What is the future for Labour, ahead of #GE16.2?

And what are the poison pills in the new Programme for Government?

So there we have it. A government. And even a programme to go with it. As with any document of this nature (and length ) there is much that nobody will oppose - and much couched in anodyne language that will resist analysis, much less critique. There are however, some poison pills unearthed, such as the potential privatisation of healthcare facilities.

No mention, of course, of a living wage. Consideration of the eighth amendment is proposed to be among a number of issues considered by a "Citizens' Assembly" but any recommendations will then return to the Dáil, with no suggestion the Government will support reform or repeal, if proposed (and no mention of the word 'abortion' at all in the programme ).

One of the better indications of the priorities of this new government, in Insider's view, comes with the proposal to raise the Capital Acquisitions Tax threshold by €220,000 to a cool €500,000. Estimated to cost the State €75 million a year, this provides a net benefit - a gift from all of us, to a select few - of over €70,000 to those receiving an inheritance valued at over half a million.

While there may be scope for modest amendment to the thresholds to reflect increasing house prices, for a progressive system of CAT, or for revisiting the existing additional protections for carers and those who live in a home that is subsequently inherited, Insider has read enough Piketty to know that dynastic wealth is one of the greatest barriers to an egalitarian society. A robust, and progressive, CAT is an important tool in ensuring a society in which inequality is not only slowed, but reversed.

Ireland is in a rather odd situation in Europe in that it has high inequality before taxes and 'social transfers' are accounted for, but relatively low levels of net inequality. With 49 per cent of the population receiving some form of social protection payment, the importance, and overall success, of the work of Joan Burton in resisting pressure to cut core payments - from both the IMF (which pushed for an additional €400 million annual cut from pension payments ) and incoming Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar (who called for 20 per cent cuts in welfare payments ) - is belatedly being recognised. The social safety net not only, if crucially, protects the destitute, it also promotes social and economic equality.

Equally, the think tank TASC notes that social transfers - particularly when they are as extensive as those in Ireland - can "mask" underlying inequality in the marketplace. Insider would quibble perhaps with the phrasing - transfers do not just hide inequality, they actually ameliorate it, taking from the rich to give to ... well, about half the population, in our case.

Ged Nash

However, market interventions matter, and Insider would point to the work of Ged Nash [pictured above] in delivering two minimum wage increases (the first to reverse the shameful cut delivered by Fianna Fáil ), a Low Pay Commission to examine issues of pay and conditions, and legislation providing for collective bargaining on a statutory basis, for the first time. Long-time homelessness campaigner Fr Peter McVerry had described Alan Kelly as "the only minister who understands the problem of homelessness and who wants to deal with the problem of homelessness."

Yes, Insider is praising the work of Labour ministers. The last election (#GE16.1, as some call it ) wasn't kind to Labour, and many diligent, caring, and talented representatives (not least Galway West's own Derek Nolan ) lost seats. Nonetheless, Insider is confident that Labour's achievements, and its vision of democratic socialism (or, if you prefer, social democracy ) will find greater electoral favour in the near future.

Core areas of labour rights and social protection were protected and enhanced in the face of economic challenges and ideological opposition. The cause of a liberal, pluralistic, society was enhanced with the marriage equality referendum, increases in numbers of non-sectarian schools, and the implementation after more than 20 years of legislation to implement the X case findings (minimal as that victory may be relative to the need to repeal the eighth amendment in toto ).

Labour's work here may be made somewhat easier by the farcical situations others create. People Before Profit - clearly prioritising populism ahead of any economic or political priorities - coming out in favour of the inheritance tax giveaways (which will benefit only the top 10 per cent or so ) referred to above.

Shane Ross and Finian McGrath.

A junior minister for health, Finian McGrath, who wants to roll back the smoking ban, and seeks legal advice from the Government's legal advisor about his own personal affairs. (Insider can imagine the conversation: "Hey Government lawyer - do I have to obey the law?" "I'm not your lawyer, but just think through what you just asked." ) A minister for transport who is unlikely to adapt well to working with the civil servants, or the worker representatives, whom he has regularly insulted and dismissed in his newspaper column.

Insider, though, is of the opinion that Labour's future success must not be left to merely lionising past successes, or relying on a technocratic argument of better managerialism. Labour's core values of pluralism, solidarity, universalism, and social engagement are shared by those in a range of campaigns and movements.

Not everyone involved in social justice campaigns has been a Labour activist or voter, but the party has a proud heritage of sustained commitment across these areas, from labour rights, to civil liberties, to economic justice, that is unparalleled, and which has made Labour a valuable ally and a natural home for many of those working towards a pluralistic, egalitarian, society. Labour's challenge is to continue its principled, and effective, work in these areas, and continually persuade its allies and partners of its role as an electoral vehicle for securing social justice and economic equality.

This will require articulating values and vision - both for party members and the broader public; rebuilding organisational structures and outreach; partnering with civil society groups with which the party shares goals; and preparing for the next election - whether that be local and European elections in 2019, or the dreaded #GE16.2. A heavy load, but in listening earlier this week to Joan Burton's speech commemorating James Connolly, Insider was reminded of the perennial favoured slogan of the Left: Don't Mourn. Organize!


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