Challenge for the Irish Left is to transform its language and ideas from recession to recovery

Very good piece from Michael Taft on why the left hasn’t yet taken off in the Republic. He pinpoints three possible reasons:

  • First, because the Left has yet to develop a common brand. In the last election, there was no sense that the Left could win or be in a position to form a government because there was no sense of ‘the Left’.  The consensus was that whatever the result, Fine Gael would lead the next government (though Fianna Fail made a heroic run); the only question was what kind of government.  After the election, progressives became highly fragmented with a number of parties and independents, making it harder to build that brand.
  • Second, during the recession and austerity years, the Left’s narrative was one of protest. This is understandable – the Right controlled the agenda and positions of power.  Opposition to their agenda was vital but as the economy moved from recession to stagnation and then to recovery, the Left is still marked as a protest grouping by many.
  • Third, much of the Left still uses a vocabulary that is becoming less relevant to more people. We hear the phrase ‘the recovery hasn’t filtered down to many people’.  This is all too true.  However, it is slowly becoming less so every month.  Over the last two years, more than 100,000 people have entered employment while unemployment has fallen by 66,000.  Wages are creeping (in many sectors, creeping is the operative term) upwards, more so in the market economy; but now the public sector has begun to experience wage rises.  There is early evidence that emigration is slowing. And even though the tax cuts are a bad policy and are being eaten up by rising living costs, people are relieved that it’s a long ways from the days when their take-home was actively being cut through tax rises. [Emphasis added]

I’d agree with all of these. Fragmentation is and always has been a feature of the left. What’s been different about the left in Ireland during the recession (and a real crisis in the capitalist system) is that they’ve emerged at the level of national politics.

And I’d add a fourth. That is that in a small country which has little in the way of an indigenous economic cash cow industry or resource, it daily struggles for trust and credibility. It’s not enough to say what’s wrong, it needs ideas on how to fix it.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

  • ted hagan

    Is the Labour party included in this analysis of the Left or is it in purgatory?
    Certainly the electorate put their faith in Labour after the crash and their trust thrown back in their faces. No wonder the party was humiliated at the last election.

  • murdockp

    there is no need for the left in Ireland.

    None of the right wing parties have made even a small dent in union power.

    you have a strange phenomena of right wing policies cresting wealth with union members well paid and bullet proof to anything the right throws at them.

    meanwhile no one cares too much for the majority of the population who have no representation to fight for them, left or right.

  • mickfealty

    Just 3% in the last poll on Sunday, and their former colleagues in the SD didn’t even register a point. They’re a long way from Kansas. The left is really independents/PBPAAA/Sinn Fein. The latter two blocks are fighting like cats over some very narrow ground in the poor urban areas in Dublin and Cork.

  • 1729torus

    The challenge will be to resist the temptation to start offering to dole out unstable tax monies left right and centre to get votes.

  • Ireland’s left has a unique political background, and so the debate over increased co-operation of Ireland’s pan-left spectrum is a more complex one than a simple meeting of minds as there is in Britain between the Corbynistas and Blairites.

    The beef between the AAA-PBP radicals and Labour centrists should go without saying given their conflicting purist and pragmatist approaches.

    Sinn Féin’s nationalism further muddies the waters, distinguishing Ireland from the continental European left where most countries are represented by strictly economistic parties of the radical left and left-of-centre.

    Labour’s Aodhán Ó Ríordáin labelled them an “extremist nationalist party”, whilst Joe Higgins of the Socialist Party said they were “not a left party” but one that makes “..’necessary’ compromises with the capitalist establishment”. Not exactly the language that signals an appetite for collaboration from either camp.

    The prioritisation of partisan interests and a sceptical distrust of each other’s left-wing credentials condemns the “highly fragmented” nature of the Irish left to continue being a feature of it.

  • Korhomme

    …..a small country which has little in the way of an indigenous economic cash cow industry or resource

    I know what you mean, but aren’t you overlooking one very valuable resource, much exported?


  • JohnTheOptimist

    The left’s position in the Republic is a lot worse than ‘hasn’t yet taken off’. Its in total freefall. I’m not sure if SF qualify as ‘left’. I notice SF hasn’t joined the chorus of denunciation of Donald Trump. A sign of things to come? In western democracies the wind is now clearly blowing in a rightward direction. Look at the U.S., U.K., Germany, France, Poland, Hungary. Even in Greece Syriaz have collapsed in the polls and the centre-right is poised to sweep the next election. Maybe we’ll find that SF now ‘blow with the wind’ rather than pursue an ideological left-wing agenda. Without SF, the left in the republic is a total joke, a handful of parties polling around 2%-3% each.

