campaigned on the promise of withdrawing it….

  • SethS

    What is slightly concerning is the inevitability which which commentators seem to give to a Labour FG coalition. Personally I think it would be pollitical suicide to go into coalition with FG (if Labour has any pretence to being left wing).

    1. There’s nothing to gain for Labour. Sure there’ll be bit of tinkering at the edges but fundamentally the same policies will be pursued. If it works out FG will get most of the credit. If it goes wring lab will share the blame.

    2. The long term future of Labour requires an end to cvil war politics. leaving FF and SF aas the only oppostion, hands FF an easy opportunity to regroup.

    3. There’s a certain democratic deficit if the countries two largest parties go into coalition and leave no effective opposition.

    I would hope Lab would think long and jhard about coalition and only go into it if there is no choice ie FG are too short of a majority to form an effective government with independents. Of course they probably won’t be able to resist those ministerial perks.

  • stewart1

    I fear the Labour Party are so hungry for a little power that their ageing leadership will take any crumbs from the right wing table to satisfy their personal ambitions.

    Fine Gael are well aware of this and when it all goes ‘belly-up’ they will not shoulder the blame alone.

    Eamon Gilmore should look to Britain and wonder is he the Irish version of Nick Clegg!

  • ItwasSammyMcNally

    Comrade Stalin,

    re. “”I’m not sure why you need a link, don’t you know anyone from the south you can ask ? Probably not, I guess.”

    I appreciate it is a difficult time for Unionists and (crypto Unionists like yourself) but I take exception to your remark with Gerry recovering from his vat rate slip and romping home.

    ..but I’ll have you know some of my best friends are to use some of Mick’s innapporiate language – Free State Bastards.

    On the point in question I was merely pondering on what and how the Labour Party had phrased their position on SF – it might make for some interesting reading.

    Seths,

    re. “What is slightly concerning is the inevitability which which commentators seem to give to a Labour FG coalition. Personally I think it would be pollitical suicide to go into coalition with FG (if Labour has any pretence to being left wing).”

    Its not just commentators – its punters Paddy Power had FG/Labour at 50/1 – on Saturday it was still 2/5.

  • ItwasSammyMcNally

    typo – should gave said 1/50

  • Mack

    @SethS

    It depends, what’s on offer now is possibly 2 or 3 terms (given the size of the majority) if they can manage it right. It will be a long time before FF are back.

    The alternative isn’t clear cut. FG minority government backed by a rag tag of independents and perhaps implicitly FF. Come the next election FG would argue Labour ran away. I’m not sure it’s clear cut they’d benefit significantly or FG suffer the same demise (on the same scale) as FF. So you could get (rather than a left coalition) in 4 years time FG &FF (and perhaps a new centre-right party) forming government. Maybe just as the economy begins to recover and 8 years maybe longer out of power. While the agenda for taxation, spending, privatisation of and investment in state assets, health & the new Irish banking system has long been set without a Labour voice.

    One long time Labour voter I know was depressed in the run up to the election over the possibility of Tory government (i,e, FG on their own). The balanced government, it’s only fair ad – which appears to have been effective would suggest many Labour voters want them in coalition.

    New Vision got one candidate elected, Shane Ross is tweeting about a radical party of the centre. Next time out maybe they’ll be competing with Democracy Now or another Liberal centrist party..

  • Tochais Síoraí

    First time ever Labour seat in Galway West?? There’s been one there for years – Current bookies favourite for President and former minister Michael D Higgins..

  • SethS

    @IWSM; You’re right there – not sure whcih of them has the most impact in sghaping public opinion.

    @Mack; that is always a risk yes. But I fear that for all teh talk of “revolutionary change” a FG-Lab coalition will show little has in fact changed. I don’t think FF will ever return tot he dizzy heights of majority governments but basically handing them the role as opposition on a plate gives them an easy route to recovery.

    I accept it would be a difficult approach in the short term for Labour, but I don’t think it is possible to carve out a niche as a centre-left party with any credibility if every time you get whiff of power you join an essentially right wing government. I think Labour have a once in a lifetime opportunity to break civil war politics once and for all – there’s always a risk that they won’t be the beneficiaries, but I think if they don’t break that cycle they will continue in the same boom and bust way.

    In any case, the tempering the excesses of the major party argument didn’t help the greens much. Both Labour’s recent periods of coalition have led to seat losses at the following election (16-12 1982-87, 33-17 1992-97).

  • Mack

    @SethS

    No doubt whoever is government will lose seats in the next election.

    But I’m not sure Labour have the opportunity to end civil war politics. They hoovered up the FF’s public sector vote. They (and others who voted for tax rises over cuts) might well wonder what the point of voting Labour if they let FG with 3-1 ratio. Something that would play well enough with the FG base. (i.e. FG aren’t going to suffer a flight of voters because the broke some implicit contract the way FF did).

    Another point worth considering is that FG & FF got 53.5% between them, right-of-centre independents probably add another 5-6% to that. As a bloc it’s almost 60% and particularly fragmented or extreme – all pretty close to where Labour are really. By comparision the left bloc includes almost 3% for the far left (SWP / PBP / SP) and 10% for SF, and some of the left independents are quite radical (though some like ex-Workers Party John Halligan describe themselves as pro-business). But there’s enough there to threaten the middle class horses in Labours base & certainly all those recent PS converts from FF..

  • Mack

    Typo –

    As a bloc it’s almost 60% and not particularly fragmented or extreme

  • SethS

    @mack

    You’re right of course that the centre-right is strong, and that either choice is risky for Labour. I just can’t see anyway other than down for Labour in coalition, whereas there is at least a chance of progress in opposition and a chance to make a name for themselves. I suppose its a continuing dilemma for LW parties (yes I know this is the Irish labour Party!) go into government to get short term concessions or play the longer term (though probably more risky) game for bigger longer term benefits.

  • I think Mick means their first seat in Galway East

  • Mick Fealty

    Ah… I didn’t sleep much Sat night/Sun morning. CNMN finished about 4.45am, then drove back to Belfast.

  • But Galway West is interesting in its own right. Labour’s Derek Nolan tops the poll, and I was one of the many predicting that their vote would go down, given the retirement of Michael D Higgins and Catherine Connolly splitting the support base…