Saturday 1 October 2016

Labour wants to reconnect with members for fightback

Sam Griffin and John Downing

Published 04/06/2015 | 02:30

Tánaiste Joan Burton with Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin and Minister for
Business and Employment Ged Nash, joined by Labour party members Grace Williams,
Stillorgan; Jim Butler, Ballinteer; and Cáit Nic Amhlaoibh, Raheny, at the launch of the #TalktoJoan campaign at the Merrion Hotel in Dublin yesterday. Photo: Tom Burke
Tánaiste Joan Burton with Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin and Minister for Business and Employment Ged Nash, joined by Labour party members Grace Williams, Stillorgan; Jim Butler, Ballinteer; and Cáit Nic Amhlaoibh, Raheny, at the launch of the #TalktoJoan campaign at the Merrion Hotel in Dublin yesterday. Photo: Tom Burke

Labour leader Joan Burton has written to her party's members asking them to tell her what issues she should priorities in the fight for re-election.

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Members are asked to choose between 10 options including stable public finances, improved access to healthcare, greater access to education and training, job creation and support for small businesses.

The party will use the information to draft its manifesto for the general election, which will be before April 8 next year.

Speculation has been growing that the Government could opt for an early election, after a poll bounce last weekend.

But yesterday Ms Burton said there were good arguments to allow the Government run its full term and allow the benefits of economic recovery spread countrywide.

In her letter to members, Ms Burton says: "The next general election will be held next year and as part of our planning for that campaign, I want to hear your views. What are the issues that affect you, your family and community that should be our key election priorities?"

The party has also included a six-question survey for members to complete, in which they can outline what they consider the most important issues for the campaign.

The survey asks members to rank what they consider the most important economic and social issues, with options including education, childcare, health policy, job creation and broadband. Members are also asked to rank the most important issues concerning families and local communities.

The party is holding a number of 'policy discussions' across the country, with the first meeting in Dublin tonight and followed by similar gatherings in Kilkenny, Cork, Galway and Limerick.

It is just a year since the party leader and her colleagues went about the country holding meetings as part of the campaign to elect a new leader and deputy leader.

Ms Burton said after the membership meetings the consultation campaign will move to the general public, including a live opportunity with the Tánaiste on social media via the motif "#TalktoJoan".

Citizens will also be given the chance to submit their own ideas for government change via Twitter and Facebook.

The move comes from Labour's hope it can arrest the continuing slump in opinion polls - with some surveys putting them on almost one-third their record high in the last general election in February 2011.

A recent Ipsos-MRBI poll put them on 7pc - compared with 19pc in the general election. But last Sunday, in the wake of the 60/40 win in the same-sex marriage referendum, a Red C survey put Labour on an improved 10pc.

Ms Burton, who many people believe did not give all necessary support to her predecessor, Eamon Gilmore, yesterday brushed aside such suggestions.

She paid tribute to Mr Gilmore, who she said had a long distinguished Dáil career, and his period of party leadership from 2007 to 2014 proved extremely fruitful.

The Labour leader was also asked about the party's pledge following the same-sex marriage referendum, to move for the removal of the constitutional ban on abortion. Ms Burton said an internal party process was now in progress to consider how this should be done and she supported the change which was spearheaded by Labour's women members.

The Tánaiste would not say what - if any - measure should replace the controversial eighth amendment voted into the Constitution after a referendum in September 1983. Ms Burton said she had always opposed the measure.

For the election, Ms Burton said Labour had identified jobs, investment, living standards, healthcare, public finances, housing and communities, and childcare as the key issues. The consultation was about finding remedies for these issues.

Party can take credit - but lacks self-belief

Positives

1. Labour can take credit in Government that through the toughest recession in the State's history, core welfare rates were not cut.

2. Labour TDs and senators remained remarkably cohesive through very difficult times. The loss of half a dozen members could have been much higher.

3. They advanced the social law agenda securing first abortion legislation on the 'X-Case' and a successful referendum on same-sex marriage.

4. Labour has managed to present a united government front with Fine Gael most of the time.

5. They have concluded a draft public service pay deal which is likely to deliver industrial peace.

Negatives

1. Labour lacks self-belief on its contribution in Government to fixing the public finances. This lack of belief blocks any fightback.

2. They have failed to communicate their positive contribution, probably in part due to the lack of self-belief.

3. Labour continues to struggle organisationally and still depends too much on union activists. The party's general secretary, David Leach, appointed last November, is moving to another job. It compounds problems with election preparations.

4. The party expends too much energy on internal rows.

5. It has a very old age profile among its TDs and senators which is not encouraging.

Irish Independent

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