Bryan Wall: Everything Left To Lose

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From top: People Before Profit’s Adrienne Wallace; Bryan Wall

The election results have shown that there is a crisis in left-wing Irish politics. More specifically, parties of the left have, for the most part, fundamentally failed to make gains at the expense of the big parties.

Instead, discontent was channelled towards the Greens, with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael still largely coming out on top in spite of some losses.

Most people recognise that we need to urgently do something in order to have any hope of leaving a somewhat habitable planet for our children and grandchildren. That partly explains the success of the Greens.

But in spite of this, the neo-liberal parties won out at the expense of the parties of the left. It seems that people are willing to combat climate change by voting for a party or parties they believe will do something to combat climate change. But they aren’t willing to take that extra step and question the capitalist system which is responsible for climate change in the first place.

So the question then is, what did the left do wrong? And, probably more importantly, what does it portend for the future of Irish politics?

As for the first question, it seems that the left has failed to understand the fundamental issues that people are facing and worried about. And the left appears to not appreciate how electoral politics works to its disadvantage.

Given the housing and homelessness crisis, the left should be dominant in Irish politics and society. But it isn’t.

One of the left’s successes in the local elections is People Before Profit’s Adrienne Wallace, who ran in the Carlow constituency. I spoke to her about why the left overall did so poorly in the elections.

She pointed out that the “the radical left are too small at the moment to alleviate some of the worst aspects of the system” that people have to live with. And for this reason, when it comes to voting day:

“When a woman has all her belongings and her three children in their car with nowhere to go, voting is going to be the last thing on her mind and that’s just the reality of it.

She won’t have time to think about FG’s obsession with privtiasation and profits and how that relates to her situation.

I have witnessed first hand the crippling affect the housing crisis is having on people and I think they are in desperate situations, as a result finding time to go to the ballot booth is low down the list.”

Another perspective that I’ve come across is that the majority of the left in Ireland try to compete in an area which the dominant political parties have mastered years ago.

Quite simply, they are better and more efficient at canvassing, telling people the they understand them, and doing something as simple as pressing the flesh.

This is the realm of the major political parties, make no mistake about it. Anyone outside of this small club will work twice as hard to achieve half the results.

I saw it first-hand in the local elections in West Cork. Independent candidates who understand the issues and want to create a viable society for everyone struggling against the political machines of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.

And that struggle resulted in receiving a fraction of the votes representatives of the above-mentioned obtained. When the field is so skewed against you, why bother to play in the field in the first place?

It’s one thing to see an injustice and strive to change it. It’s another thing entirely when an entire edifice is designed to keep you and your views marginalised for the benefit of the establishment.

And after decades of struggle the result is the same: A few gains here and there but the edifice remains unaffected.

Electoral politics offers the illusion of a diversity of outcome. The success of the Greens is held up as an example of this political diversity. Yet they are more than happy to discuss going into government with parties who should be anathema to them.

As for what this portends for the future of Irish politics, the answer is nothing good. We have a government that is a mixture of incompetent and venal with its insistence in ignoring the housing and homelessness crisis. Instead, developers and landlords are to be helped out to an extent that would make bank robbers blush.

But where does the left fall in this calculus?

It can continue to attempt to make gains via electoral politics. At some stage in the future it will likely be successful. But those gains will be minimal by comparison to the power of the big two.

And those gains will be lost just as we’ve seen in the local and European elections as the ebb and flow of Irish people’s political consciousness will not allow them to challenge the fundamental underpinnings of our society. They can only go so far.

On the other hand, Wallace disagrees. She believes the fact that the main parties only take around 50% of the total vote “is a huge decline from 30 years ago”.

For her, “This indicates that there is huge space and scope for change”. And she hopes that her own party can “occupy that space in the coming years”.

Overall though, an understanding of and solidarity with the average person are all needed. This includes a level of guidance in helping people get to grips with how the system functions. The left has provided some of this. It just hasn’t provided enough of it and it hasn’t provided it on a non-judgemental basis.

