Burton: ‘Coping classes are today’s new underdogs’
New Labour leader talks to Anne Harris
Joan Burton has used two words a lot since her historic election as the first woman Labour leader: head and heart as instruments of rule. There are two other words which are also emblazoned on her consciousness; anger and urgency. They are and always have been Labour watchwords — the anger of the underdog and the urgent need to redress it.
The hand of history is on her shoulder. And, as always, that hand is a whip hand. Burton’s urgency is compounded by the fact that there are, in all probability, about 18 months left in this Government. There will be no honeymoon. First thing on Monday, she will meet the Taoiseach and the matter in hand will be of the seismic kind: the Cabinet reshuffle.
Will she lance the suppurating boil that Pat Rabbitte has, almost wilfully, become on the face of Government? Or will she brook the brother who dared to approach the throne, Alex White? There was no triumphalism in the woman I met. As always, she is the happy warrior. But she carried the confidence born of an intimate knowledge of the party she leads — clearly, she used the protracted hustings as a sort of national therapy session. Add this to the fact that she turned the snubbing of her Finance Department ambitions and her relegation into Social Protection into a major political advantage, and you have one of the few members of Cabinet who has never lost touch with the people. Gone are any old Labour shibboleths. Joan Burton has examined the landscape of a country ravaged by recession and austerity and is gambling on a major repositioning of the party.