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.