Tuesday, 11 September 2007

20 Seats, 10%, FF back in - But, are we happy?

(Taken from the new issue of Left Tribune)

Labour’s performance in May’s General Election has led to a period of intense reflection and debate within the party and society at large. But, as Paul Dillon & Dermot Looney argue, too much of this debate has been filtered by a narrow media agenda and a false ‘modernisation’ model along the lines of Britain’s New Labour.

We’ve had several TV news reports, numerous radio phone-in shows and more blog postings than you can point a mouse at. There’s been more newspaper opinion pieces than there are opinions and the letters haven’t piled up in Irish media outlets since the days of Arthur’s Mailbag. For once, people are talking about the Labour Party. But the reason for such reflection is hardly a cause for celebration for Labour.

The immediate positives of May’s election outcome are few and far between. Yes, Labour has secured its position as the dominant party on the Irish left - such as that is. But the weak performance of Sinn Féin, the Socialist Party (now left without Dáil representation) and other left independents is nothing for Labour to cheer about. With a mollified Green Party firmly ensconced in Government, the hopes for a progressive bloc in parliament - whatever the arguments about the status of other groups in such an arrangement - are severely curtailed.

It is also worth recalling that the loss of broad left seats, or failure for these groups to gain them, was in almost all cases to the benefit of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael - not Labour. So while some in the media have been quick to highlight Labour’s advantage over Sinn Féin and others as a positive for the party, realists and dreamers alike in Labour take no solace in an effective return
to the ‘bad old days’ of a two-and-a-half party system. Labour might very well be in a better
position now to recruit new members and attract new voters but it is a largely Phyrric victory.

Those attempting to be positive about the 20 seat, 10% outcome also point out the election
of young candidates to the Dáil such as Seán Sherlock in Cork East, Joanna Tuffy in Dublin Mid-West and Ciarán Lynch in Cork South-Central, along with a host of new and mostly younger Senators. But while these parliamentarians fought excellent campaigns and may have a bright political future ahead of them, it would be fair to note that their collective commentary in the aftermath of the election - and in particular following the departure of Pat Rabbitte as Party Leader - was hardly inspirational.

In various interviews and articles Labour’s newcomers made largely dull and often vacuous
statements about ‘modernising’ in a ‘changing Ireland’ where ‘all sections of society’ must be represented. It may be a little unfair to single out these candidates - after all, the party’s management, leadership and chatterers were as one on this - but the musings of one ‘newcomer’ in the Sunday Business Post that there may well indeed be “a place” for trade unions in modern society was the ultimate in kowtowing to the media consensus.

Commentators were also keen to point out Labour’s joy at the demise of the Progressive Democrats - hardly an achievement, given all their main policies are now cornerstones of Fianna Fáil governance, and sometimes, as in the case with the conduct of recent deportations, are carried out with even less humanity. And some have even alluded to the failure of the ‘Mullingar Accord’ strategy as a positive - not because Labour now stands independent from Fine Gael, but because they want Labour pushed closer to Fianna Fáil!

Any fair analysis of Labour’s ‘performance’ - if such a word is apt - must be cognisant of the
bleak reality we face as a party. Nearly 100 years in existence, Labour has been in seven
governments but has yet to achieve power. Rarely has the Labour Party had a chance to break out of its status as a half-party in Dáilterms; when that chance has arisen, as it did after Fine Gael’s disastrous result in 2002, Labour has tended to take options which prop up either of the two major parties.

For now, Labour’s Dáil proportion is a quarter of Fianna Fáil’s and two-fifth’s of Fine Gael’s. The need for renewal in terms of election candidates is plain to see. Doubtless, issues of organisation, strategy, policy, ideology and politics are crucial to how Labour goes forward. Such debates could have formed the foundations of a party-wide debate had there been a challenge to Eamon
Gilmore’s campaign to become Labour leader. But the lack of such a campaign should not mean the end of a member-led discourse on Labour’s role in the coming years.

While Michael D Higgins’ speech to the Tom Johnson Summer School was of much more substance, the soundbite from then-Party Leader Pat Rabbitte that Labour would have to "modernise" if it were to increase its electoral strength attracted much more attention.

The analysis that Labour can be restored to good health through "modernisation" draws on the experience of New Labour in Britain. Tony Blair declared New Labour to be a project of "modernisation" from the outset.

Exponents of Irish Blairism, small in number though they may be, have urged a re-examination
of Labour’s relationship with the Trade Unions. Some have suggested that Labour’s relationship with the union movement is damaging the party. The first problem with this contention is that it is not mindful of Labour history. The Labour-Union link has been a source of both political legitimacy and finance in troubled times for our Labour Party. The trade union link was often the only thing that bound the Party’s independently minded TD’s together in its early decades.

The argument also ignores contemporary evidence. Irish Congress of Trade Unions statistics
show that about half of all workers in Ireland are members of unions. Research indicates that workers in Ireland continue to see unions as relevant and important. There are votes in appearing union friendly, as Bertie Ahern well knows.

The Irish Labour Party has already looked for inspiration from New Labour - and has been
rebuked by the electorate. Much of the Labour platform at the recent election had echoes of the New Labour approach. Some of the party's main slogans, such as "Ireland can do better with Labour" were adapted from those recently used by New Labour.

The departure in tax policy- where Pat Rabbitte promised a 2% cut in the basic rate of tax - could be said to have emerged from the same school of thinking. The New Labour school of thought is that you undercut your rivals by offering the electorate the same policies as they do, holding your core support and wining over new voters in the process.

The only effect this tax proposal had was to ensure that the agenda of tax cutting in Ireland was intensified, as the proposal to cut the basic rate to 18% per cent was quickly matched & outstripped by the other parties. The spindoctors in our Labour Party have even gone as far as to borrow the term used by the New Labour to address the electorate - "Hard working families." How many people define themselves as, or as part of, such a unit? Focus groups may like notions of family and hard work but such assertion does not necessarily produce results in terms of fostering political identity or support.

Much of the New Labour miracle is a mirage in any case. The idea that New Labour represents
modernisation is itself nonsense. The actual politics of modernisation in that party - welfare cuts, tax cuts for the rich, privatisation - represent a throwback to a bygone era when the free market reigned supreme.

It is also worth noting that the supposed electoral miracle of New Labour ought to be called into question. That party received fewer votes in the last general election than it did when Michael Foot was leader in the 1983 election. Hundreds of thousands of disaffected voters who once opted for Labour now stay away from the polls altogether.

Those who argue that the Irish Labour Party can copy New Labour and shift to what is apparently the "centre ground" ought to take a sober look at the Irish political landscape before recommending such a course. This space is already very crowded and some very obvious questions arise.

What is the point, and where is the benefit, in Labour offering the electorate a political option already being presented by the two main political parties? Who would vote for Labour if what it offers is the same as what is offered by Fianna Fail and Fine Gael? Surely these parties can implement centre-right policies better than Labour?

The debate about Labour future ought to be “no holds barred." All aspects of policy and politics should be examined as we attempt to chart a future for our party. But we ought to be weary of dead ends. Continuing to employ the politics of supposed "modernisation" or the approach of New Labour is only likely to inflict further damage on our Labour Party.

