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A handful of socialists could save us

LABOUR, it has to be said, is not playing by the rules. The deal, as we all understood it, was very simple. Fine Gael couldn't be trusted on its own in government. Leo Varadkar was a latter-day Ronald Reagan, Enda Kenny was Margaret Thatcher in disguise and the blueshirts unchecked would destroy the country with untrammelled Toryism.

So we needed to mix a little red with the blue. We needed the solid comrades of the Labour Party to be in there, too. Most of them dated back to the Cold War era anyway so they would bring a good, solid dose of communism to the new Government. When Fine Gael, as it doubtless would, tried to decimate the public services, Labour and its union buddies would be there to keep it in check. People wanted change, but they shoved Labour in to make sure it wouldn't happen just yet.

But, somewhere along the line, it's all gone horribly wrong. Fine Gael has become the new Fianna Fail and has inherited that party's sole motivation, which is getting power and keeping power. Varadkar is in charge of sport; Michael Noonan, who used to pop up with an ominous Churchill impression every time you turned on the TV, appears to have largely gone for a nap since he was sent home from Europe with his tail between his legs.

Enda Kenny is continuing to do what he always did, frantically travelling Ireland shaking people's hands. He was most recently seen popping out of a bush somewhere down the country.

But if Fine Gael has become the new Fianna Fail, Labour has become the new Fine Gael. And somehow, it is a handful of old socialists who have decided to grab public spending by the neck.

Brendan "Lazarus" Howlin has been out telling the public sector that if they don't get with the Croke Park programme, then they don't get protected by Croke Park. He's also been attacking quangos and has dared suggest that much of the public service is not fit for purpose.

Even Pat Rabbitte has rowed in behind Howlin in demanding to see some progress on the Croke Park deal. The public sector voters who put Labour in to defend their interests must be feeling short-changed.

Even Leo Varadkar sounds a bit jealous of the guys in Labour. Leo says he finds it reassuring but strange that Labour is taking such a hard line on public spending. Is Leo thinking of moving to the right and joining Labour?

Traditional Labour voters must be most appalled at Joan Burton. Joan is not only a good left-winger but a woman to boot. Yet she's talking tough about clamping down on welfare fraud, and reducing payments for people who refuse to take up jobs or training. Talk about an Iron Lady. Get that woman a handbag, a blue suit and a blue rinse.

So who would have thought? The country could yet be saved by a bunch of ageing socialists with nothing left to lose, who may just have decided to hell with popularity and to hell with politics, we're going to try and sort this place out.

Sunday Independent