Tuesday 12 December 2017

Andrew Lynch: Joan Burton's blueprint gives Labour some hope of a recovery

Joan Burton
Joan Burton

Joan Burton will never be a great orator. Her Saturday night conference speech was flatly delivered, with none of the passion you might expect from a leader whose party is staring into the abyss.

In terms of substance over style, however, the Tanaiste can feel happy with a job well done - because she has at least laid out her blueprint for Labour to save itself from electoral wipeout this time next year.

Two weeks of paid paternity leave; another fiver added to child benefit; free pre-school childcare doubled from one year to two; an increase in the minimum wage, assuming that the Government's Low Pay Commission recommends it.

All of these promises were unveiled in Burton's televised address, designed to hammer home one simple message - we are on the side of hard-working families and therefore you should vote us back into power.

Elsewhere at the conference, Labour's grassroots were busy passing motions to prove that the party has not sold its socialist soul. They are now committed to repealing the constitutional ban on abortion, an issue that still makes their Fine Gael partners extremely queasy.


They also ruled out any sale of Aer Lingus without further guarantees, although this will not carry much weight if the Government decides to do business with Willie Walsh after all.

In other words, Burton is going for broke. Her critics may point out that making wild promises is partly why Labour is so desperately unpopular.

Some TDs still break into a cold sweat when they remember the infamous Tesco-style 'Every little hurts' advert, which made six election pledges that were then broken one by one.

At just 7pc in the opinion polls, however, Burton clearly feels that she has to take risks.

Without any goodies to dangle before the voters, she would have stumbled as badly as Madonna at last week's Brit Awards.

There is also one crucial difference between the upcoming general election and the last - this time the Government should have at least a few quid to try and buy some votes.

The conference clearly removed any doubt that Labour is sticking with Fine Gael, for better or for worse.

While Burton still looks fairly secure in her position, she may be a little disturbed by the fact that Labour seems to have chosen its next leader already.

Deputy chief Alan Kelly was very much the conference darling, partly because he does such a good job of putting the boot into their enemies.

He certainly cheered Labour up by dubbing some anti-water charge campaigners spongers, although their protest outside the building turned out to be a fairly damp squib.


On the other hand, Joan is 66 and the 2016 election will probably be her last, win, lose or draw - so it suits her to keep a pet Rottweiler as long as he does not turn on his mistress.

Labour shared their conference hotel in Killarney with the Dublin football team, who put up a brave fight but eventually lost to Kerry.

Joan Burton has promised her squad that she will not settle for an honourable defeat - but the Tanaiste must show a bit more spirit in order to get the public back on side.

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