After #GE16… How can Labour re-insinuate itself into the public conversation?

No government has been re-elected in the Eurozone other than Angela Merkel since 2008. [See Nicholas Whyte:] Volatility is now the key condition in political life. If Labour thought a genuine economic recovery was a sufficient passport in this election it now has a serious pause for thought.

Willie Penrose snatched their political bacon out of the fire with that late win in Longford-Westmeath, meaning they are guaranteed a voice at Leader’s Questions. Also to their advantage – like Fianna Fail in 2011 before them – is a national organisation.

After that, though, the news is mostly grim. Losing so many TDs at once, means somewhere between 30-35 others will also lose their jobs. It makes the internal shock of the political loss all the more difficult to process and their recovery harder to plan.

The Seanad, for instance, will offer few spaces in which to park lost talent. Ivana Bacik will return via the TCD constituency, but depending on how generous Fine Gael are, there could be as few as one or two places to house Aodhán Ó Ríordáin or the like.

An additional issue is the degree to which older TDs now predominate over younger ones. All but Sean Sherlock and Alan Kelly are between 59-66. And of those only Brendan Howlin looks rock solid safe in any quickly held second election.

Labour’s older generation have survived but at the expense of its youth. There seems to have been a belief they could piggyback off a winning Fine Gael campaign. But the writing had been the wall since the beginning:

They had their best election ever in 2011 but that was as good as it got with their decline setting in right away as they were down to 17% for the rest of 2011.

This decline continued through 2012 (14%) and 2013 (10%).  They went into single figures in 2014 and their collapse to 7% in the Local Elections was accurately predicted by the final Irish Times poll.

The scale of the Labour defeat can be traced back to promises made during the run-up to the last election in 2011. Labour’s way or Frankfurt’s way became a crippling hostage to fortune for the new far-Left block and Sinn Fein.

Indeed, on the ground, both Sinn Fein and the AAA/PBP largely forewent any great attention on anyone but Labour. In the Right2Water campaign, the party faced a broad coalition of organisations that it would ordinarily have counted on as allies.

As the primary victims of populist anger, it raises the question of what can a progressive but predominantly technocratic party do to rejuvenate at a time when [often mockoutrage or kick the bums out seem to be the only politics with any major political currency.

Dropping Gilmore early – rather than letting him go at the end of the Dail – meant much of the party’s effort was spent in saving their new leader in Joan Burton from the drop rather than selling the party’s own achievements during the government term.

It also means that rather than having Burton’s otherwise safe hands to fall back on, they may feel compelled now to turn to yet another leader to lead them through the wilderness. Mallow based Sean Sherlock is the name being bandied around at the moment.

As Willie Penrose pointed out in his post-election remarks yesterday, Labour is, in fact, the oldest continuously running party in the jurisdiction. If it were only that Sinn Fein had stolen its clothes that might be easily recovered from.

Not for the first time, Labour has its back to the wall: something of a feature of the subsistence lifestyle it has had to endure since the beginning of the state. But the sheer number and variety of its rivals now add to the headaches of those currently planning its future.

What will the Unions do now for a political champion going forward? They may have dealt with Fianna Fail in the setting up of the social partnership but they have never quite trusted them.  Sinn Fein has been courting the Unions for the last five years: thus far to no avail.

But at a time when even its former friends now discount it as any part of the wider progressive force, how does the Labour party begin to re-insinuate itself into the public conversations of the future?

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  • Ernekid

    Labour will either eventually fade away for good as their entire base has switched their allegiances to either the Social Democrats or to Sinn Fein. or they will crash and burn under the new leadership of the gombeen Alan ‘AK47’ Kelly who will desperately try to keep his name in the papers by blindly saying stuff like an eejit. People will get even more sick of them and they will be finished off for good in the inevitable election that’ll happen in Autumn 2016/Spring 2017.

  • mickfealty

    “Old parties never die, they only fade away…” – Discuss?

  • ted hagan

    Re-insinuate? What does that mean exactly?

  • Ernekid

    The IPP died in 1918. The Nationalist Party died in 1968. Irish Political history is littered with has been political parties

  • the rich get richer

    Ask Fianna Fail. Simples, Your Welcome.

  • JohnTheOptimist

    As I said in a post in one of the other threads, Labour will probably bounce back a bit (say 10%-11% and 15 seats) in the next election (assuming its 2-3 years down the road. Labour’s vote always collapses after being in government, then rises somewhat after a spell in opposition. The Greens seem to be following a similar pattern. The emergence of the Social Democrats complicates things a bit. I assume that, at some point in the future, they will merge.

