Labour and Fine Gael need to face up to tough challenges
Opinion: Media blamed for constant criticism of Government
Eamon Gilmore’s misfortune was that while he played a vital role in providing the political stability required to avert economic catastrophe, promises he made in Opposition ultimately cost him his job. Photograph: Eric Luke
Above, Gilmore speaking about his resignation as Labour Party leader this week. Photograph: Eric Luke / The Irish Times
Eamon Gilmore’s acceptance of responsibility for Labour’s dire election showing and his dignified departure left the backbenchers who rushed in to demand his resignation feeling ashamed of themselves.
It is tempting to recall one of Benjamin Disraeli’s best known remarks about politics: “There is no act of treachery of meanness of which a political party is not capable; for in politics there is no honour.” That would be an excessively harsh description of what happened, but it has more than a grain of truth about politics.
Gilmore was treated badly, and not only by his own party, but his departure as leader had an inevitability about it following Labour’s disastrous election performance. Gilmore’s tragedy was that although he played a vital role in providing the political stability required to avert economic catastrophe, the foolish promises made in Opposition ultimately cost him his job.
Labour TDs, and their FG Coalition partners, now have a lot of thinking to do about how they can continue to provide stable government in the next 18 months and still face into the next election with some prospect of survival.
Many of the senior people in Labour feel aggrieved at what they, with some justice, believe has been the sustained hostility of much media from the day they took office.
“I hope the commentariat is happy now that it has got what it wants,” one angry Labour Minister observed in the immediate aftermath of Gilmore’s resignation.
Faulty media agenda One of the main gripes about the media is the level of unremitting criticism of Government for almost every decision it takes. The focus is invariably on the negative impact policies have on individuals, with little attempt being made to put those decisions in the broader context of the common good. An allied criticism is that the media provides very little scrutiny of the often hair-brained policies put forward by the Opposition. That encourages the public to believe that there are simple and painless solutions to the major problems facing the country.
If Labour is to have any chance of turning the tide it needs to stand up for what it has achieved in Government rather than giving the public the impression it is half ashamed of it. The core success story of the Coalition is economic recovery. And Labour should be proud of it. Carping at some of the decisions required to bring it about only gives the party the worst of both worlds. It also needs to do a much better job of explaining to the public what has been done and remains to be done. To do this it needs to lay out the choices that face society in stark and simple terms and then stick by the options it takes.
Instead of complaining about the media’s failure to scrutinise Opposition promises and policies, Labour needs to mount a sustained attack on policies like Sinn Féin’s wealth tax proposals and the anti-tax policies of the hard left. The media will only focus on such issues if they become the subject of controversy.