Monday 16 September 2019

Ivan Yates: '"Progressive" Labour has a vision just like its rivals - a nanny state to crush dissent'

Struggle: Alan Kelly (left) and Brendan Howlin. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Struggle: Alan Kelly (left) and Brendan Howlin. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Ivan Yates

Ivan Yates

At Ireland's oldest political party's 70th national conference last weekend in Dublin, Brendan Howlin launched a power-play to return to government.

The instant riposte, borne out of public boredom with yesterday's pseudo-socialists, was: "Who cares what Labour has to say?"

The steep descent from Labour's high watermark of 19.4pc and 37 TDs in 2016, to a current single-digit poll rating of 4pc could cause a nose-bleed.

The party is struggling for relevance and its very survival is far from assured.

Their seven TDs comprise individuals who hold personalised seats with no guarantees of succession. This has been their biggest electoral problem for decades.

Willie Penrose, an incredible vote-getter, has already decided to retire in Longford/Westmeath.

Joan Burton (69), Jan O'Sullivan (67), Brendan Ryan (65) and Brendan Howlin (62) are likely to be facing their last general elections.

They have three potentially re-electable Senators in Ged Nash, Kevin Humphreys and Aodhan O Riordain. But they have lost their previous safety net in the form of historic trade union support.

Unless there's a significant boost in their current ratings, more seat losses are inevitable. They'll struggle to win any MEP seat next May.

They're still feeling the stinging backlash from the legacy of austerity. The scars of the broken promises on water charges/free third-level education during the 2011 campaign still smart. Yet Irish politics is nothing if not cyclical - time assuages most voter anger.

But this time it's different as within left-wing politics, Sinn Féin has eaten their lunch in many working-class communities; PeoplebeforeProfit, Solidarity, Independence4Change also gained traction over the water protests. Heretofore the point of difference between these brands and Labour was protest politics versus fronting up and actually serving in a coalition government.

Howlin's putative proposal to combine forces as a 'Progressive Platform' with the Greens and Soc Dems is a smart move, because it focuses on the future and seeks to make Labour relevant. That's new from a party preoccupied with the past and latterly leadership infighting over Alan Kelly's ambition to succeed.

The two most acutely interested politicians to this alliance plan are Leo and Micheál.

They know the arithmetic permutations of the next Dáil. The summit of either parties TD tally is circa 60 seats - 20 short of parliamentary viability for a government.

If this social democratic platform can deliver north of 20 TDs, it provides either FG or FF with the tantalising prospect of not having to depend on each other - or Sinn Féin - for power.

No political price will be too high to pay for that deal as it's Micheál's last chance to be Taoiseach, whereas Leo desperately wants a consecutive second term before he goes off to get a proper job on the international stage.

But Labour has a more fundamental problem. Its vision for a 'New Republic' is based on a soft-left strategy.

It promises to build 18,000 public houses at a cost of €15bn; implement Sláintecare, costing €6bn; a Charter of Workers' rights; secularisation of all State services and tough measures on climate change.

But right now that's just about the most crowded space in the Irish political market.

Meanwhile Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are giving the hard sell to being the most caring/sharing lovable lefties.

They've abandoned fiscal prudence and personal income tax cuts in favour of much more Government hands-on intervention. They pledge our taxpayer cash on health, housing, education, nationwide infrastructure and enhanced welfare entitlements.

Everybody on the political spectrum is now an all-embracing Social Democrat disciple. There's no dissent inside Leinster House or even most of the media bubble, led by RTÉ, as to expanding the nanny state into every facet of our lives. Anyone who dissents is a Trumpesque populist.

Populism in Ireland is unique - localised parish pump/constituent clientelism dictates TDs' principles. That explains what's happening over the Local Property Tax (LPT).

This raised €477m last year with a modest annual liability rate of 0.18pc on houses worth less than €1m; 0.25pc on mansions worth more. It represents our only wealth tax, widening the tax base beyond workers' incomes.

Yet its most vocal opponents are Ruth Coppinger in Castleknock and Richard Boyd Barrett in Dún Laoghaire.

Trotskyites protest it's unfair on their voters, citing it as a "Dublin" tax. That's simply untrue as a valuable home anywhere in Ireland is treated identically, on the basis of its asset market value.

Unbelievably, Sinn Féin's most recent budget plans promise to abolish the LPT - despite every tax expert analysis recommending expansion of the sole capital tax, on grounds of social equity.

This convergence of all parties to a left of centre consensus isn't just limited to tax-and-spend wheezes.

There's an increasing intolerance of any dissenting voice on issues of public health/lifestyle choices, climate change or religious freedom. The emergence of "thought police" instructs us how we all should think about Travellers/immigrants/religions. Freedom of expression is dismissed on the grounds of labelling nonconformists as racists and fascists.

In another decade, based on current trends, we can all expect to be ethnically cleansed.

No more lighting a solid fuel fire in our sitting room. Force-fed into veganism, with red meat prohibited. No driving a diesel car. Alcohol bans. No colour coding kids' clothes based on gender. All using transgender toilets. Gambling restrictions.

A surly, silent resistance is apparent amongst regular - especially rural - people who resent being told how to think and live.

Perhaps the ultimate philosophical dividing line in Irish politics should be individual freedom of choice versus a State-run monoculture that dictates every aspect of what's acceptable in our discourse.

Some 342,000 people voting for Peter Casey, who's clearly incoherent on most topics, is an early signal of pushback against a 'New Republic'.

Proponents call these new norms a progressive platform - stifling a traditional, simpler, "live and let live" culture. A neo-nanny state. No thanks.

Irish Independent

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