Politicians and pie-crusts are made to be broken, said Jonathan Swift.
And boy are Labour leader Joan Burton and her party piling up the goodies to sweeten voters ahead of the general election.
Mellifluous promises bring smiles to politicians, especially at election time on the doorsteps. But we’ve been here before. Are voters more aware of ‘auction politics’, especially after Labour’s fatal pledges last time around?
Like Lewis Carroll’s elusive Cheshire cat, the Tánaiste was yesterday grinning from ear to ear in the leafy surrounds of the Glen of the Downs, Wicklow. A weekend Red C poll put Labour back up to 10% (its support in two of the three previous general elections), a fortunate turn that coincided with the junior coalition party’s pre-Dáil think-in.
But Ms Burton quickly brushed aside any premature celebration, insisting Labour still have a long way to go. Indeed, it seems unlikely the party would cut and run early, despite coming within touching distance of the magic numbers needed to return Fine Gael and Labour to a second term in office.
“We should stay the course and finish the job as much as we can and then go to the people,” Ms Burton told reporters.
Instead of a snap election, then, voters are being treated to a smorgasbord of promises and sugar-coated, pre-Budget pledges, which will — Labour hope — boost their chances of a second term. The much-hated universal social charge will be cut, welfare recipients and pensioners will have most of their Christmas bonus restored, carers may get their respite grants back, child benefit will be increased, and childcare support will be improved. All this is on top of the public pay restoration and the increase in the minimum wage.
“I think we have a golden opportunity to cement the recovery... I think we should go for it,” Ms Burton said yesterday. Labour also plan social reforms, including liberalising the abortion laws further. However, the Tánaiste also said: “We’re not going to be able to do everything in one go.”
Herein lies the problem. The giddy expectations of voters, looking on as the economic recovery begins to take hold, are now being matched by a flow of endless Budget and pre-election promises gushing out of Government buildings.
It’s not just one Budget giveaway that is being lined up, but several. Tax promises, better services, more housing, more childcare... We’ve been here before.
But, more likely than not, voters will remember Labour’s succession of broken promises, which they went through like a hit list after the 2011 general election.
A dramatic ad campaign poster reminded voters heading into the general election that Labour would prevent Fine Gael hurting voters with a water tax, cuts to child benefit, and hikes in other taxes. Instead, those cuts went ahead regardless and Labour support plummeted when voters finally got their hands on ballot papers again, during last year’s local elections. Can Labour now be trusted again? Should they be?
Enda Kenny has warned against blowing the recovery and the ‘boom and bust’ politics of the past. Ms Burton yesterday rejected suggestions that her party was engaging in ‘auction’ politics.
But promises, like facts, can change. This is what Pat Rabbitte, the former communications minister, admitted on RTÉ only the year after the election. Who could have predicted the European economic slump, he pondered, even though Labour had promised to protect child benefit? “Isn’t that what you tend to do during an election,” he quipped.
There’s no voter appetite for half-baked promises and plans this time around. Labour had better stand ready to be tested on their pledges.