Why is that every time Labour enters government it not just loses support, as is normal for many parties in government, but actually haemorrhages support? Why is it that in 1977, 1987, 1997, and probably 2016 Labour has received, and probably will receive, an almighty political kicking? One possibility is that Labour has the poor luck to enter government nearly always at times of economic hardship. Yet the party’s loss of half its seats in 1997 occurred in a period of economic expansion. So what it that causes Labour voters to turn on the party in government?
One possibility is Labour’s inability, most apparent during the run up to the 2011 general election, to shape and manage the expectations of its voters. Labour seems incapable of thinking beyond polling day, and as a result puts out a pre-election narrative that is guaranteed to disappoint almost from day one.
This is Labour’s problem: as a party, it can’t seem to match its left wing opposition theatrics to the pragmatic requirements of government.
On top of that, there is also the old chestnut that Labour, by refusing to play hardball with the conservative parties (normally because of the personal ambitions of its leadership) and instead propping each of them up as junior partner, allows itself to become their mudguard in government. This also gives its left wing competition, first The Workers Party and Democratic Left, and now Sinn Fein, room to expand.
In the 1960s and 70s, the Labour left wing used to campaign in the party against coalition, claiming that it prevented a genuine right-left divide from developing in Irish politics, which is hurting the party.
There’s a strong argument to be made that this point needs to at least be seriously debated.