• -
  • irishtimes.com - Posted: April 19, 2010 @ 11:27 am

    Power Beckons for Labour

    Deaglán de Bréadún

     Eamon Gilmore  . . .  on the way to Government?
    Eamon Gilmore . . .  walking into Government?

    The big talking point after Eamon Gilmore’s main speech to the Labour conference in Galway was the party’s demand for a place in the televised debate between party leaders in the next general election.

    The fact that our nearest neighbours have now adopted this practice greatly increases the pressure to include the Labour leader. It’s not a prospect calculated to delight Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael, whatever public protestations they might make to the contrary.

    Up to now, Gilmore has been well ahead of his two main rivals in terms of media performance. Apart from the occasional strong speech, usually impromptu, Brian Cowen can appear uncomfortable in the media spotlight and, for all his other achievements, the broadcast studio has proven a dangerous place for Enda Kenny.

    The participation of Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg in the British debate has transformed the UK general election campaign. Could it be the same for Gilmore over here? At the risk of stating the obvious, Britain is not Ireland and it would be naive to apply the same slide rule to the politics of both jurisdictions. This republic is a much smaller place, with the result that Irish politics is far more intimate and personal than is the case across the water.

    Nevertheless a three-way debate would give Labour a considerable boost and they are quite right, from their own point of view, to pursue the matter with all the energy at their disposal.

    Given the smaller size of our electorate, Irish voters may be more likely to ask: what’s behind the facade? Gilmore’s conference speech was up to his usual high standard: a rousing performance for the troops; but there were questions afterwards about the substance.

    Apart from a few minor infelicities in the short Irish-language section, the speech was word perfect and the leader delivered it with verve and conviction. At times he ventured into the poetic: “Nature has given us a beautiful homeland . . . but our country has been laid low by the reckless actions of a feckless few.” There was also drama: a greedy, arrogant clique aided and abetted by their cronies in Fianna Fáil had hijacked our beloved country and the people were suffering as a result.

    Gilmore himself and his party knew from personal experience what it was like to live in hard times and were now stepping forward, ready for the challenge.

    There were loud cheers and applause as he declared: “Our objective at the next election, whenever it is held, is a new government, led by Labour.”

    All the available evidence suggests that a Labour-led government is, to be polite about it, highly unlikely. All the indicators suggest at this stage that Fine Gael will win far more seats and the relative strength of the two parties will be a key factor in determining the approach of any alternative government.

    The conventional wisdom is that, like all opposition parties, Labour needs to make the most of public dissatisfaction with the Government in office without unduly alienating potential supporters by its own policy pronouncements.

    Public sector workers, for example, will – in theory at least – happily vote Fine Gael and Labour next time in the expectation of better treatment than they experienced at the hands of Fianna Fáil and the Greens.

    Hopefully, from Labour’s point of view, the crisis will have eased by then and we will be on the road to economic recovery and the public purse-strings can be loosened accordingly. If not, there is going to be trouble, just as there was in the 1982-1987 Fine Gael-Labour administration when the smaller party could not stomach the cuts that their partners considered necessary, with the result that Fianna Fáil were returned to office.

    At the same time, Labour has scored some palpable hits in the economic debate. Its opposition to the bank guarantee of September 2008 may have looked at the time like opposition for opposition’s sake but now, in the light of what has emerged about Anglo Irish Bank, Labour’s approach appears much more plausible. Labour can also argue that its policy of temporary nationalisation of the banks has been vindicated by events.

    Although Gilmore put forward interesting proposals at the weekend for a strategic investment bank to promote job-creation, a graduate and apprentice programme to provide work experience for young people, and a department of public service reform, Labour has had a lower profile than Fine Gael on the policy production front.

    Gilmore correctly pointed out that Labour came up with a plan for universal health insurance 10 years ago. Fine Gael’s Dr James Reilly has been making his name with a similar proposal and one wonders why they are not running a joint campaign specifically on this major issue: why wait to get into government when people are sick and dying?

    With Fine Gael making a lot of running on political and institutional reform, Gilmore put forward his own plan for Labour in government to establish a constitutional convention. As well as the usual experts and specialists there would be “individual citizens, randomly chosen in much the same way that we choose our juries”.

    That could be an interesting exercise, particularly for the citizens concerned: presumably they would get time off work to help prepare the new version of Bunreacht na hÉireann, “fitted to our times and our aspirations”, which would be scheduled to appear on the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Rising.

    Despite Gilmore’s public appeal, something extra is needed to make a real breakthrough but so far Labour has not discovered this magic ingredient.

    Perhaps a few more specifics in relation to policy might not be as dangerous as Labour seems to suspect. Gilmore has studiously avoided giving his view on the Croke Park pay deal, based on the not-implausible argument that it would not be helpful for a politician to intervene, but at a time when the people are crying out for leadership, this comes across as a cop-out.


