Thursday 11 April 2013

Childers resigns from the EP Irish Parliamentary Labour Party

The Irish Labour Party has had a rough few weeks. Currently in government with the centre-right Fine Gael, it had finally become the second biggest political party in Ireland after the last election (an achievement for the main centre-left party that had always been the 3rd party in Ireland). However in government the Labour party has gotten the flak for aligning itself too closely with Fine Gael's conservative policies. Labour had promised "balanced government" through moderating Fine Gael's influence, but it has little to show for its concessions in government.

The shockingly low result for Labour in the Meath East by-election at the end of March - where they only managed 4%! - is an indication of just how angry the party base is with the parliamentary party. Nationally, Labour's support is polled at between 7-13%, but a combination of low turnout and disaffected grassroots led to the collapse in the Labour vote. If it's going to mitigate the damage at the next elections, Labour in government will have to make a greater show of defending their centre-left values. Without this, it will be hard to motivate the party base or convince other voters of the value of giving their transfers to Labour candidates (votes transferred from candidates eliminated for not attracting enough votes is important in the Single Transferable Vote system). Then again, if a centre-left party doesn't fight for its centre-left values, it's hard to see the point of it in the first place...

Following this defeat, Nessa Childers, the Labour MEP resigned from the parliamentary party because of its support for the government. Childers has been at odds with the leadership of the party for some time, so the resignation is being dismissed as the loss of a semi-detached member, but her suggestion that Labour values may be more effectively expressed outside the Labour Party will probably have a ring of truth with some people.

In Brussels and Strasbourg this will not have much of an effect: Childers remains a Labour party member and will remain part of the Socialists and Democrats Group in the European Parliament. However, since she was the only Labour MEP to have been elected in the 2009 election (Labour's other two MEPs were substituted in after the resignations of the former seat-holders), it will be even more difficult for the party to retain these seats (electoral support in Ireland is more directly linked to the candidate than the party in comparison to other European electoral systems). Just a year before the 2014 European elections, it looks like the S&D Group will be lucky to retain even one seat in Ireland.

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