In Ireland, we are just emerging from the most dramatic economic collapse in any developed country in the world since the Wall Street crash of 1929. It came about because the hard right-wing Progressive Democrats were allowed grab the balance of power after the 1997 general election. As a result, governing along with Fianna Fáil, they were able to dictate the direction of economic policy for a decade.
A strategy of privatisation, deregulation and the incentivisation of speculation followed. Ultimately, it brought about one of the biggest credit fuelled property bubbles in history and the subsequent collapse. It resulted in the ill-fated bank guarantee of 29th September 2008, (which only one political party, Labour, opposed).
The lesson is clear – we must never allow the Right to obtain a monopoly of power in Ireland again!
Yet, that is the precisely the prospect that now threatens as the outcome of the 2016 general election. Fine Gael can actually win a majority with only 35% of the first preference vote because the opposition is so splintered. Worse still, they may fall just short of it, requiring them to rely on the support of Renua and a handful of right-wing Independents.
The latest opinion polls point to a coalition between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. We should never give the Right such a monopoly of power. It would be the most right wing Government in the history of the State – a combination of those who introduced the ruinous bank guarantee and those who most enthusiastically supported it.
Obviously, we would prefer a left of centre government. However, there is no feasible prospect that it can come about in this forthcoming election. Then there is the question of a possible Fianna Fáil/Sinn Féin alliance, supported by a number of Independents. However, in order to win enough seats these parties would have to agree a very disciplined transfer voting pact and that is not in prospect.
When we have worked our way out of the economic collapse, the period ahead presents the possibility of rebuilding our public health, education and local authority services and completing the biggest housing programme in the history of the State. All this can be done if real growth can be maintained at 3% – 3.5%.
This requires a stable government, but one which is balanced by strong participation of the Left. Otherwise, revenues will be squandered on tax giveaways to the better off – in an effort to make Ireland like America. On the other hand there could be a further global collapse and/or the disintegration of the eurozone.
This would precipitate another major recession and calls for a return to austerity. Again, participation by the Left is crucial to afford working people and the public services on which they depend the maximum possible degree of protection. We should work towards a left of centre government in Ireland. However, it will require co-operation by all those who believe they are on the Left and that means making compromises and facing up to difficult issues.
Its prospects can be enhanced if all of us extend preference votes to those standing on Left platforms all the way down the ballot paper. However, as far as this forthcoming election is concerned, the only way of depriving the Right of a monopoly of power and thus protecting the basic interests of working people and their families is if Labour wins enough seats to balance them in government.