Friday 21 October 2016

It's not always right, but Labour is an important voice in Irish society

Published 18/09/2015 | 02:30

Ruairi Quinn
Ruairi Quinn

The headline in the 'Daily Telegraph' on Wednesday declared "Corbyn snubs Queen and country". A comment piece, also on page one of the paper, was headlined "Obstinately, he stood in silence staring ahead".

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The new Labour leader had declined to sing 'God Save the Queen', the British national anthem, at an official event to mark the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain.

The 'Telegraph' knows its readers well, as any good newspaper should, and it knew its readers would be appalled by Corbyn's latest outrage.

Corbyn is treated by the Tory press in Britain in pretty much the same way the Catholic Church is treated by most of the media here, that is to say, badly.

On the same day as the 'Telegraph' was inviting its readers to be outraged at the new Labour leader, the left-wing 'Guardian' was headlining his attack on David Cameron at a trade union conference.

This is what press diversity looks like. One newspaper is sympathetic to Corbyn and another is not. One backs the Conservatives and the other Labour.

Corbyn is a socialist. This week Ruairi Quinn addressed his fellow party members at the annual Labour Party think-in and described himself as an "unreconstructed socialist".

He said Labour had dragged Ireland into the 21st Century. Corbyn is being accused of trying to drag Britain back to the 20th Century. The 1980s, to be precise.

Quinn's remarks resembled those of an old soldier reflecting on past battles. He announced that Labour had "defeated the Fine Gaelers and the Free Staters, and we have defeated the Fianna Fáilers and the nationalists, and we have brought this country into the 21st Century and without the Labour Party we would not be here today".

A hostile newspaper in the style of the 'Telegraph' might have called his words and his tone strident and triumphalistic. True believers loved it. The 'Guardian' would have loved it.

In True Believer mode, Quinn told his fellow believers: "We have been a lonely tribe of adventurers, of pioneers, of visionaries, who have said we will transform this country in a way that it never was transformed before."

Labour it was, in other words, that led the Irish Tribe out of Egypt into the desert and finally, after many struggles, reached, if not quite the Promised Land, then a Better Land.

But like the Israelites in the desert, the Irish were never as grateful as they should have been, hence Quinn's lament that the Irish people never gave them a proper electoral mandate. What a faithless lot. Do the Irish people even deserve the Promised Land? Do we deserve Labour?

As mentioned, Quinn's contention that Labour dragged Ireland into the 21st Century is in stark contrast to accusations by both the Tory press and the Blairite wing of the British Labour Party that Jeremy Corbyn wants to drag Britain back to the days of over-powerful trade unions, class warfare and ailing nationalised industries in need of huge subsidies.

Following the British general election, the narrative there has been that the left has been defeated on almost every front. Its economic vision is defunct. There is now no realistic alternative to free markets, notwithstanding inevitable cycles of boom and bust.

The left's vision of multi-culturalism has been tried and found wanting. Instead of successfully integrating immigrants into British society, social divisions have grown. A more confident assertion of what it means to be British must be made, so the thinking goes, in the name of a uniting One Nation conservatism.

The left's vision of education has also been tried and found wanting. Instead of levelling education up, it has levelled education down via educational theories that hate real excellence and which promote mediocrity instead.

Even in its desire to help the poor, the left has been found wanting, says the post-British election narrative. It points out that the poor can't possibly rise up if left-wing-inspired teaching methods leave them badly educated.

In addition, the left has created poverty traps from which the poor can't escape.

Nor does the left care about fragmenting families, a phenomenon that hits the poor far worse than the better-off, and therefore the poor become even more likely to remain poor because coming from an intact family enhances your chances of escaping poverty.

So here we have a very strong challenge indeed to the idea that the left is the principal driving force behind modernity and progress.

All this said, however, Labour or its equivalent is a very necessary part of any healthy polity, including our own.

No political outlook has a monopoly on wisdom. Rival political outlooks need to act as correctives on one another. When one becomes too dominant for too long, we have a problem.

Even though Labour sometimes bent the knee to the Church, the authoritarian version of Catholicism that dominated Irish society for several decades did need to be corrected. Labour and the ideological tendency it represents helped to do that.

A certain type of militant and narrow Irish nationalism also needed to be corrected, and Labour helped to do that as well.

Certain social ills needed to be corrected. Equal pay for men and women was an important step even though, contrary to what we now think, it was often trade unions that opposed equal pay because their members were mostly men and the men feared a corresponding reduction in their wages if women were paid more.

Wives had to be given more rights versus their husbands and the marriage bar had to be removed. And so on.

Again, Labour and its allies played a leading role in all this.

Labour, in other words, has played an important role in Irish life, even if it is now helping to push us towards an overly aggressive secularism; has helped to redefine the family in ways harmful to the real interests of children; and its drive for abortion, if successful, would obviously extinguish the rights, and lives, of a whole class of children, namely those in the womb.

Indeed, the social ideology championed by Labour and its fellow travellers now needs its own corrective, just as Labour has sometimes been a necessary corrective in the life of this country.

Irish Independent

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