Wednesday 6 May 2015

Despite all appearances Labour's fate not yet decided

Labour party must learn to play the waiting game, but it must be done with strategic intent

Published 31/08/2014 | 02:30

Brendan Howlin
Brendan Howlin

The similarities between the Prussian Chancellor Otto Von Bismarck and Ireland's new national Queen Mum, Joan Burton, might initially appear to be hard to see.

But, as she faces into an uncertain political scenario, Ms Burton would do well to be informed by the Iron Chancellor's belief that: ''the ability to wait whilst a situation develops is one of the prerequisites of practical politics''.

Given its history, Labour, understandably, has difficulties with the waiting concept.

They are of a view that, having been brusquely told: "Labour must wait" by that old fox de Valera after 1916, all the subsequent saintly passivity delivered the eternal bronze medallists of Irish politics was a permanent seat in the ante-room of power.

On this occasion, patience might be facilitated by the fact that Labour's only strategic option is to wait.

The party may have zipped up in some polls in the wake of Joan's election and the sweet nothings Brendan Howlin has been whispering to public- sector workers.

But, even Labour is uncertain as to whether the bounce is real or of the dead cat variety.

It certainly appears unlikely that our frigid voters are in the mood to swiftly depart from their current definition of Labour: the party that broke all ye'er promises.

However, whilst this means Labour still has to play the waiting game, the party would be wise to note there are variants of waiting.

If the party simply indulges in the unfocused existentialist waiting of Beckett's tramps then it will undoubtedly be collared by the Irish electoral police.

Instead Labour should, like Bismarck who in fairness never had to deal with the Irish voters or the Irish Labour party - wait with strategic intent.

One of the key factors that should inform such a policy is the notorious pragmatism of the Irish electorate.

For now our voters may be making grand statements of romantic intent to the revolutionaries of Sinn Fein and the few idealistic Independents they can find.

But, are our voting floozies really going to break up the current loveless relationship with the plain old political nurses of Labour and Fine Gael?

There might not be much of a divine spark there, but Fianna Fail, Sinn Fein and the Independents are like the on-line world of dating. The voters may be engaging with a virtual flirtation but whilst the promises are sweet Paddy the notoriously conservative voter must be wondering if they are of the photo-shopped variety.

As we enter the final laps of the 5,000-metre race this Coalition plans to run, before going to the hustings in 2016, plenty of hard questions have to be asked about sweet-talking Sinn Fein and our Fianna Fail apologists, who would say sorry for the rain if it got them a vote.

Do we really want to be led by the boom and bust coalition of those who busted the State (Fianna Fail) and Sinn Fein, political kissing cousins of the IRA who turned the North into an economic desert for thirty years courtesy of the latter's habit of blowing the place up?

And far from being yet another coalition for the ages, it is more likely an alliance of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail would collapse in three years.

That certainly is the great hope for Sinn Fein who plan to set about the rotting carcass of any such government with the vigour of a pack of laughter-free hyenas.

The weakness of the opposition does not matter if it really is an iron law of politics that Labour has been consigned to a Green meltdown without a return ticket.

But, despite the rage of the voters, it is not impossible that the timorous breeze of economic growth means Fine Gael could still secure fifty plus seats.

And if Labour stages a recovery to their normal humble twenty seat status all the Coalition would need is a small friend (hello Lucinda) and we would be back in business.

Of course, when it comes to the waiting game, Labour must also recognise that the voters at some point will need to be seduced.

Indeed, they are already playing that game courtesy of Brendan Howlin's amorous suggestions to the public sector.

The problem there, alas, is that by not waiting, Labour may already have dissipated the impact of their proposals.

In politics promises that are made too early tend to evolve into a Pandora's box rather than the anticipated Christmas present.

It is, in fairness, not easy to practise restraint when you are the tethered goat of the Coalition blame game.

But, jumping too early, as Brendan Howlin may have done on public-sector pay, means the party runs the risk of being found guilty of political premature ejaculation. And that sort of thing, alas, means no-one ends up being satisfied.

The waiting game, as Bismarck knew so well, is all about timing and Labour, to survive, need to get it more correct than they have managed to date.

Sunday Independent

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