Lisbon Vote Not Endorsement For Hated Government


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A significant 2/1 majority, on a higher turnout, passed the Lisbon Treaty overturning the decision of June 2008. It is clear that the economic crisis served to shift opinion across the board to a yes vote because people felt that passing the Treaty might boost Ireland’s prospects for economic recovery.

Last year Lisbon was rejected because people feared the consequences of the changes it brings to the EU and because of a distrust of the political establishment. For a majority this time around the actual Treaty and its contents were secondary to the economic crisis.

In a well-prepared and financed campaign, the political and business establishment left no stone unturned. There was the carrot, “Yes to Jobs”, Yes for “Recovery”, but then also the stick with threats that a rejection of the Lisbon Treaty for a second time would lead to economic disaster.

As Joe Higgins commented, fear was at the heart of the Yes campaign. The idea was spread that the chief executives of the hugely profitable multinationals were at Dublin airport with their suitcases packed ready to flee in the event of a no vote.

In company after company bosses intervened, by email and directly, with their workforces calling for a yes vote. Any pretence of balance in the media was ended and in the last week of the campaign 65% of articles on Lisbon argued for a yes vote with only 15% supporting the no side.

With a week to go polls indicated that of those who had made up their minds, 60% were yes and 40% were no. However, it seems those who made up their minds in the last week went overwhelmingly to the yes side on the basis of the crisis in the economy.

The yes campaign played up the idea that a rejection of Lisbon for a second time would sideline Ireland in the EU and the idea of a two track EU with Ireland on the outside was pushed by government ministers. Given that more than 70% of people believe that Ireland is economically better off in the EU plus their fears that the economic crisis would worsen it is understandable that a majority decided to vote yes.

It is ironic that at this point the people who caused the economic crisis, big business and the capitalist political establishment in Ireland and the EU, where actually able to use the crisis to get Lisbon passed.

There are some parallels with the vote in the 2007 general election. Then, a significant portion of people voted for Fianna Fail, in the absence of any real alternative, in the hope that voting for the same government may help maintain economic growth.

Fianna Fail’s support has fallen through the floor since then, to historic lows and now in a complete reversal of that election, more than 80% disapprove of this hated government. Likewise the basis of this yes vote will disappear.

This will turn out to be a pyrrhic victory. Lisbon won’t aid any economic recovery in Ireland or Europe. In fact it will be used to make ordinary people pay a very heavy price for the crisis in the years ahead. The lie about economic recovery combined with the bullying methods of the yes campaign will come back to haunt the establishment and will deepen the anger in society.

That one third of voters rejected the Treaty for a second time is significant, given the huge campaign that the establishment ran with the support of Labour and a majority of trade union leaders.

It is clear from the figures that in middle class and more wealthy areas, support for Lisbon was 90% plus. In contrast, amongst working class people the vote was more evenly split but in many areas large majorities, once again, rejected Lisbon. Working class people who voted yes did so with little enthusiasm and without in any way diminishing their opposition to the government.

In terms of the treaty itself, the biggest single issue in the campaign was probably workers rights’. This reflected the opposition to attacks on jobs, pay and conditions but also is a compliment to the role of the Socialist Party and in particular our MEP, Joe Higgins. Joe was the clearest and most effective leader of the no campaign.

The Socialist Party fought a very strong no campaign with thousands of posters and over half a million leaflets, on the issues of workers’ rights, democratic rights, defence of public services and opposition to militarism.

Whatever effect that the Lisbon result has in strengthening the hand of big business can be overcome by mobilising the power of the working class against the attacks on jobs, pay and public services.

Out of the inevitable struggles in the months ahead, the need for a real alternative to the crisis and capitalism will become much clearer to many people and will create a huge opportunities to build support for a socialist alternative.

This article was originally published on The Socialist Party website.

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3 Responses

  1. Ronan Gallagher

    October 7, 2009 10:45 am

    The Lisbon Treaty referendum which we just went through was a bit like sex for Catholics. We wanted to do it, but was it right? In the heat of the moment, with Lisbon, beautiful Lisbon, spread before us and simmering with seductive promise, we gave in, and in one lustful moment threw caution to the wind resulting in a Yes! Yes! Yessssss! And now, as we lie, exhausted, sated, and puffing ponderously on the post coital cigarette, the first tinges of guilt and the prospects of regret begin to creep in.

    The tinges of guilt will stem from the fact that perhaps the whole thing was kind of forced, that in our lust we just couldn’t take no for an answer, the prospects of regret perhaps coming from the knowledge that now that we have made our bed, we must lie in it and can only hope we don’t get the wet side.

  2. Donagh

    October 7, 2009 4:42 pm

    Thanks for that vivid analogy. Personally I’m reluctant to ascribe individual psychological and emotional conditions to collective voter decisions. “our lust”?

    I know that its argued that a lot of people changed their minds out of fear, but is it right to say that they will now start to feel guilt for being such cowards? It’s all a bit simplistic.

    However, that is not to diss your analogy completely.

    When considering the campaign for a yes that just was the line that Uncle Monty fiercely says to ‘I’ during the eh, ‘seduction scene’ in the cottage comes to mind:

    “I mean to have you, even if by burglary”

  3. Ronan Gallagher

    October 8, 2009 9:04 am

    I’m not saying people will feel guilt for being cowards, perhaps more unease at possibly having made the wrong choice, a choice which cannot be changed and which may, or may not have far reaching consequences especially if things don’t improve as was promised by the yes side. As to the quote, ‘I mean to have you, even by burglary’ are you sure ‘burglary’ is the word he used. I can think of a word which is close to the sound of burglary which might be more appropriate given the analogy and the dubious democratic manner in which the yes vote was achieved by putting it to the people only fifteen short months after the electorate gave their first answer.