| 12.4°C Dublin

Politician vows to 'hold the line?' Don't hold your breath

Close

Alexis Tsipras

Alexis Tsipras

REUTERS

Alexis Tsipras

There's a commonly held belief that the Irish people were let down by the new Government after the last election. And they were.

What voters wanted was change. Fine Gael and Labour simply provided a different pair of hands doing the same job of work. A management takeover, not a new company. It was still right for Fianna Fail to be punished. That was a necessary catharsis. But our fate had already been decided. Trained monkeys could have done the Troika's bidding.

What's less commonly admitted is that the Irish people have also been let down by the Opposition, and for the exact same reason. Namely, they wanted alternatives, and to provide it the Left needed to shake off its habitual amateurism and finally get its act together.

Instead, what we ended up with was, in the case of Sinn Fein, a semi-constitutional personality cult still in thrall to its paramilitary origins, and, in the case of the Trotskyite fringe, a group of clowns and messers who only get more ridiculous the closer that they come to an election, as if deliberately trying to jeopardise their own chances because the prospect of actually being in a position to do something at last terrifies them.

That surely is the reason for the Government's tentative recovery in the polls. It's not confidence or gratitude from voters. It's because they're being driven back on to familiar turf in dismay at the supposed alternatives.

Any hope that this will change was dashed by Richard Boyd Barrett's appearance on Newstalk's The Pat Kenny Show last Friday, at the end of a week when Greece's new government had got its wish for direct meetings with EU power brokers, only to come away with precisely nothing.

As Pat Rabbitte pointed out, that was a body blow to those in Ireland who have hitched their wagon to Syriza's star. If Greek socialists "haven't made one inch of progress", it damages the Irish Left's claim to be part of a movement which can resist European hegemony.

The People Before Profit TD conceded there were "certain doubts" about Syriza's commitment to the fight against austerity, but flatly denied that the Left in Ireland had jumped on the party's bandwagon, insisting that they had merely supported the Greek people and the "sentiment which led them to vote for Syriza". As far as he was concerned, Syriza's withdrawal from the battle, if that is what happens, makes no difference.

Say what? Had Syriza tamed the EU, the Left in Ireland would have lost no time in claiming its share of the glory. It clearly expected some such effect when reacting jubilantly to the Greek poll result. Paul Murphy spent election night at Syriza HQ in Athens and openly hoped that a win for the party would be a spur to "further radicalisation here in Ireland". Gerry Adams probably went furthest of all, emboldened by a personal endorsement from Syriza's victorious leader.

Even more alarming than Boyd Barrett's revisionism about the cosy relationship between the Irish Left and Syriza was his confident assertion that, whatever happened to Greece would not happen to us. Syriza might buckle, but "we will hold the line".

Considering all that's happening right now, this is 'ostrich sticking its head in the sand stuff', and there can't have been a single listener on Friday who believed that a future Irish administration could face down the EU when Greece had just been sent home with its tail between its legs.

That's no defence of the EU, which is a thoroughly autocratic and unpleasant institution; but what did Greece expect? Ivan Yates on Newstalk Breakfast made that point during the week. Syriza went into negotiations without a Plan B on which to fall back. It was not so much about putting the fear of God into the Germans as the fear of 'Grexit'. Ultimately, that was Greece's best, possibly only, weapon.

In the end, Greece was simply not prepared to use it. They went into the duel with a pistol loaded with blanks, and the Germans had a howitzer. The only way the Left in Ireland could possibly hope to achieve a better deal is to be prepared to do what the Greeks would not, by ditching the euro and reneging on its debts.

To be fair, People Before Profit is ready to do that, but SF actively discourages discussion of any exit from Europe. And even if it did endorse such a plan, it would require a referendum, and there's no evidence the Irish people are willing to go it alone, meaning any left-wing government would wind up back at the negotiating table in a weaker position than before. To pretend that an Irish victory over the EU is anything other than a fanciful fiction is opportunistic electioneering of a sort that has already brought Irish politics into disrepute.

Even if Barrett and his comrades did pull the plug on any deal which compromised their socialist ideals, it wouldn't stop it happening. It would simply mean that the Left's ideological virtue remained "virgo intacta", which would be lovely for them, but amount to diddly squat for the Irish people. It might actually be worse for us than for Greece.

There's an outside chance the Russians could ride to Alexis Tspiras' rescue in return for a foothold of influence in Europe; but it's doubtful they'd extend the same offer to Ireland. A land of milk and honey won't be funded on the back of activists selling a few copies of the Socialist Worker on O'Connell Street.

So what should the Left do? Accept the inevitable and bend the knee to neoliberalism? Of course not. But be honest with voters. Admit that things may get much worse before they get better. If it really does want to provide an alternative to FG, FF and Labour, then start by being different in that respect at least, otherwise the Left is just offering more of the same moonshine and spin, in turn breeding ever deeper cynicism about politics.

Don't hold your breath. The Left is always looking up at the stars, whilst the poor fools who believe in them stay down in the gutter. If that's not betraying the Irish people every bit as much as the other politicians whose broken pledges they condemn, what is?

Sunday Independent