Miliband should learn from Irish Labour’s pains

by Kevin Meagher

The dangers of being a junior coalition partner are obvious enough – ask Nick Clegg – but across the Irish Sea, the example is, if anything, even starker.

The Irish Labour party has been the junior coalition partner to Enda Kenny’s Fine Gael since 2011; administering painful austerity measures as Ireland grapples with the horrendous aftermath of its banking and property bubble explosion.

Now, the party has plummeted to just six per cent in the latest poll for the Irish Times, down from a high of 35 per cent in September 2010 before it went into government.

Along the way, Labour has lost one leader, Eamon Gilmore, a former Marxist turned moderate, who resigned as party leader, Tánaiste (deputy prime minister) and minister for foreign affairs and trade, following disastrous local election results earlier this year, narrowly escaping a no confidence motion from his own grassroots.

In a Sir Humphreyish back-handed compliment, Taoiseach Enda Kenney praised the Labour party for being “courageous” in pushing through painful economic reforms, which now include household water charges. This seems to be the measure that has now galvanised the country against austerity.

So much so, that Labour’s new leader, Joan Burton, was trapped in her car for three hours last month, surrounded by slogan-chanting protestors. In echoes of the poll tax in Britain, today’s opinion poll also shows less than half the Irish public (48 per cent) intend to actually pay the charge.

All this has been grist to the mill for Sinn Fein, topping today’s poll as Ireland’s most popular political party, with Gerry Adams also the most popular politician in the republic. The Shinners are now well-placed to form part of the next government at the 2016 general election.

But the Irish Labour party’s problems are not cyclical. A pincer movement between Sinn Fein and left-wing independents has squeezed the electoral life out of them.  Even the Irish Independent, known for its aggressive propagandising against Sinn Fein, warns today that Labour “continues to struggle to avoid a…meltdown” as it loses ground in all directions.

But as Labour lies dead in the water, its coalition partner, Fine Gael, is still deemed to be the best party for managing Ireland’s relations with the EU, growing the economy and keeping spending under control.

The lesson for Ed Miliband is obvious enough: implementing austerity measures kills centre-left parties. So how does he avoid a similar fate? As he peers beyond May 2015, he needs to take a lesson from Enda Kenny instead.

He is navigating a political course through austerity by managing expectations and being realistic about the scale of the task at hand. By setting the ground early that there are no easy choices to be made, Kenny is showing that amid the howls of protest, it is at least possible to avoid cries of betrayal.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut

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12 Responses to “Miliband should learn from Irish Labour’s pains”

  1. Michael says:

    what is the purpose of socialism when you have run out of other peoples money to spend?

  2. swatantra says:

    So, Meager is suggesting that Labour does not take on the burden of shouldering responsibility in taking difficult decisions but et some other b****r do it, so that they can get all the blame and hate mail. We’ve already had 5 years of siitting back taking that attitude. Now its our turn to step forward and be counted and take the flack.
    Wonder what vcuts Balls is going to implement and how much he’s going to borrow, because I’m getting a bit cheesed off with him not telling us at all. If he doesn’, we’re going to have to make an educated guess.

  3. Landless Peasant says:

    @ Michael

    It’s to ensure that some people don’t unjustly have far more than others and thereby create a fairer, more equal, and fully functioning Society. Do you see now?

  4. Landless Peasant says:

    Miliband should learn that unless he abolishes Benefit Sanctions we won’t vote Labour.

  5. BenM says:


    The Right is guilty of running out of other people’s money.

    In the US the Republicans have the worst deficit record. Here, the Tories easily match Labour.

  6. Michael says:

    re the comment

    ‘It’s to ensure that some people don’t unjustly have far more than others and thereby create a fairer, more equal, and fully functioning Society. Do you see now?’

    Yes it is clear from your post, socialism is about taking away from those that have so we are equally poor. It is the road to serfdom.

  7. John Reid says:

    Landless peasant, unjustly have far more than others,

    You miss the point,someone could be on minimum living wage. It could still be far higher than another’s, they work a lot of hours but ,like to save for a rainy day, or have to spend a lot to travel too see relatives, we could have a huge higher rate tax for the rich, so there’s not a lot of difference between rich and poor
    But along come a far left government who aswell as taxing the rich tax the poor Al little bu hat little extra tax the poor pay, means the man who wanted to be able to choose what he did with the additional money he ear t was spent by the state on stuff he didn’t want.

    It’s like my local Labour Party aren’t considered a priority to win parliament seats we sold our HQ despite paying for it for years, and we wanted a few quid for canvassing at council election, but Region ownt give it too us, we put in £3,000 to londons council elections we heard a inner london ward did t put in any, and region fave it all to them , despite we had just a good a chance at winning councillors as they did

    The old labour inner ward was indicative of Thatchers quote,sooner or later they ean out of spending other people’s money.

  8. Landless Peasant says:

    When is Miliband going to speak out about the scandal of Foodbanks in our Society? When is he going to force the Tory scum (along with everyone else) to acknowledge that the chief root cause of the proliferation of Foodbanks in UK is Benefit Sanctions?

  9. Landless Peasant says:

    Everyone should get the same wage no matter who they are or what their job. Either that or everyone works part-time for no wage but everything you need is free. Those who want more can work extra hours.

  10. John Reid says:

    Landless peasant, ok you feel that the star should have the means of production or distribution, but even in a communists Country, there are jobs by their won defenition that the people don’t work all year teachers, etc, or private security is based around people working 12 hour shifts, what your suggest is impossible, unless you’re happy for people who work harder tan others to get less money

  11. Mike Homfray says:

    The answer is not to impose austerity measures

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