The question that should have been asked at the Labour husting was: Why are we all here?

Oh dear God, but the Labour husting was boring, with everyone trying to find different ways of saying the same thing

Minister for Social Protection and candidate for Labour Party leadership Joan Burton speaking to Jack O’Connor of Siptu at the weekend’s hustings. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Minister for Social Protection and candidate for Labour Party leadership Joan Burton speaking to Jack O’Connor of Siptu at the weekend’s hustings. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Mon, Jun 16, 2014, 01:00

Lines are being drawn at a terrific rate.

But what sort?

There are defining lines: the “thus far and no further” ones which politicians avoid like the plague.

Then there are lines in the sand, which can be washed away.

The candidates in the Labour Party leadership contest know they have to be very careful about laying down lines when making promises to their comrades. This may be an internal competition, but the eventual leader and deputy leader will be judged by the entire electorate on how they keep to their commitments.

On Saturday, Labour trade unionists hosted a husting in the swanky headquarters of the Communications Workers’ Union.

The debates formed part of an all-day seminar on: “The Future of Democratic Socialism and the Role of the Trade Union Movement in Irish Society.”

We can’t tell you how the other sessions went, but if the “clash” of the candidates was anything to go by, they must have been grim.

Dear God, but it was boring, with everyone trying to find different ways of saying the same thing while not holding out too many hostages to fortune.

The one question that really needed to be asked on the day, but wasn’t, was this: “Do the candidates think we all need to get our heads examined for sitting here listening to you lot on a fine Saturday afternoon?”

But that’s probably just us.

God is a trade unionist

However, the exercise did provide some proof that perhaps God is a trade unionist. It may have been warm outside, but at least the sun had the decency to remain behind the clouds.

There were some things on which everyone agreed: No more cuts for workers, no increase in taxes, less interference from head office and a resolve not to continue selling themselves short.

And everyone thought Siptu boss Jack O’Connor, who spoke earlier in the day, had given a fine address.

“Brilliant and full of insight,” gushed Alex White, setting the tone.

Among other things, Jack said the party “must immediately challenge the vile and slanderous lie that Labour reneged on its promises”.

This line was vigorously adopted by all the candidates.

Labour “has to perceive the negative as a positive,” stressed Seán Sherlock, who’s after the number two job and big into mathematics.

‘Inconvenient truth’

The leadership has policies, but as the junior partner in Coalition, it can’t implement them. “The inconvenient truth is that it simply didn’t get a mandate,” said O’Connor. “Electoral setbacks will not destroy Connolly’s party, but the perception that it betrayed its voters will.”

The Siptu boss told comrades that the people who voted Labour “didn’t vote for us to save Ireland, they voted for us to save them from Fine Gael”.

When O’Connor talks of Labour not having a proper mandate, their men and women in Government are all too aware of this. Junior partners know the folly of making big promises.