My Resignation from the Labour Party

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It is time to draw a line under my 30 year membership of the Labour Party. It is past time actually, as I have not been active at branch or constituency level for the past 15 years. There were many reasons for this, including the demands of my academic job. I did remain active politically, but not in a way that was so focused on the Labour Party or even electoral politics. I recognise the importance of electoral politics, but it has never been the area in which I felt I had a particular contribution to make. During the years of Labour Left, of which I was a founding member, we tried to create a deeper political intellectual culture in the Labour Party. Once this ended, I didn’t see so much of a role for myself. Nevertheless, I remained.

A turning point for me came during the period leading up to the last election when the Labour Party resolutely refused to look left or to address any alternative to coalition with Fine Gael. The attitude expressed to other left parties appalled and angered me. One TD on RTE called them a “rag bag”.

During the election I did all in my power to convince people to vote left, whether ULA, WP, SF, LP or independents. I voted accordingly myself. I do not find much of what the Labour Party is doing in government to be defensible. I cannot even see how Labour is protecting working people from the worse that Fine Gael might do without them, the only argument that had any traction among those on the left who supported Labour. A central question for me is: In whose class interests is the state being run? We live in an oligarchy, not a democracy. There is a global and national elite that is demanding intensified redistribution from below to above. Labour is colluding in it. I support the opposition.

I formed many fine relationships in my years in the Labour Party and hope to continue on good terms with the party and its members. I support the Labour candidate, Michael D Higgins, for President. I intend to continue to be politically active. My loyalty is to the left and not to a party. I do still see the
Labour Party as part of the left, although it is difficult at times to see it that way. I intend to use such energy and influence as I have to promote left unity and particular left initiatives, including demonstrating against the current government.

 

17 Responses

  1. Tadhg O\'Leary

    July 28, 2011 10:40 pm

    Hi Helena
    I concur with your views on resignation from the labour party. I am a member of the labour party, unemployed at present and I am deeply disgusted how they have handled the €200 household charge on the unemployed. Also, the behavior of Joan Burton, who I hugely admired, disappointed me deeply. My membership runs until Nov this year and I have to decide then on what to do. Depends on the labour party starting to represent the poor unemployed people who put them into government.
    Best wishes
    Tadhg

  2. B. Rand

    July 29, 2011 12:43 am

    Good luck to anybody who agonises sincerely before taking the plunge. Just don’t plunge too quickly into something else that might prove to be unviable. After an election in the late 1970s Matt Merrigan, a radical trade unionist, and several others on the then Labour left sadly and dramatically left Labour and set up the Socialist Labour Party. Unfortunately this budding radical left party was gradually undermined by registered Tendencies of various avant-garde orientation (nicknamed suicidal tendencies in Phoenix magazine) and faded sometime around the mid-eighties, without ever getting a Dail seat.

  3. William Wall

    July 29, 2011 9:23 am

    Helena, I admire your decision to make a public stand on this. I was never a member of the ILP but I have always voted for them (somewhere in the preferences!). I find it increasingly difficult to consider giving them any preference now, especially following Joan Burton’s obnoxious lifestyle choice remarks (worthy of Maggie Thatcher). I also found their attitude to the other left parties unpalatable to say the least. This is leaving aside their participation in a government that has actively sought the dismantling of the admittedly weak protections for lower paid workers, their pro-IBEC posturing, cutbacks to public services etc. etc. I take a broad view, similar to yours I think, that the left of all hues needs to work together collectively in order to forge a new consciousness in Ireland. I am heartened by the ability of the left parties (with the exception of Labour) to work together.

  4. LeftAtTheCross

    July 29, 2011 10:16 am

    It’s a difficult decision for anyone to make. After getting off my armchair and deciding to become politically active I originally joined the LP myself. Unfortunately, or fortunately, it was apparent fairly quickly that there wasn’t much ideological substance to the party by way of commitment to a socialist or even social democratic vision, only shallowness, hollowness. Despite there being well meaning people within the party who would consider themselves to be socialists. It’s a fine line between sticking with a project long-term in the hope that a pole of ideology can develop, and simply cutting one’s losses and walking away. I didn’t have Helena Sheehan’s patience, I left the LP within a year. Patience is an admirable quality, it is much undervalued in parts of the further Left. It can be exhausted of course, and one must applaud Prof. Sheehan’s public slap on the wrist to the LP establishment. One would hope that, as a call to the conscience of other Leftists within the LP, that the ripple will have an effect.

