Wednesday 21 March 2018

Labour will pay for its lame good cop/ bad cop routine

The Labour party is speaking out of both sides of its mouth: one side whimpers "pity me" while the other snarls "screw you". Ever since the Budget and the party's spectacular abandonment of its election promises, opinion within Labour appears sharply divided over whether its spokespeople should face the public with a penitently bowed head or a defiantly raised middle finger.

Now that damage limitation is the party's primary goal, discussion about the merits of these opposing approaches has become a philosophical debate. "Labour's way or Frankfurt's way?" was a trick question that fooled some of the people some of the time. These days, however, the Frankfurt-loving Labourites are preoccupied with a more pressing dilemma: "Pat's way or Joan's way?"

Pat Rabbitte, the communications minister, is the most prominent proponent of the belief that attack is the best form of defence. Speaking on RTÉ's The Week In Politics, Rabbitte came close to blaming voters for being gullible enough to fall for Labour's manifesto in the first place.

The party's pre-election pledge to exempt child benefit from cuts was, he essentially admitted, an opportunistic headline grabber that looked good at the time. "Isn't this the kind of thing you tend to do during an election campaign?" he sniffed.

Joan Burton, the social protection minister, opts for a more conciliatory-sounding strategy. She has repeatedly expressed her "regret" about the social welfare reductions, and would have us believe that nobody is more upset about the consequent hardship than she is.

This tactical divergence between Rabbitte and Burton – a rift over whether it's more electorally beneficial to engage in bad-mouthing or poor-mouthing – has become a fault line that runs right through the Labour Party. From the beleaguered public's perspective, however, there is only one outcome to this internal squabble that makes anything resembling sense.

Rabbitte has been lambasted for the blunt disdain of his comments on The Week In Politics but, in truth, his screw-you approach is infinitely preferable to the self-indulgent whining of the pity-me faction.

The harsh effects of Labour's connivance in mean-spirited measures like the €325 cut in the respite care grant are not softened to the slightest degree by the oily hand-wringing of Labour representatives. Under the circumstances, in fact, their self-serving blether only adds insult to injury.

The notion that welfare cuts constitute a form of tough love that hurts the perpetrator more than the victim is ludicrous. Citizens are not children, and governments are held to account for their actions, not some vague discomfort that government TDs might claim to feel about those actions.

Having betrayed the trust of those who voted for the party, Labour has made its bed. Even the most regretful or self-pitying Labour deputies should prepare themselves for the ear-splitting wake-up call that awaits at the next election.

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