Friday, 20 July 2007

Tom Johnson Report

Rather than write a report of the Tom Johnson Summer School (see below) I am just going to be very lazy and copy the excellent but slightly dubious report of my friend and comrade Paul Dillon from the Labour message boards. The dubious parts are the seating arrangements; yours truly sat beside Pat Rabbitte for the dinner; it was almost enough to put me off my soup and chicken (no smoked salmon here!).

Apparently I was due to blog the event according to labour.ie. That was the first I had heard of it but attempts to make some quick posts ended with a firewall in the hostel we were kipping in.

I was employed as the photographer for the weekend and some of the pics of the are up on flickr . Speeches by Michael D Higgins (superb), Pat Rabbitte (trite) and Mark Langhammer (fascinating), amongst others, are up on labour.ie which you can access via the press archives.


Report by Paul Dillon

This years Tom Johnson school was an exciting, stimulating, and sometimes stormy event.

The school was well attended and all sections of opinion within the Labour Party were represented. I have written this short report for the benefit of those who could not attend and to remind those who did of the various debates and discussions that took place. I am aware that a video diary of Tom Johnson 2007 will be available in due course.

Tom Costello-Major of Galway-opened the school, calling for a political debate focusing on values. Labour Youths Pat Nulty kicked off the debate with a stirring speech in which he reminded the attendees that Labour youths analysis of the political situation had been proven right by the results of the general election. He argued that the challenge now was to build not just an alternative government, but an alternative politics. The contribution of Councillor Eric Byrne contained a similarly ambitious political approach. He argued that the pursuit if a left led government was the approach most likely to yield results for Labour.

Agreeing with many of the sentiments of Byrne and Nulty, Jan O'Suillivan TD argued that the debate on the Mullingar accord ought to be put to rest and Labour needed to enter into a new era without carrying the baggage of the past. In a theme that was to become familiar over the weekend, she called for an examination of how Ireland was changing, and mentioned the David McWilliams analysis of a different understanding of Ireland’s class structure.

The liveliest contributions came from the floor. Pat Hardiman from the Galway West constituency called for a re-examination of trade unionism and social partnership.” He insisted that Labour “should reconnect with those on low incomes”. Veteran Labour activist and Labour N.E.C member Henry Haughton was typically up font and honest in his contribution. He argued that spin was damaging the party’s integrity and its democracy. He insisted that Labours challenge was not to seek out the floating vote, but to build up a core vote. Henry also mentioned the proposals to dismiss full time staff members from the pay roll at head office. Dismissing Haughton’s contribution, Jan O’Sullivan argued that “Henry will be Henry”.

The Saturday morning session-Class, the Celtic Tiger and the Labour party-was a source of controversy, as members of the panel and members of the audience clashed on a number of political questions. Joanna Tuffy kicked off the debate with a contribution about her experience as a candidate in the general election. Paul O’Shea outlined some of the conditions that prevail in the Moy Ross community, and argued for more focus on the implementation of measures to combat poverty and inequality.

There was little common ground in the contributions of Kieran Allen and David Begg. Allen called for an end to Social Partnership. Begg defended the partnership model. Begg’s vision was Social Democratic in tone, and he argued for the implementation of the “Nordic model” in Ireland. Allen had no truck with such timidity, insisting that the way forward lay in broad movements and class politics.

Desmond O’Toole from Dublin Mid West argued from the floor that Allen’s Trotskyite vision was outdated and brought him back to his youth when he was active in the British Labour party.

Michael D Higgins TD made a keynote address on Saturday afternoon. In a wide ranging and thought provoking speech, he called for critical friendship with other groups on the left and for a concerted challenge to what he termed were the “hegemonic myths” that were dominant in the current period.

Labour Left argued the following in 1986: “Raise the national question in a party meeting and people will run away, form a hundred splits or launch into platitudes” (Realignment in Irish Politics, 1986). However, Labour members in 2007 are keen to take on the question of the North, as was evidenced by the large crowd in attendance for the debate titled “Which way forward for the left in Northern Ireland?”. Mark Langhammer of the Northern Ireland Labour forum, Sean Mitchell of the People before Profit alliance in West Belfast and Tommy Broughan TD all made contributions from the podium.

The debate soon polarised on the question of whether or not Labour should endorse candidates to run next time out in Northern Ireland’s local elections. Labour members will get their say on this issue at the next party conference.

The annual Tom Johnson dinner is always an interesting event. The seating arrangements can be most insightful. The top table is always filled with the members most loyal to the party leader, and dissenters are always put sitting at the back where their heckles will not be heard. This year was no exception in this regard. Pat Rabbitte made his annual leaders speech to the school after the dinner. He argued for an examination of the “Labour Party brand”. There was a warm welcome for Larry Wheelock from the justice for Terence Wheelock campaign, who was presented with this years Jim Kemmy award.

The debate on “Migration on the left” was vigorously contested by those in attendance. Ciaran Lynch TD from Cork clashed with members of the audience over Labours approach to immigration. There was a debate over Labour participation in the campaign to defeat McDowells citizenship referendum. Dermot Looney was amongst those to defend Labour participation in the campaign. There was something of an urban-rural divide in evidence during this debate. Cork activist Hazel Nolan argued that immigration was coming up on the doorsteps, while Dublin based activists argued otherwise.

Tom Johnson 2007 concluded with a debate on 21st Century Socialism. British Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn made the key speech on the question. He argued for an internationalist approach and spoke at length about the crisis in Palestine, as well as re-stating the case against the Iraq war.

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

More on Labour Youth and Coalition (and Electoral Strategy)

A couple of people have been onto me asking more about Labour Youth's position on strategy and coalition. So thanks to Andrew Payne I've managed to recover a copy of Labour: Towards an Alternative Politics - the discussion document on electoral strategy written in advance of the 2005 Tralee Conference where the "Mullingar Accord" strategy was up for decision. The document was based on Labour Youth's own Conference resolutions on coalition and strategy and was written by myself and Patrick Nulty (current LY Chair). It was distributed in Tralee along with a similar but separate document written by the ATGWU but to little avail.

I also spoke on the motion (check out the 'Dodgy Sideburns' pic on the bottom of the left column) but history records it as a victory for the Mullingar Accord strategy which played a significant role in the election just gone. Clearly, as Labour moves forward, the questions raised in this document regarding this strategy are as pertinent now as in May 05.


Towards an Alternative Politics


Discussion Document
For distribution at the 2005 Labour Party Conference

Labour Youth is the active, campaigning youth section of the Labour Party which organises and represents party members between 16 and 26. Labour Youth activists are heavily involved at branch, constituency and national level within the Labour Party; they are also involved at a youth level in running campaigns, making policies and fighting for change in colleges and local communities across Ireland. Labour Youth has tripled its membership figures over the last two years – with more than 1,000 activists registered and a high number of successful campaigns, policy papers and conferences to its credit.

This document argues the progressive case against an electoral strategy based around the ‘Mullingar Accord,’ a pact between Labour and Fine Gael on Westmeath County Council. The launch of the Accord in September 2004 was overshadowed by the unveiling to the press of a pledge by Labour Party leader, Pat Rabbitte, and Fine Gael leader, Enda Kenny, to work together to form the basis of an alternative government. The ‘Mullingar Accord’ has hence become a byword for the proposed new electoral strategy between Fine Gael and Labour.

