Britain’s election result is a wake-up call for the Irish Left

The recent election result over the border and across the water came as quite a jolt to the pollsters and to a large section of the political class.

The stock markets rallied on the news of the unexpected Tory overall majority, but now comes the period when Britain’s near neighbours begin to really start digesting the implications of the return of a Cameron-led administration.

There is something of a paradox, here.

In his moment of triumph, the UK PM will be aware that — shorn of the padding provided by the Liberal Democrats — he now actually has far fewer spare votes to play with in the House of Commons.

At the same time, he has delivered a whole load of hostages to fortune in the form of election manifesto commitments entered into in the expectation that he would be entering into negotiations on another coalition with the Liberal Democrats, and that many of these commitments could be safely bartered away.

The success of the strategy of cannibalising his erstwhile partner, laid down by key adviser, Lynton Crosby, means that this option is no longer available.

Cameron will be held to his commitments, or else he will risk a reply of the aftermath of the first president Bush’s ‘read my lips, no new taxes’ pledge.

The election commitments are indeed radical, including welfare cuts of the order of £12bn (€16.48bn) many details of which are expected to be unveiled in a second UK budget within weeks.

The former party leader, Iain Duncan Smith, will continue to preside over a rollout of welfare cutbacks which has been under way since 2010.

Britain’s election result is a wake-up call for the Irish Left

Sceptics claim that the net cuts achieved since then amounted to just £2bn when huge cost overruns in areas such as disability and housing benefit are taken into account.

The new government will be aiming to slash the equivalent of 10% off non-pension related welfare spending. Duncan Smith plans to limit child benefit payments to just two children per family in a move which has even the British chancellor, George Osborne, shaking his head.

While addicts, the chronically sick and the long-term unemployed will be in the firing line, the lower paid may also lose out from cuts in housing benefit.

The harsh reality, however, is that the Tories have received the strong backing of the electorate for such policies.

The British Labour party failed utterly to convince floating voters of the efficacy of their policies, including a tax on mansions and a restoration of the 50% top rate of tax.

The Left is now in disarray, split between the centrist ‘Blairites’ and those favouring a leftward pivot such as the Unite trade union leader, Len McCloskey.

Election strategists in Ireland will have been carefully digesting the results and their implications.

Fine Gael leaders, backbenchers and handlers will be drawing some comfort from the results which reveal that a return to power can be achieved where a party is viewed as economically competent even if it is not credited with actually delivering tangible benefits to households.

There are fewer crumbs of comfort for Labour which may be thanking its lucky stars that we have multi-seat constituencies and PR.

Renua leaders may draw comfort from the apparent shift to the Right across the water, with the Tories and Ukip between them polling one half of the vote across Britain (Scotland included).

There also is plenty of food for thought for business leaders, here.

Eyebrows were raised when the Ibec director general, Danny McCoy, suggested late last week that Ireland might have to follow Britain out of the EEC in the event of a ‘no’ vote in the upcoming referendum on continued membership.

McCoy’s remarks may be calculated to foster a greater sense of urgency in Brussels, in particular.

Those favouring continued membership have the winning of this referendum, but it will require careful statecraft and real leadership from people like Angela Merkel.

It could represent an opportunity to spark a new wave of reform aimed at freeing up sclerotic EEC labour markets and reducing levels of regulation. But a Gordian knot remains in the form of British insistence on curbing the freedom of movement of labour, which is one of the core principles of the Treaty of Rome.

One way around this could exist in the form of concerted incentives to open up labour markets on the Continent. This will not be easy.

The British election result should come as a wake-up call to leftist thinkers here, those who, since the onset of the financial crisis, have been basking in a sense of self righteousness, born of grievance.

Sinn Féin, in particular, has been pushing an agenda of welfarism and punitive taxation on the higher paid as part of its strategy of nailing down the votes of the lower paid and unemployed. Together with the hard left, it has colonised a large group, particularly in local authority estates and among a far wider group of younger people.

However, the leadership has yet to properly address an inconvenient fact.

Ireland has not attracted the sort of mobile investment that creates large numbers of modestly paid jobs in factories for at least a generation.

Rather, this country has done extremely well in wooing those, particularly in high technology and pharmaceuticals, willing to pay handsome salaries to high skill people, many of them foreign.

The problem is that levels of personal taxation on such people are already high compared to those across the water in Britain.

If Sinn Féin, or the hard Left, were to influence the next Government, or even dominate the next but one, it would amount to a national economic suicide note as we would be driving out the very industries and skills that would otherwise be key to our future prospects.

And departing with those jobs will be countless spin-off jobs currently filled by those who would otherwise be filling the ranks of the unemployed, or the departed.

Irish leftists need to put their thinking caps back on. There is scope a plenty for progressive thinking, but hardly for the creation of some version of sunless Cuba on Europe’s north western fringe.

The quiet apolitical voters deserted British Labour in droves. Will their Irish equivalents really be interested in sanctioning a return in a time machine to the super tax 1970s, slitting their collective financial throats in the process?

When push comes to shove, I doubt very much that this will be the case.

The quiet, apolitical voters deserted British Labour in their droves, so Irish leftists need to put their thinking caps on urgently, writes Kyran Fitzgerald

Election strategists in Ireland will have been carefully digesting the results


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