Election Daze


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Okay, it’s finally here. So let’s talk briefly about outcomes.

The issue of coalition is problematic. It’s true that if, for example, the Labour Party went into government with Fine Gael then that might ameliorate the tone and thrust of FG policies, particularly as regards privatization, many of which are profoundly inimical to left and progressive projects. But we’ve had an object lesson in the past three or four years in the shape of the Green Party of just how limited the traction for political parties can be in coalition.

Is the next, most likely, government going to buck that trend? History wouldn’t instill confidence. Already the mood music has Labour being offered non-economic Departments.

There’s also the problem that we can tell from previous history that smaller parties in coalition tend almost overwhelmingly to fare appallingly badly after such coalitions. And the pendulum, at least hitherto has not subsequently swung leftwards.

In other words a short term vote to shore up the left component of any coalition likely to take office in the next few days or weeks is no guarantee as to the long term outcomes and seems likely to weaken those long term outcomes from a left perspective.

It’s not even a case of the best overshadowing the good. There is no good.

We know that this iteration of Fine Gael is on economic issues one of the most conservative that we have seen. We also know that this iteration of the Labour Party is one of the least radicalized that we have seen (a couple of years back, just at the beginning of the crisis, I was out with a few members of the LP who might be considered close to thinking in the higher reaches of the party. I was genuinely shocked at how even then when the weight being placed upon the Irish people was much lesser than it is today in the wake of the ECB/IMF deal they were so pliant and willing to align with the orthodoxy – and it is that which I mean by less radicalised.).

It would be great if one could easily say that the Labour Party, or whoever, should eschew coalition. We know that that is not going to happen. We know that given the opportunity that party will participate fairly willingly.

I’ve always seen the left as including Sinn Féin, the Workers’ Party, the ULA, left Independents and being as generous as possible some who might be better considered as progressives than necessarily as leftists. But I’ve also seen the left as inclusive in some respect of the Labour Party. That remains true even if they go into coalition, at least for some LP members. And Godspeed to them if they can ameliorate the situation. Problem is that that then consigns them to the compromises that may work, but may not – particularly if we have an FG party with 70 plus TDs.

But for those of us who believe that participation in a government with Fine Gael is a step too far for leftists, where are we left?

It seems overwhelmingly likely that the LP will be in government with FG. Which means that there are further choices for this cohort of us who I describe.

And in truth our votes won’t make a blind bit of difference to government formation. A runaway FG isn’t the result of the left of Labour. It’s shifting voting patterns on the part of those who have always voted centre and centre right. If the LP couldn’t seal that deal, by pulling those voters to them, then your vote and mine won’t do so. Nor will more LP members make an FG/LP government more likely. Oddly enough fewer might do the trick since that would allow for an easier carve up of the spoils. But then their influence is diminished and so on and so forth.

So all that factored in then the goal becomes one of attempting to shore up the left beyond the Labour Party.

And that means that at this election one can only recommend left of centre candidates and, unless in extremis, candidates who won’t participate in government with centre or right of centre parties.

Obviously for those in constituencies where there is no significant left of centre candidates then it’s a personal decision as to which is the most progressive, least conservative candidate and whether that is sufficient to allow for a vote.

Other than that, we’re all on our own in that polling booth. But, in many many constituencies there’s more than enough options for those who want to vote for progressives and leftists. For most of us, myself included, voting for non-Labour, and most certainly non-right of centre parties, has been the pattern of a lifetime.

I don’t believe that pattern has been wasted. My own sense is that the activism of the 1980s when the Workers’ Party provided a strong oppositional left voice (even if flawed in some respects) and one that staked out a sense of what was possible both on left and right (in the sense it demonstrated that too extreme economic attacks on working people would be met with a coherent political response), is broadly speaking a model for the current and future period.

None of us have any illusion that left forces, though potentially numerically stronger than they’ve ever been, will do anything other than remain in opposition, but as that they can provide an exemplary role in the Dáil. Nor can we be under any illusions that there are plenty of reasons to critique those left forces, be they SF, the ULA, WP or Independents/Others.