This document arises out of a motion passed at the 2004 Labour Youth Conference, held last November in the Mansion House, Dublin, noting that Labour Youth is totally opposed to the Labour Party presenting itself as a potential minority party in government, and calling on the Labour Party to promote itself as the leading party of government. The full text of this motion is available at http://www.labour.ie/youth/policy/index/20041124165119.html

The 2005 Conference of the Labour Party gives Labour Youth a chance to put forward an alternative electoral strategy to that proposed along with the Mullingar Accord. This discussion document does not reflect the individual views of all Labour Youth activists. Rather, it seeks to summarise a particular outlook on the forthcoming general election within a long-term analytical framework which will best achieve our fundamental goals of equality, freedom, democracy and community. We believe this strategy is shared by many within the Labour Party and that it is a one that can win, not only at this Conference, but at the next general election and beyond.

We do not believe the Labour Party should enter into any pacts with Fianna Fáil or the Progressive Democrats. We should offer a real alternative to the self-serving, right-wing policies of the current government. We do not, however, believe that Labour should thus enter into an electoral pact with Fine Gael in order to oust the current government.

We do not believe a minority status for the Labour Party in a Fine Gael-led government after the next election is realistic, given the massive differences in policy and ideology between the parties. Any such pact would require a substantial and objectionable compromise of our values.

We do not believe minority status for the Labour Party is desirable, given the nature of previous such governments, the compromises made to Fine Gael, and the subsequent losses accruing to Labour in terms of electoral strength and reputation.

We believe that the Labour Party should stand as an independent party at the next election, ruling out any coalition with Fianna Fáil and the PD’s and pushing our agenda as the leading party of government. We believe the best way to achieving our values and policies is through a Labour-led government.

We believe in a bold and historic electoral strategy for Labour – one which pushes Pat Rabbitte as the next Taoiseach, one which pushes our policies and one which pushes our candidates across Ireland as the real alternative to the incumbent government – and one that can win.

Our strategy offers more than an alternative government. It offers an alternative politics.

This document will outline the failures of the past, the inadequacies of the current proposals, and the potential of the future for Labour. Coalitions and electoral strategy have dogged this party for decades. We believe it is time for a real groundshift in Irish politics, one in which a historically-weak Labour Party can emerge triumphant with our core values intact.



At National Conference this year delegates are being asked to vote on a number of motions relating to our electoral strategy in the upcoming general election. These decisions are critical in determining what direction our party will take over the next few years. Labour Youth proposes in this document an alternative to the two commonly-held paradigms of Labour electoral strategy; ‘pro-Fine Gael’ and ‘pro-Fianna Fáil.’

We believe that the main motion proposed by the National Executive Council should be defeated – but for particular reasons. We disagree with those who oppose a pact with Fine Gael because they favour government with Fianna Fail. Labour Youth is concerned at those pushing a pro-FF agenda under a supposedly “Labour First” line and calls for a strategy that rules out any coalition with Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats from the outset.

Furthermore, we reject the isolationist anti-coalition politics that damaged Labour in the past. Given the nature of our electoral system, coalition government is a necessity – but for a successful Labour Party, so too is an end to 'civil war' politics. For this reason, our electoral strategy will see Labour presented as a leading party of government, not as an ancillary to Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil.

Only when Labour casts away its age-old inferiority complex can we emerge as the major player in Irish politics, capable of truly implementing our policies and engendering a society based on community, freedom, democracy and equality, in which social justice and economic well-being for all are prioritised above all else.

For years political scientists and commentators have noted Ireland’s uniqueness in terms of a weak Labour or Socialist Party and the dominance of two centrist catch-all parties founded on a now-irrelevant Civil War cleavage. All committed to the cause of Labour since the foundation of the state believe our party should reject the false dichotomy of Civil War politics and embrace the fight on behalf of ordinary workers and citizens, taking as our basis the famed quote from Larkin and Connolly to “close the gap between what ought to be and what is,” still included in our party constitution.

We believe that Labour can best close the gap, achieving its policies and aims, as part of a progressive government. Realistically, in the short-term, this means coalition. But in approaching the issue of coalition government, Labour needs to analyse not only the short-term consequences of such a decision, but whether Labour and Ireland are best served by such a coalition in the short term. We do not believe that minority status in any FG- or FF-led coalition will best achieve our policies and aims, nor do we believe that it will benefit Labour in electoral terms or reputation in the medium- to long-term.

Minority coalition status in which Labour is subservient to either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael has been damaging to our party in the past (see the following table). These bare statistics show that in five of the six occasions in which Labour entered government, its overall seat total was reduced immediately afterwards – on only one occasion, the short-lived 1981-82 Fine Gael-Labour coalition, did Labour even manage to hold onto its seats. For a party seeking to break out of its traditional third place in the pecking order, the falls in already-low numbers make for depressing reading.

Table 1: Labour Participation in Government and Subsequent Loss of Seats
Labour in GovtCoalition PartnersTotal Seats in Election Prior to GovtTotal Seats in Election Following GovtChange in seats
1948-51FG, Clann na Poblachta, Clann na Talmhan19 (including National Labour)16-3
1954-57FG, Clann na Talmhan1913-6
1993-97FF 1993-94,FG & DL 1994-973317-16

It is our contention that Labour will continue to suffer similar losses given the Catch-22 nature of minority ‘partnership’ in coalition. Any unpopular decisions or scandals in a possible coalition government in which Labour plays the minor role are likely to have a negative impact on Labour’s vote next time around, while popular initiatives and thus outcomes are more likely to be attributed to the larger party, the party of the Taoiseach – in the case of the Mullingar Accord, Fine Gael.

Our case for an alternative politics combines both electoral and coalition strategy. Our coalition strategy should be only to enter government when Labour has sufficient critical mass to put our values and policies at the heart of the agenda, i.e. a Labour-led government. Our connected electoral strategy must then focus on achieving such an aim.

To this end, we believe that Labour should contest the next general election as an independent party without any pre-election pacts or deals with other parties. Negotiations with other parties should take place after the general election after having tried to maximise support for Labour Party policy and candidates alone.



The Mullingar Accord strategy will mean an electoral tie-in between our party and Fine Gael. But we believe that differences in ideology and policies make such a tie-in incongruous and pose enormous difficulties for a pre-election pact and any subsequent coalition. While a Special Delegate Conference of the Labour Party will decide on whether our party joins government following the next election, if such a deal has been negotiated on our behalf, no such provision will exist for any proposals that might form the basis of a pre-election pact.

As well as clear ideological differences, Labour and Fine Gael differ so fundamentally on specific policy issues that we believe make it impossible for us to legitimately ask our supporters to transfer to them. Some of them include:

1. Housing: The Labour Party is committed to a constitutional right to housing. Furthermore our Party strongly advocates regulation of the price of land for housing development. Fine Gael are firmly against both proposals.

2. Health: The Labour Party supports a universalist approach to healthcare with free GP care for all and compulsory health insurance for every citizen in the state, whereby the state pays the premiums for people on low income. Fine Gael are firmly against both proposals.

3. Civil Liberties: The Labour Party has opposed many aspects of the Criminal Justice Bill currently being proposed. In particular, our section of the party (Labour Youth) has launched a nationwide campaign against the bill. This is due to the serious threat to civil liberties posed therein. In contrast, Fine Gael have criticised the Bill for not being strong enough. This represents a clear difference between both parties’ respect and support for the protection of civil liberties.