    In contrast, polls since the election show a steady increase in the combined FF/FG vote. In Sunday’s poll it was 58%, about 10% higher than in pre-election polls. If there was an election now they’d gain 15-20 seats combined as compared with the February election. The electorate obviously like these parties acting responsibly. Maybe the norm from now on will be the larger of FF/FG leading the government on their own and the smaller of the two providing responsible opposition and allowing a reasonable period of time (2-3 years) to elapse before making any attempt to force an election. Given their responsible support of the FG-led government in this Dail, if FF are the largest party in the next Dail, but without an overall majority, they are in a good position to ask FG to return the favour. Its all a far cry from the political instability that was being forecast by many commentators a year ago.

  • Declan Doyle

    The left never got a foothold in Ireland due to civil war politics. That conflict had a profound affect on the psyche of the people. It heaved up FF and FG in the vomit of despair, but Labour always struggled in the battle for votes as the peoples conscience was haunted by which side of the war they were on, or should have been on or wished they had of been on. The Dominance of FF and FG are a manifestation of that personal internal conflict. We bevee spoke or speak of the civil war so the only outlet for the trauma rested in voting for one or the other.

    Labour eventually threw in the towel and were destroyed as a result. However, the current FG/FF hybrid coalition has crystalised the fact that those two parties are essentially one and the same with SF emerging as tge leading voice on the left. How it continues under the leadership of Mary Lou and Pearse Doherty depends very much on how willing they are and how strong they are to resist going the labour way.

    For the first time ever there exists a wall seperating FF/FG/Lab from the other 40%. Splintered as it is, it is not fractured, the shrinkage in the establishment power base offers some hope for the future of the left in Ireland. If Mary Lou and her team of bright young things cant pull it together, nobody can.

  • Old Mortality

    ‘Progressive’ and left are not synonymous terms.

  • Old Mortality

    Anyone who believes SF is a genuine left-wing party is deluded and that includes a substantial number of its members. It has temporarily jumped on the leftie bandwagon as the most expedient means of grabbing power in the RoI, without which it cannot achieve its only political objective which is the end of partition. When the political wind blows more strongly in the opposite direction, SF will rapidly bend to it.

  • Declan Doyle

    “It has temporarily jumped on the leftie bandwagon as the most expedient means of grabbing power in the RoI”

    Thats paranoid garbage.

  • Korhomme

    I’m with Swift, children are nutritious, and are thus a valuable export.

  • Tochais Siorai

    You have to go a bit further back than that. The primary reason the left never took hold throughout most of Ireland were the various Land Acts of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A mostly rural population was transformed from a nation of tenant farmers to small (albeit usually poor) landowning farmers. People whose fathers and grandfathers were involved in what could be termed left wing agitation for land rights in the land wars were now transformed into economically conservative landowners, more or less the equivalent of the Kulak class which Stalin wiped out in the USSR.

    Other factors were the Catholic church of course who, once the Penal Laws were off the agenda quickly copped that their own route to power was to align themselves solidly with the establishment. Populist Irish nationalist movements like the IPP and later Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil also played a part whilst in the north the Unionist Party were able to exploit the idea that the lefties were just another route to an independent or later a united Ireland.

  • West_Brit

    The ideological rabbit hole that passes for the Irish ‘left’ was epitomised by Mick Wallace’s lavish redevelopment of Connolly Book shop in Temple Bar (prop. Communist Party of Ireland) back in 2006-7. The 2-bed apartments ‘over the shop’ were being punted for north of €400k with a lavish feature in the Sunday Times Property supplement. Hardly ‘social and affordable’ even for the prevailing standards of the day.

  • West_Brit

    They can’t even get enough Prods for a cricket XI to join the party. Sectarian nationalism is indeed ‘some hope for the future of the left in Ireland’

  • Declan Doyle

    If u know the religion of every single SF member then it is u who has the sectarian affliction.

  • Maximum Overdrive

    “The left hasn’t taken off in the Republic”?

    Ireland is completely swamped by SJW morons spouting their drivel at every opportunity.

  • John Collins

    SF will never be in power in the ROI. They will only ever be in power as a junior partner and after a term or two they will go where all junior partners have gone before, into decline at best, or more likely oblivion.