Labour is lost at sea but there’s no guarantee a new captain will help

 


Brendan Howlin. Photo: Frank McGrath
Brendan Howlin. Photo: Frank McGrath

If Brendan Howlin feels like the walls are caving in around him, it’s probably because they are.

The Labour Party leader is a jovial character, who even managed to appear optimistic as he sliced and diced the national budget during the recession. Regardless of your political view, it is widely accepted that between 2011 and 2016 he worked tirelessly to keep the economy afloat.

The tide has now lifted most boats – but still Mr Howlin finds himself battling for survival. And this time it’s personal. When Alan Kelly popped up on Tipp FM yesterday morning he was asked about all sorts of local issues – but for once it was national politics that mattered most.

Over the summer a rump of Labour councillors have been agitating. The dozen or so representatives have fed a drip, drip narrative that Mr Howlin’s days are numbered.

The assumption among the leadership is that Mr Kelly was pulling the strings behind the scenes, although he would categorically deny this.

Mr Howlin knows that he is technically safe. The knives being wielded by his younger rival will always be blunt, unless he can convince one of his five other Dáil colleagues or the party’s four senators to join his crusade. There will be no heave when they come together in Drogheda on September 16.

Instead, Labour is set for some uncomfortable soul-searching. Mr Howlin will be forced to consider whether he is best placed to lead the party into next year’s local and European elections.

He might believe that Mr Kelly wouldn’t do any better – but would he do any worse? If the answer to that question is ‘no’, then Mr Howlin is only putting off the inevitable.

Labour Party leaders who don’t do well in elections tend to fall on their own swords very quickly. Ask Eamon Gilmore and Joan Burton. We might not even get to the council election because as Mr Kelly pointed out on radio, there is a strong possibility of a general election before that.

Labour has an ambitious target of doubling its headcount in the Dáil at the next election. That would place them back at the centre of Irish politics and make them players in the formation of the next government.

It would also suit Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, who are terrified the numbers will force them to turn to Sinn Féin and Mary Lou McDonald. But right now Labour has no chance of reaching that goal. For a start they are losing Willie Penrose in Westmeath and Ms Burton just about survived in Dublin West last time.

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They have some strong, young candidates like Rebecca Moynihan (Dublin South Central) and Deirdre Kingston (Dún Laoghaire).

But unless those at the helm are part of the national debate they seem unlikely to get much notice.

Labour is lost at sea. And as Alan Kelly said in his radio interview: “We haven’t even looked like we’re turning the ship around.”

Irish Independent

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