Previously published on The Journal.ie

The Reform Alliance is gathering momentum as it prepares for its conference on January 25th in the RDS. It appears to be the prelude to the formation of a new political party (although that’s been denied). But in the media coverage (at times overtly fawning) of the Alliance there appears to be little real questioning of the nature of the ‘reform’ they are claiming they stand for, nor much about who will benefit from such ‘reform’.

Lucinda Creighton, who is leading the movement thus far, has stated that the Alliance is “interested in anybody who is interested in reform… genuinely implementing reform and not just talking about it”. However, this, and the majority of their media statements, tells us nothing of the policies they are proposing – such as what would they implement in government?

Where we do get some insight into their policies, and their proposed ‘reform’, is in the political policies and stances that its leading spokespeople like Lucinda Creighton took prior to the formation of the Reform Alliance.

The same policies that caused the crash

Firstly, and most significantly, the economic policies advocated by Lucinda Creighton and the other TDs of the Reform Alliance have been the same neo-liberal, pro-capitalist policies that caused the crash. These are the neo-liberal economics that promote the concepts of deregulating markets, free trade, competitiveness, pro-multinational capital, privatisation of public services, low wages, reducing taxes on wealth and supporting corporate profiteering.

Lucinda and the other former Fine Gael TDs supported wholeheartedly the austerity approach which has kept us in the crisis and has imposed the burden of the adjustment on the poor and those on lower incomes. Lucinda and the other TDs involved in the Reform Alliance voted for each austerity budget since entering government in 2011 and they also led the campaign for the Fiscal Treaty Referendum in 2012, which enshrined austerity into the heart of the euro area and handed over more control over our budgets to the European Commission and EU institutions.

Even when they talk about the necessity of ensuring ‘social inclusion’ it is to be brought about through the Thatcherite economic theory of generating private entrepreneurial and corporate growth that will then supposedly ‘trickle down’ to the lower classes.

Influencing the balance of power

We would discover the true intent of their ‘reform’ policies if the Alliance declared its stance on forming part of the next government. With between five and ten TDs, the Alliance could be in a very influential position holding the balance of power after the next general election. The Alliance, therefore, should publicly state their position on whether they would support a Fine Gael or Fianna Fail led government after the next election (and it is up to the media to ask and get that answer).

If the Reform Alliance answers that question with ‘that will depend on the situation that we face at that point in time and it will require major commitment to radical reform by those parties’ (ie, yes of course we will enter government with either Fine Gael or Fianna Fail), or ‘we have not determined our position on that yet’ (ie, yes of course) or, the straightforward honest answer of ‘yes of course’, then they are clearly not for any serious level of reform of our political or economic system. This is because both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail have been in power since the foundation of the State and have clearly demonstrated that they are unwilling and unable to implement radical reforms, once in government, that would strengthen democracy and benefit the majority of people in the country.

What should we expect?

The policies of these former Fine Gael TDs makes it clear that if a new party emerges from the Reform Alliance its policies will most closely match those of the old Progressive Democrats Party. The Alliance’s policies, therefore, can be classed as right-wing on economic issues, conservative on many social issues, and pro a European Union – that economic and political superpower.

The media should be much more forthright in asking them (and ensure they provide an answer) on the detail on the type of reform the Alliance are proposing, and whether this is just another exercise in spin and PR politics that is becoming endemic in our political system.

Radical reforms that would benefit the majority of Irish people would include calling for an end to austerity and a government-funded stimulus of job creation expanding the number of teachers, guards and nurses, as well as building social housing and upgrading hospitals. They would include a reversal of the decision to introduce water charges and ruling-out future privatisation of Irish water; an increase in the minimum wage and support for worker’s rights; calling on the ECB to cancel the illegitimate Anglo Bonds and threaten default; and a write-off of mortgage debt of distressed borrowers in their family home.

It would also include an imposition of income equality measures such as a cap on bankers and higher earners’ pay, higher taxation on wealth, and a financial transaction tax to be introduced on markets. But we haven’t heard mention of any of these policies from the Reform Alliance TDs.

Therefore, there is no evidence to back up the claims of Lucinda and the other Alliance TDs that the Reform Alliance is about creating a ‘new politics’ and offers ‘radical’ and ‘substantial’ differences in policy from that what already is presented by Fine Gael or Fianna Fail (or even Labour at this stage). But watch how the Alliance spokespeople keep their policies vague, general and all-encompassing in the run up to the next general election. They will talk of ‘change’, ‘honesty’, and ‘accountability’, but in reality this is the PDs being revived in another form, and in time, could become even more extreme.

This is because the economic policies espoused by the TDs involved in the Reform Alliance caused the crisis and won’t get us out of it. They will in fact, as has already been proven in the austerity budgets they have voted for, worsen inequality and poverty.

Public anger

Lucinda and her Reform Alliance followers are politically astute, and just like the recent move of Colm Keaveny, they are prepared to do whatever it takes to get re-elected even if that means contradicting their previous policies. They know that the anger amongst the public will be seen in the coming elections and, therefore, they want to present themselves as something different from the Government. They are likely to gain further momentum given their access to resources, money, PR companies and a cheerleading media, particularly the right wing commentariat.

It is interesting to see how the Reform Alliance and Lucinda are fawned over by the media and promoted in contrast to the treatment of the Left TDs such as the United Left Alliance, who are often jeered and ridiculed. This is because the Reform Alliance is clearly on the side of the upper middle class and elite establishment, those who favour a capitalist Ireland, where everyone knows their place, and where, ultimately, the status quo is maintained.

In responding to the widespread public anger and desire for real reforming politics, the Reform Alliance have, however, highlighted what the Left should be doing. The Left, including the ULA parties and Left wing independent TDs should put aside their differences and get together to form a movement that could offer some real radical reform that would benefit the majority of Irish people, particularly the vulnerable, unemployed, youth and working classes.

Rory Hearne

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