4. Foreign Policy: Many Labour Party members strongly object to the continued use of Shannon airport by the US military. Our party spokesperson on Foreign Affairs (Michael D. Higgins) was one of the leading spokespersons in opposing the illegal war in Iraq. In contrast, Fine Gael did not support anti-war demonstrations. They also strongly support the continued use of Shannon airport by the US military. Fine Gael’s stance on neutrality is also in question, with a clear tendency towards NATO emerging from many senior party members such as Gay Mitchell TD, MEP. Such a policy would directly contradict Labour Party values.

5. Local Government: In many local authorities across the country Labour Party public representatives are central in preserving local amenities, green belts and increased infrastructure for communities within development plans and other aspects of planning and development in local government. In many cases such proposals are resisted by both Fianna Fail and Fine Gael councillors who share a similar philosophy on such matters. In addition, both these parties have not supported the rights and needs of the Travelling community in Ireland as an officially recognised ethnic group.

6. The Citizenship Referendum: The citizenship referendum that took place last year for many people was one of the most regressive, opportunistic and detrimental measures proposed by an Irish government in many years. Our party took a strong and principled stand against this referendum and campaigned against it. This contrasts sharply with Fine Gael who enthusiastically supported the constitutional amendment. Labour’s commitment to fairness for refugees and asylum-seekers is clear in the work of our Dáil spokesperson, the involvement of our members in anti-racist groups and our general commitment to equality and community – it is severely doubtful whether Fine Gael share similar policy bases.

While merely illustrative of a wider trend of policy differences, the six examples noted are in and of themselves reasons to question whether an adequate and reasonable compromise can be made in agreeing to an electoral pact with Fine Gael.

We believe our approach to electoral strategy should aim to see Labour as the second party in the State. A pre-election pact with Fine Gael undermines that ambition. Our Party Constitution states that we are a "Democratic Socialist Party," while in reality there are no major philosophical differences between the two largest parties at present. One must question whether it is acceptable for a party with our values to advocate our supporters transferring to a party we directly oppose ideologically. Within a European context both Labour and Fine Gael are members of political groupings diametrically opposed to each other (Christian Democrats and Socialists respectively).

It is also tactically questionable whether a strategy based on a FG-Labour electoral pact will achieve many gains for Labour in terms of electoral representation, if any at all. In many constituencies around the country Labour and Fine Gael are in direct competition for seats. Examples of this include Kerry North, Dublin West, Dublin Central, Dublin South and many more.

A formal pact would undoubtedly strengthen Fine Gael's position. It is not clear that a formal pact would strengthen Labour’s position at all. Certainly, one must ask whether a formal pact would lead to the kinds of Labour gains necessary for anything more than a bit-part role in the next government. It is not our intention to play the numbers game but it is abundantly clear that the proposed pact aims for a moderate increase in Labour seats – say by between 4 and 7 seats to a total between 25 and 28 – and a massive increase in Fine Gael representation aided by an on-the-day seat-bonus of up to 25 seats in order to increase their representation to the mid-late fifties.

The historical evidence suggests that Labour does better when it stands alone. It has by now been well-noted that Labour’s most successful elections – 1969 and 1992 in particular – have been characterized by independent strategies. In 2002 the Labour vote held up but common wisdom has it that Labour would have been better suited if it had ruled out coalition with Fianna Fáil.

We believe in modifying the independent Labour strategy for the upcoming election, ruling out any transfer arrangements but also ruling out any possibility of entry into coalition with Fianna Fáil or the PD’s. Labour always does best when it not only stands for an alternative government but also an alternative type of politics.

Two other relevant issues might briefly be mentioned here. Firstly, one might question the desire of Labour activists to partake in a lengthy campaign designed to see Fine Gael, its ideology, policies and personalities in power. A detrimental effect of such a strategy amongst many activists is at least probable.

Finally, given that so much of the deliberative debate occurs in the media, we must take into account the framing of the upcoming electoral campaign in terms of press and broadcasting emphasis. If Labour enters as a minority partner in a pact with Fine Gael, it is likely that the latter will receive far more coverage due to the oppositional framing so common in contemporary media.

In particular, Labour will be altogether sidelined by concentration on potential Taoisigh in the leaders of FG and FF if the proposed strategy is accepted. Our strategy would see Pat Rabbitte promoted as an alternative to the two other leaders, a scenario we believe will be ultimately beneficial to the Labour vote.


Our case for an alternative politics centres on the need to change the very nature of Labour’s position in Irish society. This document does not allow for a wide discussion on the various issues surrounding the possibilities for a Labour-led Ireland but rather focuses on the importance of electoral strategy in achieving success for the Labour Party and our core values, aims and policies.

The 2005 National Conference of the Labour Party will give hundreds of delegates an exciting chance to decide on the electoral strategy for the upcoming general election. We believe that delegates should make their decisions and cast their votes in line with a commitment to an alternative politics in which Labour no longer plays second fiddle to conservative parties in Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.

Our analysis is based not on short-term targets but on long-term goals for Ireland, based on the key principles of our movement and on the need for Labour to assert itself as the dominant political force in the 21st century.

The key elements of our strategy are…

1.A rejection of coalition with Fianna Fáil or the PD’s;
2.An independent electoral platform free from any pacts with Fine Gael or any other party;
3.The presentation of Labour as a potential leading party of government, with the appropriate level of candidates and strategies to ensure maximum media coverage;
4.A strategy which from its outset points out that Labour will not enter as a minority partner into any post-election government with Fine Gael.

Only when Labour gains the critical mass it requires to ensure the radical change in society inherent in our core principles should be enter government. This critical mass is not sometime in the distant future, but is an achievable goal at the next general election, provided a strong, independent Labour campaign offers an alternative politics, not just an alternative government.

We ask all delegates to vote accordingly on motions 57-70, encompassing composites 5 and 6, this Saturday morning.

Monday, 18 June 2007

Where Next for Labour?

There has been a dearth of analysis within the Labour Party regarding the very disappointing outcome of the recent general election.

There have been some moderately interesting blog posts, some decent discussion on the Labour members message boards and the next issue of Left Tribune will focus on an analysis of the elections and the political situation moving forward.

But the most successful debates are those which engage a wide section of the party in a real setting. So the Tom Johnson Summer School, which will be held in Galway on the weekend of July 13-15, will be crucial in allowing members to build for the future.

Expect a lot more blogging, writing, reflection and keyboard wars. But the Summer School named after a particularly bogey Labour leader will play a significant role in determining the strategies and politics of Labour members in the future.

It will feature the most impressive lineup of speakers at any Tom Johnson School this millennium. TD's will include Michael D Higgins, Willie Penrose, Jan O'Sullivan, Eamon Gilmore, Joanna Tuffy, Tommy Broughan and Ciarán Lynch. There'll be Labour activists such as Cllr Eric Byrne, Paul O'Shea, Mark Langhammer, Benedicta Attoh and Paul Dillon involved in the debates, along with academics such as Stephen Loyal and Kieran Allen, David Begg of ICTU and Jeremy Corbyn MP of the Socialist Campaign Group in the British Labour Party. Importantly, there's a chance for members to lead the debate.

There have been few occasions when a deeper analysis has been required for Labour; booking details and further info are on the Labour Youth site

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

We don't want his support, but...

RTÉ is reporting that Tony Blair is set to feature in tonight's party political broadcast for Fianna Fáil along with Bill Clinton and George Mitchell. They will be commenting on the role played by Bertie Ahern in the peace process and were reportedly in agreement with their views being aired in a PPB for FF.

