Tuesday 22 October 2019

'Kenny will go in the summer - and that may catapult us into a general election'

Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin Picture: Frank McGrath
Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin Picture: Frank McGrath
John Downing

John Downing

Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party cannot win the UK general election, Brendan Howlin, the leader of Irish Labour, has frankly conceded.

"I've met Jeremy Corbyn several times since I became leader. There's no doubt he has a set of principles, and an unaltered set of views going back over three decades," Mr Howlin said.

"But I think there are many within his own party, including his parliamentary party, who believe his position will mean that they won't win the next election," the Labour leader added.

Mr Howlin said that Mr Corbyn's approach to politics is more akin to that of the Irish far-left parties, Solidarity-People Before Profit (S-PBP). They both operate as commentators on working people's problems, not delivering compromises and solutions.

"Ultimately, politics is about shaping the political landscape of your own country. There are those who are heavy on analysis and light on delivery," he insisted.

Mr Howlin also reflected that most mainstream Labour parties are "in flux" all across western Europe, and not just Britain and Ireland.

In an interview before the British general election was called, he said there also were big reverses for his counterparts in Netherlands in elections last month, and there are deep divisions among the French socialists ahead of next Sunday's presidential election.

But he also struck an upbeat note. The Dutch Labour Party will rebuild, the French centre-left is already regrouping around Emmanuel Macron, and in Germany Social Democrat Martin Schultz will give Chancellor Angela Merkel a serious challenge in September's federal elections.

Similarly, speaking ahead of his party's first conference since its 2016 electoral meltdown when it was reduced to seven TDs, he insisted it can regroup and find its political footing again. 

Read More: Howlin hopes for a 'Labour rising' as movement in flux

Mr Howlin, who took over the Labour leadership in controversial circumstances on May 20 last year, is hosting colleagues in his hometown of Wexford, and insisted a "slow and incremental revival" will happen.

The Labour leader also warned that Enda Kenny's expected departure from the Taoiseach's office this summer might catapult Ireland into a general election because Fianna Fáil will not want to let a new Fine Gael leader to get established.

"My judgment is that Enda Kenny will go during the summer. That may, in and of itself, catapult us into a general election. I'm not sure whoever succeeds will be given time to build his own campaign platform. Fianna Fáil may decide it is the time pull the plug."

The Labour leader warns that a lack of stable government in Dublin and Belfast is damaging Ireland's chances of dealing with the Brexit fallout. The Taoiseach's expected retirement poses serious problems of continuity for Brexit talks. "All the discussions he has had will be lost for his successor," he insisted.

Mr Howlin also said that Labour is ready to consider coalition with Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael - depending on the best possible programme to advance working people's needs.

He also said that Sinn Féin had significantly changed its economic policies from its 2011 election message that the "Troika should get lost and take their money with them". He expected leadership change may mitigate "legacy problems" due to past violent links with the IRA. "The leadership, of course, is a matter for themselves," he stressed.

Labour will certainly fight the next election as a separate party with no pre-arranged vote pacts or deals. But it is open to coalition because all governments will be coalitions and politics is about implementing an agenda. To his astonishment, the majority in the current Dáil choose opposition over coalition.

The far-left S-PBP are not likely to be on his potential coalition agenda. "They have ruled themselves out. They're there to bang a drum - not to make a difference," he said.

Irish Independent

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