As Chris Hedges has previously said, the problem with a lot of the left, especially the mainstream left, is that they want to see the poor. They just don’t want to have to smell them.

There is also an elitism that pervades some parts of the left. If you haven’t read the “correct” theorists and interpreted them in the appropriately dogmatic way, then you are dismissed out of hand.

The future of the left then, does not look positive. With all of the developments in Irish society over the previous two decades, the left in Ireland should at the very least be ascendant. Instead, it’s largely moribund with some small exceptions.

The Connolly Youth Movement (CYM) is one of these exceptions. It seems that its reliance on direct action and avoidance of electoral politics thus far is paying dividends. New branches have recently been formed around the country. And although the numbers are relatively small, it is a success that should be taken note of by others on the left.

For now though, a thorough assessment of how the left relates to wider society has to take place. It can’t continue along the well-worn electoral path with no consideration given as to why we are still ruled by right-wing neo-liberals.

Down that path lies madness and failure. And we can no longer afford such misstep.

Bryan Wall is an independent journalist based in Cork. This is an election special. Bryan’s regular column appears here every Monday. Read more of Bryan’s work here and follow on Twitter:  @Bryan_Wall

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Related: Michael Taft: Wanted: A New Popular Front

33 thoughts on “Bryan Wall: Everything Left To Lose

  1. dav

    Excellent article Brian. When it comes to elections in Ireland, I always feel, that it’s a battle between the inherent decency of the electorate versus, to be frank, their selfishness. I have no doubt the majority of the electorate feel disgust at the cruelty and inaction the government has shown to the homeless in this country but they are reluctant to do something about it, lest it might cost them what little scraps the government has left them.

    1. Owen C

      “I always feel, that it’s a battle between the inherent decency of the electorate versus, to be frank, their selfishness”

      Anytime i forget why I don’t vote for solidly left wing parties, I’ll just re-read this line to myself and remember.

  2. Rob_G

    This could be retitled as: “Young man doesn’t understand why everyone can’t just agree with him”

    The hard left didn’t benefit from the green wave because they don’t have any particularly environmental policies (I think that they all oppose refuse charges, water charges, and carbon taxes).

    Also, they only have low single-digit support as a general rule; I don’t think that swathes of voters are going to switch to supporting a Stalinist party (yes, Stalinist, in the case of CYM) all of a sudden just because they have a good environmental platform. Which they don’t even, in the end.

    1. Dr.Fart MD

      refuse charges: we have them.
      water charfges: not guna change environmental issues. we already use far less per person than other EU countries.
      carbon taxes: just a way to make money from environmental issues, doesn’t effect any real change. it’s the large corporations who are responsible for the majority of emissions who need to be reined in and regulated.

      I feel the voters Bryan are talking about are largely people like you. People who still beat the capatilist drum of the established parties who have clearly and evidentally failed the country and its people for years, leading to the failed health system, housing crisis etc. we have now. People afraid of change or breaking the status quo. People like you who sneer at left leaning parties, claiming they don’t have the experience or know-how to run the country, even tho the parties you have supported and kept in power have not been able to create a livable society for it’s people.

      1. Cian

        “corporations who are responsible for the majority of emissions”?
        No. In Ireland the largest CO2 producer is agriculture (33% of 2014 figures).
        85% of our dairy produce and 90% of our beef is for export. Over a quarter of the CO2 produced in Ireland in 2014 was linked to agriculture produce that was exported! Who should be responsible (taxed) for that C02?

        oh, and it works both ways – we import goods (e.g. cars) that produced lots of CO2 to manufacture.

        1. Dr.Fart MD

          my point is, any tax introduced to help fight climate change will be placed squarely on the shoulders of the general public. they won’t impose it on agri or anyone else who they don’t want to upset.

          1. Cian

            That makes no sense. If you “impose a tax on argi”… then the price of beef will rise for… the general public.

            If a cow produces enough CO2 to warrant, say, a €250 tax, then you can change the farmer €250…or the consumer directly @€1/kg…. The farmer can’t make the cows more CO2 efficient. The tax is there to reduce consumption.

