… I won’t be voting for you. I have voted Labour in every election since I could first vote. I haven’t always given you my first preference – sometimes there were better left candidates – but you’ve always been there in the first two or three, and first more often than not.
Some of my younger friends are amazed that I voted Labour at all, but they weren’t there during the seventies and eighties, when Labour was on the side of divorce and contraception in a Catholic confessional Ireland. In those days Labour seemed to a lot of people to stand on our side in fights that were not easy, given the array of reactionary forces – the Church, the two main political parties, most of the institutions of civil society. In those days the modernisation of Irish social life – still an unaccomplished task of course – seemed of vital importance. We did not notice, or took a long time to notice, that Labour was moving steadily to the right in coalition after coalition. Those with historical blind-spots, like me, didn’t know, or swept aside the fact that Labour had not always been on the side of Labour, and in fact as a trade union member, I was perplexed to discover that Labour was not always on the strikers’ side in industrial disputes. But other forms of struggle seemed so important then, and Labour was by-and large- on our side. What’s more I have always believed in the idea of a broad coalition of the left, hoping that differing parties with differing discourses could or at least should draw together in shared opposition to capital and oppression.
So for a long time I believed that at heart the Labour Party was really a party of labour, of the worker, a left-wing party, and that given the opportunity it would show its true colours.
But I was shocked that, after the last election when an historic number of left-wing candidates had been elected, the Labour party refused all talk of forming a bloc, of forcing that coalition of the two right-wing parties that has seemed to everybody to be the natural structure of Irish politics. Far from trying to form such a bloc, the Labour Party went cap in hand to the most right-wing party of all, the Catholic rump. They did this with the charlatan’s argument that they had the good of the country at heart, patriotism made them sign up to devastate the public sphere and lay waste to a generation.
The Labour party then went on to form a government which implemented so-called ‘austerity’, which is really poverty for the weak, the helpless, the disadvantaged, emigration for the unemployed, while supporting the payment structure to the super-rich. Now in an election in which, in my constituency for one example, all their posters have an appropriate blue background – the same as their right-wing coalition partners – they seek to distance themselves from the catastrophic policies of their government.
They won’t get a vote from me.
As far as I’m concerned Labour has found its true role in Irish public life – the milk-and-water conscience of the Right.
The bland pink rectangle at the top of this page is a screen grab from the front page of Labour’s election manifesto. Never mind equality, let’s just be fair.
The fragment from the Labour Party 1931 election poster comes from Irish Election Literature – a magnificent online archive. Click here to visit the site.
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