Shut up, sit down, and act like Fianna Fáil

Today's Irish Times offers a stark warning to any Labour backbenchers considering stepping out of line. By Michael Taft.

It didn’t take long. Patrick Nulty, TD voted against the budget on Tuesday night. Suddenly, on Thursday morning an op-ed appears in the Irish Times attacking the young TD. And not just ‘attacking’ – it is one of the most vicious attacks on an individual TD you’ll read on an issue of policy. After all, Nulty is not a Michael Lowry or an Ivor Callely. He took a political position, regardless of whether one agrees with it or not. It is incredible that the Irish Times would give space to such a rant.

And an ill-informed, confused rant at that. Here I just want to examine the economic issues that the author raises.

Billy Linehan claims that ‘ideology is for yesterday’. Now when you hear something like that you should ready yourself for an ideological onslaught. And Linehan doesn’t disappoint. What does he demand?

"Why isn’t he (Pat Nulty) addressing the salaries above EU norms paid to doctors, nurses and teachers? Or the bizarre issues of increments in the public service or the featherbedding of staff salaries in the ESB and other semi-States?"

Notice how Linehan doesn’t demand that Pat address unemployment (projected to rise next year by the ESRI). Or the growing levels of deprivation as measured by the CSO (affecting nearly one-in-four). Or that workers are, on average, are trying to get by on €693 a week.

No, Linehan fixates on public sector pay – which he claims is above EU norms. Maybe he should read the OECD’s Government at a Glance, which shows public sector pay in the largest categories to be below the EU norm. Clerical workers would need a 10% increase just to reach the average pay of advanced economies – and that’s before the pay cut in Budget 2010.

Or from the same source – that nurses’ pay is average by ‘EU norms’; and that’s before both the pension levy and the Budget 2010 pay cut.

Or that utility labour costs are below the EU-15 average; as are education labour costs.

It is surprising that someone described as a ‘management consultant’ would not be familiar with basic facts that so many managers are acquainted with. Ignoring such basic facts is so ‘yesterday’.

But Linehan goes on. Instead of asking hard questions and assessing whether policies are working, individual representatives should start:

"...telling the unpalatable truth to constituents – that we spend more than we earn as a nation – with the result that service restrictions and cutbacks are inevitable."

Where has our management consultant been for the last three years? That’s exactly what Government backbenchers have been saying since the crisis has begun. ‘Spend more than we earn’...‘Cutbacks are inevitable’. What Linehan actually wants is for individual representatives not to face up to the unpalatable truth – that austerity policies are not working.  He doesn’t want individual representatives to reflect on this.

annual growth 2011-2015
See a pattern? As growth projections fall, the level of debt rises (notably after the April projections, when the public finances should have benefitted from the reduction in EU-IMF borrowing costs). Linehan doesn’t want individual representatives to reflect on the relationship between falling growth and rising debt, between austerity and depressed growth; between rising debt and austerity. Linehan doesn’t want individual representatives to reflect on any of that.  He just wants them to sit down and shut up.

Linehan claims that:

"Fianna Fáil set up a national economic model which has failed. It cannot pay for itself. Is this the economic standard that Nutty supports?"

This is rather amusing, for Linehan demands that individual representatives say the same thing as Fianna Fáil backbenchers were required to repeat, to follow the same policies as the Fianna Fáil government put forward (cut spending on public services and social protection, increase tax on low income earners, deflate the economy).

At the end of the day, Linehan wants Labour backbenchers to act like Fianna Fáil backbenchers. And woes betide if they don’t – they will be accused of opportunism and puppy-beating.

Of course, in the broader politics, this is not just an attack on Pat Nulty or, by implication, Tommy Broughan. This is a warning to any Labour backbencher who is even thinking of stepping out of line. If you do, you will be subjected to a virulent attack in the pages of the Irish Times and other fora.

Dissent will not be tolerated, there is no vacancy for independent thought, whippings will continue until loyalty is resumed. I know this because I read it in the paper. {jathumbnailoff}