|From Socialist Voice, October 2004|
The Labour Party goes down the same old roadThe announcement by both the Labour Party and Fine Gael of their electoral pact on Westmeath County Council was timed to coincide with Fianna Fáil’s big get-together to discuss the outcome of the local and European Parliament elections.
Firstly, the Fianna Fáil gathering was a cynical ploy by Bertie Ahern to present this party as being in a listening mode, taking account of the lessons of their election defeat. They even invited outside speakers from organisations that campaign for increased government spending in social areas, such as unemployment benefit, poverty schemes, and social employment schemes. They are attempting to mollify the grass roots of Fianna Fáil and show them that they will be more caring and sharing from now until the next election.
Many Fianna Fáil backbenchers are clearly worried about their future employment prospects. The Progressive Democrats—the junior coalition partners—had a meeting of their parliamentary party also at the same time, at which they confidently expressed the opinion that there would be no change in government policy. One is more likely to believe the PDs on this than Bertie Ahern!
The Labour Party and Fine Gael attempted to upstage Fianna Fáil at their love-in in Inchidoney. Their pact has been presented by the media, as well as by the two parties, as the beginning of the formation of an alternative government, which would also include the Green Party but exclude Sinn Féin and other left parties. This is surely an example of history repeating itself as farce. Fine Gael are in the doldrums and sinking. They have no clear strategy or alternative policies to those of the present government. They are in favour of privatisation, even closer integration in the European Union, and joining the new “Rapid Reaction Force,” and are even worse on the national question than the present lot, if that were possible.
But instead of allowing Fine Gael to wither on the vine, Pat Rabbitte proceeds to give them a lifeline, instead of putting the Labour Party at the head of an alliance of progressive forces, standing on a platform of no privatisation, making the rich and self-employed pay their taxes, defending Irish military neutrality, and developing a progressive independent foreign policy. Such an alliance could radically overhaul the health service, break the control of fat-cat consultants and medical insurance companies, promote policies that allowed greater numbers of children from working families to attend university, and cut backdoor subsidies to rich families attending private schools and colleges.
What price will the Green Party be prepared to pay for a place in the government? Will they now formally abandon their support for military neutrality? Will they throw in their lot with the privateers, embrace the new European Constitution, and become “realists,” like their German counterparts? They all have one thing in common: they have little or no ideological difference with the system as it is.
The Labour Party has the potential to build itself into the leading parliamentary force for progressive change, to make a decisive break with the past, as many citizens of this country desire and our country needs. Instead they are embarking on a well-trodden path that has had disastrous results for the labour movement.
The real beneficiaries in the long run will be Sinn Féin, if they hold their nerve. Many people who now vote Labour or Green will desert, as in the past, but they will now have an alternative home to go to.
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