Labour's way is yet another confidence trick
Just last year, in February of last year, they were talking of a new politics. No more the cronyism, stroke politics, abuses of corporate and political power.
The Labour manifesto for the election of that month spoke of a “historic choice” the Irish people had to make. It said at the beginning: “Together, on polling day, we can change the direction of our country.”
Further in, the manifesto dealt with “reform”. “Labour pledges that Ireland will never again be vulnerable to the kinds of abuses of corporate and political power that have risked out country’s sovereignty. To restore confidence at home and abroad in public governance, Ireland must make significant changes in the culture and framework within which business is conducted.” It spoke of restoring “our trust in democracy”.
In the course of the election campaign, other solemn promises were made, among them one by Labour leader Eamon Gilmore, made on February 11th, accompanied by characteristic finger-wagging: “Child benefit. The Labour Party will not agree to having child benefit cut anymore and Fine Gael need to drop their plans to cut child benefit.”
This commitment was uttered at a time when it no longer seemed plausible Eamon Gilmore would be taoiseach and when Labour were nervous that Fine Gael might get an overall majority and the Labour elders would not be needed for ministerial office.
Probably the last chance for such office on the part of Pat Rabbitte, Joan Burton, Ruairí Quinn, Brendan Howlin and Eamon Gilmore himself.
There were people who might have believed Eamon Gilmore’s promise on child benefit, “The Labour Party will not agree to having child benefit cut anymore”, because Fine Gael said they would do just that and there was a clamour from well-heeled economists for child benefit to be subjected to a means test or taxed.
Aside from Eamon Gilmore’s promise, the party issued posters around the country that read: “Protect child benefit, vote Labour”; “Families Need Labour in Government”; and “A Cut Too Far – Fine Gael – Every Little Hurts.” It is likely that there were a few tens of thousands, at least, of Labour’s 431,796 first-preference votes and probably a few seats won on the basis of that commitment.
A week ago, the Labour Party agreed to child benefit being cut by €10 a month for the first two children, €18 a month for the third child and €20 a month for the fourth and subsequent children.
Lying to the electorate
On the RTÉ programme The Week in Politics on Sunday night Pat Rabbitte was pushed on this breach of an election promise. After the familiar waffling, diversions and faux indignation, he was finally obliged to acknowledge this was a breach of an election promise but added: “Isn’t this the kind of thing you tend to do during an election campaign?”, meaning: isn’t it part of our political culture to make promises during an election campaign which one doesn’t intend to keep?