WSM members opinions on the results of the June 2007 general election


  These three pieces were written by WSM members for about the results of the 2007 election and its impact on the left. See our Election 2007 page at for what we had to say in advance of the election.


Independent socialists and electoralism as a strategy

by Ronan

As the dust recedes from the ballot box and the parties alternately lick their wounds and rest on their laurels it’s worth having a think about its consequences for the left in general and the radical left in particular. The small parties generally got a drubbing this time around, and of course, the left wing parties are all very much on the small side. The only winners are the centre right civil war parties of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, if one is to judge political mood by elections then the left wing is in a sorry state all around. Despite anarchists talking up electoral non-participation this was one of the biggest turn outs in years, people turned up and turned right. Which is not of course to say they should have voted left, Labour the biggest party on the ‘left’ showed how much its left wing credentials matter to it by entering into a pre-election pact with Fine Gael, the law and order party, as in more laws, more orders. Even so, a high vote for Labour or Sinn Fein might have indicated some degree of dissatisfaction with the current state of things, not so.

What was probably most disappointing for lefties however was the failure of Joe Higgins to be returned to his seat in Dublin West and the non-election of a number of other ideological socialists such as Clare Daly, or Joan Collins (thankfully we’ve been spared the embarrassment of a SWPie in Dáil Eireann and the prospect of dealing with SWP activists with even more inflated sense of self worth). We all enjoyed and appreciated Joe’s never-ending one man stand against injustice and tyranny in Dail Eireann, the sole defender of honesty amid a cauldron of deceit, a crouton of decency in a thick soup of lies. It’s very possible that electoral district re-jigging is to blame for this defeat, but it throws into relief the difficulties of electoralism as a political strategy for groups who (theoretically) see parliament as at odds with the prospect of social change.

There are some purely practical problems that make socialist adventures in electoralism a slow starter, a lack of big corporate donations is probably the most obvious, but there’s also an unsympathetic media to deal with and an electorate seemingly bent on re-enacting the Civil War every four years. Low funding means no billboards, and few glossy posters or leaflets, it means no imported American consultants and no press handlers. But behind these practical reasons there’s a more basic reason why socialists are only rarely going to get anything but ulcers from the electoral process in this country. If you’ll let them, members of socialist organisations that promote electoralism argue for it principally as a tactic, they’re not deceived, real change comes from below, they’re using the Dail as a platform to destroy itself and so on. While such an argument might seem convincing the chance of getting your candidate in always has to be balanced against the vast amount of time and money spent in campaigning for him or her, especially when a constituency re-jig might toss them out again come next time round.

The crucial point however, is that in asking someone to vote for an anti-capitalist candidate you’re asking them to do so principally on an ideological level if the gesture is to have any meaning at all. But most people don’t want a purely ideological representative in parliament, any socialists who don’t combine their ideology with a lot of hard work for their constituents are unlikely to get the time of day next time around. So already there’s a trade off involved, a lot of work to get elected, a lot of work to stay elected and then you can have a platform to speak from. One’s tempted to ask how effective this trade off is: if the candidate is voted for not because the electorate identify with his/her politics but because s/he does a lot of constituency work this might imply that spreading socialism from above probably isn’t so effective. Perhaps I’m wrong, perhaps there is a sizeable cadre of Marxist-Leninist ninjas in Dublin West sharpening their knives and preparing to attack in a flurry of paper selling and shuriken throwing. Probably not though.

To be honest, I think that these socialists have got electoralism the wrong way round, in the ideological supermarket most people aren’t going to pick up socialism simply because it’s not very practical. Once most people have left college they’re not particularly interested in ideology, they’re interested in getting on with life and fitting as much fun as possible into the cracks between working life and sleep. Socialist (or anarchist for that matter) consciousness isn’t particularly relevant for the most part, it only becomes relevant during certain periods of struggle and conflict, in the workplace, in the community or even on a national level. Sinking a lot of work into achieving an especially high soapbox isn’t that much use when people aren’t listening, if we want our arguments to be heard we need to make them from the furnace where our politics have been forged, the heart of the struggles of the people.

