Uniting the Left: Can Ireland have a left-wing government?

 
 

As Ireland’s political left continues to gain from a turbulent political climate, Eithne Dodd examines the possibilities of a left-wing coalition

The main political parties are all suffering to some degree at the moment. A Milward Brown poll has all party leaders with a dissatisfaction rate of over 50%. Fine Gael and Labour are under serious pressure at the moment due to water charges. Sinn Féin’s opponents are attacking them over the Maria Cahill allegations, and Fianna Fáil still hasn’t regained its momentum from before the recession. The country may be ready for a change of status quo in government. The 2016 general election may be the first real chance of a left-wing government.

Since the 2011 general election the number of politicians that identify as left-wing in the Dáil has increased exponentially. Many thought in 2011 there was an opportunity for real change. Imagine what might have happened if Labour had refused to become the minority party in a Fine Gael/Labour Coalition. The government opposition (assuming a government could have been formed) would have been predominantly left leaning. The 2014 local and European elections also showed the Irish population to be leaning left with Sinn Fein and Independents seeing the biggest gains. But what does this mean for the upcoming election in 2016? Is it possible Ireland might see a left-wing government?

Irish Political Commentator Johnny Fallon says “It is definitely a credible suggestion. Whether it be the next government or a later government it is still likely to happen at some point.” As far as the next government is concerned however it is unlikely to happen from left-wing political parties alone: help will be needed. Fallon says: “The poll figures show that since the demise of the Fianna Fáil vote the spread of votes has become too splintered.  It is also true that some of the Parties would prefer working with some of the independents than working with some of the other parties.  In all likelihood Independents will return to the next Dáil in big numbers and any government will have to seek out like minded individuals among them.”

In the 2011 general election “independents and others” won 15% of the vote. A poll published by Milward Brown on the 2nd of November 2014 suggested that they would now receive 18% of the vote. Sinn Féin (who received 10% in the 2011 general election) would win 20% of the vote today; this would make it the biggest party in the Dáil.  “Don’t knows” make up 24% of the vote and between Fianna Fáil and Labour they make up a further 21% of the vote. This makes a left-wing government in 2016 a very likely prospect indeed.

However a left-wing government is far from assured. Some may disagree with the inclusion of Fianna Fáil and Labour as left-wing parties especially the “more radical” left-wing parties such as People Before Profit, the Anti-Austerity Alliance and the Socialist Party. It is an old argument that left-wing parties are too different to work together; a notion not helped when the Socialist Party left The United Left Alliance. The Socialist Party stated it was “genuine in our preparedness to work with others on the left on a respectful, democratic and principled basis” and according to them; the other branches of the alliance were not prepared to do the same.

“There has always been a school of thought that argues that if there was a strong left party that could unite the vote they could take power” says Fallon. “I think that analysis can be simplistic however.  There is a very good reason that there are several left wing parties.  People have different views on what constitutes left-wing.  Fianna Fáil has always had a reasonable centre-left vote, Labour is just slightly more to the left with Sinn Féin beyond that and Socialist and People Before Profit beyond that again.  The Fianna Fáil/Labour left-of-centre vote is unlikely ever to vote for those on the far left and vice versa.  These parties exist because they cater to particular votes.  Once you try to put all that under one umbrella you will lose some of it.  So for instance, if Sinn Féin or the Socialists were ever to unite the left vote and form a strong government it would inevitably require taking on the broad mass of voters who reside in the just left-of-centre category and many of their hard-line voters will see an appeasement of this section as a sell-out.  So while it may appear that the number of parties is the block, the real problem is the divergence of views.”

Ireland has never had a fully left-wing government. So; if there is a left-wing government what is likely to happen? Fallon predicts: “The first thing that will happen is that they will be accused of selling out and betraying their vote, that happens to everyone.  However, once we get beyond that and if we accept that their hands will be tied on very radical change then I think they could have a positive impact in several areas, but just not as dramatic as some supporters will hope.  I think we could see much reform of social welfare that is long overdue and where the customer is the focus rather than the enemy.  I think much social policy in Health and Education would see some new initiatives.  Financially; I think the idea of tax cuts and tax breaks might be stalled while more thought was given to spending.  However, each of these will bring problems and opposition and much of it from ordinary working class people. Some changes for sure, but more a change of emphasis than a revolution.”

Advertisements