The current debate about how to spend the few extra shekels the government finds itself with says something about the pickle the Labour Party finds itself in. Consider this: the automatic position of many in Labour, at least if the media is to be believed, is to spend the money on social welfare, either on reversing cuts on increasing rates.
But will that actually help Labour politically? When I speak to Labour activists, I’m struck by the bitterness many of them have towards what they regard as their core constituency, people reliant upon the welfare system. What they find most frustrating is that despite the fact that Labour has prevented many of the potential cuts to social spending, and protected a lot of jobs in the public sector, it is these two sectors that are most vicious towards Labour, bellowing “betrayal!”
Which brings us to the question of what to do with the extra money? Politically, one has to wonder will Labour gain by directing that money towards its bitter core, or is that core just permanently insatiable? Were these not the people who were voting Labour in the Celtic Tiger years, because they weren’t getting enough even then? And that’s all assuming, as one Labour activist pointed out to me, “that the fuckers even bother their arses to go out and vote”.
Fine Gael are suggesting tax cuts. Whilst it is economically dubious, because tax cuts tend to leak out in imports, Fine Gael have a point about tax cuts at least being a tip of the hat towards the embattled middle who are too well off for medical cards, but not rich enough to get a good tax avoiding accountant.
If I were Labour, I’d perhaps suggest a slight change. Not a tax cut, which cuts future revenue, but a tax rebate. A cheque sent to every taxpayer actually giving them money. Most Irish people don’t know how much income tax they pay anyway, but nobody will get angry if Labour puts a cheque for a few bob through their letter box.