Thursday 29 September 2016

The Corbyn Effect may spark a right old Left ding-dong in Irish politics

Published 17/09/2015 | 02:30

The election of Jeremy Corbyn has changed the British political landscape
The election of Jeremy Corbyn has changed the British political landscape

The Corbyn Effect - which is rattling the windows of the British establishment like a political El Nino right now - looks set to make its presence felt in Irish politics also.

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A short while before Jeremy Corbyn, the new hard-left leader of the British Labour Party, launched into his first Prime Minister's question time in the House of Commons, there came an announcement from the Anti-Austerity Alliance (AAA) and People Before Profit (PBP) that they are joining forces with the intention of running up to 40 candidates in the next general election.

In a statement posted on the website of the PBP's Richard Boyd Barrett, the new alliance - which will adopt the pithy moniker 'Anti -Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit' (AAA-PBP) said it had been formed "in order to maximise the left vote in the general election and the socialist voice in the Dáil".

Although the complex genealogy of the Irish Left isn't so much a family tree as a monkey-puzzle tree, containing - as is its wont - more splits than the Bolshoi Ballet, the four TDs backing the new alliance are Richard Boyd Barrett, Joe Higgins, Paul Murphy and Ruth Coppinger.

Encouraged by the rise of Corbyn (pictured), the Irish Left is invigorated. Although none of the quartet of deputies will discuss the new alliance until the registration process is complete, Dublin South-West TD Paul Murphy believes it "will benefit from an increased focus and interest on left-wing ideas - I think Corbyn's going to shake things up".

He added: "People are crying out for a radical alternative to the establishment. In Britain that has found its expression in Corbyn, in Ireland it doesn't yet have that expression."

And it seems likely that the AAA-PBP will engage in some serious turf warfare, come election time. It's almost a year since the AAA's Paul Murphy won the Dublin South-West by-election, beating hot-favourite Sinn Féin candidate Cathal King.

Furthermore, given that the new grouping also has the backing of 28 councillors, it has a crucial campaigning network already in situ for the general election.

"I think there's a lot of people who will go for something fresh, new, more left, more based on campaigning on the ground than what Sinn Féin offers," reckoned Murphy.

But yesterday, Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams was blasé about the prospect of a new left-wing group, and rejected the notion that Sinn Féin could be damaged electorally. "We have our own record, we have our own clear position.

"All of this is up to the people and nobody can predict exactly how the people may use their mandate on the day," he said, adding: "Good luck to everybody who's in the field."

But just as the Corbyn Effect bamboozled the denizens of the Westminster bubble by demonstrating how out of touch it was with grassroots discontent - the new leader was rejected by 90pc of Labour MPs, yet embraced by 60pc of the party faithful - a similar level of complacency in Leinster House may end with a rude awakening.

Although last week's Red C opinion poll indicated a rise in support for the government parties and a drop in support for Sinn Féin and Independents, the 28pc backing Independents and Others is still sizeable.

And fighting for this is an increasingly crowded and politically polarised field containing newbies such as Renua, the Social Democrats, the Independent Alliance and now the AAA-PBP.

How many voters, impressed by the Corbyn Effect, will look to the Left is anyone's guess. But the battle-lines are drawn, and the Irish Labour Party is gearing up for the fray - last night a Labour source fired the opening irreverent salvo.

"With the same-sex marriage legislation being published today, I suppose it was only a matter of time before Paul Murphy and Richard Boyd Barrett announced their intentions. I wish them the best of luck - with a combined support of less than 1pc in the polls, they'll certainly need it."

Analysis

Irish Independent

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