      2. Rob_G

        @Fart –

        Most of the ‘large corporations’ responsible for climate change are headquartered outside Ireland, so we can’t tax them directly. How else are we supposed to make them pay for the polution they cause, if not via the products that they sell here?

  3. Richard Marxism

    oh god do you really want a lesson in basic politics? ok here it is. FF and FG do well at elections because, despite internally hating each other (that’s FF members despising each other, FG members despising each other, and FF and FG hating each other), when it comes to the crunch, be it TDs electing a Taoiseach or a council forming a working majority, they can swallow their egos and do the walk through. in other words, they can compromise enough to work together. voters can see that, whatever their policies, FF and FG can get their sh!t together and work together at a basic level of efficiency
    when you look at the left – SF, Lab, SDs, AAA/PBP, SF, I4C, and all the other tiny parties and random Independents – can you really have any confidence that they’ll hold their sh!t together for five minutes, let alone the lifetime of a government? way too fragmented, for whatever reason – be it ego, ideology or stupidity. that’s it, that’s all there is to it.
    if the ‘left’ could hold it together, the voters would reward them. but when the likes of Clare Daly, Richard Boyd-Barrett, Paul Murphy, Eoin Ó Broin, and Róisín Shortall – who have ideological differences that you could fit on the back of a postage stamp – can’t run under the same party together, then the average voter has no reason to expect that they could run a country together

    1. Dr.Fart MD

      “FF and FG can get their sh!t together and work together at a basic level of efficiency” .. there’s no sign of basic levels of efficiency in how the country is being run. health care is wrecked, huge housing crisis etc. etc.

      1. Cian

        You paint a bleak picture. You are wrong.

        The country is good. It can, add should, be great. We need to improve things. But it is in a good place.

        We do have basic levels of efficiency in the country. Democracy works, the ESB works. We’re 19th least corrupt country in the world. Granted things should be better. But it is working.The Health Service is working – there are millions of successful inpatient each year, there are 10,000s of successful A&E visits each year – but we only hear of the failures.

        4,773,000 people have houses. And yes, we need to look after the other 11,000.

        But the bottom line is that the country works.

        1. f_lawless

          *ahem* what about Ireland’s drastic rise in wealth inequality? Who really believes that FF or FG are going to takes steps to seriously address that ongoing crisis

        2. Dr.Fart MD

          holy effin pooball$ !!! how the hell do you discuss politics with someone who thinks the country is working well. Imagine saying the HSE is fine because people have successfully gone to A&E and came out again?!?!? that’s the bread and butter, thats whats meant to happen, you dont get a slap on the back for executing the bare minimum of requirments. we have more people on trolleys, more people not able to see consultants and dying as a result, than ever. the facts are there, to show it is not performing even nearly well enough. but you think it just needs a little imporvement. head firmly in the sand. and you wipe over housing with “nearly everyone has a house” .. what about extremely high rents? eating up the majority of peoples incomes. not a problem i suppose. Cian, I think everything is probably fine and dandy in your life, so you’re unable to see/accept the problems the rest of us struggle with every day.

          1. Cian

            Okay. You explain why FF/FG got so many 1st preferences in the election?
            You explain why people from all over the world are flocking here?

            I’m saying that things aren’t as bad as some people here make out.

          2. Dr.Fart MD

            well they’ve lost a lot of votes. they used to get about 90%, now overall they get about 55%. Asides that, they keep getting voted because of how our political system works. Vote in the local guy, he fixed the roads, then before you know it, that guys a TD. People flock from all over the world as tourists. If you mean immigration, well then yea, we DO have it better than say .. third world countries.

            I know you’re saying its not as bad as people make out, and to a level i agree. But the way you whitewashed over detrimental holes in society seemed like you’re ignoring very real and very big problems we face, which are not being resolved.

          3. Cian

            I didn’t whitewash anything. I acknowledged that there are problems. But I think (in spite of these) it is a good place. And I also think it can, and should, improve.

