Post by Michael Marsh
In his Irish Times column today Vincent Browne once again called on the Labour Party to form an alliance with the forces of the left and create a real alternative to the centrist and right of centre governments we have seen in Ireland in the past. Analysis of the weakness of the Irish left have traditionally focussed on a range of factors ranging from the strategic errors of the Labour Party as the State was founded, to the power of the sternly anti-socialist catholic church and the facility of Fianna Fail to be all things to all people. As the last two of these seem to be losing their aura, perhaps the prospects of the long awaited realignment of Irish politics along he left-right axis which characterises party competition in most of our older EU neighbours is now a realistic possibility?
Interested readers of this website might like to look at the website of the Irish National Election Study, which can be used to explore the potential constituency for such a party. The site allows the reader to browse through a survey of of Irish voters between 2002 and 2007. The median Irish voter is right of centre. On a scale where 1 is left and 10 is right, the average voter places themselves between 6 and 7. Less than 1/5 locate themselves left of centre, between points 1 and 4.
This suggests the Irish electorate is much more right wing than its EU neighbours. If we explore the content of attitudes in some respects the electorate looks slightly leftish. There is moderate disagreement with the statement that ordinary people get their fair share of the nation’s wealth, and mild agreement with the statements that Income tax should be increased for people on higher than average incomes and Income and wealth should be redistributed towards ordinary people. Some inequality however is accepted: a majority agrees there is nothing wrong with some people being a lot richer than others. Yet there is general resistance to increasing State control over the economy. A majority favours private over public enterprises, and there is no great enthusiasm for greater government intervention in the economy.
More interestingly though, the attitudes that might be expected to be associated with being ‘left’ or ‘right’ show a very tenuous link with one another: attitudes to equality are not associated at all with those towards public/private ownership. In most other countries they are.
This may be taken to suggest the basis for a significant left alliance is weak, although it is arguable that the purpose of a movement of the left would be to change, or mould public attitudes, to bring ordinary people to the realisation of what was in their best interest. If so, there is a long way to go.