A couple of additonal points by Joe


1. The SWP / PBP election results probably mean the rest of the left is going to have to treat them a little more seriously then before and then you do above. Barret gave people a surprise in coming close to scrapping in and Brid Smiths performance was respectable in particular in the context of John O'Neills or Ciaran Perry's. And its not simply explained either by association with the bin tax struggle or soft pedeling (ok not mentioning) the 'S' word as Ciaran also followed a similar strategy and would have the same association. The result demonstrates the SWP are having some success with their new strategy.

In fact one of the difficulties for the trotskyist left coming out of the election is that. at least in terms of electoral support, there is no longer a reason to take the SP much more seriously than the SWP and when you throw in the relative performance in the north they are neck and neck. There outstanding political differences of what to call a regime that hasn't existed for 18 years and how to relate to a war that ended a decade ago seem like a rather poor argument for two separate organisations. I simplify of course but in particular as both have taken a major turn towards electoralism and now both have proved themselves competent at getting votes a lot of people have to be wondering if they would do better as one rather than two organisations.

2. The result has shown up the dangers of associating struggles with general elections. That is those who argued that we should make x an election issue (where X was the war, Tara or Rossport) have seen that strategy backfire as the reduced vote of the left can and is being used to argue that those struggles have no popular mandate. It was quite obvious that no conceivable election outcome could have a positive impact on these struggles (that is there was no chance of a government being returned that would reverse them). But now with the pendulum having swung to the centre right the election results are being thrown in activists faces, including those who thought that such a strategy was daft in the first place. Those who argue for electoralism can often only see the positives, this is a rather clear illustration there are some large negatives as well.

3. At least the PD's got wiped out. In that context the election clearly wasn't a simple swing to the right as a vote for a low risk more of the same. We are probably not far off one or more crashes, starting with the property one and in that context the result in a bit like the literal cliff hanger at the end of the Italian job where its hoped that somehow by standing very still disaster can be averted.
A few caveats by Chekov

A few of the assumptions in the article and the general media coverage are worth looking at a bit more closely.

First of all, it should be borne in mind that this election was quite different than the previous one in that the result was not known in advance. Recall that the only issue in the last election was whether FF would have an overall majority or not - the PDs "single party government - no thanks" slogan was unveiled in the last week or so when it looked like FF were going to get an overall majority.

The increase in turnout of a few percentage points was probably down to the pruning of the electoral register and due to the fact that the election result was in doubt until the end (and still is with no clear government yet formed).

Also, the left wing vote did not really decline at all. The candidates to the left of the labour party got a greater share of votes than before, but lost seats (Healy, Higgins) on a few tight calls. SF and the Greens actually increased their share of the vote although they didn't live up to their headier expectations.

The real swing saw votes going from the PDs and independents to FG and to a lesser extent from the Labour party. That doesn't mean that there was any particular swing in opinion to the right either - just that people who were pissed off knew that the only possible alternative government was one led by FG (thanks to Labour's disasterous strategy of propping them up after their hammering in the last election).

So there were two clear choices, a government led by FG and one led by FF. In such a situation, only the ideological are going to vote for somebody else - there's a point in registering a protest vote when the election result is a foregone conclusion, if it's up in the air, anybody who can identify any difference at all between the two main parties is going to normally choose one of them, even just as the lesser of two evils.

In this case, anyway, much of the voting was clearly negative - anti-FF and anti-Kenny depending on the vote. The gombeen capitalism of FF is always going to be less negative than the perceived west-brit snobby capitalism of FG among more people and FF played this card very effectively - portraying themselves as anti-establishment as represented by the Irish Times (we even had an incredibly bizzare attempt to play this line on indymedia by the truly weird IPRG).

So, all in all, I don't think this election tells us much about the population's opinions on anything other than the fact that the "west-brit" faction of the ruling class are even less popular than the gombeen faction. Certainly it was a complete and utter farcical version of democracy, but we knew it was going to be that. Those who invested high hopes in it were just living in a land of wishful thinking that is completely unconnected to reality.