Keaveney could become a thorn in Labour's side
Q: The longer Colm Keaveney remains Labour chairman the more he could threaten the leadership’s authority
Labour Party chairman Colm Keaveney knew his vote against the Government’s most controversial budgetary measures was not going to bring down the Coalition. The Government retains a very healthy majority in the Dáil and discipline within Fine Gael appears to be as strong as ever.
However, Keaveney became the fifth of the record 37 TDs returned for Labour in the general election to resign the party whip since the Government was formed just 21 months ago.
Keaveney’s move was greeted with surprise rather than shock by party colleagues, given his reputation for unpredictability, although they conceded privately it was a serious blow to the party. Aside from the temporary embarrassment, the longer-term worry for Labour is that the trickle of defectors could eventually become a flood.
Keaveney was not the only Labour deputy to have difficulties with the Social Welfare Bill, which cut child benefit, reduced the respite care grant and abolished the PRSI exemption. Other TDs had expressed similar concerns, but went on to vote with the Government on Thursday. A grateful party leadership was subsequently vociferous in its praise of their courage and loyalty.
The troubled backbenchers have been assured next year’s budget will not be quite as painful as this one’s. Budget 2013 may prove to be the last of the tough budgets but that is predicated on achieving certain growth targets over which this State has little control.
The situation is complicated by the fact that Keaveney is party chairman. The longer he holds that position the greater the chance the media-savvy deputy has of becoming a thorn in the side of the party leadership and a threat to its authority.
Keaveney was elected party chairman by party members at their conference, and has said he intends to remain in that position until members decide otherwise.
Those who voted for him said they did so because they “liked the idea of a counterbalance to the party leader” Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore.
Gilmore and Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte made clear they believed Keaveney’s position was untenable, and others have appealed to him to stand aside for the party’s good. Keaveney appears set to hang tough, however.
The Siptu official on a leave of absence will certainly be hopeful that his loss of the party whip might alter his political future in Galway East.
The possibility of him retaining his seat appeared slight after the Constituency Commission determined his constituency would lose a chunk of its territory and some 20,500 voters to neighbouring Roscommon-Galway, with the seats reduced from four to three.