With political parties in transition, something will come out of ‘left’ field in 2015

CHRISTMAS is traditionally when we reflect on the past 12 months and speculate about the future. What feels different about the 2014 political review/scene setter is that there is so much happening that it is difficult to make a prediction of any accuracy about next year.

With political parties in transition, something will come out of ‘left’ field in 2015

I wrote, last week, about the amount of political teasing that a new political party would be set up. Surely, the first few months of 2015 will bring just that.

But will it be just one party, or a few, and what will they be offering and how will they fare?

When you’ve been engaged with the political system as long as I have there is a danger of becoming conservative, not necessarily in your political philosophies, but in being adverse to change or a shake-up of the established order.

The familiar seems more comfortable. So I take this into account when I wonder who will be in charge after this new dawn.

More importantly, will our fragile economic recovery survive the possible hodge podge of newbies, left-wingers, right-wingers, and those who think that the traditional way of “doing” government is wrong.

There is no doubt the system needs serious change, but how much and by whom?

Let’s go about this realistically and remember that not everything that the “mainstream” parties do, and represent, is bad.

Because they are long-established and deeply rooted in their communities, their members are loyal, and they hang in together when the going gets tough and hard decisions have to be made.

We could have everyone in government, from newly elected Independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice —who is planning to run 25 candidates nationwide to represent “those who know what it’s like not to have a fiver in your pocket” — to People Before Profit’s Richard Boyd Barrett, who agrees that we all, more or less, should have the same income brought about by a “radical redistribution of wealth”.

We’ve begun to concentrate more on what the left is offering.

It’s fashionable not to give a damn about those capitalist financial markets, but I’m afraid I do and I want to preserve what we have gained economically in recent times.

Previously, when I listened to those I considered to be more on the extreme left, it would have been with a sense that they were an interesting and necessary part of our political landscape, but not one that ever had a hope of exercising any power over my life.

But that may well be about to change.

Behind the scenes, the parties and groups of the left have been getting together to feel out what it is they have in common or, more importantly, what divides them.

On the Tonight with Vincent Browne programme, on TV3 last week, Brendan Ogle, of the Unite union, said that he and others with similar political philosophies had a responsibility to put a left-wing common platform before the voters in the next general election.

But he said there was no point in that group being “split up in four or five different ways”, but had to be united in a way “where the tens of thousands of people who have been angered by these protests are given some real hope that we can have a more equal society.

"Where their concerns are not tied-up in spin and bonds, and interest rates, and troikas and memorandums of understanding, that those people can see, for the first time in my lifetime, some real hope of political alternative.”

It would, in fact, be quite incredible if some sort of coherent left-wing political force did not emerge, as he urged, from this mass movement that has played-out through the anti-water protests.

I listened, very intently, last week, when I shared a panel with Richard Boyd Barrett on the same programme.

He quite rightly said that there was now “a mass movement in which the left have played a very important role — they have come together and have been more than the sum of their parts by working together on a common agenda”.

I listened when he said there was a need to distinguish between wealth taxes on accumulated wealth and taxes on income, and when he agreed that everyone, “more or less”, should have the same income brought about by a “radical redistribution of wealth”.

“We are saying there should be a steeply, progressive increase on income tax for incomes over €100,000 a year and we are saying there should be a wealth tax, which would be levied on accumulated wealth, excluding the family home.”

There was no faffing about, a la Labour, when it came to the question of possible coalition in government. A serious Left could not emerge, he said, if it involved doing deals with Fianna Fáil or with Fine Gael.

“The change that is necessary requires us sweeping Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael off the stage and not to be a prop.”

The anti-Austerity Alliance councillor, Michael O’Brien, also on the panel, was of a similar mind regarding a Coalition.

He said you could have “written the script” on what has happened to the Labour Party since they decided to go into government with Fine Gael in 2011.

O’Brien said that if the left gained power he wanted the “reversing of the impositions that have been made on working-class people over the last six years”.

Meanwhile, Michael Fitzmaurice says his new group will be neither left-wing nor right-wing, but “straight down the middle”.

He wants people to stop shouting at the telly — and God knows we have a national talent for that — and go for it.

Tipperary TD, Mattie McGrath, has already told Fitzmaurice that he is interested.

Independent TD, Shane Ross, says his plans for the formation of a new independent alliance, comprised of at least four deputies, as well as dozens of non-party councillors drawn from across the 40 constituencies, are at an advanced stage.

Of course, Lucinda Creighton is sceptical about this, saying such a group would lack a coherent economic vision for the country.

At this point in time, I refuse to indulge in one of the media’s current favourite things to do, which is to give the latest instalment on Creighton’s plans — because they have been worked on for so long they need no more publicity.

If we get to this time next year without a general election, that annual review should, hopefully, contain details of a number of new political groupings which are actually operating as opposed to being spoken about.

There is going to be a hell of a lot more for us to take on board, in terms of political policy and the implications for us all, as voters. If nothing else, it should be a year of hard listening.

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Wednesday, March 3, 2021

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