Gilmore for…?

Eoin O’Malley (12 February 2011)

The polls are making the Labour party’s ‘Gilmore for Taoiseach’ campaign strategy irrelevant. In any case is it sensible for the left to enter government with a centre right party again? The average age of the Labour party parliamentary party is high (the oldest of the outgoing Dáil) and most know that this is their last chance to get into government, but if the party were really taking a long term view those old men would forego government now to be the main party of opposition for the next few years.

This would mean that it could not be blamed for the inevitable cuts that any incoming government will have to implement and can hold off any threats from the left flank – Sinn Féin and ULA. It would also enable a realignment of Irish politics along left right lines. Being leader of the opposition, might hamper any Fianna Fáil resurgence. And especially if the political system is reformed properly it will be possible fora vigorous opposition to make an impact.

This would require a sacrifice as Gilmore and the people around him such as Ruairí Quinn and Pat Rabbitte would almost certainly be out of contention for cabinet seats after the next election. The problem for Labour is that because of incredibly conservative candidate selection many of its new candidates who are going to get elected aren’t exactly the stars who might build the party so that it could credibly threaten to lead a government in 2015 or 2016.

20 thoughts on “Gilmore for…?

  1. Naw , it looks like Fine Gael nicely on course for majority government –
    as a lifelong FF voter I think that would form the most satisfactory outcome of the options open.

    Therefore Gilmore for Leader of the Opposition – and that suits his style perfectly.

  2. Gilmore for Gridlock Government!!!

    They look foolish now promoting him as Taoiseach. Mr Angry will lose the plot after this poll and start to attack harder. This negative campaigning will not go down well with struggling mortgage holders, job seekers or businesses suffering ……….

    Go on Enda!! You got the BIG MO!!!!!!!!!!

  3. Labour appear to be heading for being a junior partner rather than equal partners in a coalition. Similar to the 1980’s we could end up with gridlock with niether parties approach being dominant. Long term strategy for Lab should be to force a coming together of FG and FF , leader of the opposition is the better option than being the tail not being able to wag the FG dog and still being blamed for unpopular cuts.

  4. firstly, irish politics never aligned on left / right lines, but on the division between compromising with v. resisting the colonial power. this ‘civil war’ split existed even in the time of dermot mccmurrough. likewise now, when the ‘colonial power’ means brussels, not westminster.

    there was no left / right split at the battle of clontarf 1014, either.

    fianna fail v. fine gael is now as trivial a distinction as manchester united v. manchester city. ( call the latter ‘the blueshirts’ (?) )

    secondly, there is an ideal majority in the dail. not too big, not so small that it cannot lose a few bye-elections. fine gael plus fianna fail might make a tighter coalition than fine gael plus labour.

    so, gilmore for leader of the opposition ! it is that, or teaboy (cappuccino carrier ?) for the tweedledee party.

  5. The rationality of Eoin’s post-election strategy for Labour seems to rest on two assumptions. 1.) That in opposition for five years, Labour will become more electable. However, if Labour are doing less well than expected in this campaign, then it is perhaps partly because their policies are perceived to lack credibility (bailout extension, job creation, taxes etc.). If so, then five years of upping-the-ante politics is unlikely to make Labour any more electable to a ‘moderate’ electorate that might be tempted to vote for it; and 2.) That Labour would be the main focus of opposition. However, with more SF and ULA TDs in the Dail and with a ‘new’ FF, Labour will find it difficult to find its own opposition niche. If it tries to be moderate to take account of the previous point, then it will be in competition with a potentially resurgent FF and if it tries to be more oppositional, then it will be outflanked by SF and ULA. Consequently, the chances are that the inevitable FG backlash will benefit FF and the opposition-for-opposition-sakes parties rather than the Labour Party. So, if it is in a position to do so, the Labour party should go into government and try to lead the reform agenda from there. So, don’t insist on Finance. Don’t worry about holding Foreign Affairs. Head some sort of Ministry for Reform and take the credit for setting a new agenda.

  6. @Eoin,

    You make a number of valid points, but the eternal integrity of Ireland’s struggle with Britain and of Ireland’s internal struggle over the terms of partial disengagement from Britain 90 years ago render our political factions ill-equipped to address the challenges of the modern world.

    The real divide that is emerging in all developed economies is between neocons (and their unwitting allies and allies by default) and an amorphous progressive consensus that demands (1) effective democratic governance (this blog is not unique among developed democracies), (2) effective competition law and properly regulated efficient markets and (3) state direction and regulation of universal services (e.g., health, education and social welfare) – and of physical and social infrastructure. And this last does not require state ownership and control.

    The label ‘neoliberal’ is a total misnomer. It is neocons who oppose vehemently the three elements above. This battle is being fought with most venom in the US, but is being faught in all developed economies. Neocons oppose any attempt to curtail their ability to use economic power to suborn democratic governance, to ensure efficient competition in, and regulation of, markets and to ensure the efficient provision of universal services.

