The writing is one the wall for the Labour party which saw the reality of voter confidence in Meath East where it secured a paltry 4.5% of the vote, and a couple of days later the scales fell from its eyes when a national poll put the party at 7%. The party is deeply unpopular for a variety of reasons, not least the breaking of election promises but more practically the desertion of weaker sections of society which put their trust in the Labour party to protect their interests.
The outlook is not good either. None of us has a crystal ball to predict the economic conditions in the State in 2-3 years but the official forecasts from the Department of Finance are sobering. There will be 13% unemployment in 2015 and the bailout agreement with the Troika requires €3.1bn of additional budget measures in 2014, followed by an additional still €2.5bn in 2015 and an additional still further of €2bn in 2016 and we’ll still have an annual deficit of €5bn after all that.
Fine Gael has prevailed in the Coalition and the budgets in 2011 and 2012 were regressive and hit the weaker sections of society. The main tax increase in the last budget – the increase in PRSI which the IMF said in Ireland’s case was an income tax – hit the lower paid particularly hard. Right now, we have the Alice in Wonderland of the (Labour) Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform claiming that Croke Park 2 won’t affect the gross pay and allowances of workers on less than €65,000 whilst the 24/7 Frontline Alliance has very clearly shown that it will have an impact of 3-11.4% with the elimination and cuts to allowances. A staff nurse will see a 11.4% reduction in gross pay and allowances, whilst a €200,000 manager will see a 7.3% reduction. What Fine Gael wants, Fine Gael gets.
Does the Labour party think that as the next general election hoves into view that Fine Gael will throw it a few bones at its own expense? Seriously? Fine Gael tantalizingly close to an overall single party majority will suddenly devote itself to Labour’s core constituency in 2015/6? To paraphrase Michael Bailey, “will they fuck”.
This morning, one of Labour’s three MEPs resigned from the Parliamentary Labour Party. Nessa Childers has frequently taken a contrary position to the party, notably in her opposition to the appointment of Kevin Cardiff to the cushy role at the European Court of Auditors after presiding over a Department of Finance which withered during the crisis, topping it all with overseeing a €3.719bn error in the national accounts in 2011.
Nessa Childers joins the Labour party chairman, Deputy Colm Keaveney who had a rancorous falling out with the Parliamentary Party central command after last year’s budget. Deputy Keaveney joined former junior minister Roisin Shortall along with deputies Tommy Broughan and Patrick Nulty and was soon after followed by Senator James Heffernan. Willie Penrose who resigned his junior ministerial fold in 2011 in protest at the closure of Columb Barracks in Mullingar has done his penance and returned to the welcoming embrace of the PLP. The central corps of Labour TDs must now be weighing up the realities of the last two weeks and the likelihood of the next two years, and the writing on the wall must be clear.
The two options available to Labour to save its skin would be a resignation from government or an election of a new leader who will be more forceful in pushing the Labour agenda in the Fine Gael dominated coalition. Would Eamon Gilmore whose ministers, with the exception of Brendan Howlin, will be over 65 at the next election really resign from government?
The next meeting of the Central Council of the Labour Party is on 18th May, 2013 when any one of the 67 members – of which only five are TDs – can propose a motion of no confidence in Eamon Gilmore and should the motion be passed by 45 of the 67, then Eamon is out.
This morning’s resignation by Nessa Childers tips this eventuality from a possibility to a probability.
UPDATE: 6th April, 2013. It seems that the second of the three Labour MEPs, Phil Prendergast is poised to challenge the direction taken by the Labour party. As well as “personally” wishing Nessa Childers well yesterday, the MEP for the South constituency has tweeted ” I’d prefer to move forward with the party but something has to give at leadership level” It is not clear if the “giving” involves a change of leadership or just a change of direction by the existing leadership. It is just over 13 months from the next European (and Local) elections, and a cynic would point to politicians saving their skins in the face of a wipeout and loss of office. That said, Nessa Childers has taken contrarian positions for well over a year, and her stance on Kevin Cardiff in late 2011 got her into hot water. The third Labour MEP Emer Costello is keeping her own counsel for the time being, but all three are staring at defeat in 13 months unless there are some major changes internally in Labour.