DEFINING LABOUR’S WAY

I’m feeling slightly troubled at the moment. Not as concerned as Labour Party councillor Jimmy O’Shaughnessy maybe, but troubled nonetheless. I’ll get back to my concerns in due course, but first, what’s eating Jimmy O’Shaughnessy? Well, he’s out there in Wicklow, watching his leaders betray working people and it’s apparently becoming too much for him. In fact, he wants us to know that, if the plan to charge householders for their own water meters goes ahead, he’s off, because as he puts it himself “this is not what the Labour Party stand for!” Which begs the question, what does that party stand for? Jobs, reform and fairness; at least that’s what their 2011 manifesto declared. And when we look at their record since getting into, or should I say close to, power, those three concepts have indeed come into play. Just not in the way people wanted or had a right to expect.

Take Joanna Tuffy for example. As an opposition T.D. she was one of Labour’s Young Turks, always ready to shoot from the hip, as she did when then-minister John Gormley first proposed charging householders, for domestic water. This was in December 2009 and, though she didn’t think to mention that citizens always have bought-and-paid for water through existing taxes, she let the Green One have it with both barrels; the proposal was “a retrograde step,” it was poorly costed, offered nothing to cure our leaking pipes, made a “market commodity” of a fundamental necessity and, above all else, acted as a regressive levy “since such charges don’t take account of people’s ability to pay.” Yet now that the bold Joanna is in government she has nothing to say against Gormley’s replacement at Environment, Phil Hogan, and his measure, which is considerably worse than that proposed back then. How do we explain this? Miss Tuffy is focused on jobs alright, but in this case only the jobs that might be open to her in years to come, if she shuts up and toes the party line. And who can blame her, seeing the plumb positions other one-time militants like Burton and Rabbitte have bagged? Of course people thought her party were talking about jobs for the hundreds of thousands with no work at all, but hey, that’s Labour’s way!

And then there’s reform; and you have to say the reform that came over Ruari Quinn when he bagged his own prize position as Minister for Education was dazzling. Before the election he was signing pledges for the students, saying there would be no increase in third level fees, if he had anything to do with it. Now the votes have been counted and the dust is settled, Minister Quinn is more than prepared to bring in these higher education charges himself. Or course people thought his party meant reforms to an unjust system, not another measure to keep the disadvantaged in their place, but hey, that’s Labour’s way!

But when we come to the matter of fairness, only the words and actions of the leader himself, Eamon Gilmore, suffice to demonstrate the Labour Party’s unique stance. He it was who proclaimed, loud and often, that his party offered a real alternative to ‘Frankfurt’s Way.’ And who can forget how, in the last days of campaigning, he emphasised the fact with finger-wagging sincerity? “First and foremost” the troika deal had to be radically overhauled, not just because it undermined our democracy and made a mockery of justice, but because it was simply unworkable. This was surely a thinly-disguised ultimatum meant for the ears of Enda Kenny, a solemn declaration that, should Kenny fail to renegotiate the ‘bailout,’ and substantially do so, all coalition deals would be off. But as it happened Enda need not have worried, for In Gilmore’s world solemn declarations are merely bargaining points. Now the coalition dealing is done, with Eamon left as both Tanaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs , our smug Taoiseach can baldly state that “no negotiations” have taken place to reflect public opinion, win a modicum of justice from the troika, or make the bailout workable from an Irish perspective. And what has Gilmore got to say? Not a word, now that he has settled for the big job(s), the big salary, and the big pension(s) to come. Well you can’t say fairer than that, can you?! Of course, people thought Labour would act as a brake on Fine Gael’s neo-lib instincts and the troika’s abuses, not play the role of enabler for those instincts and abuses, but hey, that’s Labour’s way!

All in all, you can see why the likes of Councillor O’Shaughnessy might be concerned about this type of thing, but what’s troubling me? Frankly, the way I was so taken by his comments I immediately posted them on Facebook, and called him “a man of principle” too! Now I’m troubled by reflecting on Labour people in general, and seeing their tendency to make big statements and follow them up with cynical actions. Is Jimmy O’Shaughnessy an exception, or will he follow the general rule, sooner or later? I just can’t shake the feeling that, like Tuffy, Quinn and Gilmore, O’Shaughnessy is playing a role, not showing his true character. I hate to think so, but after all, that’s Labour’s way!