    The so-called ‘progressive-left’, by clinging to state ownership and control, by demonising markets and by protecting privileged public sector ‘insiders’, repels a large number of voters whose instincts are liberal and progressive. And their repulsion is such that they are vulnerable to the wiles and ploys of the neocons. And this, in many mature democracies, is creating a right-of-centre plurality that does not fully reflect the interests of citizens and plays into the hands of the neocons.

    I think we are seeing this in Ireland as Labour’s policies – as a progressive-left party – are coming under closer scrutiny. FG appears to be capturing the liberal progressive plurality that seems to be emerging and that is supportive of the three elements I outline above. But FG is comprised of a socially conservative, populist, FF-lite wing and a liberal, progressive wing. Keeping both ‘on message’ appears to be pushing FG towards electoral dominance, if not an overall majority. FF is clinging on to retain some electoral appeal with a broadly similar political configuration to FG.

    The natural outcome would be an FG minority government with support from a much reduced and suitably chastened FF, but that is probably a bridge too far for the existing factions. Labour is in a bind, because, if it were to shed its ideological baggage that is hindering it becoming a truly progressive party, it would lose much more support that it would ever be likely to gain.

    It looks like we are fated to have incoherent, fractious FG-Lab governance (with FF being as brilliantly opportunistic in opposition as it always has been) with minimal progress on political reform and none on the key structural economic reforms required.

  7. Fine Gael are the only party that would have the guts to tackle the public service once and for all because in all the huff about the banks, it seems to have been forgotten that Ireland is spending about €20billion more each year than it raises in funding and that gap needs to be filled.

    For example, I had reason to contact a public sector office on Friday and was told that it opens at 10-1 and then between 2-4!! In 2011 it blows my mind that there are civil servants who think this is acceptable – like in a private sector business the public sector should be working 8-6 and open during lunch – we saw the hysterics about scrapping the cheque cashing half hour.

    That’s the mentality in the public sector and those in the public sector who have the ideas and ambition to reform it are dead in the water by the other 60% who should be got rid of.

    Labour are incapable of the scale of reform Ireland needs – Leo Varadkar on the other hand would cut through all the public sector rubbish and enjoy it and at the end we would have the sort of public sector we can afford and which is fit for purpose.

    So Mr Angry from Dun Laoighaire can stay red in the face in opposition hopefullly.

  8. Whoever has to clean up Fianna Fail’s mess is going to get dirty. It would probably be better for Labour in the long term if they were not in a position to form part of the government, but I don’t think they have it in them to refuse to form a coalition with Fine Gael if FG need a partner. Whether it would be better for the Irish people is debatable. I would certainly prefer Labour to have a strong hand in constitutional and political reform in the short to medium term rather than FG.

  9. Labour’s campaign has been a disaster to date. Their whole campaign is based on Gilmore’s ego. Gilmore for Taoiseach is now an absurdity but they are stuck with it. Joan Burton self destructed on the VB show on day one. Gilmore sided with FF on the debate issue and failed to deliver a significant blow.

    Curiously the best possible result for Labour long term (but not for Gilmore) would be a FG majority or minority Govt without them. Lab would be the main opposition perty and would not have to carry the can for hard decisions. This scenario is FFs worst nightmare. They would be a minor opposition paarty fighting with SF ane ULA for scraps of Dail time.

  10. Labour have made the mistake of thinking power without working for it. The mandarins of the Party have made the fatal mistake of distancing themselves from the membership of the Party, have failed to communicate in any meaningful way with the electorate and projected an image of arrogance. Had they led the charge for protest against the incompetent Government the people would be rushing to the polls to vote for them.

  11. Getting back to Eoin’s point about Labour being squeezed to the extent FG might not require a formal coalition with them – or that, even if were on offer, they might be better off remaining in opposition. To make any electoral progress – and to sustain and build on the apparent surge in support it has been receiving (and which now seems to be ebbing away), Labour needs to shed quite an amount of its ideological baggage. This is similar to what Labour in the UK did in the ’90s, but not to the extent that Labour there became puppets for the US neo-cons (importing their financial weapons of destruction to the City of London and using the British armed forces as mercemaries for the Neocons).

    In most modern developed economies there is a progressive plurality that comprises voters with liberal instincts (and a desire for moderate, effective, centrist governance) and voters who come from a left-wing perspective. The neocons have been successful in pulling much of the liberal-centrist vote and left-of-centre parties have been equally successful at repelling it.

    In Ireland, most of this liberal-centrist vote was held by FF and FG; with the FF collapse, FG is now pulling most of it. Labour, during the ’90s, seemed to be positioning itself to capture more of this vote, but the reverse take-over by the Democratic Left (via Sinn Fein Gardiner Place through Sinn Fein – the Workers Party and The Workers Party to DL) and this wonderful concept of ‘democratic centralism’ has stalled this effort.

    I think Eoin is right. Another run in opposition would be good for Labour, but only if it used the time to build an electoral coalition of the porgressive centre and left.

