Monday, April 08, 2013

The Labour Party's Zero-Sum Game

Mr Colm Keaveney, Chairman of the Labour Party, had something interesting to say in the Sunday Independent yesterday. The paper quotes Keaveney as saying that “the recent defections from the party are in no way co-ordinated. They are simply the organic expression of the dissatisfication with certain aspects of our behaviour in government.”

Which then should have been followed by the question of why aren’t they co-ordinated? What’s the point in not co-ordinating them? Why not get the whole thing over with?

The Labour Party is falling to bits and is looking at the same root in the seat of the pants from the electorate at next year’s local elections as the electorate delivered Fianna Fáil in the general election, and it’s every socialist for him or herself from here on in.

Labour promised the devil and all before the election – tables thumped in Brussels, no education cuts, bondholders burned at the stake, clear skies, dry turf, hot weather and lashings of the cold, wet porter. That’s not quite how it turned out, and someone’s got to pay.

The someone being Eamon Gilmore, whom Labour were touting for Taoiseach until about seven to ten days before polling, when they realised they were cooked and would take what they could get. Now, Gilmore is going to get the blame. It’s not entirely fair but life isn’t fair and politics is even less fair again. Besides; this isn’t the party’s first time to go looking for a head.

The division in party is so heated now that there must be a reckoning or the party will explode entirely. A tweet yesterday from SenatorJohn Whelan shows just how bad things are: “Susan O Keeffe's attempts to discredit Nessa Childers and to suggest she is a closet Fianna Failer on Marian Finnucane is despicable.”

Not only is “despicable” an extremely strong word to use about a member of your own party but the veteran ex-journalist’s fury is so intense that not only does he misspell “Finucane” but he also fails to have his subject (“attempts”) agree with his verb (“is”). This is unprecedented stuff.

But the real problem for Labour is that even if Eamon Gilmore is rolled away to his political doom by Labour’s sans-culottes, it won’t make a blind bit of difference to anyone bar Gilmore himself.

If Gilmore gets the chop, the party can go two ways. It can appoint Joan Burton as leader on the basis of her being the obvious successor, or it can get radical and appoint Keaveney himself, as some sort of Irish Hugo Chavez.

If the members appoint Burton, nothing changes. What’s she going to do that will be different, other than dance a long-awaited jig on Gilmore’s remains? What can she do? She can move Gilmore’s mates out of cabinet and her own in, but business will continue as before in every other respect.

If the party appoint Keaveney or some likewise radical, things do change. The problem is they do not change for the better.

If a Keaveney-ite Labour party emerges to kick up about the Troika and austerity, how do they get on with Fine Gael in Government? They don’t, is the short answer. The government falls, and there’s an election that returns a Dáil of – what, exactly? Labour drop a few seats, but perhaps not as many as they are currently on course to do. Fine Gael drop a few, but not that many either. Fianna Fáil pick up a few but not enough to return them to Government after the massacre of 2011.

And then there’s all-out war – ahem – between Sinn Féin and God knows what sort of collection of raggle-taggle independents for a third of the seats in parliament. How in God’s name will anyone form a government out of that feral lunacy?

Chances are, they won’t. The Troika will have to continue for another five years while the Teachtaí Dhála roll about in the mud. And then maybe, just maybe, the penny will drop for the Irish people and they’ll realise that the current electoral system has failed and reform means more than reducing the Presidential term and scrapping the Seanad. It’s a slim hope, but right now the nation must clutch at such straws as it can get.