Tyres on the Labour bus are going flat

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore delivers his keynote speech at the Labour Party conference at the Johnstown House Hotel in Co Meath at the weekend.  Pic: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Eamon Gilmore says the country has been “to hell and back” — but unfortunately for him and his Government, many people have yet to make the return journey and still feel trapped in Satan’s departure lounge.

It’s typical really, you wait ages for a Labour national conference and then two turn up at once — both heading in the wrong direction.

With the last party gathering only held at the end of November (about 10 minutes ago in the scheme of these things), this one was very much an empty TV stunt intended to grab a couple of hours of free RTÉ time before the looming local and Euro elections wipe-out.

With real policy divides, passionate debate, and even the odd personality on show, Labour used to be the fun conference, but now it is just the glum conference.

These days the party, along with FG, FF and SF, imports such events in flat-pack form from a soulless Scandinavian warehouse and reassembles them at a random hotel, to sit there, bland, functional and unloved in the corner of national consciousness.

Though, after the anti-property charge mass protest of Galway 2012, security was tighter than you would expect at a Beyonce concert held in the GSOC HQ, with smokers complaining they had to pass through three checkpoints to have a fag.

However, even the demonstrators had grown weary of Labour and barely a handful bothered to show up.

Indeed, leader Eamon Gilmore had so little new to say that he refused to speak to the press at all. Fortunately, his ambitious deputy Joan Burton was on hand to answer any questions put to her.

Unfortunately, Ms Burton is reminiscent of a post-‘Pulp Fiction’ Quentin Tarantino film — she is desperately in need of proper editing.

Some of her answers felt longer than the one-day conference itself, with her reply regarding the Euro elections being particularly tortuous.

In it, Ms Burton seemed to name every single candidate standing, as well as all 766 current MEPs — well, apart from one; Labour’s Phil Prendergast, who just happened to be standing next to her at the time. Oops.

Labour had such a conference backlog because they kept postponing the last one out of fear that rogue chairman Colm Keaveney would use it to mobilise grassroots opposition to the austerity-loving leadership.

The party’s top brass held out in the hope that Mr Keaveney would see that the game was up and do the metaphorical equivalent of disappearing into a darkened room with a stiff Scotch and a revolver.

But, in the end, Mr Keaveney did something even more damaging to himself — he joined Fianna Fáil.

So, free from the shadow of Confrontational Colm, Labour has gone mad with two conferences in just over two months, this one even more vacuous than the last.

The coincidental presence of the Irish women’s rugby team in the hotel was a cruel twist as it let the desperate, soon-to-lose Euro and council candidates glimpse what winners look like.

But any sense of excitement and mild uplift in mood created by the girls in green was soon snuffed out by the leader’s keynote address.

As befits a yellow-pack gathering, the speech, its delivery and the reception were all as flat as each other as Mr Gilmore kept going on about how Labour had created a “Real Recovery”.

Clearly he was keenly aware that, like butter, most people were buying the rival brand: “I Can’t Believe It’s A Real Recovery.”

Mr Gilmore came on and off stage to the strains of “Say Yes” by Tim Burgess, which is a great song to have at a wedding, but unfortunate in these surroundings as Mr Burgess is better known as lead singer of The Charlatans, and critics accuse the Tánaiste of being the biggest political charlatan of this Government.

But don’t worry if you missed the Labour conference — there’ll be another one along in a minute for you to miss as well.

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