The latest Ipsos MRBI poll shows that ‘Independents and Others’ are currently on 32% therein making them the most popular group amongst the electorate. If these poll figures were to be replicated in a general election tomorrow this would equate to around 52 seats – by all accounts a massive number. To put this number in perspective, in the 23 general elections that have taken place in the state since 1937 Fine Gael have only managed to exceed this figure on 7 occasions. This is pretty remarkable considering the complete duopoly they have shared – alongside Fianna Fail – on our political system.
Now it goes without saying that the ‘Independents and Others’ grouping is a broad brushstroke comprised of People Before Profit, the Anti-Austerity Alliance, former Workers Party members, ex Labour party members, the Fine Gael rejects and a range of other independents from across the political spectrum. And the conflicting political positions of this 52 mean that it would obviously never act as a coherent political unit. In fact some are even rumoured to be considering starting a party of their own, likely a centre right entity reminiscent of the Progressive Democrats – so in other words, nothing we haven’t had before.
However, in saying that, many of this 52 if not elected on a left platform could at the very least be considered anti-austerity anti-establishment candidates. These individuals should certainly look to coordinate as much as possible but where the small left wing parties are concerned this should go beyond mere coordination toward something more concrete. We saw that the transfer pacts used during the local elections in May bore fruit, but the question is why stop there?
Towards another ULA?
The collapse of the United Left Alliance shortly after its success at the polls in 2011 has undoubtedly left a sour taste in the mouth of some where the notion of left unity is concerned. But the lesson to be gleaned from the collapse of the ULA is not that it didn’t work before ergo it could never work again. To take this away from the whole enterprise would be to miss the point. The failure of the ULA was not the result of some major difference it policy or approach but because of a man who was not even in the ULA himself i.e. Mick Wallace. This should give confidence that the revival of such an alliance would not only be possible but timely and practical.
We need only look to the experience of Spain and Greece to the see the power and potential a unified left front brings. Spain’s Podemos and Greece’s Syriza are currently polling on 28% and 32% respectively meaning both are set to become a major political force in their home countries and could even end up running the show. These parties have exploded onto the scene in countries that, like us, have historically been dominated by a rigid two party system, a system that offers only the falsest of distinctions. These two radical anti-bailout parties now threaten to break the stranglehold of the establishment parties, shatter the neoliberal consensus and face down the European Central Bank.
Alex Tsiparis, the leader of Syriza, told a conference on Monday that ‘We demand the immediate end of austerity, an agreement for a haircut of the debt, and a significant cut in the annual cost of servicing the debt,’ whilst Pablo Iglesias the leader of Podemos has intimated that his party would do likewise and stop Spain being a ‘colony of Germany or the troika’.
A united Irish left could look to make common cause with those in Podemos and Syriza on the debt issue. The European Commission and Central Bank would not be able to continue riding roughshod over us if we stood together. Think for a moment what would happen if Spain, Greece and Ireland threatened to follow David Cameron out the door of the EU unless we had some kind of debt forgiveness or burden sharing? Somehow I think we’d see a far more concessionary approach.
But what can left governments do?
Enda Kenny has already entered election mode telling people that it will be a choice between ‘Us and them’, and to be fair he’s right. He was right when he said the massive protests taking place throughout the country weren’t just about water and he’s right about this. That’s twice now, the man’s on a roll! The choice at the next election is essentially between a government of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail (the bookies favourite) and one that would be left/left of centre. Now the government are trying to spin this as a supposed choice between order and chaos, order presumably being a maintenance of the status quo and chaos being any attempt to end austerity, tackle the county’s most serious social deprivations and address the crippling debt situation.
So would a left government really be the disaster Enda Kenny says it would? What would a left government look like? Whilst we can’t predict the future we can look to the experiences of other countries to try identify the potential left led governments can bring. A good starting point, and one that’s been in the news recently, is the case of Uruguay. Uruguay has many similar features to Ireland in that it experienced a financial crisis, was forced into an IMF bailout along with the corresponding austerity, it has a small open economy with a well-educated workforce and a prominent agriculture and technology export sector. Sound familiar?
In 2005 disparate elements of the left came together to form the Broad Front, a party which went on to win the national election in that year. They have been in power ever since and their leader Tabare Vasquez topped the poll on Sunday night’s Presidential election. Given that they have now been in power for almost a decade they must be doing something right. So let’s have a look at some of their achievements.
They drastically reduced both poverty and income inequality, they legalised marijuana and same sex marriage, and they managed to do all of this whilst enjoying the kind of economic growth that Europe can only dream about. Uruguay also happens to finish top of Latin America in just about every measure of national satisfaction. For example a recent World Values Survey found that 72% of Uruguayan are satisfied ‘with the functioning of their democracy’. I don’t know the figures for Ireland but if it just about reached double figures I’d be surprised.
So the next time the Dear Leader tells you that a left government would see the sky falling in or a full frontal attack by the Lochness Monster, think what would a Uruguayan say?
Christmas – a time for reconciliation
With rumours rife that the two old civil war parties will go into government following the next general election – whether through a coalition or a merger – the spirit of coming togetherness is certainly in the air. The Irish left needs to reciprocate. The left has already alluded to its organisational potential in helping to mobilise arguably some of the largest protests in the recent history of the state. But it now needs to go further and fully realise this potential. The festive season is now upon us and they say that Christmas is a time for reconciliation so why not come together and make common cause? We have nothing to lose but our chains.