Whatever happens in the coming weeks in terms of forming a coalition government, this election represents a great leap forward for the Irish Left. That’s not how the media here sees it – naturally – but it’s still objectively true.
In the last Dáil (parliament) the left vote stood at approximately 15%. After this election that vote has increased substantially. We operate a rather complicated proportional representation system that allows a single vote to be counted as many times as there are candidates (the single transferable vote), which tends to represent to a high degree of accuracy the proportion of votes achieved by each party. Hence, if a party gets 20% of the vote they should have approximately 20% of the seats. The Left’s share of the first preferences in this election was 38.27% and it received approximately 38.5% of the seats – 64 seats as opposed to 24 in 2007. As I write there are recounts in progress in three electoral constituencies so I’m making certain assumptions about how those counts will turn out, but no matter what happens the essential situation will be as I describe.
There have been other high-water marks for the Left, but none as good as this (I’m open to correction by historians), and certainly, since the hegemony of neoliberalism, nothing approaching this in the last twenty years. Many of the parties and individuals that make up this vote represent radical anti-neoliberalism and anti-capitalism. There are anarchists, socialists and old fashioned labour members here.
Now, alas, the likely outcome is that Labour (37 seats) will enter coalition with the right-wing Fine Gael party (70 seats). On one hand, Labour is strong enough to moderate the loonier right wingers and protect some of the things that need protecting (health, education, minimum wage etc). On the other hand, they are likely to suffer by being associated with Fine Gael’s slash and burn policies. The challenge for the Left will be to hold what they have and build on it for the next election.
My own preference would have been for Fine Gael to enter coalition with other right-wing parties such as the outgoing government of Fianna Fáil, their natural bedfellows. Then the Dáil would align itself along left-right lines and we would have a real fight for the next elections, which is likely to be sooner rather than later. A coalition of all the Left parties would be a stunning opposition. It would have a combined strength of over 60 members. Some of its members are devastatingly powerful speakers. It would be a force for the people.
In any case, this is a happy day for the Left. After many shameful elections in which the victors again and again were the corrupt, venial, jobbing, stupid and arrogant Fianna Fáil party, the people of Ireland have awakened from their long dream of neoliberalism. The western isle is awake, even if it is awash with domestic and international debt. It remains to be seen what we will do in our wakefulness, but it is necessary to hope.
Photo of the count in the RDS for the general election 2011, courtesy of Streets of Dublin’s photostream.
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