From Socialist Voice, June 2007

Left vote remains steady

The general election was not a complete defeat for the left, as the establishment claims. Though the formation of the new government is not yet clear, the result shows that the left vote, in its broadest sense, has remained steady, if not slightly increased, despite suffering the loss of a number of seats.

Votes Seats
20022007 20022007
Fianna Fáil40.5%41.6%+2.7%8078
Fine Gael22.5%27.3%+21.3%3151
Labour Party10.8%10.1%–6.5%2120
Sinn Féin6.5%6.9%+6.2%54
Green Party3.8%4.7%+23.7%66
Progressive Democrats4.0%2.7%–32.5%82

     The outcome was the result of presenting the election as a competition between two blocs, one led by Bertie Ahern, leader of Fianna Fáil, the other by Enda Kenny, leader of Fine Gael. The mass media attempted to present the election as some form of beauty contest, all built around the leaders’ debate.
     The meeting between Fianna Fáil and the media mogul Tony O’Reilly, owner of the Independent Newspapers group, which dominates the mass media, was a dangerous development for democracy. It’s clear that this took place to ensure that the ground rules were set out and clarified. There was no reaction and no criticism of this development from journalists or even from other political parties.
     The election was fought not on different economic, social or political alternatives but on managerial style over substance. Both before and during the election the different parties changed and honed their message and policies to suit the mass media, changing those that appeared not to fit in with the consensus and emphasising those that might win them a few column-inches or a sound-bite on radio or television or receive favourable comments from the political commentators.
     The political and economic establishment will be well pleased by the outcome, because they have temporarily re-established the natural order of things, with Tweedledum competing with Tweedledee. Fianna Fáil mopped up the independents, and Fine Gael mopped up the Progressive Democrats. The loss of a principled voice like Joe Higgins is a setback, along with that of the more progressive independents; and no doubt the political establishment raised a glass at their dinner parties on the Saturday night of the count.
     One of the few positive results was the almost complete demolition of the Progressive Democrats, now down to two TDs, and the defeat of their leader, Michael McDowell, which led to much rejoicing all round. Yet despite this the political establishment want Mary Harney back in government as Minister for Health, to finish off the job of pushing through private medicine.
     As we have pointed out in previous issues, the Labour Party’s election pact with Fine Gael was nothing more than style, and it played into the hands of the establishment’s beauty contest. When Labour set its face against taking a long-term view and beginning to build an alternative alliance that would embrace the Green Party, Sinn Féin, and progressive independents, it was doomed from the start.
     As history has shown—a lesson from past experience that the Labour Party seems incapable of learning—when Fine Gael is in the throes of destruction the Labour Party steps in and revives it, and it is Fine Gael that takes full advantage of potential anti-government sentiment among voters.
     The Labour Party may well make up the numbers to form a new government, and it may well blunt the harder edge of government. We can be sure that public-private financing will continue, the drive towards private medicine will continue, the ESB will be restricted and primed for privatisation, Shannon Airport will continue to be used by the US air force, and Ireland will still be a member of the EU battle groups.
     Following the election the establishment media have been talking about the “national interest” and what parties are acceptable and not acceptable as participants in government. Why should the Labour Party join a government if it is more of the same? When do we begin to break the cycle of being a prop for the establishment?
     The trade union movement in the main stayed above the political debate, with no statements appearing in the national media, no leaflets produced calling on members to vote for those candidates who support trade union policies or for those parties opposed to the privatisation of public services. They gave no leadership. Many within the leadership appeared terrified that Fianna Fáil would not be returned. This reflects the strength and influence of Fianna Fáil within the labour movement and the abandonment of any alternative economic or political strategy.
     Such issues as the abuse of Shannon Airport, the Corrib gas field and the ownership and use of natural resources, social inequality, the loss of jobs in manufacturing industry and the question of democracy at both the national and the local level failed to make it onto the beauty contest balance-sheet.
     The Green Party can’t wait to get their backsides into the ministerial Mercs, all in the belief that they can effect change. They keep trotting out the experience of the Green Party in France and Germany, countries in which they were supposedly so successful but where both Green Parties suffered heavy defeats.
    But even with the Greens being anxious to get into government there have been many establishment voices expressing concern about them being “flaky.” Clearly they have not been bought enough.
     Sinn Féin had hoped to win ten seats and to potentially hold the balance of power, which might open the door to government with Fianna Fáil. Their vote held up, but they lost one of their best Dublin TDs, and the other Dublin TD just scraped in, hiding a heavy defeat in the city.
     Unfortunately, republicans seem to have forgotten that many of their supporters, particularly in towns and cities, voted for them for the very reason that they were anti-establishment. The party has allowed style to dominate over substance, and there is no clearer example of this than in the Dublin Central constituency.
     Another factor that shows how far Sinn Féin has moved away from its radical roots and sees working people merely as election fodder is the about-turn in relation to corporation tax. In addition, in the weeks before the election it set up a group to draft a programme for government, which met with much confusion within its own ranks.
     This is more of the old-style elitist politics, where the leadership hands down the line and working people must wait until they are told what is good for them.
     Some within the Sinn Féin leadership, particularly the Northern leadership, attempted to apply the same strategy in the Republic that they carried through so successfully in the North when they stole the political clothes of the SDLP. They attempted to steer close to Fianna Fáil and to moderate their policies to make them more acceptable to the establishment.
     Martin McGuinness, now Deputy First Minister in the Northern Executive, stated that they would have to “change their economic policies” as one of the lessons to be drawn from the election results. It seems that some of the leading political lights within Sinn Féin wish to move further into the centre of establishment politics.
     Republicans are forgetting the lessons of history, just like the Labour Party, and are now treading the well-worn path to electoralism, with the desire to be in government becoming an end in itself. Sinn Féin activists will face pressure to further decommission their politics—and not just from the political establishment but from elements of their own leadership. From the establishment viewpoint they have not been de-radicalised enough. A party that claims to be on the left and is acceptable to the mass media is no longer on the left, as it is no longer a threat to that establishment.
     There are many questions facing the left in Ireland if we are to become a serious force and a real representative voice of the people. One sure lesson is that no amount of making ourselves more acceptable to the mass media and the establishment will advance the cause of working people. It is only with a return to developing campaigns that move people into struggle that a real, solid alternative can be built.

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