News Gene Kerrigan

Saturday 20 September 2014

Labour must realise things could have been so different

The only job on offer was doing what they said they'd never do – but, well, a job's a job

Published 25/05/2014 | 02:30

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THE END OF DAYS: Fine Gael’s Richard Bruton stares stoicly into space at the count in the RDS, watching as the established political firmament takes another battering from a public increasingly disenchanted with the status quo. Photo: Tony Gavin
THE END OF DAYS: Fine Gael’s Richard Bruton stares stoicly into space at the count in the RDS, watching as the established political firmament takes another battering from a public increasingly disenchanted with the status quo. Photo: Tony Gavin

Imagine if Labour had meant what it said before the last election. Imagine if, after the votes were counted in 2011, it had said something like this: "We offered to provide a government that would be fair and capable. We said that those who benefited from the bubble would be made to clean up their own mess.

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"And whatever threats come from Europe or elsewhere, we would have placed the protection of our citizens above any regard for the right-wing hang-ups of EU bureaucrats and their banker cronies.

"The electorate wasn't ready for this. We accept that. If we join Fine Gael in government we would be required to protect the bankers and bondholders and to inflict great pain on the citizens. We would have to take on debts that are not ours, that will cripple the economy for at least a generation. We will not do that."

Impossibly idealistic, of course. Ludicrous – the notion of politicians meaning what they say and acting accordingly.

But, as the ballot boxes were opened on Saturday morning, it must have occurred to some in the Labour Party that things could have been so different. They could, in 2011, have left Fine Gael to cobble something together – to accept support from Fianna Fail. They could have driven the two biggest conservative parties into each other's arms.

The consequences for the citizens would have been little different. The consequences for Labour would have been significant.

As the day wore on, and the scale of the hiding became apparent, the party big shots graced the airwaves, talking about how this is just a mid-term thing. The voters understand how we had to make tough decisions. They understand what we had to do. They understand it's necessary that we kick their children. They respect us, underneath it all. For our courage. They love us. Really, they do.

That's the big shots. They are the people who will, in the next few years, retire on very hefty pensions. Down below, in what's left of the party, some must have wondered.

But it couldn't be any other way. The Labour leadership believes in the politics of austerity – despite the discrediting of the intellectual case for austerity, despite all the evidence. They agree with how the bankers and bondholders were protected. When they defend their record, you don't have to agree with them to accept their sincerity.

On top of that, the age profile of the Labour leadership told its own story. These people had been out of office for 14 years. By the time this Government ends some will be close to retirement. This was their last shot. To get a last taste of office, to rack up a few more pension credits before they bow out.

The only job on offer was doing what they said they wouldn't do – but, well, a job's a job. And, since they had no principled disagreement with the Fine Gael view, off they went.

Now, with their vote slashed, they go on the airwaves and wonder if – gee, maybe if Eamon Gilmore had taken another Department, instead of Foreign Affairs – maybe if he'd taken some job that gave him more visibility, let people see more of him at work, maybe...

And you realise the depths of their delusions. They sincerely believe that if we saw more of Gilmore – the bumptious master of artificial anger, the smug connoisseur of contrived sincerity – the electorate would awaken to the party's virtues.

The moan continues. We weren't the only ones to screw the citizens. FG did it, too. We got 19 per cent of the votes and 80 per cent of the blame, they complain.

True, but much of Fine Gael's base agrees with the right-wing hang-ups that have formed the disastrous response to the economic crisis. They don't feel let down by what's happened, they support it. In particular, much of those who finance the party are OK with what's been done.

As the voting figures came home to roost, there was a new angle. People won't put the government into the hands of Sinn Fein and independents. It's us, with Fine Gael, or it's Fianna Fail – and most people still hate them. And that may be true.

Pat Rabbitte said something about Sinn Fein going into government, and finding itself with the same pressures that hit Labour. The implication was that Sinn Fein will sell out its voters every bit as readily as did the Labour Party. And that too may be true.

But, beyond it all, the constant comforting murmur that this is a mid-term thing. Nothing changes, nothing ever changes. It's cyclical. They'll come back to us.

And, given the conservatism of Irish voters, that too may be true. Or not.

Sunday Independent

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