    The fundamental reality is that Ireland is a center-right country. Its electorate have no interest in the ideology of socialism. At election after election, center-right parties invariably get about twice as many votes as all left-wing parties combined. The total left-wing vote is around 30%, maybe 35% at times of economic crisis. It shows no sign whatever of breaking through this barrier. This time around, the 30% left-wing vote is further weakened by being split among so many parties. To the extent that they are supported at all, left-wing parties in Ireland are supported mainly for their protest potential. Once they are in government, their support collapses.

  • Ernekid

    Fintan O’Toole wrote a piece in the Irish Times this week that fundamentally disagrees with your analysis arguing that this election was a victory for social democracy.

    I think I agree with him.

  • Nevin

    Crawl back in, Ted.

  • aquifer

    From afar, it looked like the electorate voted Labour to ensure that the process of economic retrenchment was not too cruel. FF were toxic in an atomic fallout after the blast way, so Labour ended up doing their patriotic duty and going into government with Fine Gael. All very honourable perhaps, but what now?

    Do a New Labour. Work for people who work for a living, go as far right as you must for you will take everything to the left. Rotten revolutionaries hippies and noisy protestors don’t belong in government, and people understand that, but slowly.

    Wear the technocratic badge with honour. FF were lunatics unfit for government and may still be. FG may be the local franchise for cruel capital prone to promoting the hoax called austerity, so best left alone. Know what real people need and demand it.

    I think Labour are fine if they can dry their eyes and stand up straight while the other eejits fall all around themselves, probably for a year or two, maybe better longer.

  • ted hagan


  • John Collins

    Yes. Farmers Party, Centre Party, Clann na Poblachta, Clann na Taluin, PDs, National Labour all disappeared, among others. The more I see this the more I feel the PRSTV system helps spawn short lived parties and political instability.

  • mickfealty

    I don’t think there is that much of a contradiction as you imagine. I’ll try to go back to Fintan’s piece tomorrow.

  • mickfealty

    Yes, but given they are the longest running party in the southern state, I somehow doubt they really have gone away you know…

  • Robin Keogh

    You are wrong again. Seems to be a habit. Never before have the combined right of FF and FG ever fallen below 50% of the popular vote in line with a steady downward trajectory.

    Where u are correct is in the fractured nature of the left but remember, the left as it is, is a relatively new phenomonan, natural evolution might well deliver a far more cohesive and united front.

    Most tellingly – and personally i think this is the most shatterring of events for traditional Irish politics – neither FF or FG have a willing mudgaurd anymore, and that poses the greatest threat to their dominance.

    Labour is generally accepted as a right wing party. The FF FG serpent’s poison has made them unelectable for the foreseeable.

    They should have rejected the apple and stuck with the land.

  • Robin Keogh

    I agree, Labour are far from dead. But they do need some CPR, Liposuction, a face lift, ass tuck and a detox.

  • Robin Keogh

    I am surprised at your lack of knowledge Mick. The Irish Labour party was founded in 1912. Seven years after Sinn Fein was founded in 1905.

  • mickfealty

    This SF is a breakaway from that SF therefore not ‘continuously running’…

  • Nicholas Whyte

    “No government has been re-elected in the Eurozone other than Angela Merkel since 2008.”

    This is true, unless you count:

    Faymann, Austria 2013
    Ansip, Estonia 2011
    Rõivas, Estonia 2015
    Straujuma, Latvia 2014
    Juncker, Luxembourg 2009
    Rutte, Netherlands 2012
    Socrates, Portugal 2009

    and not forgetting

    Djukanović, Montenegro 2009 and 2012.

    In other words, it’s not true at all.

  • Ernekid

    Nicely done Nicholas. I think Mick needs to apply water to that burn.

  • mickfealty

    Teach me to pick up a sound bite without checking it out…

  • Paddy Reilly

    The Farmers Party and Centre Party did not actually disappear: they merged with Cumann na nGaedheal to form Fine Gael.

  • mac tire

    Also, this Labour Party is a breakaway from that Labour Party.

  • Zig70

    Never understood the logic of Labour going into government with a right wing party. Neither do I understand the speed at which other left wing parties stick the knife in. Except for SF, that is just them.

  • mickfealty

    Go on…

  • mac tire

    The Labour Party circa 2016 is not so much a shadow of its former self but a different person altogether.

  • mickfealty

    Of course. I would say they are all shades of their own former selves. But weren’t you suggesting there was an actual break in their history?

  • mac tire

    Apologies Mick if you expected some decent argument about that but I was being a tad facetious.
    While I’m playing with words, I’m firmly of the opinion that a labour party is an essential voice in politics but the Irish Labour party, particularly since 2011, has been an imposter and is now, essentially, a completely different beast altogether. Not a break in their history, more of a compound fracture.