The perils of coalition.

First an update for our foreign visitors.

We have just had a general election in Ireland. The previous government dominated by the Fine Gael party supported in coalition by the Labour  Party was defeated. But no single party has won enough seats in our parliament to form a new government. The negotiations to form a such government are likely to be prolonged, as there are good many groups and numerous independents involved. Consequently new elections are by no means impossible. For more details please check the RTE web site.

Joan-Burton1

Joan Burton, leader of the Labour Party.

The most salient feature of the recent election
was the collapse of the Labour Party. This was certainly not because the electorate had moved to the right- far from it. The Renua Party- a new centre right grouping did very badly. Sinn Fein and other left groups did well. Why then was Labour punished?

Labour’s failure seems to be part of a recent pattern of junior partners in coalitions being decimated at the polls. In 2007 the Progresive Demomocrts who had been in coalition with Fianna Fail lost six of their eight seats in Dail Eareann were subsequently disbanded in 2008. In 2011 the Greens who similarly had propped up another Fianna Fail government lost all their six seats- although have subsequently returned to the fray. And last week it the Labour party’s turn. In Britain, of course, the same thing happened to the Liberal Democrats last year- who tempted into government by Mr. Cameron- were then rejected by the electorate- partly because, as the price of enjoying the fruits and influence of office, they reneged on their promise to do away with university fees, enraging their younger and more idealistic supporters. Those then in smaller parties who enter government evidently do so very much at their own risk.

Rab Butler

R. A. Butler (1902-1982 ) whose autobiography “The Art of the Possible” ( 1971) is a Tory classic.

Why should this be so? It seems to be because people who vote for small parties do so for reasons which are rather different from those who vote for larger groupings. A Tory wants a Tory government. A Fianna Failer feels more comfortable with his guys in Merrion Street. But what does a Lib Dem voter really want? What does someone who votes, or who voted, for the Irish Labour Party really want?  A vote for a smaller party is an act of hope. But as R. A. B. Butler pointed out in the title of his autobiography politics is the “art of the possible.” Progress is possible, but it is slow, and hard won. Hope is more often deferred than realised.

Those who promise their supporters that THEY can make THE difference, but who turn out to be more or less the same as those with whom they are only in coalition with, should not be surprised when their supporters either give up, or desert them for even more radical alternatives, as seems to have happened to Labour last week.

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