He resignation preceded, almost a year to the day, yesterday’s announcement by Joan Bruton that she will step down as Labour leader once a successor has been elected.
Mr Miliband was, sensationally, succeeded by Jeremy Corbyn. Mr Corbyn, a unreconstructed figure of the old-school left, has divided the party and made it, in the eyes of his internal and external opponents at least, unelectable. Naturally, and with barely concealed glee, the Conservatives remind the UK’s electorate of this family schism at every opportunity. Labour grassroots did not, and do not, agree. They were not so easily dissuaded because they wanted to, and did, make a fresh start and recommitted to the egalitarian ideals their party was established to champion. They hoped to combine internal revolution with renewal, whether that dual objective can be realised remains an open question. Despite anti-Corbyn interventions by grandees like Gordon Brown, Tony Blair, Jack Straw, David Miliband, and Alastair Campbell, Mr Corbyn won 59.9% of the vote, more than three times the 19% secured by his nearest rival Andy Burnham. The Corbynistas had had enough of corporate Labour and were alienated by Blairism’s thrall to markets. They wanted real change and to bury forever the Blair legacy they felt destroyed their party’s authenticity. Ireland’s Labour Party is at a similar, in some ways anyway, crossroads this morning.
However, the overall scale, the parliamentary influence seven deputies can expect in a 158-member parliament and the list of possible leaders — only one of the seven Dáil deputies can apply to wear the crown — is of a different order. James Connolly’s party is at a low ebb. It went into the election with 33 deputies but 26 of these lost their seats or retired. This was rejection on a grand scale. Their disgust with Fine Gael’s compromise on water charges, the issue that cost them so very dearly, should not blind them to the obvious comparisons between their party today and the challenges facing Fine Gael when Enda Kenny became leader in June 2002. That forgive-and-forget Fianna Fáil doubled their representation so soon after playing the lead role in our collapse must, on one side of the ledger at least, be a flicker of light at the end of a long tunnel.
Irish Labour has an advantage that Mr Corbyn does not, one that may help it recover the influence that was such a positive, transformative influence for decades. Mr Corbyn’s radicalism may sit well on the leftward edge of his constituency but it will alienate those who see the justice in some of his policies but baulk at his more extreme socialism. Ms Bruton’s successor will not have to deal with the kind radical fantasies offered by People Before Profit, the Anti-Austerity Alliance or indeed Sinn Féin. He, for it will be a man, can concentrate on building a deliverable social democratic manifesto that might restore the party’s fortunes and bring an essential and sane leftwing perspective to our evolving democracy.