Thursday 18 December 2014

Labour rose still red, in case the workers forgot

But the party's gathering over Valentine's weekend was hardly a love-in, says John Drennan

Published 16/02/2014 | 02:30

TD Joe Costello, Lucy McRoberts, Dublin Central Councillor and Marie Sherlock at the Labour Party's one day Conference in Enfield.
Photo: Tony Gavin
TD Joe Costello, Lucy McRoberts, Dublin Central Councillor and Marie Sherlock at the Labour Party's one day Conference in Enfield. Photo: Tony Gavin

THE day after St Valentine's night can, if things don't go right, be an uneasy enough affair.

And in the case of Labour, despite the cheerful presence of the Irish ladies rugby team, there was more than a slight atmosphere of Halloween – rather than the hoped for spring tide of love – surrounding the party's pre-election gathering.

Outside the hall there was sleet, rain and pylon protesters, while the air was thick with the spectre of past promises and the spooks of elections to come.

Of course, another bete noire was also skulking around the building, courtesy of an apparent pre-Valentine's domestic between that perennial political 'odd couple' of Brendan Howlin and James Reilly.

The relationship between permanently neat and tidy primary school teacher Howlin and the more colourful 'Bottler' Reilly is always entertaining.

However, in the wake of the revelations about Bottler's latest 'cunning plan' to help the struggling 'coping classes', delegates were scathing.

Intriguingly, Howlin, when surrounded by the media, was so effusive about his respect for Reilly that we were almost in 'friends, best friends forever' country.

He noted it was distressing to hear of disagreements between the Coalition couple. Sadly, the views of other apparatchiks were somewhat chillier.

As one summarised Reilly's cunning plan as being a case of "fifty shades of Bertie politics that isn't going to fly'', the very different fifty shades of Shatter and the way he might look at GSOC was causing Labour's endangered species of civil libertarians more than a slight degree of angst.

Not for the first time a Labour conference appeared to be more about FG than the actual party that was holding it.

Still, the mood of the 400 delegates (which was a bit short of the numbers pulled by the Reform Alliance but we were in Johnstownbridge) perked up when Eamon Gilmore arrived on the stage.

As is increasingly the case these days, the Labour leader was in 'I am the Invisible Man hear me roar' mode as he recalled how Labour had taken over a country where the middle classes were "taking their savings out of banks and turning them into sterling".

As Mr Gilmore warned the delegates that 2014 was "a very important year" (no silly, he was talking about the economy, not the election), the delegates cheered most loudly when the Dear Leader promised: "Labour are specialists in doing the impossible."

Whatever about the easy task of saving the Irish economy of 2011, when it comes to the far harder job of saving Labour it's a talent they are going to have to rediscover.

It has been a bit of a journey from the initial salad days of governance where Pat and Eamon romped with the woodland nymphs of Carton House, the historic home of the old Irish Ascendancy and the latter-day palace of leisure for the Galacticos of Real Madrid and the Irish Ladies rugby team.

Of course the former think-in ended badly when three senators – Denis Landy, John Kelly and James Heffernan – publicly boycotted Carton on the grounds that the message being sent was the ageless one of "the working class can kiss my ass; I've got the boss's job at last".

Of course, much to the horror of the poor old workers, Labour are intent on embracing them to such an extent hardly a day passes that our dowager of a Tanaiste is not seen rushing towards them with pursed lips.

Though Labour continues to be unnervingly detached from the Wacky Races of the European Parliament elections, the hope among the troops, who were dutifully entering the many clinics and work-shops, was that the crushed roses of the previous Valentine's night were not the prelude to a St Valentine's Day-style massacre in about three months' time.

Sunday Independent

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