Budget Day looms for the Fine Gael/Labour Government. On Tuesday, December 6, it will be clear for all to see how this government lives up to the claims of its leaders upon taking office in March, that it was the product of a ‘democratic revolution’ and represented a fundamental break with the cynical establishment politics of the past.
The omens, it has to be said, are not good. Over the past week government ministers, have been busily feeding stories to the media about potential measures in the Budget relating to their departments that would be very controversial and ‘painful’. Among the most graphic of these so far is the Minister for Health warning about a potential annual charge of €50 to medical card holders.
This is the same old ploy used by their predecessors, and just as cynical. The extent of cuts and new charges is beefed up beyond what ministers know will be finally proposed and then they hope the announcement of something slightly less onerous in the actual Budget will diminish the anger and opposition of the population.
The Labour Party will be under most scrutiny. In the General Election campaign, Labour, feeling that Fine Gael might get sufficient votes to form a government without it, tried to strengthen its position by giving specific pledges on a number of important issues crucial to ordinary working people and the unemployed. These were taken as good coin by those at whom they were directed and would have helped the Labour Party to increase its vote.
On the first day of the new Dail, just after his nomination as Tanaiste, Labour Leader, Eamon Gilmore, stated that: ‘. . . we believe that we can govern in a new and different way and that if we are open, honest and transparent and that if we stay in touch with and true to the people who elected us, we can channel their goodwill and good wishes in the days ahead. ‘Different, ‘honest’, ‘transparent’ and ‘true’ are the key words here.
Many people may not forget, even though Labour hope they will, that the party took out a very expensive and very prominently placed advertisement in national newspapers under the heading ‘Look what Fine Gael has in store for you’. There were graphic illustrations of what Labour were objecting to, including, 23% Vat up 2%, €252 child benefit cut and €238 per annum water tax with a final dig at their now partners in government, ‘Fine Gael, every little hurts!’
So far we know for definite – though the German Parliament knew before us – that VAT is going to rise to 23%. We know that a new Household Tax of €100 is to be imposed as a precursor to water charges and senior Labour spokespeople refuse to rule out cuts in child benefit. Not much in that then that is ‘honest’ and ‘true’.
The reality is, of course, that once the Labour Party decided to go into government with Fine Gael and to rule on the basis of trying to reverse the crisis in Irish capitalism under the restrictions of the laws of that system and subject to the dictates of the ‘markets’, then any pretence of a meaningful defence of ordinary people and the ‘vulnerable’ from the ravages of the crisis was doomed.
All over Europe social democratic parties, like the Irish Labour Party, are crashing on the rocks of that self same system. PSOE, The Spanish Socialist Workers Party, dutifully carried out the diktats of the financial markets for seven years. It imposed vicious austerity measures including wage and social welfare cuts that have resulted in widespread hardship. Unemployment is around 21%, with half of all under 25-year-olds without work. Anger at the worsening social conditions erupted earlier this year when tens of thousands of indignados (indignant ones) occupied A squares in cities and towns throughout Spain.
PSOE did exactly the opposite of what should be done if it was indeed, a ‘socialist’ party. This is not surprising since over the last thirty years it moved sharply to the Right and formally adopted a pro capitalist market policy. Unfortunately it retains ‘Socialist’ in its name thus giving rise to confusion as to what socialism means, a similar situation as exists in Greece and Portugal where equally right wing ‘socialist’ parties have followed a similar pattern.
On Sunday, PSOE lost millions of votes in the general election in Spain, its worst result since the party was legalised at the end of the Franco dictatorship in the mid1970s. Unfortunately it is a Right wing government that has taken over in the absence of any real major Left alternative.
As Budget Day approaches in Ireland the Labour Party might reflect on PSOE’s bitter reward for its betrayal of ordinary people and the poor in Spain.