Labour Party activists are dismayed by their rejection at the polls. Some TDs who lost their seats are in denial concerning the reasons for their dismissal and have vented their anger on party leader Joan Burton, seeking her resignation. It is an understandable reaction, but it ignores their own complacency and other contributory factors. Having led the party into a disastrous election and delivered a poor personal performance, Ms Burton has little option but to resign. She should, however, be allowed the minimal courtesy of choosing her time and serving as acting minister and Tánaiste until a new government is formed. What is the rush?
The catastrophic fall in the number of Dáil seats, from 37 in 2011 to seven today, was like a slow car crash. A wave of rejection had been building for years. Results from the local elections of 2014, when support for the Labour Party halved to seven per cent, were repeated this year. Promises to burn bondholders and protect voters from austerity measures had proved to be so much blather when the Troika applied pressure. It was Frankfurt’s way, not Labour’s way, and voters exacted retribution.
Party difficulties were exacerbated by internal leadership tensions, initially between Ms Burton and her predecessor Eamon Gilmore and later between Ms Burton and her deputy, Alan Kelly. Unless the party can unite behind a new leader – and its options with such a small parliamentary party are limited – its prospects are bleak. Its share of the vote fell to 6.6 per cent last February. This was marginally more than it received in 1987 when it won 12 seats and later merged with Democratic Left.
Recapturing a disillusioned working class vote on this occasion will not be easy, given the attractions of Sinn Féin and other left-wing groups. Over-promising and under-delivering has been its Achilles heel during recent years as it gravitated towards the centre, diluting its brand and neglecting its traditional base. The working class vote is where the Labour Party must seek its salvation.