Pointed remarks begin in Labour leadership race

White says Burton the ‘last woman standing’ from rainbow coalition of 1990s

 Labour leadership candidates Joan Burton and Alex White, who both made speeches at the leadership hustings in Cork last night. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Labour leadership candidates Joan Burton and Alex White, who both made speeches at the leadership hustings in Cork last night. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Fri, Jun 20, 2014, 01:05

Labour leadership candidate Alex White last night said the party could not afford to delay generational change by choosing Joan Burton, the “last woman standing” from the rainbow coalition, as its new leader.

In the most pointed remarks among the two leadership contenders to date, Mr White said some of Labour’s “sister parties have suffered badly by delaying change for a few years too many. We cannot afford the same mistake. I believe the change we need must start now and I want to lead that change – to be a bridge to the new generation of our party.”

Ms Burton was a minister of state for foreign affairs in the rainbow coalition in the mid-1990s. Mr White, a Minister of State for Health, last night told the leadership hustings in Cork: “Sooner or later we will have to look outside that class of ’97. Fourteen men and women, members of our party, served as ministers or ministers of state when Labour and Democratic Left were last in Government – in 1997.” This included Eamon Gilmore, former leaders Pat Rabbitte and Ruairí Quinn, and Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin.

“The ‘last man standing’, or rather the last woman standing, is the person I have the honour of sharing the stage with in these election hustings. The question for all of us, now, is whether to return for one last time to that generation, or whether to move on now.”

In her speech, Ms Burton did not directly attack Mr White but said Labour must focus on the second phase of Coalition. “Repairing society just as we repaired the economy. It means building a social recovery as well as an economic recovery. Or to paraphrase what Sean O’Casey said of Jim Larkin, to fight not just to put bread on the tables of working families, but a rose in the vase on the table too.” She repeated her position that the October budget would not be a €2bn adjustment but would do enough to bring the deficit below 3 per cent of GDP.

Labour performed poorly in Cork in the local elections, going from seven seats to none on the city council, and seven to two on the county council. There was a turnout of about 180 people at the hustings.