Friday 22 September 2017

It's going to get a good deal worse before it gets better for Labour

Labour

Labour Cllr Jack Walsh, who lost his seat, at the Waterford election count at Waterford Institute of Technology. Photo: PATRICK BROWNE
Labour Cllr Jack Walsh, who lost his seat, at the Waterford election count at Waterford Institute of Technology. Photo: PATRICK BROWNE
John Downing

John Downing

IT IS hard to overstate the blow these elections have delivered to Labour.

There were big questions being asked about leader Eamon Gilmore long before the polls opened.

By the end of the weekend, the party's deputy for Clare, Michael McNamara, was calling for a comprehensive clear-out of all at the top.

There is a strong sense that this one will get a deal worse. And it would take supreme optimism for party supporters to see things getting better any time soon.

Stand by for some very public political infighting. Party deputy leader Joan Burton remains at best ambiguous in her expressions to leader Eamon Gilmore. A change of leader, however, would at best effect only cosmetic change, one suspects.

The party's situation is replete with ironies. But many of its problems are self-inflicted.

OPPOSITION

Its membership was never convinced of the validity of its work in driving forward necessary cuts to fix the broken economy. Too often it tried to be the government in opposition.

The utterly unrealistic promises in the February 2011 general election, when it was in competition with Fine Gael for vote share, have rebounded with a vengeance rarely seen in Irish politics.

Its arguments about the unfair price being exacted from the party as junior coalition partner are valid.

But it also overlooks the party's major role in ruthlessly attacking junior coalition partners – first the Progressive Democrats and later the Green Party – over the years 1997-2011.

It did nothing to vary the terms of engagement and dial down this dreary and repetitious cycle.

Anyone who has gone through some decades of service with Labour knows that it has received some brutal electoral kickings many times and then bounced back.

In the general election of February 1987, as party leader Dick Spring held on to his Dail seat by four votes, the party got 6.4pc of the vote.

Luck and the vagaries of PR gave it 12 Dail seats and a return to Leinster House in a minibus rather than on a scooter, which some unkinder pundits had predicted. Just five years later, Mr Spring led his party back with a record haul for that time of 33 TDs.

Given the speed of change in Irish politics, it would be foolhardy to rule out a similar rebirth for Labour into the future.

But there are many portents of continuing Labour calamity right now, notably the existence of a rampant Sinn Fein on Labour's left flank.

The coming weeks and months could well decide the future of the party's very existence.

Irish Independent Supplement

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