    • 'Liam says:

      I cant see them being the senior partner. Labour means much higher taxes and caving in to Public Service demands. Anyone under 30 and anyone with a large mortgage would be like a turkey voting for Christmas by returning Labour in large numbers.

    • Desmond FitzGerald says:

      Given it seems the level of support for FG is a way of people to register their disapproval of Fianna Fáil rather than any great wish for a Fine Gael government, Gilmore can’t fail but to benefit if he is included in a party leaders’ debate – it’s a risk as he is very prickly and full of himself so I don’t know if he would take well to being put on the spot and face being questioned.

      Also, if Clegg bombs at the 2nd or 3rd debate or gets the Libs into government and they are a disaster then the argument in favour of Labour being included in the debate or government loses some of its shine and FG win by default.

    • Betterworld Now says:

      Comparisons with the UK LibDems are unhelpful. Labour’s position in Ireland is different, very different.

      If Gilmore goes before the electorate with a pledge not to serve in any government that he is not the Taoiseach of, then I believe that a historic change in the Irish political landscape awaits him. Read the speech carefully (thanks to the Irish Times for printing it) and that is clearly the ground he is preparing. And, unlike any previous Labour leader, he has the backbone to carry it off.

      That immediately leaves the other two pretenders having to decide between ego and power, and neither dinosaur sees any difference between the two concepts. It is they who will then be hectored by the pundits and commentators – “will you serve under a Labour taoiseach Mr Cowen?” or “What ministry will you demand from Mr Gilmore, Mr Kenny?”

      Neither FG nor FF will be able to deal with the questions and, whilst they dissemble, Gilmore will have a clear run at getting his message across to the electorate.

      Unlike the UK’s ridiculous voting system where even if the LibDems get an overwhelming majority of the votes cast they cannot get a majority of the seats in parliament, our system rewards the lowest common denominator party. The party that wins the most seats in Ireland is always the party that is least unacceptable … no matter who they are.

      By comparison, that makes Clegg look like a boy who got lucky and is giddy with the success of it.

      Gilmore is a whole different proposition.

    • marks says:

      Oh i would give them the chance they deserve. After all, the irish electorate put greed before common sense and now have the society they deserve.

      Two terms..one to sort out the scorched earth policy the FF elite will leave behind and one to begin to implement their policies.

      On the subject of Labour being about higher taxes: Blinkered vision and supposition. There are already higher taxes, carbon tax, water charges, stealth taxes, levies. More to come, all to benefit the minority while the majority delude themselves over things that haven’t come to pass but they believe will

    • Deaglán says:

      Betterworld: Would it not be somewhat undemocratic to insist on being Taoiseach in a government where your party did not have a majority of the seats? Anyway, I don’t think that is what Mr Gilmore has in mind. He is putting forward the idea of Labour having that seat-majority. The available evidence suggests this is fantasy but maybe it is clever electioneering.

    • marks says:

      As regards Gilmore’s fantasy, maybe. But better to aim for the moon and be among the stars.

      At the moment we are in the slime and mud

    • Deaglán says:

      Nice poetic touch, Marks! But remember W.B. Yeats’s line: “We have fed the heart on fantasy …”

    • marks says:

      Nice deaglan.

      “tread softly on my dreams……..” :)

    • John Smith says:

      I think it is imperative that they are given a spot in debates. Surely in the interest of fairness, it is a necessity.

    • Kate says:

      “Irish politics is far more intimate and personal than is the case across the water.”

      What euphemism! Politics in Ireland is far more insular, parochial, uninformed and corrupt than is the case across the water. I have lived and worked “across the water”. I experienced the Poll tax riots, listened to the informed reasons why the Tories got a kicking in 1997.

      The general ignorance of the Irish population as to how a democratic state operates is chronic and terminal.

      There is no interest in reform – only in fixing; in putting things ‘right’.

      Right of course being a return to that state wherein absolute authority can be relied upon to hold itself aloof, operate (in its own interests) with secrecy and silence, abuse trust and throw out a few crumbs now and then to keep the plebs onside. Ergo Haughey’s pensioner acolytes; ergo the pretense that nobody knew what the Catholic church was doing to the “least of these my little ones” (Jesus Christ).

      Unquestioning obedience and belief in our masters is the reason why Ireland is the economic and moral basket case of Europe.

      Nothing will change until people like you stop deluding yourself Deaglán. Neo liberalism (introduced by the PDs) has been pursued by the bloated morons of FF (+ Harney) with all the fanaticism and grovelling deference previously reserved for the equally self-interested and divisive Catholic theocracy.

Search Politics