Friday, August 17, 2007


August article in the Sunday Tribune

I was asked by Kevin Rafter, journalist with the Sunday Tribune, to cover his column for a week while he was away on holidays. Here's the first part of my article, which the Tribune sub-editors entitled "Let's get this party restarted"

(C) Sunday Tribune

"THE debate on the future of the Labour Party is already underway. Although we ran a good campaign, 90% of Irish people didn't give us their first-preference vote. I believe it's time to conduct a short and focused organisational review, where we talk to every party member, to people in the community, to business people, trade union members and the voluntary sector to get their views on our future direction.

There's a perception among potential supporters that 'Labour' is closely identified with ideas associated with a pre-boom Ireland and that we have failed to recognise the huge changes in Irish life that have occurred over the last 15 years. In May, we asked the country to "Make a Change", yet sometimes we appear reluctant to do that ourselves. All organisations need to change with the times whilst still being true to their principles.

We need to consider what identifies us to people. For instance, I think that we need to be seen as more comfortable with national and individual success. Some people think that we are angst-ridden about the economic success of the country and individuals in the last 15 years. This is not the case and indeed is ironic in some ways as we were central to creating the Celtic Tiger. We need to examine our links with the trade union movement and make sure that the relationship reflects the Ireland of today. Interestingly, I know that some people are suggesting that we consider changing the party name. This is not the first time this has come up. For instance, after a poor election in 1927 a name change was mooted too.

What's clear is that even before we start a campaign, we are cutting off potential voters. Some see us as a sectional party rather than one that represents all of society. Of course this is not true, but if people see us like this, we have to accept that it's our problem, not theirs. We can afford to be sentimental about this if we want to remain at 10%, but if we want to grow our vote, then we need to start reflecting on how we present ourselves as a party.

Over the next five years in the Dail and the Seanad, we must hold the government to account and interrogate their policies or approach to politics. However, we need to avoid the trap of opposition for opposition's sake, as many voters perceive us to be defined primarily by our outright opposition and negativity. I want Labour to be defined by what we stand for rather than what we are against. We now have the chance to conduct a debate, the result of which should be a stronger party, with a positive vision and plan for Ireland."

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