  5. Mike Walsh

    July 29, 2011 12:41 pm

    Resigning ones post is a noble effort to protest against one’s own party. Everyone in this Country voted for change in the last election but you politicians didn’t get it. We didn’t just want you all to swap seats. We wanted a change in the system that would bring you politicians down off your high horses and live in the real world.
    It is brave to resign if, when you do you will be like everyone else who is out of a job, no pension for life and living on the dole.
    This country needs a new political group who WILL make radical changes to OUR system for OUR country for OUR people.
    When we joined Europe we were classed as a third world country so we qualified for loads of hand outs. We grew and became one of the wealthiest nations in the world, or so we were told, but, we didn’t know it was built on a foundation of sand which quickly got washed away when the Euro Tide went out.
    So, I would say, to resign at this point is to cop out. To resign and look for genuine change for your supporters would be brave.M. Walsh

  6. Donagh Brennan

    July 29, 2011 1:02 pm

    Mike, I was going to delete your comment, as it attempts to attack Helena. But you clearly have no idea who Helena is, so I’m leaving it to illustrate that you can’t take the time to think about what you are saying.

    Why do you think that Helena is a politican? Are all members of political parties politicans? Helena is a Professor in DCU, as 2 seconds doing a web search would reveal: http://webpages.dcu.ie/~sheehanh/index.htm

    I’ll leave it to give you an opportunity to modify your remarks. If you don’t, I’ll delete it.

    Donagh

  7. Helena Sheehan

    July 29, 2011 1:38 pm

    More importantly, I have been politically active on the left for 44 years, 39 of them in Ireland. I have made it clear that I intend to continue to be politically active on the left. So how is it a cop out?

  8. Helena Sheehan

    July 29, 2011 1:48 pm

    Considering some attacks on me over the years, this was mild. Thanks to the rest of you for your thoughts. I remember the SLP. I am hoping that the ULA will not go down that road. I do respect those on the left who are still in the LP.

  9. Jose Ospina

    July 29, 2011 2:03 pm

    I am deeply saddened by Helena’s decision. I can understand it, in view of the growing chourus of critisim being levelled at Labour from both right and left. I have seeen recently the old extreme right-left alliances forged over Libon reforming and filling the internet with endless gripes about everything from changes in the day of the presidential election, to suggesting that the welfare system needs reforming. The decision is made sadder by the fact that this is not only a critical time for social democracy (or socialism) in Europe. Other socialist parties, in Greece, Spain, and elsewhere, are having to deal with the effects of a crisis not of their making. The extreme right, emboldened by this situation, is also targetting the humanitarian left, as the recent outrage in Utoyea indicates. The alternatives proposed by the are not palatable. Voluntary deafult on obligations undertaken by Government, that would destroy the savings of other Europeans, the dismembering of the European Union and a return to nationalist agendas. I am not saying Labour is perfect. No Labour Party in Europe is perfect. In the UK Labour went in a direction that has been rightyly critisised. But it can and will be reformed, by its own members. The place to critise Labour is within, making use of the democratic processes avaible within it, putting this accountability to the test. The key issue pinpointed by Helena seems to be the fact that Labour entered into the coalition. But there are clear reasons for this – the importance of gaining the support of the progressive middle class, abandoned by FF, for one. There are also reasons why a common front with other Left groups was not viable. The openly hostile position of most of these groups towards Europe, for one. You might agree or disagree, but these are strategic issues, that aree open to discussion, and even, if cirecumstances change, to amendment. However this is made harder if members who could make a important contribution to this debate, choose to abandon ship.

  10. Mike Walsh

    July 29, 2011 2:16 pm

    Donagh, Your assumptions are correct. I don’t know Helena Sheehan as she or you don’t know me but as the article came through my mail box I felt a need to reply.
    I don’t doubt Helena’s education or professionalism and it is totally in her rights to resign from her political party in this democratic State, and I wish her all the very best if she continues to be involved in politics.
    However my comments were aroused by the article’s headline and stirred the memory of what the FF members did after the last election when they absconded with large pensions and expenses after leaving our Country in its current state.
    I wholly apologise to Helena if my remarks were misplaced. I do wish her all the very best and I hope she does keep an eye on the political system and perhaps like a lot of others get behind the change we really need in this country to get it back to the great and respected nation it once was throughout the World.

  11. Helena Sheehan

    July 29, 2011 2:40 pm

    I can participate in debate just fine from where I am. I am still part of the left. I might have jumped that ship, to use your metaphor, Jose, but I am part of the flotilla.

    There are quite few people on the left who do not belong to any of the parties of the left, but they relate constructively to those parties. They are writing some of the sharpest analyses on the social networks and they are on the streets.

    None of the existing parties on the left quite fit where I am and what I think. There are a number of others who feel the same. I am not using it as an excuse to do nothing. I am doing what I can, including writing a book that will have several chapters about the Irish left. I come out on the street. I debate in public in various ways.

    I have been in 3 parties of the left in Ireland and I am still on good terms with them, as well as parties to which I have never belonged. I am moving in the spaces between these parties, trying in my own modest way, to forge a better modus vivendi on the left.

    The other left parties are not hostile to Europe. Plus: Europe is not the EU. The ULA and SF have stood for election to the EU and won seats and participated constructively.

    We on the left need to open out to each other, to debate our differences constructively and to unite in struggle. There is a ferocious class struggle being waged effectively from above, We need to do better to fight back from below. It is not always obvious which side the LP is on sadly.

