Labour must reach out to those who ‘fell out’ with party - Howlin
Party ‘obviously had very bruising general election’ and has been rebuilding ever since
Labour leader Brendan Howlin: “Our objective is to build the party, to be the pivotal former of policy, because we live on shaping our society and having real good ideas to implement.” File photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times
Mr Howlin was speaking at the opening of the first Labour conference since it went into opposition after the last general election, which saw its Dáil representation fall dramatically.
From a position following the 2011 general election where it returned with 37 seats, Labour only won seven seats at last year’s election.
At the outset of the conference in White’s Hotel, Wexford, Mr Howlin said Labour had, by necessity, focused on itself in the year since its poor general election performance. He said the party is now ready to restate its vision and reach out to voters.
“We obviously had a very bruising general election just over 12 months ago and we have been rebuilding the party ever since,” Mr Howlin said. “We did need to look to ourselves first, to hear the views of every party member.
“That’s why I went up and down the country, that’s why I talked to different members of the party. The trade union movement were very important in that conversation.
“We know what we stand for, we know the principles on which we build our policies. We now need to shape our communication with the rest of our society, to reach out to people who have fallen out with us.”
The year since the election has seen Labour hover in opinion polls around the same 6 per cent level of support it registered at the last election.
Mr Howlin said he hoped this weekend’s conference would be a “turning of the page” from a year of focusing on the party’s internal mechanics to re-engaging with the electorate.
When asked how he would measure the success of those efforts in one year’s time, Mr Howlin said he hoped Labour would grow, recruit more members, appoint more local area representatives and make “a bigger impact across the country in our communities”.
However, when asked whether he wants to see improvement in opinion poll ratings, he replied: “Do I want to be more successful than I am today? Yeah, of course we do.
“Our objective is to build the party, to be the pivotal former of policy, because we live on shaping our society and having real good ideas to implement. We deal with parties that we had in government in the past, like Fianna Fáil, who helpfully come without principles and with blank sheets.”
Mr Howlin said he is “delighted” with the unopposed election of Siptu president Jack O’Connor as party chairperson. “That copperfastens the traditional interplay between the trade union movement and its political arm, this party.”
Mr Howlin also said Labour will fight the next election as an “independent party”, effective ruling out any electoral pacts with other parties.
The opening session of the conference on Friday night was also expected to see the adoption of a new party constitution, which will introduce a system of one member, one vote for future party conferences.
This will not apply to conferences that decide whether Labour should enter government, which will continue to be open to special delegates only.