Victorious Rabbitte aims to increase party's appeal
PAT Rabbitte seized the Labour leadership last night, then spoke immediately of widening his appeal to the Irish electorate.
The triumphant TD for Dublin South West promised to recruit more young people into the party, to define its goals, and to improve its gender balance.
And he spoke of moving from a position of strength based on mass membership to allow for a spearhead push on real political power.
Expressing his "humblest thanks" to the 3,472 Labour party members who voted, Mr Rabbitte pledged: "I will use whatever talent and energy I possess to vindicate that trust."
The task of the new leadership, having achieved much renewal through its experiment in a direct leadership election, was to keep the process of regeneration going, he said.
Noting that voter cynicism was at its deepest in the natural constituency to which Labour appealed, Mr Rabbitte said the party needed to generate a momentum based on involvement.
And he indicated that besides bringing new blood into the party, his goal would be to create a greater synthesis with trade unionism.
"I have worked all my life in one capacity or another for the Labour movement. I am bound to say that at no stage can I recall the industrial and political wings of the Labour being mobilised to the optimum effect.
"I look forward to taking advice from my trade union colleagues, and with their assistance, to re-energising the wider movement in the cause of Labour."
Mr Rabbitte also spoke of building bridges to the numerous community organisations whose programmes were entirely compatible with the Labour agenda - which was to be not just another catch-all party but one whose purpose was "unashamedly the cause of working people".
"We need new blood, new members who will challenge more of our traditional methods of doing business - new members who may offer as candidates in the forthcoming local elections."
Mr Rabbitte paid special tribute to his defeated main challenger Brendan Howlin, the outgoing deputy leader of the party who has now lost two leadership races in which he was tipped to succeed.
Mr Rabbitte also hailed Ruairi Quinn's service to the party over the past 25 years and his single-minded devotion to the job.
He said that the party now had a responsibility to people who "think Labour but do not yet vote Labour", to make it the great national voice of popular opposition to the current government.
The challenge of the new leadership was to involve the grassroots so that Labour could be re-built locally and motivated to compete in communities everywhere, he said.
Labour was a socialist party where all the members could debate and argue political ideas, he insisted.
The natural heartland of the party was in working men and women in cities, towns and villages all over Ireland.
Echoing former US president Abraham Lincoln, he added: "Ours is a party dedicated to the proposition that we are all born equal. Equality in society is the great socialist ideal."
Although we are living in an increasingly affluent society, he said, it was still one that bred, sustained and reproduced inequality.
In a veiled warning to Sinn Fein and other rivals on the Left, Mr Rabbitte said his party would co-operate with like-minded people to challenge the cosy consensus.