  12. Kirsten Gordon

    July 29, 2011 4:42 pm

    Curiosity getting the better of me can I ask you specifically Helena, what were the decisions/comments made by the current Government from the Labour side that you felt the need to leave the LP?

    Sometimes the broad term left ‘ideology’ is not easily transparent in terms of decisions/comments/beliefs/perspectives etc.

    I’m curious (as a Labour Party member myself) how you define your left ideology that you find hard to pin to one left party?

  13. B. Rand

    July 30, 2011 2:14 am

    I agree with Helena’s candid observation that “The other left parties are not hostile to Europe. Plus: Europe is not the EU.” I’ve personally been a cosmopolitan person interested in foreign languages and foreign travel. I befriended several asylum seekers in Ireland years ago and keep in touch with a few households as friends. They’ve settled into everyday Irish life and invite me to some house parties. But I have problems about the nonaccountable power of Brussels decision makers, and I don’t like people conflating the EU with a broader cultural Europe.

    But again my sympathies go to someone like Helena who has put more than three decades of personal commitment into political activity as a member of Labour and other groupings; yet finally had to break the link on principle. British Labour members faced similar wrenching moments after Ramsey MacDonald’s parliamentary gymnastics in the early ‘thirties and after Blair’s ‘third way’ and Iraq attack policies of the ‘eighties.

    Keeping emotions cool and keeping long term social aims in view should help her to use her energy and talents constructively in the medium future.

  14. joe tobin

    July 30, 2011 9:54 am

    I would agree with Helena for her resignation from the Labour Party, a party which she gave so much. We are looking for change in our country. During the Election we in the WP did all in our power to convince people to vote Left in Waterford I hope Helena will continue to work for the LEFT and we need good people like Helena,
    When you look back on Joan Burtons budget speech in Dail Eireann in 2009, (its worth a look on you tube) we see how two faced she is . We are looking at a hard winter,
    and I will leave you with a quote from Liam Mellows in 1912 “Ireland, if her industries and Banks were controlled by foreign Capital, would be at the mercy of every breeze that ruffled the surface of the worlds Money Markets.” How right Mr Mellows was!!!

    Kind Regards,

    Joe Tobin,

    Workers Party

  15. Jose Ospina

    July 30, 2011 1:26 pm

    Thanks for addressing my points on your resignation Helena. I fully appreciate that everyone on the left is boradly travelling in the same direction, and that it is not essential for all to be in one party, etc. However, it is also clear that the “57 different varieties” syndrome is a great barrier for the left in terms of achieveiung any real electoral influence. Of course, this can be done without all being in one party, as the ill-fated Chilean Popular Unity showed, but this is no less difficult and has other dangers. My point however was that the real obstacles to left unity in Ireland seem to me to be around a number of basis strategies. If we take the example of the Norwegian Labour Party, we see a party dedicated to developing a fair society through majority support or event concensus and establishing an enabling state. I am not sure that this is the view of most of the other Left organisations. The opposition to the Lisbon Treaty, the readiness to blame Ireland’s financial problems on Europe, the repeated calls for a deafult on the EU/IMF make it undertandably difficult for Labour, that is committed to the European model, to see eye to eye with them. I’m afraid that particpation and success in the EU elections is not a proof of anything. Many other Eurosepctics such as the opportunist Farage of the UKIP have been succsful in this role. Much of the debate between different factions on the left seems to be attempts to score electoral points against each other rather that a proper dialogue. The whole European dimension of what is going on Ireland seems lacking. Certinaly, the problem us systemic and the solution needs to be worked out in Europe. My own view is that a European level New Deal is needed to transfer strategic investment from the countries benefitting from the globalisation of Europe. This can only be considered if social democratic and left partties in the EU work together and politically to achieve it.

  16. Helena Sheehan

    July 30, 2011 5:51 pm

    It was the the behaviour of LP toward other left parties during the elections and the decision to go into coalition after it, Kirsten. Now they are paying unsecured bondholders, while eroding health, employment, education, and welfare standards. I could write many tens of thousands of words (and I am doing so elsewhere) about my position vis a vis other parties and differences, but I want primarily to accentuate the positive just now. Broadly, I am a marxist. I did find space, at least for a time, to be that in the LP, but find the lack of systemic critique to be smothering any breathing space for that now.

    I was in a previous incarnation of the WP, Joe, and I am happy to work with the WP where appropriate now.

    I think, Jose, that we need a forum where the left parties, including LP, could discuss these things constructively. There was a left unity meeting in the Gresham in February and I proposed a periodic left forum to continue that approach. I’ll be working on that.

  17. John Bowen

    August 1, 2011 5:41 pm

    Lets hope that Helena’s decision to resign from the Labour Party will prompt other principled members of that party to consider their membership also.

    The announcement at the weekend that the Government Parties had “compromised” on the partial sale of state companies, should surely spur any member of the Labour Party who supports the concept of public ownership of companies, which are involved in vital areas of the economy, to withdraw their support for this party which is nothing more than a crutch for the neoliberal policies of Fine Gael.