How utterly pathetic that Blair, not content with a huge shift to the right at home, is now backing the centre-right of Irish politics. Supposedly Labour in Britain are our sister party throught the PES and Socialist International. Of course we have many comrades (see my earlier posts on John McDonnell) but Blair is not one of them. I can't imagine how much in breach of PES rules it is to back a rival candidate over a sister party in another country's election, but it certainly goes against principles of fraternity and internationalism which supposedly underpin the left.

I wrote the mail below to the General Secretary of Brit Labour, let's see if they respond. Any replies will be posted here.
Dear Mr Watt,

I am writing to voice my disgust at the appearance of your Party Leader, Tony Blair, in a Party Political Broadcast for Ireland's Fianna Fáil party due to air this evening.

The decision of a Labour leader to publically back a centre-right party in this manner flies in the face of the principles of internationalism and fraternity we supposedly share as membersof the Party of European Socialists.

The historic link between our two parties has been severely damaged by this personalised intervention by your leader. Unless there is a retraction of Mr Blair's appearance in this video, I will be writing to the Party of European Socialists to ask them to take action against British Labour and working with my own party's representatives to do the same.

Yours in disgust,
Dermot Looney

Member, Irish Labour Party

Monday, 14 May 2007

No Coronation for Brown!

The Guardian reports John McDonnell will be on the ballot having secured more than 45 nominations from MPs, with Meacher out.

Wonderful news. McDonnell's campaign was written off by the cynics from Day One, but a truly bottom-up approach across Britain has landed him enough support to fight a values-based campaign against the co-architect of New Labour, Gordon Brown.

Labour Youth on Coalition

It's a question many are still asking - where exactly do Labour Youth stand on coalition and electoral strategy.

The basis is a number of motions at recent Conferences, the last of which are the following motions, adopted at the last Labour Youth National Conference in UCD last Autumn.

  • Electoral Strategy (proposed: Dublin South-West Labour Youth)

    Conference calls for:
    a vote for the Labour Party in the upcoming general election, and for voters to transfer against the government.

    Conference believes:
    all Labour Youth members should contribute as much of their time and effort as possible to ensuring the maximum number of votes for Labour candidates in all constituencies.

    Conference reaffirms:
    support for an independent electoral strategy for the Labour Party.

    Conference mandates:
    Labour Youth to include a call for a vote for the Labour Party alone in all its election literature, press releases and communication to members.

    Conference asks:
    all Labour Youth members not to co-operate with the distribution of any material, including leaflets and posters, which calls for a transfer to the Fine Gael party.

Labour Youth remains committed to this strategy in canvassing for Labour candidates in the election, and come the outcome of that, another motion comes into play
  • (Proposer: Dublin West LY) Conference ... Mandates:
    The NYE to campaign actively against any possible coalition proposal in which the Labour Party is not the largest party. This includes distribution of literature and active canvassing of party members outlining and seeking support for Labour Youth's stance

Browned off with Gordon? Look left to John!

I don't intend to use this blog as a dumping ground for old articles but given John McDonnell's campaign to lead the Labour Party in the face of the usual New Labour nonsense from Gordon Brown, I thought I'd share an article I wrote from Issue 4 of Left Tribune which came out last Autumn on the background to his campaign.

It's also worth noting that John McDonnell's campaign is officially supported by Labour Youth in Ireland. A letter was sent by Patrick Nulty, Labour Youth Chair, to McDonnell, which he graciously responded to with a handwritten note. The hope is for LY can now link up with Britain's Socialist Youth Network - keen supporters of McDonnell.

For John McDonnell, the hope today is that he can tot up the 45 required nominations from MPs to get on the ballot and ensure a true debate on the sickening decline of British Labour presided over by Brown and Blair.


This summer's announcement by left-wing MP John McDonnell that he would stand for the leadership of British Labour caused a minor stir in a popular media besotted with the personalities of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. But, as Dermot Looney writes, McDonnell's campaign is part of a historic narrative in which left and right battle it out for the hearts and minds of Britain and its troubled Labour Party.

A casual observer might not think a politician who lists "generally fermenting the overthrow of capitalism" among his interests in Who's Who fits in well to a Labour Party dominated by Blairism for more than a decade. But John McDonnell's bid to become the next British Labour Leader is far from an anachronism. Rather, it is a legitimate and vital campaign to reclaim the values, principles, policies and politics of the left for the party. And those scoffing how a socialist campaign is expected to thrive fall into the mythical trap of believing that Labour equals Blairism.

Left-wing activists who remain 'in the pavilion' of Labour politics have been battered, bruised and cast aside - but they are not yet defeated. An estimated 200,000 members have left the party in the last decade - some 25 times the entire membership of the Irish Labour Party. But Londoner McDonnell, who has significant Irish roots, is adamant that his campaign should be the trigger for many of them to rejoin and for new members, particularly amongst Britain's disenfranchised youth, to take up membership and activism. His campaign is undoubtedly one seeking to "reclaim" the party for what he views as its natural place on the left.

Far from the personality disputes of Brown and Blair - co-architects of the New Labour project - and the host of minor acolytes lining up to "renew" New Labour, McDonnell stands in the traditions of Nye Bevan and Tony Benn; popular, radical and caring politics rooted in the great dichotomy of left and right.

Perhaps more than any other left-wing party in the world, the importance of political and class culture has dominated the British Labour Party since its formation as the Labour Representation Committee in 1900 by Keir Hardie. The cultural ethos of the labour movement, built from the early years of the 20th century, focused on the transformation of society itself by the combined efforts of working-class people represented in their workplaces by trade unions and in parliament by Labour.

While he is recognised as a hero to many on the left nowadays, Keir Hardie's chairmanship of the party was in sharp opposition to Marxists in the Social Democratic Federation, an important component in the early Labour Party. Mass membership and mass support for the party came within a few years but this did not necessarily imply radicalism. Indeed, the first ever Labour Prime Minister, Ramsay MacDonald, rejected the socialism and pacifism of his early days in Parliament when he became leader of a minority government in 1924.

Any chances of re-election to Government were halted by the infamous Zinoviev letter, a forged document purporting to come from the USSR and calling for Soviet-style Communism in Britain. The forgery was printed in the Daily Mail - now, and then, a reactionary Tory paper with a particular distaste for any form of socialism (and, coincidentally, the Irish). Ramsay MacDonald was opposed by many on the left throughout his leadership, particularly given his opposition to the 1926 General Strike. He was eventually expelled from the Labour Party and formed a national government in coalition with the Tories and Liberals.

The Zinoviev letter and the subsequent controversy highlighted two parallel tendencies which have always restricted the left in British politics - the power of an unsympathetic media, and 'red scare' tactics by the Tories. The degree of 'redness' in the party is a ubiquitous source of controversy; so much so that the history of British Labour since its foundation might best be understood as a conflict between left and right.

A number of other key left-right arguments in the party have taken place over the past 60 years. The landslide post-War election of 1945 gave Labour a huge majority in Parliament, allowing the foundation of the Welfare State and the National Health Service, an institution that continues despite more than a quarter century of attacks by neoliberalism under Thatcher and Blair.

A remarkable feature of this government, led by Clem Attlee, was the attachment felt by ordinary people to Labour; the party had approximately half a million members when they took office in 1945, and over a million when they left six years later.

