The Labour party used to have principles. It used to stand for something. Nowadays it is indistinguishable from the Fianna Fail government it had vehemently opposed and its governing partner Fine Gael which it is supposed to counter balance.
The Irish Labour Party was founded a hundred years ago by Jim Larkin and James Connolly. Its’ purpose was to represent the working class and trade unions. At the time poverty was rife in Ireland with Ireland’s slums being the worst in Europe. Wages were low and unemployment was high. Larkin challenged the powerful in the epic struggle that was the Great Lockout.
Without a doubt he would be turning in his grave if he could see Labour today. Instead of fighting for the poor it makes statements Margaret Thatcher would be proud of. Labour’s Minister for Social Protection, Joan Burton, claimed that the unemployed were making a “lifestyle choice”. Donegal Senator Jimmy Harte caused controversy when he unjustly condemned an unemployed Polish woman and offered to pay her flight pack to Poland (it turns out the allegations against her were untrue and he had to apologise).
Harte had earlier been in the newspaper for claiming some families were receiving 90,000 a year in Social Welfare benefits. The example he gave was such an extreme case it’s hard to believe anyone was in that situation. Allegedly, the father was on disability allowance, the mother was receiving carers allowance for looking after her daughter who was receiving special needs assistance, they received rent allowance (side note, according to the NESC only 11% of the unemployed receive rent allowance), and allowance for a child they had adopted. The family also happened to be Bosnian. This ridiculously extreme example is something you would expect Conservatives to drag up, not the supposedly main left wing party in Ireland.
I joined the Labour party because I thought it was the party that helped the poor and gave them an equal chance in life. I thought it cared about inequality, poverty and was the party of fresh new ideas. I was a proud member and canvassed for it in the 2009 local elections. But after the Budget I resigned in disgust. They were implementing the very same policies they had spent the last four years denouncing. As soon as they got into government they morphed into Fianna Fail, the very party they claimed to oppose.
In 2010 they voted against renewing the bank guarantee. Yet one year later in government, without a hint of shame they changed their position and supported the very thing they so strongly condemned in opposition. Tommy Broughan was the only TD who kept in principles and voted the same in government as in opposition. For this unforgivable act of principle he was expelled from the party.
They broke almost every promise they made from not raising student fees, to keeping Roscomon Hospital open, to protecting Social Welfare from cuts to ending the handouts to the banks. It makes you wonder why Labour opposed every Fianna Fail budget when its one is identical?
If you were to ask me what the Labour party stands for today, I couldn’t tell you. They long ago dropped all principles and ideology in their quest for power. They have no new ideas or plans to change Ireland. They are nothing more than a power hungry few, willing to say anything to get votes. They are reduced to spouting empty words and meaningless clichés that not even they believe. Gilmore’s recent speech at its conference was indistinguishable from anything said by Enda Kenny, Michael Martin or even Brian Cowen. If you close your eyes while listening to the Dail it is impossible to tell who is Fine Gael, Labour or Fianna Fail.
Those who sell their principles for power deserve neither. Labour will undoubtedly suffer the same fate as the Lib Dems in the UK, destroyed as disillusioned voters dissert the party. Recent polls show this happening already with Labour’s support slowly eroding away to Sinn Fein. Just as the Spring Tide gains of 1992 were wiped out in the next election, so too will Labour’s current gains be wiped out and it will return to the margins of politics.