herald

Sunday 20 October 2019

Labour could be casualty in Treaty Yes vote

WITH less than a week to go the referendum campaign seems more and more to be about less and less.

If you believe the posters, the choice is to vote Yes to achieve stability or to vote No to end austerity.

But do any of us really believe these claims? Regrettably, like previous EU referendums, the debate has been conducted at the extremes, not the centre.

Mercifully, we have been spared the hardline input of Coir and Youth Defence this time. The are no loss.

But this absence of any significant ultra right involvement on the No side does highlight a curious undercurrent to the campaign, and one which may be a factor in how some people decide how to vote next week.

While the slogans may be about the EU and the euro, the referendum has morphed into a proxy battle on the future of left/right politics.

On the Yes side you have the right and centre right parties: Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and Labour, the employers' and business organisations, the farmer's groups and the more mainstream trade unions.

On the No side you had the socialist and hard left parties, People Before Profit, Joe Higgin's Socialists, Sinn Fein, the more radical trade unions.

The sight of Declan Ganley sharing No platforms with irredentist left firebrands is a joy to behold, especially when you consider that they agree on virtually nothing, including Europe. Most on the hard left are euro-sceptics while Ganley is avowedly euro-federalist.

While passing the Fiscal Treaty will herald no major day-to-day changes -- mainly because it just restates the centre/centre right economic orthodoxy in place since 2008 -- it will cement it into domestic law for the foreseeable future.

It is this that the Irish left fears and opposes most.

Passing the Treaty would recalibrate the centre of the Irish political spectrum a few points to the right.

It won't be a seismic or noticeable shift, but it torpedoes the Left's ambitions of shifting it the other way.

It doesn't vanquish them, nor does it make them tone the rhetoric down. If anything, it will do the opposite.

This explains why the campaign from Joe Higgins, Boyd Barrett and Sinn Fein has been so fierce. But not as fierce as when its over and they start to target each other.

I am not predicting that their poll ratings are set to drop.

They will probably rise as voters use them to express their disapproval of government parties going back on pre-election pledges.

But the Irish electorate is sophisticated. They want their kids to do better than they did.

That decides voting intentions more than anything.

In the meantime Sinn Fein will continue to do well at Labour's expense, after all Gerry and Mary Lou are saying now what Eamon and Joan were saying two years ago.

It is Labour who will be the biggest casualty then.

Polls showing 40% of Labour supporters voting No could have longer term ramifications for the leadership.

But whatever they may be, they can be nowhere near as damaging as Gilmore's infamous "Frankfurt's Way or Labour's Way" slogan.

It may turn out to be the most devastating political slogan of recent times. For its authors, that is.

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