It is perhaps during Attlee's leadership that the radical left of the party reached its zenith. Nevertheless, Attlee himself was a moderate and his foreign policy - in particular his commitments to massive spending on arms and intervention in the Korean War in 1950 were staunchly opposed by a left wing who increasingly turned to Welsh radical Nye Bevan as its best hope.

Bevan, the archetypal miner-cum-trade union leader, overcame great odds in establishing the NHS in 1948, a feat which remains Labour's proudest ever achievement in government. But he was forced out of the Cabinet after opposing the war in Korea and subsequent challenges to Attlee's successor, the centrist Hugh Gaitskell, bore little fruit. The clashes between Bevanites and Gaitskellites were substantial but the moderates maintained the upper hand while the Tories under an aged Churchill and Anthony Eden retained power.

The next time Labour came to power was 1964, in a slim majority led by another moderate, Harold Wilson. This majority was greater in the 1966 snap election and Labour were in government until 1970. Although many social-democratic social policies were implemented, such as increasing universalism in social welfare payments and legislation on race relations, homosexuality and abortion, the left of the party were largely undermined. By the late 1960's there was enough optimism, however, that the common consensus among ordinary Labour activists was that the "seventies would be socialist." Their hopes were not to be achieved.

The seventies saw positions in government alternate from the Tories, back to Labour under Wilson and then Jim Callaghan, and back again to the Tories. Wilson's successor, Jim Callaghan, was another centrist, and opposed a left that by now included ministers Barbara Castle and Tony Benn. In 1976 Callaghan's government received an IMF loan that was "badly needed" - the loan required the typical privatisation and free-market reforms attached to IMF interventions. The left of the party increasingly rallied around Benn and Michael Foot, a previous editor of the left-wing Tribune newspaper.

The so-called "Winter of Discontent" in 1979 led to the Labour government being well-beaten by the Conservatives under Margaret Thatcher. Thatcher was to dominate British politics for more than a decade - indeed, some would say that her ideology and style, if not necessarily her party, continue to dominate today.

Tony Benn and others were massively supported by the Labour grassroots membership and pushed through democratic reforms, giving more power to the party conference and arguing for radical reform across the board. Michael Foot's election as party leader in 1980 was a significant victory for the left and, while Benn was narrowly defeated in a significant election for Deputy Leader in 1981, Labour's high standing in polls continued to hold until the beginning of the Falklands War in 1982. Thatcher's star then began to rise, supported by a jingoistic media and a significant split in Labour led by a right-wing opposed to democratic party reforms and left-wing policies.

The "Gang of Four" who initiated the split went on to form the Social Democratic Party, which later merged with a diminished Liberal Party to form today's Liberal Democrats. The SDP were somewhat successful in taking Labour seats in the 1983 election in which hysteria about Labour's manifesto contributed to a significant Tory victory. The manifesto, written by Benn and others on the left, argued for withdrawal from the EEC, nuclear disarmament, abolition of the aristocratic House of Lords and nationalisation of a number of strategic industries.

It was seized upon by the press as an excuse for Labour to "nationalise the corner shops" and, combined with Foot's unpopularity and hugely successful negative campaigning tactics and costly media campaigns by the Tories, led to a landslide defeat. Labour's own right-wingers famously termed the 50,000 word manifesto as "the longest suicide note in history."

While the Bennite left continued to argue for radical reforms, the extreme individualism, far-right social policies and the advent of neoliberal economics under Thatcher were the backdrop for the rest of the eighties. Where Labour was successful - in a number of radical left local government authorities, including the Greater London Council (GLC) - Thatcher's government simply abolished the councils. Two people affected by the abolition of the GLC were its leader, "Red" Ken Livingstone (now London Mayor) and his deputy, John McDonnell.

From the 1983 defeat on the party initiated series after series of reforms which were intended to "modernise" - in practice, moving further and further to a capitalist consensus. Under the leadership of Neil Kinnock, a former left winger who controversially abstained rather than support Benn's election for Deputy Leader, the party expelled the "Militant Tendency," a Trotskyite entrist group who had a number of MP's and control of Liverpool City Council. The media heralded it as a defeat for the left, even though the Bennites, now formed as the Socialist Campaign Group, were not aligned to Militant.

A number of key decisions were taken by Kinnock which were to lay the ground for Tony Blair's leadership a decade later, such as a concentration on the party's and a more centralised structure, giving power back to the leadership and away from the membership. Kinnock's leadership should have culminated in election victory in 1992, but the party were narrowly defeated.

The party swung further to the centre under Kinnock's successor, John Smith, and to the right under Tony Blair, who was elected leader in 1994. The New Labour project was originally intended to defeat the remaining vestiges of the left by coalescing with the Lib Dems but, given the huge unpopularity of John Major's Tory government, instead won a landslide election in 1997. Since then, Blair's centralised leadership, neoliberal economics and neoconservative foreign policies have dominated and the left of the party, confined to the backbenches in parliament, have suffered with the loss of membership and the "spin" against them from 10 Downing Street and party HQ.

McDonnell's leadership campaign takes place in the context of continued New Labour domination and has, to date, received relatively little attention from a media besotted with the Blair/Brown soap opera. But it has attracted support from across trade unions, the Labour Representation Committee, the Socialist Campaign Group and hosts of public meetings. His candidature is in the historical mould of Bevan and Benn but reflects up-to-date concerns about privatisation, the war in Iraq, the massive military spend and top-up fees for third-level students amongst other issues.

Left and right are complex, changing words, often used to mislead or overly-simplify. But they are far from 'dead', as the pseudo-postmodernists in New Labour would have us believe. John McDonnell's campaign for leadership reasserts the importance of the very basics of socialism - equality, solidarity and democracy - that the right have forgotten or chose to ignore. Only the history of the future will tell us if he and those on the left will be successful in their endeavours.


Born: September 8th 1951 in Liverpool, the son of a docker and shopworker with Irish connections.
MP for: Hayes and Harlington (London)

Positions held: Former Deputy leader of the Greater London Council. Chair of the Labour Representation Committee of ordinary members and trade unionists. Chair of the Socialist Campaign Group of 24 Labour MPs. Chair of the "Public Services Not Private Profit" campaign opposing privatisation. Leader of a number of all-party groups in parliament on trade union issues, the Irish and Punjabi community in Britain and endometriosis.

Has rebelled against the Blair Government on: the Iraq War, support for Israel, foundation hospitals, top-up fees, trust schools, civil liberties clampdowns and "anti-terror" laws, high military spending, nuclear weapons.

Controversy: Once claimed that the "deaths of innocent civilians in IRA attacks is a real tragedy, but it was as a result of British occupation in Ireland. Because of the bravery of the IRA and people like Bobby Sands we now have a peace process."

Quote: "New Labour has systematically alienated section after section of our supporters - teachers, health workers, students, pensioners, public service workers, trade unionists and people committed to the environment, civil liberties and peace. Spin and allegations of sleaze are causing decent people to lose trust in our party. This is reflected in lost votes, lost elections, lost members and a Labour Prime Minister having to rely upon Conservative votes in Parliament to force through legislation."

Campaign Website

Sunday, 13 May 2007

Blame us if you will, but at least blame the others

Following on from below, John Horgan's book is primarily concerned with the relationship of Labour to coalition and our economic position on the left-right spectrum.

So much in the Labour Party, on the Labour Party and about the Labour Party focuses on these two related questions, for obvious reasons. And this election campaign is no different.

