In recent polls, the Labour Party has been bumping along at five or six per cent, slightly down from its catastrophic performance in the 2016 General Election, when the party achieved just 6.6 per cent, and held only seven of the 37 seats it had won in 2011.
Insider thinks these polls may be slightly underestimating the likely outcome for Labour if an election were called now. The party should hold its existing seats - any Labour TD who survived the massacre of 2016 must have deep roots indeed in his/her constituency. However at least half of Labour’s TDs – Willie Penrose, Jan O’Sullivan, and Sean Ryan – are of an age where they must be nearing retirement, and another – Joan Burton – is, politically speaking, a corpse. Though being politically dead has never stopped anyone getting re-elected to Dáil Éireann.
The former Fianna Fáil minister for justice, Sean Doherty, was a member of the Dáil until 2002, almost 20 years after the phone tapping scandal of 1983 finished his career in front line politics. Neil Blaney haunted the Dáil for a quarter of a century after the Arms Trial which, unjustly in Insider’s opinion, led to his expulsion from Fianna Fáil and subsequent complete political marginalisation. Michael Lowry’s political ghost is still taking up space. It is not just in zombie movies that the dead walk; their shoes also shuffle across Leinster House’s fine carpets.
Labour can also hope to make a gain or two next time. Insider understands that posh liberals up and down the country are panting in anticipation at the prospect of the return to the Dáil of Aodhán O'Riordán [pictured above]. Last time out voters were determined to get Labour, and not just by withdrawing their number one vote from the party. To punish Labour for water charges, cuts to payments to single parents, and much more besides, voters continued down the ballot paper and made sure their votes went against Labour in the vital later counts.
It is unlikely voters will be quite so vengeful towards Labour now it is out of government; they may instead concentrate their ire on the silly party that is the Independent Alliance. Is it just Insider who thinks Shane Ross, Finian McGrath, Seán Canney, et al, increasingly look like a bad country'n'Irish band, the sort who play Foster and Allen covers in church halls? Hanging on to a few TDs, as Labour probably will at the next election, and perhaps celebrating the move from Seanad back to Dáil of the dazzlingly talented Mr O'Riordán is one thing; being seen as a real political alternative by, well, anyone, is quite another.
'When a jaded middle aged, middle class, leftie such as Insider would rather be associated with the political wing of the INLA than be seen behind a Labour banner, it says something very dark about the peculiar place Labour has ended up'
Many activists refused to attend the National Housing and Homelessness demonstration in Dublin on April 7 because of Labour’s participation in the event. There was even a #NotWithLabour hashtag on Twitter and Facebook. Insider attended this demonstration and thinks these activists were mistaken. Every demonstration of the left has a few peculiar people on it. The Labour contingent on the day was small and hidden away at the back. Clearly the organisers were aware of the ongoing toxicity of the Labour brand.
From a distance the Labour contingent looked like the remnants of some ultra left sect: the Workers Revolutionary Party without the sex, or the International Communist Current without the huge sign that read “No to democracy, yes to class struggle.” The demonstration was dominated by the banners of Sinn Féin, People Before Profit, and Solidarity/the Socialist Party. At one point Insider and friends went to buy ice-creams, and when they rejoined the march realised that they were (horror! ) marching with the Labour Party.
We let them pass and fell in behind an Irish Republican Socialist Party banner. When a jaded middle aged, middle class, leftie such as Insider would rather be associated with the political wing of the Irish National Liberation Army than be seen behind a Labour banner, it says something very dark about the peculiar place the party has ended up.
This raises the question as to what precise purpose the Labour Party’s continued existence serves? There is not much doubt that its presence, low key as it was, subtracted from the national march against homelessness. The activists, many of whom came to politics through the anti-water charges campaign, who refused to participate because of Labour’s presence, would have far outnumbered the Labour contingent on the demo. And these activists are the sort of people who would have mobilised others, whereas Labour just brought itself. It should also be noted that no member of the Labour leadership attended, probably because the presence of the likes of Alan Kelly or Brendan Howlin would have been seen as a provocation. It has come to that.
The campaign to repeal the Eighth Amendment is a different matter. As far as Insider is aware, no objections have been raised to Labour’s participation in that. However this actually underlines the party’s problem. During its time in government, Labour tried to reposition itself as a liberal, rather than a working class social democratic, party. Out went the “Labour’s way or Frankfurt’s way” anti-austerity talk and suddenly Eamonn Gilmore was instead talking about how gay marriage was the civil rights issue of our day. The referendum was passed handsomely, with the help of Insider’s vote, but Labour received no reward at all in the general election which took place less than a year later.
Insider thinks the Eighth Amendment will be repealed, but that Labour's involvement in that campaign will be of no help at all to Labour electorally. Yes, Irish Times liberals are far more lenient on Labour than your average anti-water charges activist is, but why would a liberal living in a giant house on Threadneedle Road bother voting for Cllr Niall McNelis when s/he can happily vote for Fine Gael's Dep Hildegarde Naughton who has come out firmly, and very publicly, for repeal?
The other problem with Labour abandoning its working class base to others on the left, and trying to make up the loss by getting the votes of people who know who Roisín Ingle is, is that once the Eighth Amendment is gone, and abortion legal in Longford, Mayo, Leitrim, and Donegal, then the liberal agenda is pretty done and dusted. Yes, there will be other issues, but Insider does not believe Labour will recover its base in Darndale and Tallaght by Aodhán O'Riordán moving on from the Eighth Amendment and the Belfast rugby rape trial, to wrap his fabulous accent around issues such as transgender rights or the right to die.
Unless Labour recognises that the major issues of our day are economic, and humbly admits that in government it failed the people on those issues, then the party is in danger of slowly fading away. There is no sign of any such humility though. And if such a necessarily radical change of direction is not to be forthcoming then it might be preferable that the party disband rather than allow Alan Kelly into another TV studio to defend his record on water charges.