HAVING lost 30 seats in an electoral Armageddon, and clearly knowing nothing much about what he’s expected to do, the efforts of new Labour leader Brendan Howlin currently focus on rescuing the party from that indeterminate region between political life and political extinction: the zombie zone!
Of great value to him is the awfully confidential internal review into Labour’s collapse. It is a sort of spiritual statement, the party’s apologia pro vita nostra that seeks to explain why Joan Burton and chumps (oops, sorry, that should be chums) catastrophically led the cloth cap brigade to the edge of oblivion.
As is common with any confession worth its salt, Howlin’s document acknowledges the party’s trials and tribulations, re-affirms belief in traditional doctrine and ends with a vague recognition of the party’s sins and failures.
Ironically, Labourite anti-clerics who have read it are reminded instinctively of the old days when men of the cloth, like Cork’s Bishop Lucey, terrified sinners with warnings that a false account of misdeeds could lead in the next life to an ordeal of everlasting torment.
But this document is conciliatory in tone and dispenses a sort of general absolution on the basis that nobody, absolutely nobody, is responsible for the calamitous electoral ‘balls-up’. Madame Burton, for instance, is not asked to defend her actions.
It all seems to be part of a Howlin strategy whose intention is to drive home in the least offensive way the fact that Labour must never, never again make promises that it cannot keep. Absolutely no pledges, vows, guarantees, covenants, undertakings, solemn words, or actions that are likely to jump up at some time in the future and bite Labour on the bum.
He’s a smart one, is our Mr Howlin.
Problem is, right now the punters do not want the bigwigs absolved of their transgressions! They’d prefer to see them suffer for what they perceive as having lied, cheated and fooled the plain people of Ireland who absurdly thought they voted for the implementation of Labour policies.
Because the penny is seriously dropping that core Labour principles (assuming such niceties ever existed) were cynically breached. Commitments were not ‘delivered’; and, horror of horrors, the party suffered ‘damage’ because of its villainous position on the water charges controversy.
Muddying things in the semi-secret report is the fact that blame for the meltdown was not apportioned to anyone, even though most critics think Madame Burton should carry the can. Others would argue that Howlin was responsible too, and that it was mad to release the entire leadership from blame.
Instead the document’s main tenet is that the link-up with Fine Gael ‘left Labour exposed’ – an explanation that in the eyes of the punter is a classic example of linguistic hypocrisy.
Labour’s sin is that its leaders became crypto-Fine Gaelers and, in the pursuit of ‘who gets what, when and why,’ Quinn, ex-Stickies Rabbitte and Gilmore, Burton and Howlin made the Cloth Cap Brigade indistinguishable from the Blueshirts.
The old James Connolly slogan that the cause of Labour was the cause of Ireland and the cause of Ireland was the cause of Labour was cynically transformed into something much simpler. It was this: the cause of Fine Gael was the cause of Labour; full stop.
In Catholic Catechism terms – of which Labourites clandestinely know all the words – evil company keeping and scandalous co-habitation with Blueshirts violated all Labour’s established political laws and customs.
And now, as if to rub the nostrils of the genuine Labour supporter in the doo-daws, Howlin promises redemption. Deliverance will come through his own atonement, plus (according to the document’s recommendation) a washing away of Labour’s fetid reputation by embarking on a three- to five-year plan whose purpose is ... wait for it ...’to regrow the party.’ Yes, ‘regrow’!
Monty Python’s parrot
We’re being told the party is not dead even if it has almost electorally ceased to be, and that soon it will be pushing up the daisies, like Monty Python’s famous parrot. But, as far as Howlin is concerned, Labour has been stunned only and, once the ‘regrowing’ process commences, it again will be full of animation, excitement and activity.
However, a metaphorical three Hail Marys and a good Act of Contrition won’t solve the problem. Howlin has baggage, namely that he’s perceived as quasi-Fine Gael and the wrong bloke to inspire the party.
For instance, how can a hardline Minister for Misery (Public Expenditure) pose as the workers’ champion and expect to be taken seriously? Last January, for instance, he encouraged the government to ‘take on’ (confront and defeat) nurses who were threatening strike action.
Can he really change his spots? Two weeks ago, in his first ever question to Kenny as Labour leader, he asked would the Government speed up restoration of pay and pension cuts? Strangely, he failed to mention that he was responsible for many of the cuts!
And did this 2013 declaration slip his mind: that ‘it was in the personal interest of public sector workers to accept pay cuts in the national interest’?
Relevant too is the controversy still surrounding the 22 appointments he made to State boards. How many went through a public advertisement process?
Is he the best person to lead Labour, which is now the tiniest ‘socialist’ parliamentary party in Europe? After all, who can forget his extraordinary apology for having screwed up the most significant change to local government in over a hundred years: the scrapping of 80 town councils? He later admitted he made a mistake and had taken ‘his eye off the ball.’
Indeed, under proposals in the Labour Party’s election manifesto, he lobbied to have some of the councils re-established, including that of Wexford where he has been a TD since 1987.
Nonetheless, by no means is Howlin a political ‘wally’ and, for old stock Labourites (what’s left of them), his heart is in the right place. He’s a great admirer of Brendan Corish, former leader of the party (Those long enough in the tooth will remember Corish’s ‘Seventies will be Socialist’ guff when at the time he was a secret member of the Knights of Columbanus).
That aside, let’s hope Howlin’s horticultural strategy will help ‘regrow’ his party without disease, rot or, worse of all, withering setting in!
If anyone thinks hypocrisy is a wholetime job for the Labour Party, bear in mind the antics of the Soldiers of Destiny. In 2009 and 2010, Micheál Martin supported water charges, but before the February general election he opposed water charges.
Last month, he said people should pay their latest Irish Water bill and, two weeks ago, he supported the FG government in order to defeat a SF led motion to end water charges. It really is amazing how many people are shocked by honesty!