Prescient John Gormley Article, Apr 2013
Éamon Gilmore will not lead Labour into the next General election, if this government goes full term. That’s a racing certainty. Go down to Paddy Power right now while the odds are still reasonable, and it’ll be the easiest bet you’ll ever win.
How can I be so sure? Well, you see, I know a little bit about leading the junior party in an unpopular administration, and I’ve still got the scars to prove it. You learn very quickly that there are certain iron rules in politics – some of them pretty obvious. Here they are, not necessarily in order of importance. Labour party rank and file please take note.
Rule one: Taking money out of people’s pockets makes you unpopular.
Rule two: You won’t prevent your unpopularity by introducing enlightened measures, like constitutional reform. It just doesn’t cut it. In fact, the electorate will resent you for messing around on such niceties while they’re suffering from cutbacks.
Rule three: Society needs scapegoats.
Rule four: The junior party in a coalition makes a good scapegoat. They’re always guaranteed a kicking.
Rule five: The voters of ideologically-driven parties have higher expectations ie they are more easily disappointed.
Rule six: The longer you stay in government the more unpopular you’re going to get, especially if this recession continues. And it will.
Rule seven: The leader makes a very good scapegoat.
Rule eight: Changing your leader will not make a blind bit of difference
Rule nine: But the junior party will do it anyway.
Now some of you may be thinking that the Greens did not change their leader. That’s correct. It’s also a long – and interesting – story, which space does not permit me to go into. It’s a matter of record, however, that successive harsh budgets resulted in electoral annihilation for the party. The voters opted for a government that promised an end to the regime of austerity. Labour had, apparently, devised a way of making omelettes without breaking a single egg. There were some in the party who assumed that the spin, which had worked so effectively is opposition, could continue in government. Éamon Gilmore, who had articulated the frustration of voters, has now discovered that anger is not policy and that soundbites can’t fix a broken economy. The blustering election promises, accompanied as always by the wagging finger, are now replayed as parodies to an angry electorate. The soundbites have come back to bite him over and over again.
More fundamentally, however, there is a real problem for those on the left in the Labour party, those who genuinely care about social justice. The problem is this: despite all the talk of preserving fairness and social-welfare rates etc, all of the FG/Labour budgets so far have been regressive. In other words, they have hit the poor harder than the wealthy. Contrast that with the record of the previous hated administration where every single budget was actually progressive, despite the severe cutbacks. This was due in no small part to the Green back-room team who went through every budget line to ensure as much fairness as possible. Is that really beyond the capability of the Labour advisors?
Gilmore has yet a few cards to play before he throws in his hand. The one ace up the sleeve, according to some in the Labour parliamentary party, is the renegotiation of the Programme for Government. Take it from someone with experience: this won’t work. Again, look at the precedent of the Greens. The junior party insisted on renegotiation and actually got practically everything they wanted. Did the electorate care? No. As for the media, they were just disappointed and angry when the Green Party members voted to continue in government.
Labour will bear the brunt of that disappointment, and Gilmore as leader will be sacrificed. Colm Keaveney and many old Labour stalwarts have always seen the DL contingent as mere interlopers. The choices are fairly stark: get out now and they’ll save some seats, maybe up to half of them, or brazen it out and face meltdown. If you were a Labour backbencher which would you prefer? They’ll be told that things will get better, that the electorate is ’sophisticated’ (Did you know that we have the most sophisticated electorate in the world? I’ve read it in newspapers a few times). But, if they couldn’t sell the bank deal (Peace in our time) and the ‘extension’ (don’t you dare call it a renegotiation) of Croke Park, how on earth will they sell more austerity?
The dish will be served cold to Colm Keaveney and Co. Gilmore will go. Joan will take over …to lead the party to the biggest seat loss in their history.
One thing only may save Gilmore. Who in their right mind would want to take over the sinking ship?
John Gormley is a Contributing Editor of Village