  12. As far as I’m concerned, there is total confusion as far as right/left, right/centre, and left/centre politics in Ireland.
    The so called socialists of the far left, well it would appear to me that their interpation of socialism is based on what the state can provide them for free of course! No thought given to the flip side of this, that is extremely high taxation. You see, many left or so called left wing supporters, never paid a penny in income tax in their lives.
    Then you look at the right wing, or the righ/centre, as they prefer to be called nowadays, they had a field day with the economic boom years over a decade or so. They turned capitalism on it’s ear, they actually “reinvented” the workings of capitalism. You see, if a population are not used to the dealings and mechanisms of capatilism, it can easily spin out of control. That’s why we need good intelligent government to monitor the workings of free enterprise. We obviously did not have that ingredient. My belief is that our politicians from all our political parties are so afraid to actually divulge their true beliefs, for fear of loosing out on a single vote, come election day!
    Remember Bertie’s declaration that he was a socialist! I often wonder does he actually give any thought to his words before they pass through his lips! We have seen how the Gilmore clan have benifited very nicely with the sale of that little piece of property in Co. Galway!

  13. Labour party strategists should take a good look at Eoin’s suggestion. One of the factors influencing the calculus should be the relative stability of a new Fine Gael-led government (minus Labour). Obviously FG strength in govt. will derive from the number of TDs they return with, and what form of coalition arrangements emerge. But we should not forget that Fine Gael remains a ‘family at war’. The wounds of last June’s attempted putsch linger, if indeed they are much less visible than some months ago. If Kenny decides not to promote ‘young pups’ like Vardakar, Creighton, Coveney and Hayes to senior ministries that will surely be resented by the younger party cadres,whose dissatisfaction may well be the chief fault line of a new administration, whether in coalition or single party government. In an economic context which is going to get worse before it gets better the spectre of disunity on the part of a new Fine Gael administration is very real, even if Kenny does the logical thing and exiles Richard Bruton to Foreign Affairs. So for Labour it might well be preferable to remain in opposition and hope that a FG led government will collapse within one or two years. That period would allow for proper re-alingment with the ULA, if that grouping succeeds in getting up to ten seats in the new Dail. But it would also mean shifting Labour back to a genuinely authentic Left position. Would Gilmore be prepared to do that? I doubt it, despite his DL background. We should also remember that Labour remains organizationally very weak in many parts of the country, especially west of the Shannon. This has been a singular failure of Gilmore who failed to properly tackle geographic deficits and build viable local capacity. Candidates like Susan O’Keefe should be shoo-ins for election this time but are clearly struggling. Many of the other candidate selections suggest a conservatism that is as stifling as that of FG (bland teachers and solicitors ad infinitum.) So, in short, Labour would be gambling by opting to remain in opposition, but gambling with some strategic purpose. Whether it should do so under a new leader is another question.

    • You make a number of interesting points. The extent to which the fault-line in FG has been papered over is moot. And the composition of both wings seems to have changed since the days of Declan Costello’s ‘Just Society’ when a quasi-social democratic tendency vied with green conservative representatives of the solid middle classes. These seem to have mutated, respectively, into a largely urban, liberal-centrist wing and a largely rural, socially conservative FF-lite wing.

      It seemed that Labour was attracting support from the more progressive elements of this liberal-centrist element of the electorate (probably based more on personality – Kenny v. Gilmore – than on policy), but it appears to be drifting back to FG (with, perhaps, a slight firming up of FF support).

      However, “shifting Labour back to a genuinely authentic Left position” (were it to find itself in opposition) would deprive Labour of any ability to pull progressive, liberal-centre support from FG that it is required to ensure a popular plurality for genuinely progressive governance.

      How FG manages its fault-line is key, but if Labour moves left and hopes that FG will fault and progressive centre support will leach away and fall into its lap – while it pursues policies that repel these voters, it will be at nothing.

    • @Vincent,

      I think we can be reasonably confident that Labour, in so far as they might be aware, won’t take a blind bit of notice of what we say here. If by a ‘left perspective’ you mean luxuriating in ideological purity, advocating an expansion of state ownership and control of economic activities, demonising markets and protecting well-heeled public sector insiders, than it is almost certain that Labour will never secure the democratic plurality to implement its policies.

      If on the other hand you associate this with a programme to secure sustained and sustainable economic prosperity that is equitably distributed and advances the well-being of all citizens, then it will prove necessary to establish (1) effective democratic governance, (2) competitive and efficient markets (with effective regulation in cases of market failure and (3) state direction and regulation of the provision of universal services. Such a programme might secure the support of the progressive centre and, thereby, secure a plurality for a genuine ‘progressive-left’ programme of governance.

      Can’t see Labour in its current form rising to this challenge. Can you?

      • Paul,

        You are well aware that I do not have the freedom to make partisan comment.
        I suspect however, that your idealogical disposition would not make you the most independent advisor to the above party.

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