Learning from Labours mistakes

Posted: November 20, 2014 in Labour, Sinn Féin, Uncategorized

Labour are doing so badly in the polls that it is easy to forget that there was a time they actually thought Eamon Gilmore could be Taoiseach.

While some may ridicule the idea in retrospect, back in June 2010 the idea wasn’t that crazy.

Having averaged out at about 20% in the polls for much of 2009 and early 2010, in June of that year Labour hit a spectacular 32%.

For the next six months they averaged 28% across nine separate polls. From there they hit a downward trajectory taking a healthy but disappointing 19% in the 2011 general election.

Labours dizzy heights from mid-2010 were not some polling anomaly. Eamon Gilmore successfully carved out the position of leader of the opposition. For hundreds of thousands of voters across the state he spoke for them. He voiced their anger at the incompetence and corruption of the Fianna Fáil government.

So what went wrong? Why were Labour unable to translate Gilmore’s success during Leaders Questions into electoral gains on polling day?

For this writer the principle reason was that Labour failed to outline a coherent and credible alternative to the consensus politics offered by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.

They started by avoiding any clear commitments. They then wobbled when asked what bad Fianna Fáil decisions they would reverse. In the end they offered the electorate little more that the amelioration of a right wing Fine Gael government.

Having convinced themselves that 2011 was to be the breakthrough election they had always dreamed of, their campaign ended in panic with a series of ill-judged and undeliverable pre-election promises.

These broken promises are the reason that Labour are now languishing in single digits in elections and polls.

While Sinn Féin’s position today is not the same as Labours in June 2010 there are some similarities. Equally there are lessons that we can learn from Labour’s mistakes.

Our single biggest challenge in the months ahead is to convince the growing number of potential Sinn Féin voters that not only can we voice their anger and frustration at a dishonest and incompetent Fine Gael and Labour government – but that we have a plan to build a better and fairer Ireland.

Opposing the impact of austerity on ordinary people’s lives is just the start. Outlining a coherent and credible social and economic alternative in another thing altogether. Getting people to actively support this alternative will be an even bigger challenge.

Sinn Féin needs to start outlining what that alternative looks like. Every activist, councillor, TD, MLA and MEP needs to know what that alternative is and to be actively promoting it on every door step in their constituency.

We must make the case for a strong, active and fiscally responsible state willing to invest in jobs and services.

We must make the case for a courageous state willing to challenge EU rules and corporate misbehaviour when they hurt our plans for an equitable recovery.

We must outline a radical reform of our tax system to make it fair while raising the necessary revenue to invest in change.

We must outline a credible plan for removing the odious banking debt from the shoulders of the people and placing it back where it belongs.

We must champion the idea of full employment, universal public services and the eradication of poverty and gross inequality

We must mainstream environmental sustainability and all Ireland integration into every aspect of social and economic policy.

For each of these objectives we must have detailed, costed and implementable plans so that people know that Sinn Féin is not a party of slogans but of real possibilities.

And we must be honest with people. Some changes can be made within a year, others will take a full Dáil term, others longer still.

People are fed up with empty promises. A growing section of the electorate are hungry for real change. They are distrustful of all political parties.

But I firmly believe that if Sinn Féin offers them a radical, credible and implementable alternative they will respond. If we demonstrate by our actions as well as our words that we are serious about transforming the social, economic, political and constitutional life of the island they will support us.

The next general election could be a game changer. It could smash the stranglehold that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have had on southern politics for 90 years. It could open up a genuine realignment in Irish politics and with that real possibilities for change.

So let’s not repeat the mistakes of the Labour Party. Let’s be bold and grasp the opportunity for change with both hands. Because if we don’t do it, who else will.


  1. Paul Dolan says:

    Very true but it also requires being willing to wait for the electorate to realise that the party who tells them the truth, rather than what they want to hear, is the one they should vote for. That could mean being willing to remain in opposition for another term, something Labour was never able to do.

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