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Waiting for the opposition to blow it – the General Election campaign starts

Joe Carter

28 January 2011

After over two years the Irish people are finally to get their chance to pass judgement on the Government parties that have delivered them an economic disaster.  Despite absolutely no mandate to do any of the things they have done the Fianna Fail and Green parties have robbed billions from working people and handed the money over to Irish and European bankers.  In the process they bankrupted the State and caused the EU and IMF to be brought in to decide State policy for the next four years.  Now finally a general election will be held in the next few weeks.

The manner of its calling is entirely in tune with what has happened these last few years.  Fianna Fail (FF) has collapsed in confusion while the Green Party has been sanctimonious and protective of its larger bully in equal measure.  The main opposition parties have rushed to ensure that the Finance Bill enacting many of the measures demanded of the EU and IMF are implemented.  In doing so they have conclusively demonstrated that their opposition, as it has been over the entire last two years, is a sham.

It is more and more apparent that Fine Gael and Labour have wanted to see as much pain inflicted on the ordinary people of Ireland as possible by the FF/Green Government so that they are spared the responsibility and the blame. This has worked for a long time, especially for the Labour Party, which has made the most from its attacks on the coalition Government while hiding its essential agreement that the banks must be saved and the workers pay for them.


All this is to a great extent already understood by many people and opinion polls show that a change in Government is not expected by many to change things.  The people however are still keen to punish Fianna Fail.  The statement by Bertie Ahern that his one regret is not to have built the ‘Bertie Bowl’ sports arena is staggeringly removed from the reality of his legacy.  The new FF leader Micheal Martin showed the brush of his new broom by admitting to FF’s mistakes without mentioning bankers or property developers while blaming the rest of the population for getting it too good for too long. While FF continues to miss the point the people will nurse its revenge until polling day.

Relying on this situation to continue has been the main political strategy of Fine Gael and Labour Party.  The election date has not even been declared however before this approach looks to be in some difficulty.  For Fine Gael the problem is that their lack of an alternative is personified by the inadequacies of its Leader Enda Kenny who has looked weak and pathetic in responding to Micheal Martin’s challenge to a TV debate.  If he doesn’t have confidence in nailing Fianna Fail after their disastrous tenure it is hard to think of circumstances where he would.

But the more significant potential movement threatens the Labour Party which, as we have said, has staked its claim on opposing the Government’s policies as no one else has.  In television debates against Pearse Doherty of Sinn Fein and Joe Higgins of the Socialist Party the Labour spokespeople have been very badly exposed and in the case of Higgins he didn’t have to do much to make Joan Burton look dreadful.  The Labour Finance spokesperson did this all by herself.

Of course in some ways the Labour Party has more claim to consistent opposition to the Government than Sinn Fein.  In its usual style of speaking out of both sides of its mouth, promising cuts in the North and claiming opposition to them in the South, Sinn Fein supported the bank guarantee in 2008, on which all subsequent banking policy was justified, before reversing this afterwards.  Only the Labour Party opposed it at the time.  It has made hay opposing fast-tracking the Finance Bill in order to expedite the general election but it originally supported this as well.  Neither Sinn Fein nor the Labour Party has shown consistent opposition, even rhetorically, to the Government’s policies.

Irrespective of how much difference these policy weaknesses make in the election there is an important lesson for the left.  An electoral policy of waiting for the Labour Party to be exposed and then reaping the benefits in the election following the upcoming one, as declared by one Socialist Workers Party spokesperson, is a trap.  One that is even more a threat to the left than the rest.


Firstly Sinn Fein has shown it can play this game including with the most shameless stunts. (For example demanding entrance to the Dail to protest when the EU/IMF came in - and getting its photograph on all the newspaper front pages - when it could simply walk in because it has members in the Dail.)

Secondly, electoralism is fine for parties which rely on lying to the people about what they are going to do because these parties rely on the people only to vote for them.  It is the State that will implement their policies.  For the left votes are not the point because their alternative can only be based on what the people do, not on what effect they can have on the actions of the State through getting elected.  The point of elections for the left is to organise and mobilise working people.  Strategies based around the electoral timetable rob the left of the initiative, which is handed to its enemies and nourishes the passivity of working people, confirming their worst illusions about capitalist politics – that power resides and should only reside in the state.  Of course it also means that Irish workers are to suffer the ravages of more and more austerity until the next election.

There is unfortunately far too much evidence that the United Left Alliance (ULA) is purely an electoralist vehicle and not one of organisation.  It isn’t even an organisation itself and has no democratic functioning.  There is also too much evidence that its electoral campaign is simply an electoral campaign.  The standard justification is that the organisations that are part of the ULA will build on the gains of the election after it is over.  The idea that the election itself is the mechanism to create the organisation, for example turning electoral committees into resistance committees, is foreign to the organisations involved.

This is not the only weakness, nevertheless the platform of the United Left Alliance does address the key questions and can provide a vehicle to activate those most willing to advance the organisation of workers.  It has a great opportunity over the coming weeks to advance the politicisation of the working class and it shall be judged on how well it discharges this responsibility.  Socialist Democracy will do its best to help it do so.


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