            I’m not talking about tourists – I’m talking migrants. Ireland has one of the largest non-Irish born populations. And this is a recent phenomena. Lots of people are choosing to come to Ireland, and not from 3rd world[1] countries… from other EU countries.

            https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php?title=File:Population,_by_place_of_birth,_2016_(%25_share_of_total_population)_PITEU17.png

            [1] which BTW doesn’t exist anymore.

          4. Dr.Fart MD

            yea? and how’s our numbers for emigration? every time ireland has a recession, our biggest export is our people. always the young. forced to leave to find a livable life abroad. for our size we must have an enormously high amount of emigration .

          5. rotide

            “holy effin pooball$ !!! how the hell do you discuss politics with someone who thinks the country is working well”

            “I know you’re saying its not as bad as people make out, and to a level i agree”

            Is there multiple different people using the Dr Fart account or do you just flip flop on yourself in subsequent posts?

          6. Dr.Fart MD

            @rotide .. “to a level i agree” .. but not to the level he’s talking about.

    2. Vanessa the Holy Face of Frilly Keane

      Excellent post Dicko Marx

      There is a particular ‘Cause around here who call Voting Pacts corruption
      But what they don’t get is the Voter already knows these Voting Pacts exist and want that certainty and stability

      These Voting Pacts elect more than just who gets to be Mayor / Chair
      They also vote who’s on the Housing Committee, the Special Funds and Community Grants Committee, the Parks and Recreational Committee, The Arts Committee, The Planning Committee, The Derelict Sites Committee, The Budget Committee, The Development Plan, The Welcoming Committee, the Whatever yer having yerselves Committee.

      They are the Councillors getting results and outcomes for the local constituent

      I predicted the swing back to the big mainstream parties in last week’s series of elections. ( As well as the sub 50% turnouts btw)
      That instinct was founded on the basis that the Voter wants stability, they want to know what they are getting and they want to know who to hold to account.

      They can’t be certain of the latter in particular as the Left lettered Candidates may well have a different lettered umbrella the next time, and the undeniable fact that they all can’t work together for any length of time.

      If anyone seriously think I’m wrong, go to a Council Camber some evening and see who are the filibustering ranters who go on to abstain
      And who gets projects and actions through committees to successful outcomes

      Something else
      The writer mentions vote getters as
      Political Machines
      No
      The success – particularly in the case of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael in LE’19
      Had nothing to do with politics

      Candidates themselves, at all levels of representation, develop local Election Machines
      If they think there is a vote to be got
      Even from that lady in the car
      They get it out
      The likes of FFs Willie O’Dee would’ve been driving her himself to the polling station

      As a side note
      FF FF the Green and Labour all had gains

      If the Lefts really think the main parties are why they can’t get elected – well then here’s a thought

      Find better Candidates with conviction and staying power, and patience, that the Voter can rely on to see it through

      One thing about FFFG Candidates
      They never take their vote for granted
      Which was the Shinners error this time

      FFFG go back to that doorstep again and again
      They are well organised at the tallys and know what number of votes they have coming from each box / parish or street.
      They work together and alongside in the Count Centres
      And if they’ve done poorly out of a particular estate
      They know exactly where they have to put the groundwork in over the next 4 years

      Incidentally
      Old school Tally Teams offer this info to any Candidate that asks

      And above all else Candidates must appeal to the Voter

  4. Donal

    In my opinion, any analysis of the failure of the left in irish politics that doesn’t question why there are 50 shades of left all competing for the same voters is a waste of paper.
    As Adrienne Wallace is quoted as saying in the above piece, it is good that FF/FG have a diminished overall share of the vote compared to years ago. But their power will not be hugely diminished if the votes go to a large mix of left parties and independents who have no coherent structure of policy priorities that they wish to implement.

