With Labour continuing to bump along in the low twenties in the polls, they’ve got to start asking themselves awkward questions. Let’s not be negative: If someone had told Dick Spring in 1987 that he was only going to win 20% of the vote and maybe only 40 seats, he would have (in the words of a Fianna Fail friend of mine) had his mickey out. But the problem is that Labour has been both overselling itself and believing its own overselling. Listening to Labour people, they believe that they are on the brink of finally reaching their historically mandated position of being the other great force in Irish politics facing whatever is the dominant conservative party of the day. That’s fair enough, except for the fact that the polls say that the Irish people disagree. On 20%, Labour is, like Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein, just another sectional interest party. Is that really how Labour sees itself? Fianna Fail are on their knees. If Labour does not break through now, then when? Or is Labour doomed forever to not change itself to suit the voters, but to demand that the voters change to suit it?
Everytime I write about Labour I get a few comments and emails along the lines of “typical PD” and “Right wing blah” but that misses my point. I have both voted for and donated to Labour candidates in the past. But they were candidates willing to reach out beyond the Labour comfort zone and recognise and respect my values. Just as there were Reagan Democrats and Obama Republicans, there could be Gilmore Fianna Failers, but Labour has to be willing to go out and look for them and actually ask them to lend their votes. It does not mean abandoning Labour principles. I’m pragmatic, I recognise that there are some left wing values I just don’t share. But there are plenty of Labour values I do share, and I’m willing, like many voters, to compromise, and listen, and discuss, and make a judgement call on balance. I didn’t agree with the PDs on everything, and indeed, if you agree with your party on every single issue then you probably eat your dinner of stewed apple with a cork on the end of your fork to stop you taking your eye out. Pragmatic people look at the party that is closest to their values, and take a punt.
Labour has that possibility, to reach out beyond the comfort zone. Both Bill Clinton and Tony Blair recognised that there are progressive non-left voters willing to travel if they feel comfortable and respected and listened to, and by reaching out to them, they built a broad church progressive coalition that dominated their respective countries politics for a decade. For all the sneering that the hard left does about both men, and both were flawed, there are millions who were better off for their being there. And on top of that, neither man every saw their vote drop to 20% in an election either.