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22 April 2010 Edition

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Another View by Eoin Ó Broin

A Politics of Change?

Eamon Gilmore’s leader’s address to the Labour Party Ard Fheis last weekend makes for interesting reading.
Gilmore told delegates that he wanted a government that would both “change the way the system works and be prepared to change the system if necessary”.
He outlined proposals for jobs creation and committed his party to a programme of political and public sector reform on entering government.
The most widely reported section of the speech was his offer to the electorate to head a Labour-led government.
Jobs was the only detailed section of the speech, with promising proposals including the creation of a Strategic Investment Bank that would fund both infrastructural projects and small and medium sized indigenous industry.
On health and the public sector there was little substance other than a commitment to universal health insurance and the creation of a new Ministry of Public Sector Reform.
There was also a commitment to introduce ‘within weeks of being elected’ a programme of political reform. Again, while short on detail, the promise of a Convention to rewrite the Constitution deserves serious consideration.
So on balance the speech had some good ideas and some nice aspirations. But lurking in the background was an unspoken but obvious contradiction.
It is hard to see how even the most optimistic observer can imagine Labour becoming the largest party in the state in the next election. In 2007 the party took 10% of the vote. In the 2009 European and local government elections they took 14%.
While Labour’s poll rating has them currently on 17%, a doubling of vote share in the space of 12 months would be an achievement of unprecedented proportions.
Of course none of this means that Labour shouldn’t be ambitious or that becoming the state’s largest party is impossible. But it does raise an important question for potential Labour voters, attracted by the ideas outlined by Eamon Gilmore in Galway last weekend.
If Labour fails to achieve its target in the next general election then, having ruled out coalition with Fianna Fáil, they will support Enda Kenny for Taoiseach and take their place in a Fine Gael-led government.
It is hard to see Kenny leading a government that would either “change the way the system works” or “change the system itself”. Rather, it would be back to business as usual, with social and economic policy falling within the broad parameters of the existing right-wing consensus.
On job creation, Fine Gael also have a series of proposals that include the selling off of profitable state companies to fund investment and cutting taxes.
On public service reform Fine Gael want to reduce the size of the public sector by 14,000 and to reduce expenditure across a range of Departments.
On political reform it is hard to imagine Fine Gael making any serious changes to democratise our governmental or electoral system.
Eamon Gilmore is absolutely entitled to spell out what he would do in a Labour-led government. But as a Fine Gael-Labour coalition is the more likely outcome of the next general election, he also has a responsibility to explain how Labour would square the circle of coalition partnership with a right-wing party wedded to maintaining rather than changing what is a very broken system.

Eamon Gilmore addressing Labour’s Ard Fheis 

An Phoblacht Magazine


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