But while there is so much commentary - most of which I agree with - on Labour's coalition strategy and the centrism of much of our economic, if not social policy, the focus on Labour excludes the place of the two other major parties associated with the left in the Dáil - the Greens and Sinn Féin?

So why do left wingers rightly berate Labour's coalition and electoral strategy but have little comment for either of the other two? Why, when the Greens have, after a lot of posturing, made it clear they will go into government with FF or FG? I don't believe for one moment they will rule out coalition with the PD's given their headlong rush for governmental power. They have watered down most of their remaining left-of-centre economics in a bid for 'respectability' - AKA deference to media hegemony. Notwithstanding the huge role of economics in social policy, their social platform remains progressive but their quest for power with principles to the side is undeniable.
Much of this was predictable for the Green Party. They don't have an active membership, a basis in social class or trade unionism and are led by parliamentarians with images softer than Mr Soft himself. But the election campaign for Sinn Féin, who can hardly be charged with the same, has been a surprise. A more nuanced analysis is required.

SF have dropped much of their progressive taxation and economic policies such as a fairer corporation tax regime and higher taxation on the super-rich. They seem scared shitless of media criticism of any left-wing economic position; I doubt most of their southern membership share the woolly justification for the policy drops, and I doubt they were consulted in the matter either. Similarly, despite hammering Labour out of it at every opportunity, the leadership will be more than happy to go into coalition with Fianna Fáil, if they're had.

It's often been remarked that despite the All-Ireland nature of the party, SF in the 6 and SF in the 26 are very different indeed, the southern membership much further to the left and more radical. I think the truth is more complex than that. In fact one of the key divides in Sinn Féin is between rural and urban members. Canvasses on on the doorsteps of Cabra, the Falls, the Bogside and Killinarden is probably a lot more similar to each other than those in the homesteads of rural Fermanagh, Monaghan or North Kerry.

There is an undeniable socialism to much of Sinn Féin's membership in Dublin in particular but they can hardly be impressed with the economic changes made by their leadership in recent weeks. What's surprising is the utter silence from their membership; cynics will point to past discipline in the party, but there is also a genuine sense of belonging and attachment to the leadership in SF that just isn't replicated in Labour.

For me, Labour's leadership deserves a lot of criticism from the left for our economic policies and coalition stance, but there can hardly be said to be 'parity of esteem' for the Greens and Sinn Féin. While there's some merit in saying that Labour have crept to the centre, that slow drift is fast being overtaken by a Green gallop and a Shinner sprint.

Lessons of the Past

Although many of us in the Labour Party are a bit obsessed by the historical ephemera of politics and elections - posters, badges, rosettes, you name it - we are very limited when it comes to items of a deeper importance - books which explain who we are, where we are and how we've gotten here. Yes, there's the gossip of Fergus Finlay's 'Snakes and Ladders,' Ray Kavanagh's 'Spring, Summer and Fall' and Stephen Collins' shaky 'Spring and the Labour Party,' but there's little in the way of serious political analysis, recently at least.

The best book I've ever read on the Irish Labour Party is "Labour: The Price of Power" by John Horgan, a former TD, Senator and MEP who's now Professor of Communications in DCU. This was written in the mid 1980's when Labour was at a very low ebb indeed. In and out of Government, with a continuous debate on electoral and coalition strategy, surpassed by the Worker's Party in Dublin and at one stage as low as 6% nationally in the opinion polls; it was an interesting choice of time to launch a major study on the party and to map out a history, analysis and outlook for Labour.

There are many memorable anecdotes, narratives and quotes, but one of Horgan's own remarks sticks out. I don't have the book to hand, but to paraphrase,

"For everyone on the left in Ireland, the Labour Party is the party you're thinking of leaving, have just left or would never dream of joining."

Now if you consider yourself left-wing but aren't in Labour, it might seem a bit arrogant to you that the likes of us to believe that the diversity of Irish socialism and associated philosophies is located entirely within the context of the Labour Party. I would argue that to a large extent that the belief is accurate. The two organisational narratives of the left as a whole in Ireland have been the relationship with nationalism and the relationship, or lack thereof, with the Labour Party. That isn't to say that issues of religion, trade unionism, locality or class are somehow not important. But while we've all heard the cliches on Labour's failure to win widespread electoral support, there's very little on the failure of projects within and outside Labour to win popular support.

We've had little in the way of analyses of Labour Left, a huge movement of left-wing and anti-coalition strategy in the 1980's; on their predecessors in the Liaison of the Left, or on agitation within Labour in the early years, or Larkin's re-entry in the 1940's.

There's been little of organisational interest written on the Socialist Labour Party, Noel Browne's engine for change in the 1970's or on the countless splits and formations of new 'mass working-class' parties that have risen and fallen over the years.

Why bother with all these history lessons? Well, when we go about agitating for change inside or outside the Labour Party, it's worth learning on the successes and failures of the past, however different the context. So whether it's a loose grouping in the Labour Party agitating for better party democracy, a Campaign for an Independent Left or any other group organising for change, you need to do two things; justify your existence in the context of the current Labour Party, and learn the lessons of the organisational past.

The former has tended to be a series of condemnations and a lot of personality-bashing rather than a deeper analysis. And the latter is usually an afterthought, partly because we lack the tools. Maybe I'm missing all these tomes, but if not, a good start for all of us would be an indepth look at these historical projects and not just a series of 'we like ice cream' demands.

Monday, 7 May 2007

I call him Gamblor!

The only monster here is the gambling monster that has enslaved your mother! I call him Gamblor, and it's time to snatch your mother from his neon claws!

Apologies for another speculative post, I'll have some real politics up soon but edited from a post on the St Pat's Message Board here's some tips I've punted on in the election.

I don't deny that I'm the most biased person going , but I do have a collect-12-crisp-packets politics degree from UCD and a bit of experience and with the gambling you have to force some objectivity to the equation.

Working in the business, I really am surprised at how much is staked on individual constituencies and so on and I think that some of those "in the know" have one up on the election traders who are just going on previous results and the odd opinion poll.

Odds are taken off Paddy Power and Boyles; Ladbrokes did have some markets up but they seem to be gone now. I don't apologise for having a Labour bias or for going for outside bets in general!

10 pts total.

Seats Won Market

2pts Labour to win 23 or more seats @ 9/4 with PP

By no means a certainty but on a constituency-by-constituency analysis I've predicted in my blog that Labour will emerge with 23 seats. Surprised at the generous odds being offered - Boyles have slightly less favourable odds, giving 2/1 on 24 or more seats.

Don't see much else in that market worth punting on. I think the PD's will take a hit and both SF and the Greens to increase their share but the odds aren't great.

Constituency Markets

1pt on Carlow-Kilkenny - Michael O'Brien (LAB) @ 8/1 (PP or Boyles)

Very high odds for a serious contender. Was not far off election last time out, and with Seamus Pattison retiring he can make the most of his Kilkenny base (a Labour stronghold, if such a thing exists in Irish politics). Boyles are giving 4/7 on his Labour colleague, Jim Townsend, to take a seat here, even though the two are neck and neck. If O'Brien can poll a higher first preference vote, or if the transfers go his way, he should be competing with Mary White of the Greens for the fifth seat.

