Ditch mantra of austerity and challenge conventions


OPINION:IT IS important that we begin to ask questions about our economy and political culture and challenge conventional ideas. Is austerity working? Is there a positive relationship between growth, job creation and deficit reduction?

Can we really hope to recover when income inequality is widening, as the Central Statistics Office found recently? Are people on low and average incomes being asked to make sacrifices for policies that are doomed to fail?

All these questions and many more merit widespread debate, even if it makes some people uncomfortable (“Opportunist Nulty should rejoin Labour or resign as a TD”, Opinion, December 8th).

In the past weeks and months, I argued that there were choices within the EU-IMF deal and that it was imperative that our Government made the right choices.

I put forward a series of constructive proposals as to what I felt ought to be done.

I argued that austerity as a policy had not worked for Fianna Fáil, and was unlikely to start working now.

I made the point that rather than being caught up in a form of political determinism, where the outcome of all political decisions is predetermined by a perception of the EU-IMF deal, we should realise that the EU-IMF are unconcerned about how the deficit is dealt with.

The crisis in the public finances is related to the crisis in employment. Budget 2012, by taking a further €3.8 billion out of the economy, is very likely to make matters worse.

The cuts in public sector employment (6,000 jobs), the cuts in the capital budget, which will cost 7,500 jobs according to the Department of Finance, and the cuts in the community employment schemes make this an anti-jobs budget.

The Labour Ministers did what they could to protect their individual budgets. But I have a problem with how Budget 2012 was presented – the constant kite-flying of the past weeks created a false debate.

People are now highly cynical that they were being softened up about certain proposals by being frightened about other, more extreme measures.

There are some commentators who insist that we keep repeating the same mantra without looking at the assumption upon which that repetition is based.

That people who share the same values and principles take different lessons, and act and vote in different ways from time to time is commonplace in other political systems.

Insults like “opportunist” do not promote constructive dialogue and disagreement; it is merely an attempt to restrict democratic debate and, so, to weaken society’s ability to make proper choices.

I will continue to work closely with my fellow Labour TDs to promote that dialogue, to challenge the conventions on austerity, to ask awkward questions, and to promote tolerance of people who might act in different ways in difficult circumstances.

(I must correct Billy Linehan, yesterday’s writer on this page, who described me as an opportunist and said my election was based on the falsehood of being a Labour TD. In fact, I am a Labour TD.)

Mr Linehan made a strong assertion that ideology is for yesterday.

If by this he means politics is merely about managerialism, then I believe he is profoundly mistaken.

We need a new conversation – not knee-jerk reactions, not repetition of old lines, such as use of the term ideology in an abusive way, that don’t address the situation we find ourselves in.

I want to be part of that conversation and I invite others to join in.

Patrick Nulty was elected Labour TD for Dublin West in the byelection on October 27th last. He lost the party whip this week after voting against the Government on aspects of the budget