Given that we now know, courtesy of Pat Rabbitte, the total lack of respect that politicians have for the promises they make coming into an election, it’s anybody’s guess how we will interpret such promises this time around.
Worse still, given that Fine Gael doesn’t have to call an election for almost a year, there’s a long time ahead where promises will be cast around like confetti at a wedding.
On the face of it, Fine Gael looks reasonably good to hang in there without losing too many seats. Labour, on the other hand, is not looking so good and that’s been recognised by its leaders. It appears to be retrenching in the sure knowledge that its own supporters will have become very dissatisfied with its performance.
The other parties or groupings out there will probably not pull enough seats together to make a sustainable difference, or — in the case of Sinn Féin or some of the far-left folk — their support would be considered toxic. How will anyone stitch together a sustainable government?
The parties are acutely aware of this, and with the threat of a hung parliament hanging over the UK, they will get to see very soon the difficulties they are going to face when that scenario arises. Hence, the start of the politicking.
Sitting in the wings, watching with glee, are our union comrades. Those boys would recognise a compromised politician or a lame duck government at a thousand paces. Public sector unions are demanding that the reversal of pay and pension cuts are back on the table. They know the public sector is a powerful voting lobby and many will vote on the basis of the impact on their pocketbook rather than any national interest.
Ministers are already rolling over and asking for their tummies to be tickled. Mind you, there have been exhortations that outdated work practices will have to go, and such like. Most of us realise, though, that we’ve paid several times for those work practices to be eliminated. Other issues hitting the headlines and getting folk incensed are those of changing work patterns or responding to the needs of the marketplace, financial or structural.
The bus workers are back trying to forestall any effort to privatise even 10% of bus routes and are threatening a day of protest at the beginning of May. The argument is that they need more time to negotiate. Many of us will recall previous negotiations with the public transport system, that took 20 years, and were still not satisfactorily completed.
Parts of the bus network are, reportedly, profitable but many parts of it are not. The routes should be separated into distinct businesses with the former being propped up as effectively a social welfare commitment. There is no reason why Bus Éireann and its sister companies can’t tender for the latter, but on the basis that there will be no subsidies. There are many profitable bus companies on this island which receive no state subsidies.
Zero hours contracts are also hitting the headlines, both here and in the UK. Labour in the UK made a big deal of it until it became clear its own controlled councils were big players in zero hours contracts, as were some senior party members surrounding would-be PM Ed Milliband.
Notwithstanding Ed’s ‘foot in mouth’, we should have serious reservations about such contracts. While many folk who like flexibility do not mind them, others do as they minimise the possibility of getting loans, a mortgage or much else that are prerequisites if one wants a normal life.
Dunnes Stores workers are flying the flag on this one. Unfortunately, there is a sting in the tail. Another of their demands is that unions effectively be given automatic negotiation rights with any employer. In a time when we are demanding greater accountability, it is a step too far to effectively give unfettered power to non-elected individuals who can bend our politicians’ arms behind their backs without us ever knowing it. In a country where FDI is the major player in high quality employment, bringing hidden control into the equation is a risky proposition. This current phase of politicking has great risks for all of us.