THE ANTI-AUSTERITY Alliance (‘AAA’) registered as a political party and held an official launch event during the week, promising to fight water charges, property taxes, cuts in government spending and the like. It’s a relatively vague platform that nevertheless speaks to some basic instincts of Irish voters who will want to give the traditional midterm lashing to the government in the local and European elections in May.
The AAA is however simply a front operation for the Socialist Party, who have a serious brand image problem in Ireland in that most people think that hard-line Trotskyites don’t make for good government. There are people involved in the AAA who have never been in politics before, and the hopes of the founders of the AAA is that people who are disaffected with parties like Labour will come vote for them on May 23.
Fundamentally and at its core, however, people who will be asked to consider voting for the AAA are being asked to vote for members of the Socialist Party who do not have the courage of their deeply held convictions to run as socialist candidates in favour of bringing full communism to Ireland.
Headline candidates for the AAA include Councillor Ruth Coppinger in Mulhuddart, who ran for the Socialist Party in the Dublin West by-election following the death of Brian Lenihan. In Castleknock, Cllr Matt Waine tops the bill – he was co-opted onto the council to replace Joe Higgins, who went instead to Europe as an MEP. When Joe was returned to the Dáil in 2011 he was replaced without election by his assistant Paul Murphy, also an AAA man.
Indeed, when you look at the spread of 41 candidates that the AAA is fielding in the local elections an interesting pattern emerges: firstly, every sitting councillor who is running as an AAA candidate was elected as a Socialist Party candidate in 2009 or subsequently co-opted to fill the seat of a Socialist councillor.
When you crunch the numbers, on average the AAA is running fully 72 per cent more candidates in local electoral areas where the Socialist Party has an existing seat on the council.
There is a clear and politically cynical reason why this is the case. Political parties habitually run more candidates in constituencies and wards than they can win seats. The reason for this is to help sweep up votes mainly on a geographical basis. The lower tiered candidates sweep some votes in their area, get eliminated in the count and then transfer heavily towards their party colleagues who are destined to win a seat.
Not only are the Socialist Party councillors looking to hide their affiliation by presenting themselves as more palatable AAA candidates, they are using the ordinary folks who will run for and support them as vote getters to ensure that they are returned to the council. And even if they manage to raise their vote count, many of the non-incumbent candidates are themselves card-carrying members of the Socialist Party.
The idea of using ‘fronts’ is a well-worn tactic from the playbook of hard-line left wing groups. They either create or infiltrate an existing group and steer it towards achieving their aims.
Hard-left ideology is not palatable to a majority of Irish voters
In essence, the Socialist Party has acknowledged that its hard-left ideology is not palatable to a majority of Irish voters. Sure, we like good talkers like Joe Higgins and they do a good job when we need a solid protest over something, but we really don’t want them elected in any great numbers.
The Socialist Party is a hard-core left wing organisation. Its members are true believers in full communism as distinct from any form of ‘compromise’, such as trying to run a social welfare state in a capitalist system such as we do.
I’ve always found members of the Socialist Party an interesting breed. Every one of them I have met is truly committed to the ideology, and while I’d debate its merits I can appreciate their sincerity. I have worked with Socialist Party members on meaningful local issues, such as raising a ruckus when the government considered shutting down Blanchardstown Hospital’s A&E department.
The AAA however strikes me as fundamentally dishonest. If a voter asks, I am sure a candidate will reveal that he or she is a card-carrying Socialist, but many voters will probably not think to ask. Most voters might just assume that the Socialists will run as Socialists and the AAA people are something different. Even in the comments on this website and elsewhere, there were folks wondering how Joe Higgins and Co will feel about someone encroaching on their territory. Well, that’s not quite the story.
A sweeper strategy?
It is one thing to vote against austerity, but most voters – as the record of elections has shown – are averse to voting for hard left parties and candidates with a few exceptions, mainly built on the back of a strong personal local vote for constituency work. Most Irish voters do not want people who believe in collectivised farms running a branch of government.
Using the AAA banner is a way for Socialists to soften that cough and pick up votes from people who wouldn’t otherwise consider a candidate from a party with their ideology. The electoral approach of running a lot of candidates in areas where existing Socialist seats are is a sweeper strategy designed to keep weak incumbents in seats by force of numbers, pure and simple. Every party does it, but clearly the Socialists do not believe that running five members of their party with their logo on it would achieve the same result.
At the very least, Socialists running under the AAA banner should include the logo of their original political party in their literature in proportion to the catchy AAA logo. People should know what they’re voting for.
Aaron McKenna is a businessman and a columnist for TheJournal.ie. He is also involved in activism in his local area. You can find out more about him at aaronmckenna.com or follow him on Twitter @aaronmckenna. To read more columns by Aaron click here.