Labour needs to rediscover its core values and campaigning zeal

Opinion: An Australian perspective on party role

Joan Burton and Alex White attending a Labour trade unionists hustings of candidates for the leadership and deputy leadership of the Labour Party at the CWU offices on the North Circular Road, Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

Joan Burton and Alex White attending a Labour trade unionists hustings of candidates for the leadership and deputy leadership of the Labour Party at the CWU offices on the North Circular Road, Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times


The local and European election results were nothing short of disastrous for the Labour Party. As a committed Labour supporter, my woe was added to by a nine-hour time difference, resulting in me taking in the bad news in the small hours of the morning.

The result has led to much soul-searching for our party. I hope that this soul-searching will be underpinned by a discussion about our core purpose and values, and how we intend to campaign for them in the community.

If the Labour Party is to succeed we need to reconnect with our core purpose. Part of that purpose is to provide a level playing field for all so that no matter what their background working people can attain a safe and secure future for their families.

On this side of the world the Australian Labor Party does not shy away from discussions about its core purpose. The party pits itself on the side of working people, and is focused on giving every Australian a “fair go”. Labor politicians aren’t afraid to call out the Conservatives for being in the pockets of “the big end of town”. And the party actively campaigns for this “fair go” not just when in opposition, but, more importantly, when in government.

An example is the national disability insurance scheme (NDIS) introduced by Julia Gillard’s Labor government. It aims to give Australians with a disability and their families the opportunity to receive support that is individual to their needs. It is a hugely progressive measure, and recognises that to allow people with a disability to participate in and contribute to society a one-size-fits-all approach does not work.


campaign Before legislating for it Australian Labor put it up to those with a disability and their families to mobilise for change. This resulted in a huge grassroots

campaign in the media and local communities involving thousands of people.

The Conservative parties were terrified of the power of this “campaigning army” and even they promised not to dismantle the scheme.

Whoever becomes the new Labour leader and deputy leader in Ireland must make this campaigning zeal a priority.

The new leadership team must not be afraid to campaign in (and with) the community for Labour values. It must take up the task of partnering with community groups, trade unions and advocacy organisations to demand progressive change, and put pressure on Fine Gael to agree to implement Labour policies.

Since this leadership election began there has been little commentary on our values and how we might campaign for them. It has been disappointing to hear many in the media, and indeed in the parliamentary Labour Party, talk about the need for the “new generation” to be given the reins of power, with little reference to what that new generation might do with it.

I personally don’t care about the ages of the new leader and deputy leader, but I do care about the values the new leadership will campaign on and govern with. There has been a propensity in all parties over the past number of years to talk about the need for “young” people to be promoted. Surely it matters more “which” young – or not so young – people, and what values they hold?

Politics is about ideas and values, and picking candidates because they look well on a poster and speak well on the radio is important, but it is not the measure of leadership. Politics is not the X Factor!

Three jobs

Let’s campaign for the Ireland we want to see in the future.

Do we envision an Ireland where people must hold down two to three jobs to have a roof over their heads, or do we envision an Ireland where people can work hard and be rewarded with the security of a better life for their families?

Do we envision an Ireland that continues to reward those who have remained almost unscathed by the economic crisis, or do we envision an Ireland that rewards those who have carried must of the burden?

I hope that the coming weeks of this leadership election will allow us to talk about the potential of the true republic that Labour has always stood for.

Dermot Ryan is chief of staff of the Transport Workers’ Union of Australia and chair of the Irish Friends of Australian Labor. He is a member of the Irish Labour Party

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