Time to change tack

With the election of Michael D Higgins to the Presidency and with a new TD by virtue of the Dublin West election, the Irish Labour Party has been given a lift from their slippage in recent opinion polls. But what will they do with this extra ammunition?

Higgins has a track record of support for progressive politics, even when it has cost him personally. He has a good record in defending the disadvantaged and he is a promoter and supporter of the arts. He is a self-professed independent thinker – or maverick, if you prefer – and seems unafraid to challenge his own party’s leadership if need be.

And there’s the thing. The Irish Labour Party decided to throw their lot in with Fine Gael – a reactionary and conservative party who are resolved to implement the same ideological policy platform of their predecessors in Fianna Fáil, namely the further erosion of the state and a blind adherence to a version of Thatcherism. Meanwhile, in no way has the involvement of the Irish Labour Party in government contributed to the defence of the plain people of Ireland.

If anything, they have adopted the Thatcherite clothes that seem to have become a prerequisite for participation in government. If Labour cannot make a social democratic (whatever about a democratic socialist) footprint on the policies of this administration, then what’s the point in being there?

The presidential election, among other things, has further established a division in Irish politics between the conservative and gombeen Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil/Sean Gallagher element (let’s say about 40% of those who vote) and those of us who support, or at least vote for, Labour, Sinn Féin, the ULA and its constituent parts and other left leaning and progressive politicians.

I understand that it is argued that people who support the Labour Party or Sinn Féin are not regarded as truly ‘left’ by some who claim the vanguard of the left, but I have no truck with this self-defeating sectarianism. Tony Benn, when asked if the British Labour Party was a socialist party, replied that it wasn’t, but that it contained many socialists. The same could be argued about Labour and Sinn Féin. It is petty in the extreme to deny this. The future for the left lies in the breaking down of sectarian nonsense, finding common ground (of which there is plenty, especially on core democratic issues) and forming a broad left and progressive stream in clear opposition to the unchecked capitalism which is causing the ordinary people – the 99% if you prefer – enormous misery. This may take a while, but it is important to continue to reach out, persuade, embarrass or cajole that significant body of (potential) progressive political activists that make up the Irish Labour Party.

Eamon Gilmore and others in that party’s leadership could and should move closer to the Michael D/Noel Browne tradition, abandon all faith in the old Ireland of Fine Gael and its adherence to Thatcherism, and see that they should have no hand, act or part in the further erosion of all that has been won for ordinary people over the past 50 years.

Image top: The Labour Party.