Eamonn Gilmore’s speech to the Labour national conference last night showed that he is in fact the best speaker of the party leaders. His delivery was cogent, in that he felt comfortable with what he was saying. This is is direct comparison to Enda’s “I’m as surprised by the text as you are” style, and Brian Cowen’s “This is a chore so I’m going to shout slogans at you.”
The content was also interesting, in that Gilmore set himself up as very much the voice of the Public Sector voter. He talked much about their rights, and very little about their need to modernise or deliver improved service. In fact, his big idea, to create a department full of public servants to supervise the reform of public servants had a hint of “Oh, really?” about it. He pushed Labour’s school building programme, which is a good idea (I work in the construction industry, so you’d hardly expect me to say otherwise, now, would you?) but his proposal for a constitutional convention is flawed, and here’s why. I support the idea, but he is proposing that it will not be finished until 2016, after which the Oireachtas will almost certainly spend another 1-2 years fluting around with it’s finding, if indeed they ever put them to a public vote.
A Labour-leaning friend of mine assures me that they will have no choice. Really? Why? Sure, the Irish people voted in 1979 to reform the Senate university panels, a decision that was never implemented by sucessive governments. Basically, this means pushing political reform back at least eight years. Eight years. Middle of Sarah Palin’s presidency, that’s how far back we’re talking. At least Enda is promising a vote of the Seanad wthin a year in office. It just is no longer acceptable for Irish politicians to keep saying “We need a full-scale comprehensive review” on political reform. They need to do things now.
As for making Labour the largest party in a government: There’s a fundamental flaw with that. It requires Labour becoming, like FDR and Tony Blair, a broad church. Getting Labour into the mid 30s in the polls needs Labour to reach out to small businessmen and that means accepting that “profit” is actually ok. Think that will happen? Name all the businessmen who openly support the Irish Labour Party. Take your time, I’ll make a cup of tea. Joan Burton looks like she’s going to have a stroke when she uses the word “profit”. Labour seem to be convinced that the Irish electorate will just have to change to suit Labour.
The sad thing is, Labour are actually going backwards on this. Pat Rabbitte was willing to criticise the parts of the public sector that didn’t reform, whereas Gilmore has set Labour up as the parliamentary wing of the CPSU. It’s good politics, and will win more votes from public sector families, but it will not widen Labour’s appeal beyond that.