From Socialist Voice, October 2007

Gilmore: More of the same?

Éamon Gilmore, the new leader of the Labour Party, has a big job ahead of him if he is to make that party a serious political force. Much has been written about the future of the Labour Party, both before and since the general election earlier this year, after which Pat Rabbitte resigned, precipitating the election of a new leader.
     Gilmore was unopposed for the leadership, as no other candidate wanted to run against him, and he clearly had the support of the old guard of the party. There is a strong feeling throughout the party that there is little energy even for having a contest over who should lead it and over its future direction.
     In contrast to Rabbitte—though he came from the same political background, that is, the Workers’ Party, then Democratic Left—Gilmore has been a more unifying figure and somewhat less abrasive, though the political trajectory is steadily into mainstream social democracy. If there had been a leadership election, with opposing views, it would at least have helped clarify some of the issues facing the Labour Party.
     Instead, what there is of a left wing was not able to muster any support or even pose questions.
     There are certainly many challenges facing Irish workers, and the question is being asked throughout the labour movement: can Gilmore deliver a more vibrant party, with a set of policies distinct from the political parties of the establishment? Or will he, like all previous leaders, resort to soft-sell policies, reduced to narrow focus groups, looking at branding or rebranding strategies?
     Gilmore, like the rest of the parliamentary Labour Party, has a very narrow concept of politics and political struggle. The approach of most social-democratic parties in Europe is one of passivity for the mass of working people, treating them as mere voting fodder. Workers are reduced to mere consumers of politics rather than the force that needs to be mobilised and the basis on which any significant political, social or cultural changes can be wrenched from a moribund system.
     For Gilmore to make a difference there needs to be a complete break, not just with the strategies of past leaders of that party but also with the current economic and political orthodoxy of the Socialist International, particularly the dominant grouping within the European Union. Will the Labour Party take a stand for national democracy and national accountability and oppose the Constitutional Treaty, even if it is renamed “Reform Treaty”?
     You can’t argue against the privatisation of state companies and state services while supporting EU directives and strategies like the Lisbon Strategy, the Services Directive in relation to goods and services, the opening up of government services to competitive tendering, and the continued use of Shannon Airport by the US war machine, rather than supporting the control and use of our natural resources and supporting the people of Rossport, or campaigning for local democracy with real means and powers.
     Although Gilmore has ruled out co-operation with other forces, this is clearly a signal to Fine Gael that they will not figure in Labour’s plans in the immediate future. The potential for developing a progressive coalition of forces lies with closer links and co-operation with Sinn Féin and independent TDs inside the Dáil and with progressive forces outside the parliamentary structures.
     Gilmore has unfortunately continued with this talk of the “Labour brand” needing to be updated and developed to meet the needs of “modern Ireland.”
     Language is an arena of struggle: if we adopt the language of marketing and big business we end up seeing the world through their eyes and seeing solutions based on their values. Each movement or social force has or should have its own language to express what it stands for and what it wants to achieve. If we adopt corporate-speak we end up turning people into commodities. We become consumers instead of citizens, clients instead of patients, customers as against members of society.
      Gilmore’s language and, it could be said, his consciousness are colonised by the establishment and the thinking of big business. A first step towards an independent Labour Party would be the adoption of means of communication that challenge the language conditioning, thereby challenging the political conditioning that the establishment imposes on us all.
     Time will tell if there is any more substance to Gilmore. The Labour Party’s aim of “freedom, equality, community and democracy” will remain nothing more than a marketing sound-bite if that party is unable to break free from the straitjacket of consensus politics.

Home page  >  Publications  >  Socialist Voice  >  October 2007  >  Gilmore: More of the same?
Baile  >  Foilseacháin  >  Socialist Voice  >  Deireadh Fómhair 2007  >  Gilmore: More of the same?