Different tasks facing Labour parties
Sir, – Of the two tasks facing the new leaders of the Irish and UK Labour parties, Keir Starmer has much the easier task. Starmer has not dumped all the policies of the previous leadership and current membership of UK Labour, and has four to five years of the present government to develop new policies: Starmer listens to his membership and electorate.
The Irish Labour Party was not destroyed by the rise of populism. Fianna Fáil, a quintessential populist party in its heyday, has lost its working class vote, in the cities particularly, to a Sinn Féin which now articulates elements of a class politics which hitherto had been completely subordinate to a nationalist agenda.
The Irish working class turn to a party with a predominantly nationalist rhetoric is not equivalent to the rise of right-wing nationalism on the European continent and elsewhere.
The shift of the old Sinn Féin away from its entrenched nationalist position – Mary Lou MacDonald eventually apologising for a poster that said England Get out of Ireland – is far more pronounced than any move by the Irish working class towards a militant and xenophobic nationalism. The banking crisis of 2007 on has crystalised a soft class politics in the south of Ireland which of old had been contained within Fianna Fail populism.
The Irish Labour Party, under the influence of ideologues from Democratic Left, went into government to implement policies completely anathema to its own electorate, and has paid the price of complete political irrelevance, something that was completely forseeable at the time.
The Irish Labour Party has chosen as its leader someone who until recently at least could still be heard roaring that Irish people, predominantly his own voters, were wrong about water charges.
On the plus side, he did warn that Irish politicians should tone down what they said about Donald Trump when Hilary Clinton was assumed to be a shoo-in for president, because Trump might win. But the passage of time, with constituencies without a Labour presence and organisation, means it is very difficult to see Labour coming back: those days are over. Rather, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael have to form a bourgeois bloc if they want to preserve the right wing economics of old, just as it happens it is going well and truly out of fashion elsewhere; the present Conservative Party in the UK is well to the left (despite the presence of right-wing fanatics in cabinet) of anything Margaret Thatcher could have imagined, let alone condoned.
A new left is forming in Ireland; sadly, the old Labour Party is completely marginal to that process – something that needn’t have been the case. – Yours, etc,