Saturday, January 1, 2011

Shine a Light on Fine Gael

Received this piece from Vincent Woodwood who has an excellent site at that is well worth a read.

Shine a Light on Fine Gael

One of the clear objectives for people who want to see far reaching progressive change is to work towards the best possible government from the next election.

It is a given that Fianna Fail won’t form part of that government. Nobody would touch them. Even if the figures added up and it was technically possible to form a government between Fianna Fail and Labour, it was long ago ruled out by Labour. That, as it turned out, was a smart move for them to make at time. Support rose for the party, as people drew the conclusion that principle lay behind the decision. It was also very astute. Labour saw that there was a sizable and expanding progressive electorate out there. The decision to create clear distance between them and Fianna Fail was calculated to increase their political strength.

The bookies favourite is for a coalition between Fine Gael and Labour. Labour are going along with this perception. In the immediate aftermath of the fallout from the collapse in the banking system and the run up to the last budget, the public mood has been swayed towards looking for the quickest and most effective way of consigning the current government to history. Therefore, there has been a boost to both parties poll ratings. The boost to Labours ratings can be explained in two ways. In the first instance, they have been presented as the most obvious partner to Fine Gael. They have been in government together before and in does not stretch the imagination to put them in a partnership again.

The other factor is that one connected to Labour’s decision to rule out Fianna Fail and to take off the gloves in attacking the main governing party inside at outside Leinster House.

The rise in the Fine Gael vote I think also falls into two main areas. As the largest opposition party, they are seen as the most likely to replace Fianna Fail and in simple terms, they are the quickest and easiest way to punish the incumbents. There are also a safe home for conservative minded voters and those who want to maintain the political and economic system pretty much as it is. If Fianna Fail are removed together with all of the negative baggage they carry, then a new administration with a different cast of characters can take over without having to change the overall way in which the economy is run.

The ideology and policy platform of Fine Gael is indistinguishable in any meaningful way from Fianna Fail. They both believe in deregulated and privatised provision of public services. They both want to roll back the state. They are both conservative parties. That needs saying and repeating at every opportunity.

There are a group of people who I believe are thinking about their politics. People have been exposed to a one-size fits all ‘choice’ between two conservative parties and a largely compliant media who have dismissed any variation in policy positions or any fresh thinking that may challenge what had become economic orthodoxy. The collapse in the banking system and the light that this has shone on the weaknesses of this capitalist open economy has stirred enough debate to at least open minds towards alternatives.

That these people may feel that their best option would be to vote for Fine Gael in order to sufficiently change the order, has to be a major concern to all who want to see real progressive change. It also poses a challenge.

There are two elements to that challenge. The first is to convince this group that a vote for Fine Gael would not change anything. Fine Gael need to be challenged on their policy platform and on their ‘vision’. What do they want to see in 5 or 10 years time. They are open to attack on there plans for the public sector and the increased role for the private sector.

The other way that people could be discouraged from voting for Fine Gael is to ensure that the party that would have to support them in any new government, Labour, moved away from that position.

That is an enormous challenge. All current indications are that the leadership of the Labour party are gearing up for government with Fine Gael. It’s the easiest option for them. There are also conservative elements within the Labour party who would feel comfortable with this type of coalition. However, there are many within the Labour party and the wider Labour and Trade Union Movement who can see the opportunity for much wider and more radical change in the current climate. They can see that this is one of those moments in history when real change can be effected. They too can see that the political and social landscape can be radically changed and that we are on the verge of being able to consign the neo-liberal domination of the past few decades to history.

The Labour party have an opportunity to contribute to the atmosphere of change. They can join with others to put a different type of vision before the people. One that shifts the political paradigm. In doing so, they would be playing a significant part in influencing that group of electors who mistakenly believe that Fine Gael can be a lead actor in creating a better society.

Conservative people will stay with Fine Gael and whatever remains of Fianna Fail. Progressive forces can then work together to forge ahead with putting a people-centred vision before the electorate.


  1. But who would Labour go into coalition with? Mellows in an excellent piece a while ago pointed out that if Sinn Fein implement the cuts in the North they would be unworthy of belief. That would rule them out. What does Labour do?

  2. vincent, good article.

    One thing about labour's leadership that concerns me is that while they may well have identified a progressive vote they also appear to have identified that there is, separate to this new progressive floating vote, a large working class/middle class (urban/rural) voting block that previously voted FF and they seem to be going for that voting block not as a progressive party but simply as a slightly left leaning centrist party.

    I think the Labour leadership is locked into pursuing that part of the FF carcass over and above building its progressive vote up.

