Thoughts on the eve of #GE16

Tomorrow we go to the polls and vote but what actually does that mean? What’s the bigger picture?

Tomorrow each vote cast will collectively decide who will end up directing policy and legislating for almost every aspect of our lives – how much or how little tax we pay, to what extent our public and community services are resourced and supported or indeed privatised, whether  workers’ rights are enhanced and protected or whether the free market is allowed dictate their terms and conditions, whether or not women will be granted autonomy over their own bodies and the right to choose, whether or not access to our schools will depend on having a baptismal certificate.

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How Labour would like to decrease/increase tax

That is what those elected to the Dáil explicitly do – they legislate. However, more implicitly they set an example for the country – their attitudes set a tone and their values and behaviour set the subtle parameters for what’s deemed right and wrong.

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Tomorrow, without hesitation, I’m voting NO 1 Labour and here’s why

Labour entered government with Fine Gael, a party at the opposite end of the political spectrum to us, 5 years ago when our country was on its knees and had no control over the decisions that were made for us, its citizens.

Why were we on our knees?

Because, on the verge of bankruptcy, we had to be bailed out, repossessed by the TROIKA in November 2010. They loaned us the money we needed to may our state bills – to pay our nurses, our Gardai, our teachers – to keep the country going.  They aid down the rules and conditions of that bank loan. Sadly, this point has been lost in much of the #GE16 debate, particularly when it comes to the myth and accusations that Labour broke its promises – but more on that shorty.

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Why did we enter government? Simply because we cared for and about our country and our citizens. Fine Gael’s election manifesto sought massive public expenditure cuts (public services and welfare) compared to tax increases (Labour sought the reverse) and we knew that those who needed and depended on these services most would be hardest hit – we couldn’t stand idly by and shout from the sidelines when we were in a position to do something constructive about it.

A 5 year coalition

And so the 5 year battle as a minority government party to put decency, rights and responsibility at the heart of legislation and national policy began. We did not succeed on every level with our coalition partners. Probably, the best/worst example is the benchmarking of rent increases to inflation – we wanted that, Alan Kelly and colleagues fought for that but we lost, Fine Gael wasn’t having it (or either there was nothing left to barter). We lost also on certain cuts to welfare allowances and thresholds. No doubt our detractors can list lots more.

We won, however, on enhancing workers’ rights – globally unions are being isolated and decimated and we, with Minister Ged Nash to the fore, legislated for collective bargaining rights; we increased the minimum wage twice and legislated for a commission to monitor it. We won on increasing USC for higher paid workers – a new band for those earning €70k was introduced in Budget 2015. We won on securing the partial unwinding of the FEMPI legislation through the Landsdown Road Agreement. We won on greater investment in social housing. We won on securing (and winning) a referendum on the right to marriage regardless of sexual orientation. We won on job creation – over 120,000 new jobs, new starts for those that were unemployed. We won on maintaining a threshold of decency while we brought our country back from the brink, while we regained our sovereignty, eventually in December 2013, and with it our right to decide investment and expenditure for ourselves.

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The future

It’s unfortunate that the slogan ‘a lot done, more to do’ has been sullied but a lot has been done and Labour has been to the fore in much of that. There is a lot more to do and Labour want to continue on where we left off.  Good politics is about negotiating and compromising to get things done even though it’s only partly the way you’d like them to be done. Good politics is not black and white, not absolutist, not my way or the high way. Good politics is caring enough about the country to work with what you’ve got, including sacrificing a little of your own self, to make things better for everyone and pave the way for a better future.

Our country is in a much better place than it was 5 years ago. Labour has played a big part of making it a better place, a more equal and a fairer place. It’s still a long way off how we’d like it but the only way to get it nearer to a more equal society underpinned by a strong economy with decent jobs it is to vote for us – vote No 1 for your local Labour candidate tomorrow. Vote for a party that is willing to work for a better, fairer future for you and those coming after you.

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