‘Politicians are all the same’

Can Socialists in Galway find a way to offer a real alternative to the traditional parties?

“Politicians are all the same“ is a very common refrain these days, and although it may disturb the more idealistic candidates and their canvassers, it has more than a grain of truth. The two governments that have reigned throughout the Irish economic meltdown have pursued the same policies, making the people pay for a crisis that was none of their doing.

However, the view that irrespective of election results “the government always gets elected” has been around a long time. Anarchists throughout the decades have summed up the whole electoral system with the pithy observation: “If elections changed anything, they’d be made illegal.”

Over the past six years, and in particular since the formation of the present Fine Gael-Labour coalition, more and more independent groups have mushroomed up with essentially an anti-politician mantra. And who can blame them? In the city we now have Galway Lockout – although it has a contradictory liking for Independent city councillor Mike Cubbard, an acolyte of the ex-PDs - and throughout the State similar groupings have appended ‘Says No’ to their particular county, town, or area – including Connemara Says No.

Socialists v socialists v the status quo

Back in the early 1970s the Marxist academic Ralph Miliband - father of current British Labour leader Ed Miliband - in his book The State in Capitalist Society considered whether “Politicians are all the same”.

He wrote: “This is an exaggeration, of course. But it is an exaggeration with a solid kernel of truth, at least in the kind of men who tend to succeed each other in office in capitalist countries. Marxists...say that these men, whatever their political labels or political affiliations, are bourgeois politicians...[they] have in common a basically and usually explicit belief in the validity and virtues of the capitalist system.”

And Miliband shows that historically those politicians who have stemmed from the working class and expounded working class convictions appear to alter their views when their formally socialist parties get into positions of governmental power: “They have never posed – and indeed for the most part never wished to pose – a serious challenge to the capitalist system.”

If we look at the host of politicians returned to the Dáil for Galway West, whether it is Fianna Fáil’s Éamon Ó Cuív or Labour’s Michael D Higgins, when they are in opposition they huff and puff, but when in government they have studiously upheld the capitalist status quo. Indeed there are only two political parties operating in Galway, which are avowedly anti-capitalism - the Socialist Workers’ Party and the Socialist Party.

Now there are moves to resurrect the United Left Alliance, which saw these two parties come together in a pact. Over the past couple of months they have been in conclave, but there is no sign of white smoke. If it does happen it will be a temporary cosmetic exercise to garner more votes at the forthcoming General Election. In essence, the SP is not interested in unity with any party of the Left – it and it alone possesses the one true faith.

The launch of the ULA Mark 1 was hailed by some as the emergence of an Irish Syrizia or Podemos, but here in Galway, the ULA appeared as disunity incarnate. The anti-property tax campaign in Galway was a case in point, where the SP did everything in its power to exclude anyone it deemed as Left competition, especially its erstwhile ULA allies, the SWP. Not that the latter is free of sectarianism: its decision to run a candidate in the Dublin Euro elections guaranteed Paul Murphy would not retain the SP’s seat in the European Parliament. You do not need to be Insider to predict the ULA will go nowhere.

It has to be said the Galway branch of the SWP has shown unflappable energy opposing austerity. Its early campaigning against the water tax under the banner of People Before Profit created the very broad and non-sectarian Right2Water campaign in the city when Galwegians at long last decided they had their fill of EU-driven austerity. For that alone the party deserves high praise. By employing all its resources to this campaign in a completely non-sectarian fashion, it made the opposition to the water tax a powerful force in the city.

Who will stand up to the EU?

The success of Right2Water on a 26-county basis stems from the support and organisational skills of the Unite and Mandate trade unions. The support this campaign has won from the mass of the people shows too that politics does not simply revolve around elections. Mass movements of the people are an essential ingredient if progressive political change is to come about, irrespective of what collection of parties is in government.

In the Galway context, the great disappointment is the failure of the trade unions in the city to get involved. The Galway Trades Council has played no role because it is a hostage of the Labour Party, as is the case with SIPTU.

Right2Water may well bring down this Government, but social revolution is hardly on the agenda. So what do we do then? Chanting “Politicians are all the same” will change nothing. First and foremost, Right2Water must be maintained as a mass movement, which essentially is a force against the EU policies that are making ordinary people pay for a crisis caused by the capitalist elite. People power must be used to ensure that politicians keep their election promises of people-friendly economic policies.

The best defence against EU austerity is a strong government under the watchful eye of a vocal people. Brussels and Berlin will have to be faced down, not only on the burden of the bank debt, but also the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership being agreed between the EU and the USA.

The secretive TTIP will probably see public services, including our water, being privatised. It will give large foreign corporations a status on a par with sovereign governments, allowing them to sue national governments, in secret adjudication tribunals, for any government policy which infringes their profits. It will also impact on Irish farming with EU markets being opened up to cheap, steroid enhanced, US beef.

The main Irish opposition in the European Parliament to the TTIP has come from Sinn Féin MEP Matt Carthy and Independent MEP Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan. The People’s Movement has produced a comprehensive document on this proposed treaty which can downloaded from www.people.ie .

Standing up to the EU is not a task for the politically faint hearted. So, keeping Miliband’s exaggerated analysis of politicians in the back of our minds, we need to vote for those parties and politicians, who have a proven record of opposing the EU diktat.

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