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Onus on Labour to assert values

Truth hurts, and while there was some element of partiality behind the claim by the departing Nessa Childers that Labour's leadership is fatally detached from "Labour Party ideals and values", the analysis will have struck a chord with many. In fairness to Labour, this detachment is not informed by evil motives. But in our strange political world where, despite the unprecedented disruption of the past decade, the supremacy of our Civil War parties is as unyielding as the dreary steeples of Fermanagh, the failure of Labour to assert its values in government has left the party dangerously open to experiencing a similar fate to the Greens. In some respects, such a denouement is deserved for this is a government that, having promised a "democratic revolution", increasingly resides at the edge of democratic legitimacy. Like its predecessor, the leitmotif of the Coalition is one of broken promises, a craven protection of vested interests, cronyism, arrogance crossed with self-pity and a timorous lethargy as old, unpunished elites creep back to still undisturbed well-feathered nests.

So far, Labour's response to its plight has served only to emphasise how comprehensively a party that does not appear to understand that mortgage arrears rather than gay marriage is "the civil rights issue of our generation" has lost its bearings. In education, the electorate are far more exercised by the return of third-level fees by stealth than the efforts of yet another minister garlanded by a necklace of broken promises, Mr Quinn, to chase the church out of schools. Mr Gilmore would be wise to realise that a reshuffle designed to promote our Tanaiste, in name at least, to a more glamorous posting looks more like jobbery than reform, while the current enthusiasm for wealth tax will only alienate an electorate that has had quite enough of taxation; even for millionaires.

Although Labour ministers, ironically, have been the most able members of a less than stellar Cabinet, there is more to governance than technocratic efficiency. Politics, if we are not to outsource the running of the State to some permanent mandarin class of Venetian Doges, should be imbued by great moral impulses such as rebuilding the confidence of the people or speaking truth to power. Sadly, a party defined in the public mind by broken promises cannot fulfil either function. Many, particularly in Fine Gael, may believe Labour's poignant state carries scant political weight. But FG should remember that a government, like the classic theory of industrial production, can only move at the speed of its weakest unit. If Labour falls apart, so too will the Coalition, and that will not serve Mr Kenny's core value of re-election at all costs in 2016. The public too should consider that a progressive Labour Party is the main bulwark against the amoral barbarism of Sinn Fein and the self-indulgent inclination of FG, FF and most of our, for the main part, opportunistic independents to always choose the populist route.

The one hope Labour can cling to is that the voting public resembles the eponymous woman in a restaurant who fills her date with despair with an initial observation of: "I don't know what I want." But while indecision is their dominant motif, the voters' one certainty, that they do not want Labour, is being fatally facilitated by the increasing difficulty in discerning what, beyond acting as a supportive crutch to Fine Gael, Labour values actually are. Labour, to borrow a phrase from another recently deceased coalition party, needs to be radical or redundant. We too need Labour to be radical, but if they baulk, the Assyrians of the electorate will assuredly make them redundant.

Irish Independent