Is it Labour’s fate to be Enda’s mudguard?

This post is entirely a rip-off of a post from the under-rated Your Friend in the North blog in which Johnny Guitar acknowledges a … er… ‘third way’ strategic opportunity that leading the Irish opposition could offer to Labour.

Aside from the obvious point that the next few years are going to be pretty horrendous for whoever is in government (and that makes it a particularly bad time to perform the mudguard role that damaged Labour so badly in the 1990s), he quotes UNITE’s Regional Secretary Jimmy Kelly and this bit stands out for me:

We can now see the end of the old and outdated political divisions that dominated Irish politics since the 1930s. The political dividing line is no longer determined by Fianna Fáil. They have been totally rejected and must not be given the oxygen of being an unwanted official opposition. The dividing line is now between the Left and the Right.

Do read the rest.

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  • Mack

    Their policies on privatisation, austerity and income cuts did not attract enough support and should not now be facilitated by the tired old fall-back of coalition with Labour.

    I don’t know what their policy on ‘income cuts’ is – AFAIK FG support Croke Park. But that premise, the central premise, is blatantly nonsense. FG & FF polled over 53% between them, add in the vote for the centre-right Indos (& gene Pool FF) candidates and you are looking at a 60% of the vote.

    Labour ultimately aren’t a million miles away – the differ on privatisation for sure. But FG’s stance is actually softer than FF (who want to privatise to pay down debt) – FG want to privatise where it makes sense and use the money generated to create new jobs. How else could the state possibly do that??

    It also kind of misses the point that FG won’t go into government with the toxic FF. They don’t have the option of going into government really with the Indos. So all that is left is the nuclear option. Call an election and tell the people Labour ran away. Who’s going to believe the call for ‘a balanced government’ then ?

  • Ceist

    Before accepting as a fait accompli that Labour will act as a mudguard it’s worth pointing out that the PD’s tail successfully wagged the FF dog for a number of years and that by no means should numerical strengths be the sole yardstick on which to predict a governments or component partys success.

    The demise of the PD’s (eventually) and the Greens were based on a relatively small percentage decrease but one that STV magnifies in effect (the reverse being SF seeing an increase of 3% in first preferences but yet an increase of 10 seats).

    Basically the PD’s and the Greens never had a solid core (there
    is no such thing as Green/PD families/areas whereas there are families / areas with labour traditions).

    Coalitions in the Republic are the defacto form of government and it was generally expected (outside of a few over excited FG commentators trying to give the impression of momentum) that this government would be a coalition. It’s not an aberration like in the UK and people voted for Labour and FG on the understanding that they would go in together (again very different to the UK).

    Fine Gael are internally in great form at the moment but there may be trouble form them ahead. The difficulty is the expected FG/ LAB government would be so large that you’d have a huge number of FG backbenchers grumbling and wondering why the smaller party is getting the attention. A lot depends on who Enda makes Ministers – will he bring back in those who moved against him last year? Will Bruton et al be biding their time or will they be bought off?

    Labour facing grief from its left flank is nothing new. Most of it goes down to the peculiar student lefty mindset that you always have to prove you’re further left than anyone else and the prolier then thou stuff only gets you so far with the electorate. The ULA’s concept of permanent revolution and vanguardism, SF’s brand of euroskeptic populism and make believe economics and Labours constitutional social democracy and/or democratic socialism are all broadly left wing but share little in common besides that loose categorisation. SF and Joe Higgins never showed any particular softness when it came to attacking Labour before (nowt wrong with that) and I can’t imagine anything will change if Labour does or does not go into government.

    On a pragmatic level to take Dublin West as just one example, Joe Higgins knows that Sinn Fein is targeting his voters, Higgins is targeting Labour voters and Labour would need to take both SF and the SP out for a second seat.

    I understand the urge to make every political development seem massive game changers but I won’t write Fianna Fail off just yet. They have a brand and a history that for some reason people trust, they may have to go through a period of detoxification but they’ll be back in some guise or another (Fianna Fail Nua – #fail again, fail better). Just watch them up the republican rhetoric over the next few years. There is absolutely no guarantee that Labour in opposition would gain seats at the next election at the expense of a Fianna Fail comeback.

    The difficulty for Labour is that it’s faced with a tough choice – either stand firm in a difficult government or lead the opposition and be left open to accusations of ducking the hard choices. The Republic is at least a decade behind the rest of Europe on social legislation and that Labour could seek to rectify this (you need a society in bad times as well as good).

    Decisions are made by the government and to put it simply a party with enough self confidence shouldn’t balk at the idea of being in that government.

  • Mack

    There are other options. If I was a Labour strategist and willing to take a few risks here is what I’d do.

    Go into government, and head off to renegotiate with the EU. If progress wasn’t being made (and Ireland was heading for medium term sovereign default) make it public, call for a referendum on the socialisation of private bank debts and indicate publicly which EU reforms Labour would be in favour of supporting in exchange for a change of ECB policy.

    FG will be forced to either accept the referendum (reluctantly), which they should then use to strengthen their negogiating hand in Europe. Or call an election which would be fought on the referendum issue (FF if they have any sense should take the pro-referendum side in such an election to FG’s anti).

  • Mack

    I think with the upcoming bank stress tests and forthcoming EU summit, the new government should have a much clearer view of where we are heading in a few months time.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    I think its fair to say that the PDs and Greens will never be any more than a footnote in Irish history.
    Whether or not Labour go into coalition is a bit like watching Real Madrid play Barcelona……we might have sympathy for the anti Franco lads..but ultimately we can watch a good match and the result wont really affect us.

    But Labour in coalition might lose one or two TDs over a period of years and frankly many of them would prefer to be on the Opposition benches (where 37 is a big number) than going thru the “Tá” lobby to support things they dont believe.

    The first five in Labours hierarchy will do well. The second tier not so well but with the carrot that within two or three years there will be cabinet changes………IF it lasts three years…….and all 37 will worry that a full term of austerity might not actually gain any gratitude in 2016.

    Most Labour (and indeed FG) backbenchers will be lost on the back benches……faceless, voiceless people…… the real problem is that FG have maybe ten seats too many and FF have about 15 seats too few.
    FG enter the new Dáil with a swagger bordering on arrogance……actually Ill rephrase that…….they enter the Dáil with arrogance.
    Despite its stunning success Labour enter the Dáil uncertain and defending its own actions.
    Its certainly true this is Labours best ever result ,,,,,,and ends up a minority voice in Government.
    But Labour as official Opposition might well be a better result and further marginalising Fianna Fáil.
    As it is Gilmore might well be sitting beside Kenny…….across the floor from Martin and a very uninspiring official Opposition.
    Ireland might well need an effective Opposition more than it needs effective FG dominated government.
    Consider the optics. The very geography of an Dáil.
    Fianna Fáil………..just 20……presumably sitting 4×5 or 5×4.
    Gerry Adams and SF will be sitting alongside….more energised more swagger and I suspect more motivated than Martins sorry little band.
    Interesting times.