Image

Last week Eamon Gilmore got his mojo back, briefly, and attacked the banks for their inaction on mortgage arrears and for being ‘arrogant’. It was heartening to hear because of late Gilmore and his party have been on the ropes. Radio interviews, such as on RTE’s Morning Ireland recently and with Sean O’Rourke, have the now familiar refrain of ‘what are you going to do about Labour’s dismal poll ratings’ (although they have gone up this weekend, albeit slightly) ‘and ‘hasn’t it all got to with Labour’s broken election promises?’

No matter what one thinks of Gilmore and his policies, one can’t help but feel tremendous sympathy for his situation, and for the way he has to so personally carry it. But that is the way with our personalised political system now, and with the pitiless blood sport that is our adversarial politics. No quarter is given, if when it might be the decent thing to do, and even when (an important point this) it might be a good thing to do for the sake of the country. It was the same listening to Brian Cowen in his final days of Government: the same relentless assault, and accusation and even cruelty. But the big difference between Gilmore and Brian Cowen is that Cowen seemed to be doing the wrong things, or not doing sufficient things. Whereas Gilmore has been doing a lot, and most of it, according to observers, is the right thing.

So maybe the debate should be: ‘how do you feel that, once again, Labour has had to come in and fix up the mess made by one of the larger political parties, and the wreckage in the economy, and this is the thanks you get?’

Yes, Labour’s election promises were outrageous, and many voters feel betrayed, but quite frankly, most people knew these were outrageous promises and when Labour went into Government, voters knew how bad things were and how tough the medicine would be. So what did voters expect? And surely that is the point worth putting to Gilmore, in his defence, in interviews: why do Labour voters immediately punish their party for the decisions that they know must be made in Government, especially at a time of crisis. Would they prefer to remain in Opposition for ever? And what does it say about the durability and loyalty of Labour’s support that it can so easily fall away. It was the same in the 1980s and in the 1990’s

And what does it say about the loyalty of Joan Burton that she can continue to intrigue against the party leader, even though she has little support in the parliamentary party, and has still not sorted out her own Government department, where she has dithered over a massive welfare budget, which has spawned ‘welfare traps’ and an obvious disincentive to work?

And this is the other thing: it’s not as if Labour hasn’t got its way in Government. They secured the Croke Park deal to protect public sector jobs and core pay and Burton is still protecting her big welfare spend. So why are Labour voters blind to this, or are they just incorrigibly prone to the self-pity and disappointment of being in Government, always – and of blaming the leader? Of course, there are cuts and austerity and taxes, but these were always on the agenda, with the bailout. Would Labour voters have preferred that FG implemented these measures on their own?  And where will these voters go now, to FF who started the Troika and bailed out the banks? Granted, it’s wrong that cuts have been made on actual services, especially in health and education. But that is because the cuts can’t be made, substantially, in public sector pay, especially at the upper levels. Nor did Labour, or any other party, burn the bond holders or even look at suspending, for even a year, the whopping 700m that we give annually in overseas development aid.

Labour’s debacle is a cruel conundrum, because the party has a lot of talent, much of it new, which will be in danger at the next election. But it was ever thus. Labour is not as tribal as FG and FF and so the voters flee at the first sign of serious difficulty, or awkward decision making. But the party has time on its side. Labour is strong at council level and, if it comes out of next year’s locals in good shape, and the country emerges from its difficult bailout, Gilmore will be able to say ‘we did the job’ and a chin-up Labour might be able to see off the threats of FF and SF. It has after all, juts gone up in the opinion polls , while FF has gone down, and there is still a long way to go.

Advertisements