SINCE THE POOR showing in the Meath East by-election, there has been growing talk amongst commentators challenging the direction the Labour leadership is going. The recent exit from the Parliamentary Labour Party by the Ireland East MEP, Nessa Childers, makes her the seventh parliamentarian to walk from the party since entering government.
In the last two weeks there has been a lot of unfair criticism of Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore, some of which is both very personal and extremely unjust. The reality is that people are angry because the recession, inherited from the previous Cowen government, is still here. We still have high levels of unemployment, particularly amongst under 25s, and we are heading into our fifth year of austerity. Things are getting better but the public want a fall guy. They want to be angry with someone because it’s easier to blame one person. Whatever the reasons they have decided that person is Eamon.
Instead of defending the leader and by association the party’s role in the c1urrent government, many have jumped on the bandwagon to deride Labour as selling out on its core values. If you were to spend your day reading Twitter you would be forgiven for thinking that a certain cohort of people are eagerly awaiting for any opportunity to condemn or criticise the party. However, the reality is that Labour in government is having an impact and they are making a difference.
Instead of focusing, constantly, on what has not been done, people should look at what has been achieved already in this government. Restructuring the Universal Social Charge bands so that those on the lowest income are no longer levied with the charge. Protecting frontline social welfare payments, which were cut by the previous government. Restoring the minimum wage to €8.65 per hour. Extending the school meal programme by €2 million. The creation of multiple area based anti-poverty strategies. Amending Section 37 of the Employment Equality Act to protect gay teachers from being dismissed based on their sexual orientation. These were all Labour initiatives and are but a few examples of some of the real achievements of the Government’s junior coalition partner.
We never hear about these things though. We never hear about the positives of Labour being in government. It is always the negative and it is because of this that Labour suffers. There is a direct correlation between the constant criticism, often from its own members, and the reason the party continues to drop in the polls. Criticism is perfectly healthy but there is a necessity to commend the positives too otherwise they are forgotten.
A self-appointed group of members, claiming to represent the “grassroots”, have established an internal campaigning group called the Campaign for Labour Policies. Although some of their aims and their desire for more of Labour’s agenda to be at the heart of government are perfectly legitimate, they choose to ignore that the party is in a coalition government, which means compromise.
The decision to enter government was taken two years ago when over 90 per cent of Labour members, at their delegate conference, voted to enter government and accept the Programme for Government. That was their choice at the time and they choose to make a commitment for 5 years to sit at the cabinet table.
Opinion polls come and go but the people are sovereign. They have an opportunity every five years to choose who should govern them and what direction the country should take. While Labour members should of course be mindful of the poll ratings, the focus should be on continuing the pursuit of Labour’s agenda in government, so that in three years time Labour can present its achievements to the people.
Rory Geraghty is a former National Chairperson of Labour Youth and served on the Labour Party’s Executive Board from 2009 – 2011. He previously interned in the House of Commons before returning to Ireland to work full time in politics. He tweets at twitter.com/mayberory. The above piece is written in a personal capacity.