  5. Richard Marxism

    oh god do you really want a lesson in basic politics? ok here it is. FF and FG do well at elections because, despite internally hating each other (that’s FF members despising each other, FG members despising each other, and FF and FG hating each other), when it comes to the crunch, be it TDs electing a Taoiseach or a council forming a working majority, they can swallow their egos and do the walk through. in other words, they can compromise enough to work together. voters can see that, whatever their policies, FF and FG can get their $h!t together and work together at a basic level of efficiency
    but when you look at the left – SF, Lab, SDs, AAA/PBP, SF, I4C, and all the other tiny parties and random Independents – can you really have any confidence that they’ll hold it together for five minutes, let alone the lifetime of a government? way too fragmented, for whatever reason – be it ego, ideology or stupidity.

    when the likes of Clare Daly, Richard Boyd-Barrett, Paul Murphy, Eoin Ó Broin, and Róisín Shortall – whose ideological differences you could fit on the back of a postage stamp – can’t run under the same banner together, then the average voter has no reason to expect that they could run a country together

  6. shitferbrains

    The hard left is a toxic mix of sectarianism, nepotism , misogyny and anti-semitism cosmetically disguised as anti-zionism. A quick look at the descent of the British Labour Party to cult status is enough to frighten anyone off.

  7. Vanessa the Holy Face of Frilly Keane

    Just wanted to say something else about the column
    It was a refreshing train of thought into the Irish Far Left, and I appreciate the research

    The reaction might be viewed as negative
    But if it’s lacking at all it’s only ’cause the writer hasn’t had the years of exposure to elections pre Crash/ Austerity that most of us have
    Or main Party apparatus and blaggarding
    That’s not to be read as condescending or ageist btw

    Regarding the Candidate you profiled
    Ms Wallace opened in Carla with 6% ( 448) of the 1st preference votes, she was deemed elected without reaching the quota of 920, or 88% of the quota
    by the hairs if her chinny chin chin
    So she needs to deliver and be seen to delivering

    *Incidentally, the same Ms Wallace ran in EU South, and opened on 2.1% – 14, 802, and was eliminated in the 14th. Of her 18, 476 transfers Mick got 5,545.
    2,743 and 2,323 to Gracie Green and Liadh respectively

    That should tell ye exactly where her core vote is from both politically, but more importantly, geographically.
    Because ye can be damn sure FF FG Labour the Green and the Shinners have her vote well sussed

    *using the original count here. And since it’s now clear the recount isn’t going to a long as they thought I doubt anything significant or material will come about for this Candidate

    1. Vanessa the Holy Face of Frilly Keane

      Opps meant to say that of Ms Wallace’s final count in Nemo (18,476)
      Only 13,477 were actually transferrable
      So when you apply the divies I showed above
      You’ll see even further definition to her particular support stronghold

      She’s a target for the main players now
      The Local Election Machines

      So if and when it happens
      Don’t blame the Voter or RTE / Mainstream Media Bias
      Or Voting Pacts

      Tis all there for the Far Left PBP to secure themselves

    2. Bryan Wall

      I’m probably older than you think. Ugh.

      Pre-crash I was too busy working or dossing about. Not exactly politically productive.

      Carlow is a strange one. I’m from there (not the town itself but a very small village). Very conservative but a lot of Dubs moved there during the boom as you can commute from there. Lots of younger people coming of age now so it’ll be interesting to see where it goes.

      Mary White was from my area but I remember her being widely considered as useless. Managed to somehow hold on for a while but got trounced like the rest of the Greens in 2011.

  8. Jake38

    Maybe no one in Ireland votes for the Trots because they like not living in Venezuela?

  9. A Person

    Really, this is the left analysis on why the people don’t vote for them. They are too busy. “When a woman has all her belongings and her three children in their car with nowhere to go, voting is going to be the last thing on her mind and that’s just the reality of it.” That’s insulting to everyone. Also it does not affect the vast majority of the electoral. Where are all you peaceful protest friends?

    Also capitalism caused climate change?!? There was no pollution behind the Iron Curtain? Seriously?

    The reason large numbers of the electoral do not vote for the left is because they have shown no leadership…ever. Nobody can trust them except for the small minority of twits who want everything for free.

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