In the not so very long ago confounded European Union mandarins launched a community-wide competition so an articulate European might offer a workable definition of peripherality. The layered implications, the one-man’s-meat-is-another-man’s-tofu complexity of that designation and its geographic realities were bewildering, so a prize of €100,000 was offered.
It may be time to launch a similar competition in Ireland to find a plausible collective noun for the parties of the Left. The launch of Rise — Radical, Internationalist, Socialist and Environmentalist — established by former Socialist TD Paul Murphy announced the 15th group or party vying to represent Ireland’s left-leaning voters.
This underlined the tradition of self-imposed fragmentation which is, and has always been, the Left’s Achilles’ heel. Three disheartening examples are to hand.
In Britain, Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour faces a Tory party so far adrift on seas of deepest fantasy that basic probity and decency have been cast aside. It is hard to think of a world leader, in a democracy at least, so easily exposed as a fraud as Boris Johnson.
But Labour cannot land a glove on him because they are riven by internecine difficulties. It is as if Corbyn’s Labour is as fragmented as the Irish Left but persists in putting a brave face on a failing open marriage. The winners?
This week Johnson’s Tories went to their annual conference with a 12-point lead over Labour, though Labour was up three points to 24% after its conference in Brighton where it refused to back a pro-remain stance on Brexit.
The Tories are on 36%, despite the UK supreme court ruling that Johnson’s yellow card for the Commons was unlawful. Labour’s authentic impression of a rabbit frozen in headlights means the Liberal Democrats are up three points on 20%. These difficulties are of British Labour’s own making and, tragically, give the Brextremists a free run.
A comparison between Britain’s Labour party and America’s Democrats may not be watertight but it has value. At one stage, 26 Democrats hoped to oppose President Trump next year but that has fallen to around 19 — it is as difficult to be accurate about this as it is to keep up to speed with ever-changing Brexit secretaries.
This Corbynesque prevarication, just 13 months before the election, offers an opportunity, maybe the opportunity, to Trump to secure a second term. The losers? Those who would, in European terms, vote for liberal democrats with a social conscience and those who depend on those policies being enacted.
These comparisons are valid in an Irish context too. A recent opinion poll put Brendan Howlin’s Labour Party at 7%, less than half Sinn Féin’s 16%. Even at a moment of near full employment two issues, two ongoing scandals — the housing crisis and the health service — offer Labour the kind of opportunity the party should be able to mobilise to return from the margins.
Deep change is long overdue as irrelevance beckons, which, in turn might give us our collective noun for parties of the Left — an irrelevance of parties.
So sad, so dangerous you can almost hear Boris, Donald and their off-radar backers chortling..