Back in May 2018, the London Times ran a revealing story from Brussels with the following headline: “Fear of Jeremy Corbyn-led government prompts tough EU-line on Brexit”.
According to the article, it is not the Irish border or the backstop that is bothering our betters in the EU. They are more worried about the prospect of state subsidies for British manufacturing industries and a shift to public ownership of key utilities, such as water and energy, should Mr Corbyn become prime minister.
The Times predicted the EU would insist on a Brexit withdrawal treaty ensuring “Margaret Thatcher’s privatisation and free market policies” remain in place. And this came to pass. You would be forgiven for not noticing it, as all the media attention has focused on the Irish border.
However, if the rich and powerful fear Corbyn’s socialist plans, a recent survey carried out by YouGov in seven European countries (excluding Ireland ) and the USA show his policies are very popular with ordinary people. In other words, the populace view positively increased investment in the public health services and state ownership of utility industries such as energy and water.
The popularity of the Corbyn-factor begs the question: Do we have a Jeremy Corbyn doppelgänger in Irish politics? From the outset, Insider can confidently state no such figure exists within the now irrelevant Irish Labour Party. Last year Brendan Howlin proudly Tweeted a picture of himself with Tony Blair. Corbyn wants Blair in the dock charged with war crimes in Iraq.
Insider also recalls Dep Alan Kelly’s belligerent attitude to installing water meters to know what Labour is really like in “power”. And who can forget the impromptu press briefings by Brendan Howlin, then minister for public expenditure, before each Tuesday Cabinet meeting, where, with his delusional sense of authority, he would justify imposing hardship (or austerity ) on the masses?
'It is wiser for Corbyn remain silent on Brexit when his direct opponent, the British PM Theresa May, is causing complete havoc'
Neither will the Greens produce a politician of Corbyn’s political character. They are not socialists. Indeed, they do not grasp that, under capitalism, water metering and bin charges lead to one thing - privatisation. It has nothing to do with the environment and everything to do with profit. Bin charges only result in illegal dumping or hoarding of refuse, as families cannot afford the cost of refuse collection. The outcome: untold health problems and vermin infestation. We witnessed Eamon Ryan and John Gormley in government and saw how their radical talk vanished once they were comfortably placed at the Cabinet table.
Border polls and Brexit
You hear it often: "All politicians are all the same”. It is easy to understand this view. These days, a change of government does not bring a change in policy. Since the late 1980s, successive EU treaties have narrowed political choices governments can make. The EU treaties set the direction and national states must comply.
This has meant a hollowing out of democratic institutions, and in a way, it suits the politicians at home, who can blame the EU rules. Is it any wonder the electorate has become disenchanted and this has led to a growing de-politicisation? This development of making national institutions of democracy a formal shell is no accident. It is an essential element of the neoliberal project, where decisions in the interests of the 'one per cent' are imposed on the rest of us.
Jeremy Corbyn is well aware of this. His criticism in Westminster during the recent EU deal debate was that it would prohibit the British state investing in domestic industries to create jobs. The Labour leader has remained reticent as regards the EU during the Brexit referendum campaign and since. There are two good reasons why: his party still has a sizable number of anti-Brexit Blairite MPs, so he has to box clever. Secondly, sometimes it is wiser to remain silent when your direct opponent, the British PM Theresa May, is causing complete havoc.
Up until 2017 Gerry Adams, then Sinn Féin president, could have been equated with Corbyn. Both the SF leader and the British Labour chief had, for more than 40 years, been anti-EU, plus the latter firmly supported SF’s goal of a united, independent, Ireland. Then, at its August 2017 Árd Fheis, SF did a complete political somersault and at Adams’ instigation changed to a pro-EU policy.
'Ending partition is one thing, but as many Sinn Féiners, particularly in the south, realise, achieving Irish independence is another'
Mary Lou McDonald, the new leader, has continued to pursue this policy focusing on the goal of achieving Irish unity via a border poll. There is no harm in demanding such a poll, but it is naïve to believe the EU bigwigs give a hoot about Irish unity. Even Stephen Collins of The Irish Times – a noted Europhile and Anglophile - seems to have seen the light: "the backstop...has never been a case of the Irish tail wagging the EU dog but of the EU holding firm in the face of a serious threat to its own survival."
What independence really means
An Irish Corbyn would have been calling for Dublin to negotiate directly with London on Brexit rather than be a pawn in some cynical Brussels ploy to derail the democratic will of the people in Britain.
Besides, ending partition is one thing, but as many Sinn Féiners, particularly in the south, realise, achieving Irish independence is another. The 1916 Easter Proclamation clearly states what is meant by independence: “We declare the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland, and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies, to be sovereign and indefeasible.”
The EU treaties permanently shackle Ireland to policies decided by non-elected bureaucrats and bankers in Brussels and Frankfurt that are not in the interests of the Irish people. It would take unanimity of all EU member states to change these right-wing treaties. Such a constellation of Left governments within the EU is not going to happen any time soon.
As it stands, there is no Irish politician like Corbyn on the threshhold of government. Nevertheless, if a left-wing leader of an Irish government is to emerge s/he is likely to come from the ranks of Sinn Féin or even from Independents for Change, nominally headed by the impressive Clare Daly TD. Unlike the Independent Alliance that sits on the Government benches, Independents for Change is united in seeking progress for the mass of the people as opposed to furthering the careers of individual politicians.
One thing is clear, whoever emerges as a potential Left-wing leader in Ireland will have to argue for a break with the neoliberal EU. A hard Brexit should make that task somewhat easier.