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


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.

Indelible lines in the sand are dangerous.

Nonetheless, both Alex White and Joan Burton were as one when it came to the Government imposing more cuts – although neither gave a firm indication of when enough might be enough.

White spoke of a wealth tax.

But he was short on specifics.

He also outlined the “bedrock principles of socialism and social democracy” to which he aspires. They were very worthy – all about tolerance, good governance, access to education and healthcare and a keen interest in “The Public Space”.

God love these candidates, they have to say something.

Joan reminded her trade union audience of “the near simultaneous birth of our two great traditions of socialism”.

As a serving Minister, Joan knows the danger of making firm pledges, so “the struggle for ordinary workers remains incomplete”, but “Labour in Government will introduce a new social democratic settlement.”

Somebody mentioned: “A virtuous circle.”

On the deputy leader front, Ciara Conway and Michael McCarthy impressed after lacklustre performances in the opening round last week. Sherlock continued his obsession with “the branches”, while Alan Kelly decided to do away with boring detail and appeal to the emotions.

Labour is “in my DNA” he declared, going on about lifting slabs of lamb and beef in the local meat processors when he was 15.

Gesticulation and conviction

“I am very passionate about the Labour Party, but I am also a person of conviction. What I believe in is what I say and what I say is what I do,” he said, after denouncing rival parties for talking in soundbites.

“Activism” he cried, raising a fist, “should be at the centre of everything we do!”

Still. At least he didn’t mention the Leap card.

Ciara Conway wants Labour to “place workers at the heart of decision-making”.

Ciara, by the way, is in an interesting situation. She tells us she has noticed (as we have too) how people keep tying her fortunes to Alex White. Why? Because they can’t grasp the concept of two women leading a party.

Cork’s Michael McCarthy put in a much improved performance since the first hustings, standing up for Labour’s achievements under difficult circumstances.

Kitchen sinks and social floor

s “Can you imagine if Fine Gael were in Government on their own? Who would own our ports, who would own our airports? They would have sold everything, including the kitchen sink.”

Sherlock reminded the audience of his impeccable credentials as the son of the late Joe Sherlock.

He had a new way of pledging that Labour is going to stand up for people.

“I don’t want anyone to fall through the social floor.”

They’ll all be talking like this until July 4th, when the votes will finally be counted.