    This may not be what many rank and file current labour voters/members want but its what they are going to get I think.

    Labour today backed the abolition of the senate but will they have the stomach for the deeper reform thats needed to create a modern state.

    Labour and Fine Gael managed the first big bailout when ICI was bailed out by the state at a cost of 400 million punt while AIB was protected. This at a time when the state was buckling under debt. AIB got off very lightly.

    But worse of all neither FG or Labour then or in their subesequent coalition introduced a bank resolution bill that would set out how the state should handle such a crisis in future.

    I must confess I have very serious doubts that the institutional labour party will step away from FG and assist in building a modern state.


  3. Taken both above comments on board. Whether the Labour leadership see the potential or have the desire for such a progressive coalition is uncertain. That we should have all of this in the public domain and flagged up as a viable option is more the point. This election should also be educational. These options haven't been seriously put before people before - not in this generation anyway. The debate needs to move from the blogashere - good enough that this is - to the wider public, somehow. That's the challange. An election is a good time to get ideas out there and not just to garner votes.

  4. fully agree Vincent. There needs to a relentless focus on what parties will do and pressure on them to do it if given the opportunity is important.

    Big debate going to be centered on political reform. Seems to be a meme building up that abolishing the Seanad is 'political reform'.

    A debate on what real reform is does not seem to be happening. A proper system of local authorities such that TDs arent responsible for filling potholes and dealing with planning permission is needed. FF wont go for such a thing nor will FG, Labour wont because it needs to align with FG ultimately and abolishing the seanaid was the extent of their solution.

    Is proposing reform of local govt. as per continental style local govt. with a list system for Leinster house elections a more suitable reform.

    I think this political reform issue is going to be a big element. If there is one party that has experience in tackling entrenched power structures then its SF.

  5. An Giorra

    This is an election where individual candidates can play a huge role in influencing the way politics is done into the future. I did a piece on this on my blog if you want to have a look and see what you think.

  6. The problem as I see it is that there is no developed left in the frame. Labour is the most coherent on the left but how left are they? SF will go into coalition with whoever offers them the best deal not who offers society the best deal. People Before Profit and the Socialist Party are too small to make a real difference. The opportunity will be missed becuase there is nothing there to harness the energy.

  7. Gilmore came out today and said Labour would not go into government with Sinn Fein.. News at 1 rte radio today (he had already ruled out Coalition with FF)..when pressed on 3 occasions to say why not he avoided giving an answer.. he just kept repeating that the next Gov would be made up of Lab and FG and his aim was to be taoiseach..he sounded a bit like Frank McBrearty repeating the same old mantra over and over... It's becoming clearer that Gilmore is a man of straw..there's nothing there except coalition with FG, he is not interested in forming a left wing Government

  8. Hi Anon of 8:47pm,

    What do you mean by developed left? - that the party has a coherent and very detailed policy platform? Labour would certainly have that yet as you note how left are they and of course they are determined to be Fine Gael's bedfellows. Now maybe they will force FG to back down and it'll be a labour flavoured govt. but as I am sure you agree nobody left of center will bet on that.
    The PBPA and the SP are the other extreme to Labour. They can unequivocally be placed on the left but they do not have any detailed policies and have proven unable to persusade voters to vote for them on a useful scale over a sustained period. Politically they are irrelevant. Would they accept the best political deal even if that deal were more favourable to them politically than to society in general. We will never know. They will never be able to put themselves in a position where they can achieve it. And if they do manage to get influence via 1-3 seats then, like the Workers Party before them, they will make a deal though they might swear blind such a thing would never happen.

    Which brings us to SF. Sinn Fein must tackle the same problems which Labour, PBPA and SP and WP have all faced and failed to overcome satisfactorily (either becoming ineffective centrists or being ineffective further left) .

    Will SF be better than all other left parties at mastering these challenges. Who knows but SF are no better or no worse than any other left party. They deserve their chance.

  9. Red Rebel,

    probably because there is no left government that can be formed. That is unfortunate but there simply is not enough on the Left. They will go in with Fine Gael because it is in their DNA.

    Anonymous, 'SF are no better or no worse than any other left party. They deserve their chance.' I think Mellows made the argument very well. If SF make the cuts in the North forget about them as an alternative. I have never seen SF as being part of the left although a significant body of people in the party are on the left. If they can join Paisley as Gerry Adams says what can they not join? And the same logic will be invoked once they go into coalition with FF or FG. The question then is if that happens what will the party activists do who swore they will oppose this? They can't copy their colleagues in the North and simply go along with it. I would not rule out a vote for SF entirely but Mellows nailed it for me.

    Anonymous T