Monday 24 November 2014

Question haunting Labour: will one victim be enough?

Isolation, fear of the unknown and group-think are exacerbating the rifts within Labour

Published 01/06/2014 | 02:30

Should she be elected, Burton has the freedom to indulge in an Albert Reynolds-style Valentine's Day massacre of the Cabinet
Should she be elected, Burton has the freedom to indulge in an Albert Reynolds-style Valentine's Day massacre of the Cabinet

Splits within Labour are not unknown, but, generally they have been confined to relatively controllable wars with the militant tendency, coalitionists versus anti-coalitionists or the eternal Democratic-Left-versus-Decent-Old-Labour civil war.

However in the wake of its electoral debacle Labour is now split into distinct factions and there are a couple of subsets wandering around too.

The departure of Mr Gilmore may have appeared relatively civilised but the subsequent power game, and the party the victor will inherit, is a lot less so.

The party is now split into several groupings beginning with the Democratic Left-inspired Student Princes.

They include the deposed Dear Leader, Ciara and Kathleen Lynch in Cork, the Dublin Buttons Eric Byrne, the somewhat more distant Anne Ferris, Pat 'the original student prince' Rabbitte, and Sean Sherlock, who actually falls into a number of camps.

Then there is, of course, the complex character of Alex White who, though, technically a member of the Panicky New Labour wing, is very much the spiritual child of the 'student prince' wing.

A second and somewhat more harmless group consists of Decent Old Labour, involving characters like Micheal Conaghan, Robert Dowds, Kevin Humphreys, Sean Kenny, Eamon Maloney, Willie Penrose, Brendan Ryan, Jan O'Sullivan and Jack Wall.

Though these have been essentially chalked down as Joan supporters, the reality may be somewhat more complex.

The most intriguing and potentially dangerous group of all are Decent New Labour, or perhaps more accurately the Panicky New Labour (PNL) wing of the Labour Party.

In the wake of the non-coup there is a bit of blood on their collective muzzles now and, as in nature, once the dog has killed the sheep it is almost impossible to erase the hankering.

Within the PNL Arthur Spring will be treated with especial caution by our aspirant leaders for a personality that oscillates between charisma and eccentricity, his dynastic ties and ambition means King Arthur is the wild card in the pack.

Those other PNL figures include Dominic Hannigan, Alan Kelly – whose sunny personality means he is often confused with the Grumpy Gang – Ciara Conway, Michael McNamara, Ged Nash, Derek Nolan, Aodhan O Riordain, Michael McCarthy Ann Phelan and Joanna Tuffy.

Of course, the most dangerous faction, when it comes to the ambitions of Queen Joan, is the Grumpy Gang.

The danger from this group may be intensified by their 'nothing to lose' status; particularly if Labour's new Queen of Hearts plans to take an axe to the Cabinet to save herself.

The Grumpy Gang includes the acerbic and experienced party infighter Emmet Stagg, Ruairi Quinn, Joe Costello and Brendan Howlin, while there is no shortage of crossovers with the student prince wing.

Mr Howlin, as of now appears to be planning to play a similar Buddhist role to that of Michael Noonan in 2010, but there is little doubt that the alliance of the Grumpy Gang and the Student Princes will be active in the field – and not on Joan's side.

Those who will be equally active on the other side are the Seanad Hezbollah of iconoclastic straight-talking senators such as John Whelan, Denis Landy and John Kelly.

The already rebellious spirits of the habitues of the Hairy Bacon Gang will not have been dissipated by the sight of those disappearing councillors which has swept their own future Seanad seats away.

For now Joan Burton retains a firm grip on those senators, the councillors and, most critically of all, the defeated councillors.

However, at a minimum the Student Prince and Grumpy Gang wings of the party are deeply hostile to her leadership, while over a third of the backbenchers are irredeemably hostile.

Intriguingly, Ms Burton's political positioning is quite similar to that of Enda Kenny, who balanced the love, or at least tolerance, of the peasantry with the active distaste of the aristocracy.

So, should she be elected, Burton has the freedom to indulge in an Albert Reynolds-style Valentine's Day massacre of the Cabinet.

It is a situation that is filling parts of the Burton camp with some unease, for while they are no great shakes at running a country, the Democratic Left Student Princes know how to go to war.

And if they have to tear down the walls of the city, or rather the party, to prevent "that woman" from occupying it, they will.

The problem, alas, with their champion Alex White is that his support does not travel beyond the gates of Leinster House, and some indeed would suggest it struggles to reach the gates of Leinster House.

But, could the increasingly nervous alliance of the Grumpy Gang and the Student Princes secure their objective via the side-gate of a peasants' revolt by Panicky New Labour?

Something must happen, for Labour's agony resembles Golding's Lord of the Flies where a group of otherwise normal children are turned into savages by a combination of isolation, fear of the un-known, bad leaders and group-think.

Last week Mr Gilmore was the poor designated Piggy who was sacrificed in the vague hope that it might appease the vengeful Gods of the electorate.

Now the question galloping ever faster through the frantic minds of poor Labour is whether one victim might be enough.

Increasingly, the answer appears to be no.

Sunday Independent

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