There has been much debate and discussion lately regarding the need for a new political agenda. At the ‘Equality in a Time of Crisis’ conference held in UCD participants explored the issues and policies needed to make Ireland a more equal and fairer society, and also the need for a left wing Government. Michael D. Higgins who spoke at the conference indicated that the Labour Party would be willing to take the lead on forming such an alliance.
However for this Government of the left to come about there would need to be, in the first instance, a significant change in voter patterns.
Irish people consistently vote primarily for conservative parties on the basis of economic policy backed up by light touch regulation regarding education, health, equality, human rights and so on.
Previous elections have returned a consistent 70/30 percent breakdown, with FF and FG gaining around 70 first preference votes. The last big left-wing election, the 1992 Spring Tide election delivered just fewer than 30% first preferences for Labour and DL.
Also discussions about a Government of the left often involve many assumptions about possible left-wing and socialist partners, and do not look at the difficulties and electoral and organisational realities on the ground. A preliminary analysis of the various political groupings, without even examining the policy differences, reveals:
Socialist Party and People before Profit
The first hurdle facing an alliance is that The Labour Party, Sinn Féin, Socialist Party, People before Profit and Independent Left candidates are in competition with each other in areas that have the potential to elect a left-wing candidate. Therefore voting arrangements are essential if candidates are not to cancel each other out. An alliance of left-wing candidates, including independents, has been formed to agree a cohesive strategy at constituency level. But neither Sinn Féin nor Labour is included in this electoral agreement.
Electoral setbacks in both 2007 and 2009 have resulted in the party lacking a strong spokesperson for the greater Dublin area, a key element in any national party’s ability to grow. What must be troubling Sinn Féin is that their electoral strategy to date has not been robust enough to see off competition in Dublin. Also Sinn Féin’s enduring successes are in constituencies not known for their liberal voting patterns, presenting the party with a major dilemma on how to face the next General Election.
Discussions on an alliance of the left usually include involvement of the Green Party. However the party’s compatibility with Fianna Fáil in Government, suggests that the party is not focused on delivering a left agenda. The Green Party’s determination regarding the ban on Stag Hunting combined with their claiming ownership and responsibility for the Civil Partnership Bill indicates that the Greens are also now concentrating on shoring up their core vote, rather than any strong statement regarding Fianna Fáil policies
We could see a strong showing from the left following the next general election, but enough to see Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil excluded from the Cabinet Table? I predict that even on a very good day we could see more than fifty to sixty Labour, Sinn Féin, Socialist Party and other such TDs returned. Then possibly sixty returned for Fine Gael; with the remainder seats taken by Fianna Fáil (including Lowry, Healy Rae, and independent FF).
Whether the Irish voting public wants a radical change in the type of TD returned to the Dáil chamber is debatable. What is evident from recent opinion polls is that the voting public have little confidence in the current Taoiseach and Government, but that lack of satisfaction will not necessarily result in a willingness to risk changing voting patterns established over many generations.
The Irish State was founded over ninety years ago, and Eamon Gilmore’s commitment is that Labour in Government would initiate a national debate resulting in a new Constitution in time for the centenary of the Easter Rising in 2016.
This national debate would give us an opportunity to reflect on what type of society we wish to live in; to look at where we are both economically and politically, as a state and as a culture, and to reflect on what values are important to us. We also need to discuss a shared vision for the future.
This national debate should include an investigation into what the Irish voter expects from their elected representatives – including politics and standards of behavior. A necessary discussion if the Irish citizen is to breathe life into a new constitution for a new millenium.