But if anything is to happen it is necessary to have voices both in the Oireachtas and outside, so that activism can take place in both places. Those of us who have been in formations or support them or Independents know how important a Dáil voice is. A Joe Higgins or a Tony Gregory or a Tomás Mac Giolla, or indeed a Pearse Doherty, broadens the engagement. It would be heartening if all were able to fall in with a single formation. But that’s not going to happen, not in the short to medium term, and perhaps that’s a good thing. A diverse active left is one that can reach many people and places. Given how weakened it has been this is a necessity. So is a left which is represented by as many of these strands as possible.

Beyond that one thing is crucial. Get people out there voting for whatever candidate(s) of the left you can. That’s essential above all. This is an election where every vote on the left and progressive spectrum will count in many, if not indeed most, battlegrounds.

And good luck to all those who have contested this election and supported and campaigned in big ways and small for left/progressive candidates, formations and parties.

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5 Responses

  1. vincent wood

    February 26, 2011 4:52 pm

    It would seem to me that it will be important for the Left to be the effective opposition to another conservative government.

    Its early days (the count is still on at time of writing) but Fianna Fail may end up with about 17-18 seats, more than SF who may end up with 15.

    There needs to be a coalition in opposition that would both act to exclude FF from the lead opposition position and also to agree a progressive agenda. There will be many opportunities to be vocal inside and outside of Leinster House and there will be an opportunity greater than at any time in recent history to air a progressive left alternative.

    The post election situation needs to be as educational as the election itself.

    I hope that sectarian political antiphathy can be put aside and the broad left can use this opportunity.

  2. Gerry

    February 27, 2011 4:38 am

    Of course Labour will go into coalition with Fine Gael. They’ve done it before, paid the electoral price and gradually recovered their core vote and a bit extra. They are mentally geared to getting their seats at the cabinet table now and losing half a dozen seats in four or five years time.Labour will probably get some concessions on social welfare cuts. Expect Labour also to get a promise on constitutional reform, and a government commitment to building more non-denominational primary schools, some through the auspices of the VECs. The secularising middle classes in Dublin constituencies will like those bits of the ‘liberal agenda’ even though it won’t halt the emigration figures among young graduates.

    The low income urban families that never benefited from the celtic tiger will continue to live desperately and their desperation will be magnified by the murderous feuds among drug gangsters.

    OK the electorate has enjoyed a good long crap by reducing Fianna Fail to the numerical status of a third party outnumbered by SF, the ULA and the allsorts Independents. After they’ve wiped their bums and rinsed their hands the low income voters now have to go out onto the streets and face everyday uncertainty as usual.

  3. Pat Kavanagh

    February 27, 2011 10:47 pm

    As an unsuccessful candidate with a naive degree of hope for real change this time, I am disheartened that all those ‘Independent and Independent only’ promises that I heard at the doorsteps seemed to vanish at the gates of the polling station.

    As much as anyone can, I appreciate fully where peoples worries stem from, but there is a message there for us in that overwhelmingly strong support for Fine Gael. Just what that message is will need to be analysed with a clear head in a few weeks time, but the questions have to be asked – are the Irish people generally conservative in nature? Are they generally motivated by wealth and the need to have it? Or is it our fault, as socialist/left leaning people that we’re just not hitting the nail with the electorate?

    Finally, we can take some comfort that this time we will have a good, strong left representation on the opposition benches. Congratulations to Sinn Fein, PBP/ULA and Independents who made it this time. These are the people we need to row in with and support wherever we can.

  4. paul

    February 28, 2011 10:15 am

    Following on from all these points, isn’t there an easy way to ensure a strong left-led opposition in the new dail?

    The concept of the technical group is well established by now to allow small parties some share of speaking time. The same system can be used to create the main opposition block: SF, the SP, PBP plus a handful of the independents would create a much larger grouping than FF. The many strong speakers on the left could share their time at the podium and consign FF to what uswd to be the LP position.

    It would also truly isolate the right wing independents like Ross – who will of course still have the public forum of the indo to make whatever points he feels should be made.

  5. Donagh

    February 28, 2011 12:17 pm

    Hi Paul,

    There has been some discussion on this on Cedar Lounge with the various options being trashed out.


    Tombuktu also has a link to the section from the Standing Orders which provides details on what is required for a technical group