Lucinda needs to lose fear of being labelled a conservative
Lucinda Creighton and her party-to-be have been accused of being "fuzzy" in their aims. That's true. But so are the aims of the alliance of Independents put together by Shane Ross and the newly-elected Michael Fitzmaurice.
Creighton said the soon-to-be launched, unnamed party will stand for "entrepreneurs", reforming the public service, "giving politics back to the people", and "measuring Government with a clear social target".
This principle seems to encompass allowing a free vote on issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage. Apart from this last promise, the general principles of the party-to-be are indeed fuzzy. But check out what Shane Ross had to say about the aims of his alliance of Independents a few days ago.
"What we are going to do is combine our forces and work in the interest of reform, work in the interest of the people, and work to absolutely uproot politics in this country in a radical way."
This statement is also incredibly lacking in specifics. What explains this? Is it because both Lucinda Creighton and Shane Ross are worried that their efforts will be labelled by the media from the get-go in a way that alienates the middle ground? Or is it because they genuinely don't have clearly worked-out policies yet?
A bit of both but principally I would say they are worried about being called "right-wing", even though, on economic issues both Creighton and Ross are certainly right-of-centre, in that they favour lower taxes in general and would opt for a freer economy over a more regulated one.
On social issues, Ross is mildly liberal and Creighton is mildly conservative. Lucinda is plainly shy of being overly branded a social conservative, despite having voted against the recent abortion law. This explains why she is now a soft supporter of same-sex marriage.
While no politician in Ireland wants to be called "right-wing" or "conservative", none hesitates to describe him or herself as "left-wing". Even Bertie Ahern called himself a "socialist."
The contrast with other countries is stark. In Ireland, every politician who isn't left-wing calls him or herself "centrist". I seem to remember Enda Kenny once saying he belonged to the "radical centre", whatever that is. So what we have here in Ireland isn't a left-right divide so much as a left versus 'centre' divide, and on the left we have a battle between the soft left and the hard left over who is the ideologically purest of them all.
It's true that in every country the right suffers from an image problem in that the left has successfully managed to associate right-wing politics with greed and heartlessness. But here in Ireland the problem is particularly pronounced even though Ireland has never has a fascist government, unlike a lot of other European countries, and doesn't have an extreme right, such as we see today in other nations.
We did, of course, have a highly authoritarian Catholic Church, which we are still reacting against, but that only explains the fear of being labelled a "social conservative", not the fear of being called a supporter of the free market. What keeps the left on its toes on the Continent more than in this country, is that it, too, has an image problem in that the left in Europe is often closely associated with authoritarianism and failed economic policies.
In this country, however, we have no experience of a fully left-wing Government and high public spending remains associated more with Fianna Fail than with the left.
People's tolerance for the failures of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael-led administrations down the years has actually been enormous. We have had repeated economic crises since Independence but it took this latest one to finally hole Fianna Fail below the water line, and it could do the same to Fine Gael.
This has given the left its opportunity because it really has no track record running this country. Therefore we romanticise it, and Ruth Coppinger, Paul Murphy and Joe Higgins are able to get away with lauding Lenin's Russia. That is not a thought crime in the eyes of our media, whereas opposing same-sex marriage is.
Lucinda is one of the bravest politicians in Ireland without question. But even she seems to quail at being labelled "conservative" or "right-wing" by the likes of RTE and the 'Irish Times'. She shouldn't worry about their good opinion. She doesn't need it and she could easily turn their opposition into a virtue with many voters. Therefore, she needs to be bold, not cautious. She should simply set before the public what she really believes on all issues in the way Michael O'Leary would if he ever decided to run for office, that is, without fear or favour.
She will be attacked, but many voters will flock to her standard precisely as a result of those attacks and certainly in sufficient numbers for her party to become a significant force in Irish politics.