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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