Saturday, January 9, 2010


The strategy of building an Alliance with Labour is one thats been discussued a number of times on this site. One comment challenged anyone who had an alternative strategy in mind to bring it to the table. Thats worth doing as an exercise just to see what the options are and while the end result may or may not be a viable strategy hopefully such discussion can broaden the options for the party and how we move forward.

Firstly I'd like to say I personally see merit in a working relationship with Labour while still having doubts about their lingering anti-republican factions, their willingness to do the shovel work necessary to rebuild the southern state and ultimately their committment to creating an all-Ireland republic.

Significant caveats but still the basic idea of working together with the other major Left wing party would offer some advantages to our project from time to time.

My suggested alternative strategy is therefore somewhat similar to the proposed Labour alliance however it differs as regards the degrees of effort that the party should invest in that particular relationship at the expense of building other alliances.

And while the proposed Labour alliance does not suggest an exclusive relationship with that party to the detriment of others options I am concerned that in its current form, with the requirement of SF having to prove itself suitable to Labour that it may become an alliance that sees the party repeatedly seeking to impress Labour to no end. How frequently would we have to court Labour before they went on a first date with us? As too often happens to over eager suitors we might just end up with egg on our face while dashing Enda gets the girl. Is that a risk we can afford to take. What benefit would we get from such a situation?

On what basis should we commit to such an alliance?

Well the arguments that I have seen seem based on 2 points:

(1) That as a sister left party then there is a natural bond;
(2) Further Labour is a large party and as such an alliance with them would have a meaningful weight, and also offer the opportunity for realignment of southern politics.

Point 1 is in my belief not a sufficient basis for a strategy simply because all the evidence points the other way.
point 2 has more weight to it because as the "natural" coalition partner for Fine Gael due to their size Labour are a party that can wield some influence, and will shortly be in govt. As has been commented elsewhere it may be an insurmountable obstacle to the strategy that we offer Labour nothing in return if they walk away from FG/FF. How can we convince labour to turn their back on govt. with FG in return for the prospect of an alliance and the prospect of future power in a left block.

And thats the main issue with the alliance. Because Labour is so disinterested in it we could simply exhaust ourselves working for it with nothing to show for it but Labour crowned as the leader of the Irish left with SF its sidekick.

Rather than creating an alliance with Labour we should first aim to deepen the working relationship with that party. A working relationship that would from time to time allow both parties to advance their separate aims. This will yield material benefits to both parties and allow us at times to push forward a common policy agenda but it will not demand the impossible from either party. We retain the commitment to engage with Labour but that engagement is conducted in a more more careful manner

But that would only be one aspect of the strategy because the significant amount of energy that would otherwise have been invested in Labour would now be freed up to develop other initiatives. And rather than trying to have a dialogue with one other elected party extra effort could be invested in developing relationships with community organisations, trade unions, and also other organisations and bodies ranging from anti-poverty groups, farming organisations, progressively minded business groups who reject the failed IBEC arguments condemning them to huge rates of insolvency etc.

There is a large group of people out there who have no access to influencing how south Ireland is shaped. They are not simply the voters themselves but also people in various civic bodies who have no avenue to articulate an alternative vision. Instead they are stifled by the consensus, for example that 67% of people who followed Labour, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael and voted Yes to Lisbon. The 33% who voted no are a disenfranchised block. I suspect that such disenfranchised blocks exist in many of the civic bodies across the southern state. One feature of the south is how such bodies take leadership roles in society that maybe political movements should be giving. In the south a progressive agenda can be driven as successfully, i suspect, by engaging with such bodies as it would be by investing in relatoinships with established parties.

This sense of disenfranchisement is evident also in the Irish media where the FG-Labour-FF consensus to generally regarded as gospel.

Rather than trying to build an alliance with one party we should instead be focussed on building alliances with those who would rather hear a different voice than the Irish Times/ Sindo; those who believe that a farming group like the IFA should be more militant in breaking the hold of FF allied beef barons, and so on and so on.

The focus must be on the community structures and civic groups or representative bodies that wield so much influence in the southern state. We must give the disenfranchised minority in those groups a political ally. Ultimately this will allow us to more effectively deliver change on behalf of all the disenfranchised in south Ireland - voters, non-voters and those working in civic groups who can create the progressive alliance we wish to build.

Is this a more profitable focus? Labour would be then just one additional interface for out party not our main focus?

1 comment:

  1. We are trying to alter the political, social and economic framework on this island. Standing in splendid isolation is not really an option. The problem with the alliance for change is that it is not really a strategy (or at least I haven’t heard the strategic logic behind it).

    As a tactic it has advantages. One objective of left-minded people in the party has to be to keep the party out of coalition with right-wing parties in the 26. If we are committed to an alliance for change then we have a yardstick against which any proposal for entering coalition can be judged and voted on by the Ard Fheis.

    Also as a tactic (and possibly one of the strategic elements of the idea) is that it puts the onus on the Labour Party to show a commitment to real change.

    For the time being we are wasting our time love-bombing the Labour Party. The mood in the state is very focussed on getting FF out. Labour Party populism will ensure that it goes with that flow. Any objective reading of the Labour Party (politically and/or historically) has to lead us to the conclusion that they will go into government with FG, accepting a right-wing programme for government (with a few fig-leaves).

    There is potential to work with some people in Labour. Labour activists and supporters in the community and the trade unions should have clear demands of Labour participation in government. When they don’t deliver then disharmony about how they have abandoned their principles could provide fertile ground for a proper working relationship.

    There is no point in trying to persuade the Labour Party to commit to an alliance for change now. Unless their constituency in the community and in the trade unions are pushing for it they will not move.

    I doubt they will ever move willingly but it’s worth trying. If they are unwilling to do it from a position of strength as the largest “left” party then we need to be ready to turn their reticence into support for Sinn Féin and to take the leadership of such an alliance, leaving Labour with no alternative but to accept from a position of weakness. In any case we need to build political strength to keep the pressure on the Labour Party.

    Meanwhile, assuming that Labour is lost to FG for the next electoral cycle, we should try to maximise support for progressive forces more broadly. I’ll link this back to Killian Fordes idea of concentrating on a limited number of constituencies in the general election. I’m in two minds about it myself - there is always the potential for an “unexpected” candidate or two to catch a local wind and take a seat, but a concentration on resources on key constituencies might bring some of our people over the line.

    Would it be interesting to look at “understandings” with the PBPA, the SP or others? Could we offer Higgins a clear run in Dublin West in return for a clear run for Crowe in South West? Could we stand aside for Boyd-Barrett in Dun Laoghaire in exchange for a clear run for O’Snodaigh in South Central? Daly in Dublin North for Ellis in North West? It would be even more complicated with independent candidates. What could O’Sullivan offer for a free run in Dublin Central? Or McGrath in Dublin North Central? Could either of these help O’Toole in North East? How about Healy in Tipperary?

    An advantage of some sort of “understanding” would be laying the groundwork to set up a possible technical group in Leinster House. We would be well positioned to play the leading role, forming a solid progressive block from which to oppose the government. This would be very important in case we don’t get the seven seats to form our own group and could still be interesting if we do.

    In any case, I’m not wedded to any particular tactic, so long as we have the overall goal in mind – a 32 county socialist republic. The alliance for change might be a tactic to move us in the right direction, but we need be strategic as well.