1pt on Dublin North-Central - Bronwen Maher (GR) @ 6/1 (Boyles)

High odds for someone who's in with a decent chance. The perceived wisdom here is for 1 FG (Richard Bruton) and 1 FF (Seán Haughey). However the second FFer, Ivor Callelly, has really fallen from grace and in a tight three seater a second FF seat would be unlikely in the event of a national swing against them. That leaves Finian McGrath (Ind), Derek McDowell (Labour) and Bronwen Maher with a chance of the third seat. McGrath hasn't got a smooth ride back and independents generally suffer in tight three-seaters. This is one of Labour's weakest constituencies in Dublin and a with a national move to the Greens a seat is an outside, but possible outcome.

0.5 pt on Galway East - Colm Keaveney (LAB) @ 25/1 (Boyles)

Outsider of course but should be nowhere near 25/1. Had a decent vote - 0.4 of a quota - in 1997 when he last ran and almost a quota in the last locals in Tuam. With the west of the constituency becoming urbanised a Labour seat isn't an impossibility here.

2 pts on Tipperary South - Phil Prendergast (LAB) @ 5/4 (Boyles)

Huge chance here to take a seat. Has polled well previously and a huge profile in the area. Gunning to take Seamus Healy's seat after 1 FG and 1 FF.

2 pts on Dublin South-Central - Eric Byrne (LAB) @ 6/4 (PP)

Completely biased here as I'm working for the candidate but am very positive about him taking the seat. With Gay Mitchell gone and FF weak he can mop up a lot of votes having always been there or thereabouts.

Next Government

1 pt on FF, Greens and PD's @ 12/1 (PP)

These odds exclude independents. I'd say FF will drop 10 seats, the PD's will drop 4 and the Greens will gain 4. That leaves 83 seats - 1 short of a Dáil majority. They'd find no problems cobbling together a couple of "FF gene pool" independents to elect a Taoiseach. Never mind the bluster and blow of the PD's on either of them, and I wouldn't put too much faith in the Greens staying out of a Government if they have the chance. People will dismiss this one out of hand but if the arithmetic is there it wouldn't suprise me if this one worked out.


0.5 pt on over 66.5% @ 9/4 (PP)

With the electoral register reformed and a decent interest in the election nationally, I'd expect a high turnout.

Tuesday, 1 May 2007

Prediction Time

Well, after a four month wait I'm finally blogging.

And why not, given the day that's in it.

Across the world, socialists and trade unionists will celebrate May Day, so fraternal greetings and solidarity to the left blogohemisphere on our day of celebration and rememberance.

Here at home, Election '07 is off to an unwieldy, odd start. Fianna Fáil's launch was uncharacteristically low-key, unimpressive and no doubt in fear of the Tribunals. Ahern's dawn raid on the Áras now seems to have been a pre-emptive strike on the Mahon tribunal where yet more dodgy dossiers were to be uncovered.

It's being billed as two competing blocs - FF/PD and FG/Labour - by all and sundry. Such a dichotomy suits three of the four parties. But for Labour, playing second fiddle to the Blueshirts in the campaign means being pushed to the sides on so many debates. Such is the outcome of the electoral arrangement and such will be the downfall of Labour candidates across Ireland who fail to take, hold or regain a seat having being squeezed by expensive and seemingly more salient and relevant FG rivals.

It's not all bad news of course. Labour has an excellent range of candidates and an analysis based on the various Internet chatter and previous results shows good seat chances in some 26 constituencies - and a strong chance of two seats each in a further two. But with a core base of just 7% and an average of 9-13% on opinion polls, 30 seats is not likely.

Overall, though, I'm more positive than I have been previously about individual candidates despite the national picture. For fun, more than anything, here are my predictions.

For me there are 4 categories of constituencies.

Level 1
The first are the reasonably safe seats. Nothing is safe in PRSTV, particularly for the third party. But these are seats where Labour traditionally performs and where the TDs have a longstanding reputation and good track record.

For me, these are
Eamon Gilmore (Dun Laoghaire)
Ruairi Quinn (Dublin South East)
Pat Rabbitte (Dublin South-West)
Michael D Higgins (Galway West)
Emmet Stagg (Kildare North)
Willie Penrose (Longford Westmeath)
Jan O'Sullivan (Limk East)
Breeda Moynihan-Cronin (Kerry South)
Brendan Howlin (Wexford) and
Brian O'Shea (Waterford).

Level 2
The next level down are tight constituencies where we can win or lose depending on a few hundred votes either way, and places where we are hoping for two seats;

I've come down on the Labour side in tight races in
Carlow-Kilkenny (Michael O'Brien)
Dublin Nth (Brendan Ryan)
Kerry Nth (Terry O'Brien)
Dublin West (Joan Burton)
Dublin Central (Joe Costello)
Tipperary South (Phil Prendergast)
Kildare South (Jack Wall)
Dublin North West (Roisin Shortall) and
Dublin Nth East (Tommy Broughan).

I've given us two seats in both
Dublin SC (Mary Upton & Eric Byrne) and
Wicklow (Liz McManus & Nicky Kelly).

Tight races I believe we'll just lose are in
Cork South Central (Ciarán Lynch)
Cork East (John Mulvihill and Seán Sherlock)
Cork North-Central (Kathleen Lynch)
Dublin Mid-West (Joanna Tuffy)
Dublin South (Aidan Culhane & Alex White)
Dublin North Central (Derek McDowell)
Meath East (Dominic Hannigan) and
Tipperary North (Kathleen Lynch).

Level 3
The next Level down are candidates who are some way off but might squeeze in with a national swing ala Moosajee Bhamjee in 1992.

Only a significant swing towards us will give a chance to candidates like
Ged Nash (Louth)
Michael McCarthy (Cork South West)
Oisín Quinn (second candidate in Dún Laoghaire)
Martin Coughlan (Cork North West)
Brian Collins (Meath West) and
Jim McGarry (Sligo North Leitrim)

Level 4
There are many candidates running who may not have a realistic chance of Dáil election, but it is vital they do run to maintain a Labour presence and build a foundation for Labour, particularly in the West.

These are;
Des Cullen (Cavan Monaghan)
Pascal Fitzgerald (Clare)
Siobhán McLaughlin (Donegal North East)
Seamus Rodgers (Donegal South West)
Colm Keaveney (Galway East)
Jim O'Brien & David Whelan (Laois-Offaly)
James Heffernan (Limerick West)
Harry Barrett (Mayo) and
Hugh Baxter (Roscommon South Leitrim)

That leaves us with 23 seats and 27 defeated candidates.

23 is not a cause for celebration. Given the unpopularity of the current Govt, 30 would have been a reasonable and achievable goal to build on. But the FG pact will tie us down in most of races above in which I've said we'll lose out; time and a lot of campaigning ahead will tell.

Wednesday, 3 January 2007


This is a test post for the "Looney Left" blog. This is an unashamedly left of centre take on Irish politics and society.

The writer is a member of the Labour Party and active in its youth section, Labour Youth. He is also active in the anti-war movement, in the Shell2Sea campaign and various other local, national and international campaigns.

This blog takes a radical democratic socialist viewpoint on current events and politics. It won't suit everyone's tastes, but will hopefully add to the debate and discussion in the Irish Labour blogosphere.
Ask the Powerful 5 Questions;

1. What power have you got?
2. Where did you get it from?
3. In whose interests do you exercise it?
4. To whom are you accountable?
5. How can we get rid of you?

Only democracy gives us that right. That is why no-one with power likes democracy. And that is why every generation must struggle to win it and keep it - including me and you, here and now.

(Tony Benn, 2005)