Skip navigation

Take a look at this from

It is a longish piece but bear with it or at least scan through to its salient features. If it is remotely accurate, it predicts a single digit number of Labour seats and extraordinarily right wing parliaments for Ireland.

Attention focusses on the belief that, while Labour might hold on to a vote in the region of its traditional 10% support, it is reaching a tipping point at which marginal seats fall rather than are won. This will be a cause for celebration among Labour’s rivals both left and right. The problem for those celebrating on the left is that there is no leftward movement in voter support. The belief on the left (a very old belief) is that as soon as Labour is destroyed and/or joins a unified left, Ireland will magically have something like a 50/50 left/right electoral split. There’s not the tiniest shred of evidence to support this hope.

Here’s a different interpretation of what’s happening and it too is not based on anything that could be remotely described as quantitative research. Let’s leave gullible victims of populism aside and consider the citizen who is open to argument. The citizen is listening and knows the precarious state that we are in. The citizen can choose to support the left or the right. There are arguments presented from left and right. Neither set of arguments seeks to change the structure of inequality. The right argues that cuts are necessary to “restore the economy”. The left argues that cuts are unnecessary and will further damage the economy. I’ve always found liberal economics both daft and cruel so I won’t address the right wing argument here. It is the left wing arguments that concern me deeply. They pretend that if bond holders and banks were not bailed out, there’d be no shortfall between state income and expenditure. They talk about making the rich pay but exclude the majority of the rich, i.e. emphasis is on the top 1%, possibly the top 10% but under no circumstances will the top 20% be targeted. The left’s position is to try to convince citizens that life can return to “normal” as before the crisis. Yes, it’s a conservative argument but it is also implausible.

It is hardly surprising that a thoughtful citizen would turn right because the argument offered there seems less implausible.



  1. Labour with 4 seats in an overwhelmingly right wing Dáil? Odd or what? Yes odd… but who is to blame?

    • Fergal, I argue that Labour entered coalition talks and then government without a socialist policy objective and without a strategic objective and the present outcome was inevitable. If you’re interested, you’ll find blogs here written in the run up to the last election. Thanks for commenting. C.

  2. Colum,

    I’m not sure that Labour had no policy objectives informing its negotiating strategy for entering government with Fine Gael, except that, as you say , they were not grounded in socialism. The Labour Party left socialist ideology behind it a long time ago and, I would argue, is more a centrist party than either left or right in its ideological orientation. As many others have pointed out, Labour’s priority in GE2011 was to ensure its own place in whatever government was subsequently formed. In the final ten days of that campaign, Labour’s aim was to prevent FG from realising the prospect of achieving an overall majority and it tweaked it own policy ‘bag of tricks’ to that objective.

    The ‘left’, such as it is in Ireland, is hopelessly fragmented and incoherent in its economic pronouncements. ‘Burning bondholders’ rings hollow when most of the political audience recognise that the said bondholders were paid off a long time ago; that the bunch of shysters who had ‘bought’ heavily discounted Irish bonds from frightened pension funds and other fleeing investors and who never anticipated achieving their full face value in subsequent redemption achieved just that to their own delight, but at enormous economic, social and political cost to us as a population. That boat has sailed and the tax argument is repeatedly demonstrated as grounded in fantasy economics. Sinn Fein’s economic policy leans to the left, but that’s mainly for purposes of distinguishing itself from both FF and Labour, to facilitate a brand of political populism and to paint a socialist gloss over its irredentist nationalist ideology. In the run-up to the next GE, it will be worth watching which way SF will jump on its economic policy platform. It’s a fair bet, I reckon, that they will move further towards the centre and away from the left in order to broaden their political base and boost their electoral prospects.

    In a way, that’s the point: your average politically savvy Irish citizen is more concerned with how the economy is managed and how social stability is maintained than with any strong ideological leanings to either ‘left’ or ‘right’. In our society, ideological conflict is, as they say, ‘weak’. On the evidence of successive elections over the history of this state, the average Irish voter shows commitment to democracy, and strong preferences for effectiveness in government and adherence to basic principles of social justice; but the relationship of the citizen to the system is more rooted in pragmatic calculations than in hopes of any ‘better future’ on offer from ideological positioning.

  3. Hi Colum,

    Thanks for the further interesting insights into this. Like you, I find the use of this ‘fairness’ trope really irritating as it serves to justify perpetuation of all manners of blatant inequalities in society.

    Funnily enough, on the Irish Times website this morning there is a report stating that Sinn Fein have ‘dropped’ their cherished wealth tax proposal from their pre-budget submission as well as their intermediate rate of tax proposition. This change of policy is justified along the lines of the Party being unable to cost these measures accurately and not wishing to have their core ideas misrepresented by their critics/opponents, or some other such mealy-mouthed excuse. And now they too have invoked the ‘fairness’ metaphor to describe their overall package. Oh dear. It looks like they’re moving even faster towards the centre than might have been anticipated, and it’s becoming a very overcrowded political space.

    • Colum McCaffery
    • Posted September 3, 2013 at 11:45 pm
    • Permalink
    • Reply

    These days when I comment on SF, I tend to be attacked along the lines of, “You’re just trying to get at them because they’ve overtaken Labour in the polls.” That’s not at all the case. I’ve been opposed to them for decades. My position now can be found within this piece: emmet-you-should-know-better-sinn-fein-is-the-latest-unlikely-candidate-for-inclusion-in-the-irish-lefts-attempt-to-convince-themselves-that-a-left-majority-is-normal

    On your larger point, any party seeking a majority or even a large vote in Ireland has to avoid leftism. That’s why I argue that Labour should accept 10% and seek to effect change from that position.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: