independent

Monday 21 April 2014

We understand Gilmore only too well

Labour's abysmal standing in the polls is the result of its support for austerity, writes Gene Kerrigan

THERE are people who complain that these days it's getting hard to tell Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore apart. This is nonsense. Enda is the one who runs away from debates and endlessly repeats a string of soundbites written for him by his very expensive advisers: "Five-point plan; hitting our targets; exit the bailout."

Eamon, on the other hand, is the one who these days hasn't the heart to puff himself up to unleash his trademarked insincere rhetoric: "Frankfurt's way or Labour's way!" Stuff like that.

And Eamon is the one with the worry-creases deeply etched into his forehead. Enda, of course, floats above it all – whatever the problem, his tastefully coiffed advisers have a soundbite with which to brush it aside.

This week, he will talk about tough Budget decisions, about how we can't afford to mollycoddle the blind, the disabled and their carers – we just don't have the money.

And if anyone mentions wasting fourteen million on an ego-trip referendum on the Seanad, Enda will whip out the soundbite about that being an exercise in democracy – and sure, you can't put a price on democracy.

Cheerful and ruthless, Enda is enjoying his 15 minutes of fame. Once he became Taoiseach, he knew his portrait would be up there in the line of images that stretches from Cosgrave through de Valera and Lemass, to Brian Cowen. He was now part of history. The chap from Mayo, who inherited his seat, who hardly said a word in the Dail, who rose without trace of legislation, vision or principle, has it made.

Enda knows that history will bracket him with Cowen as the caretaker of the Dublin branch office of the Bundestag. But he also knows his portrait's place is assured on that wall of historical figures – and that's more than he ever dared hope for.

Job done, position acquired, he's now enjoying himself. And it takes more than a referendum debacle to wipe that smile away. He might get a big job in Europe, he might go for a second term in 2016. It's all good. Either way, the pension's only mighty.

Things are much more serious for Eamon. According to the latest poll, Labour can today count on the electoral support of most of Mr Gilmore's family, a scattering of voters in Dublin's inner city, plus the promise of third preferences from two lads in Termonfeckin.

Beyond that, the country can't stand Labour. Or its leader. Within the party, Eamon's leadership is under threat from Joan Burton. Somehow, Joan has positioned herself as the protector of old Labour values, while attacking the unemployed and their lifestyle and slashing away at the social protections that we – in our work and our taxes – have already paid for.

As if Eamon hasn't enough to worry about, last week he and his comrades got a kick in the teeth from the German SPD. The SPD is negotiating to go into coalition government with Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats. And they've been laying down conditions that involve this country.

No deal, they told Merkel, until you force the Irish political classes to stop mollycoddling big business. And, Angela – you know how the Irish politicians expect help with reducing the banking debts they've heaped on to their citizens? If you want the SPD to prop up your government, knock that on the head.

Who are these SDP clowns who are making life more difficult for Mr Gilmore? Well, just as Merkel's Christian Democrats are the equivalent of Fine Gael, so the SPD is the German equivalent of Labour. Like Labour, it's a member of the Socialist International. With their fists aloft, the SPD and Labour stride forth together on the world stage, their throats hoarse from their passionate singing of The Red Flag.

Well, The Reddish Flag. The Slightly Pink Flag. The Pale Fluttering Thing That Waves Weakly In Line With Whatever Wind Is Blowing.

In short, Eamon is being shafted by his comrades abroad, his comrades at home are waiting for the appropriate moment to slip a knife between his ribs and the Irish electorate look on him with the kind of distaste usually reserved for a genital rash.

And let's not forget that Eamon chose Foreign Affairs as his department. Shortly afterwards, Wikileaks published a memo that the US embassy here sent to Washington. This claimed that Eamon had told the embassy that it was "politically necessary" that he adopt a certain line with voters, but not to worry, he'd take the completely opposite line once the time was right.

This memo was circulated to embassies around the world. And that kind of thing is the stuff of embassy gossip. Therefore, few of the people Eamon meets in his Foreign Affairs work will be unaware of this. When they smile at you, Eamon, they're remembering that little tale.

When Labour takes a hiding in the polls, yet Fine Gael looks certain to be top dog in the next government, Labour whingers react with irritation. Labour, they whine, hasn't got the credit it deserves.

In August, Eamon Gilmore put the blame on Roisin Shortall for resigning. Her lack of "bottle" for the job of depressing the economy, as demanded by Frankfurt, "contributed enormously to the difficulties that we now have in the opinion polls".

No doubt Eamon and his comrades truly believe this nonsense. To them, what hurts Labour is not the fact that it's been depressing the economy, driving up emigration and unemployment, protecting the hierarchy of privilege – it's the fact that a junior minister, Shortall, hadn't the "bottle" for doing more of it.

When they're not whinging about being betrayed by the likes of Shortall, Labour puts its woes down to a problem in communication. We don't understand what they're doing.

Sorry, folks, we understand all too well.

Why oh why, they whine, doesn't Fine Gael get this kind of lashing?

Well, Eamon, Fine Gael gets a bit of a lashing. But there's a solid core of its support that's quite happy with the austerity policies.

Fine Gael has been stalwart in protecting the upper layers from any wealth tax, from any bubble tax – privileges have been protected.

Bankers keep obscene levels of pay, the financial business remains unreformed. Fine Gael ensures there will be no financial transaction tax, though it's sorely needed for several reasons. Fine Gael continues to allow the biggest corporations to treat the country as a tax haven, thereby creating loads of lucrative business for certain lawyers and accountants.

Many of the people who previously depended on Fianna Fail for protection – the hoteliers and publicans – have come to realise that FG does that job just as well. For whole swathes of the comfortable classes, austerity has delivered inconvenience, but no real pain. They retain confidence in Fine Gael.

Others buy into the moralistic nonsense about how austerity purifies us – if we self-harm, eventually the investment markets will love us again.

While Fine Gael protects its core vote, Labour has allowed the medium- and low-paid, the disabled, the unemployed, to take real, cruel punishment. It has co-operated with Frankfurt in loading banker debt on to future generations. Fine Gael core support therefore holds up, Labour is bugger all use to its core support, so it crumbles away.

Not to worry. Just keep thinking of the pension. Only mighty, it is, only mighty.

Sunday Independent

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