From Socialist Voice, February 2011

Vote left. Vote progressive independents.
No votes for Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil!

The outcome of the general election and the decision about who will form the next Government will be important for working people over the coming years. But while there is deep anger and frustration throughout the country, the political establishment will be very confident that what they have been engineering for some time will be achieved, if nothing unforeseen happens: a strong, hard-line right-wing Government, most probably headed and dominated by Fine Gael.
     The three main establishment parties—Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, and the Labour Party—are all committed one way or the other to implementing the four-year budgetary strategy imposed by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. They will continue to pour money into ghost banks; they will continue to lay heavy emphasis on the private sector for creating employment; and they will all hope—but not publicly say—that emigration will continue apace, possibly 50,000 people per year—the traditional safety value that has always released social and class tensions in this country, sapping the strength and energy of the families and communities left behind.
     The Labour Party started out in mid-2010 arguing for and believing that Gilmore could be the first Labour Taoiseach. But since late 2010 they have quietly dropped the idea and are happy to play second fiddle—in other words to prop up Fine Gael, a party that at its core is extremely right-wing, while wearing liberal clothes to hide that deep reactionary centre.
     The Labour Party got good mileage out of having very few ideas that had any real difference from the other two parties. To be fair, the position they adopted on the bank guarantee was the correct one; still, many believed that a lot of their anti-government policies were shallow, with Joan Burton sounding more left-wing than she really is and Gilmore coming in after any slightly off-message statements to “correct” any misunderstanding, so as not to frighten the establishment media, the EU, and the other vested interests, to show that the Labour Labour can be trusted with the reins of government.
     As the election campaign moves towards its conclusion the Labour Party’s share in opinion polls continues to decline while that of their erstwhile coalition partners continues to grow, and the possibility of a majority Fine Gael government looks dangerously close—especially with a strong showing by right-wing independents posing as “anti-establishment”—a case of wolves in sheep’s clothing.
     A lot of Fianna Fáil voters no longer identify with the party, and support has haemorrhaged to Sinn Féin and the Labour Party, while others have found no home to switch to.
     In January we had Willie O’Dea warning of the dangers of the left being the main opposition if Fine Gael and Labour formed the next Government. This was an attempt to frighten elements of the middle classes from going over to Labour at this time, and to ensure that the musical chairs that are the hallmark of politics in contemporary western states is maintained.
     You need to have enough parties with similar ideology to play this game—and we now have about four of them willing to dance this merry jig.
     The election of Mícheál Martin as leader of Fianna Fáil has been a clever stroke, as he presents the image of a warm, likeable school principal, willing to listen, fast out of the traps with an apology for the mistakes of the Government he had just resigned from after fourteen years. The media have embraced him, and he is presented as the man with principle.
     The role the Labour Party has played, with its rejection of any alternative to that of propping up Fine Gael, has left many on the left who are unhappy or uneasy about voting for the ultra-left United Left Alliance with difficult choices to make. There are also many who see themselves on the left but would not vote for Sinn Féin, as they are deeply infected with a Free-State partitionist approach to politics. Then the greater number are very concerned that the Labour leadership are nothing more than Fine Gael Light.
     Fianna Fáil have managed, with the change of leader, to be the leader of the opposition while being the only party in this dying Government. Martin has managed to position Fianna Fáil as de facto opposition to the the next Government. He has cleverly walked away from the disarray of Fianna Fáil being still in Government while simultaneously being the opposition to the next Government.
     While many within the labour movement are unhappy with the possibility of the Labour Party going into government with Fine Gael, they will quietly wrestle with their conscience and then put it away in the drawer, in the mistaken belief that, well, with Labour in government it will blunt the sharp edge of the Fine Gael axe.
     This is once again adopting the position that the labour movement must wait—wait for the right conditions. One has to ask, What are the right conditions?
     Sinn Féin will probably be the main beneficiary of the anti-establishment mood at this time, and its pre-budget statement marked a shift to the left in its economic thinking. Many will wait and see whether this is a fundamental shift or a tactical one, in the way that central policies were dumped before the previous general election for perceived electoral advantage.

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