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.