We, the People

On the ‘This Week‘ show, on RTE Radio 1 this afternoon, Pat Rabbittee (Leader of Ireland’s Labour Party) artfully danced around presenter Gerald Barry’s questioning about whether Labour will go into coalition with Fianna Fáil after the next general election, expected in early summer. Rabbittee: ‘it won’t arise’; Barry: ‘but if it does?’; Rabbitte: ‘I want Fianna Fáil out’; Barry: ‘but what if?’. And so it goes; and so it went (the full interview is here).

Whatever about Rabbitte’s position now, in my view, if the numbers after the next election are such that the only possible government is a coalition of Fianna Fáil and Labour, then, after the election and the weeks of horsetrading that generate that potential coalition and its programme for goverment, there must be another election, to allow us, the people, to give our imprimatur (or not) to it. At present, we, the people, are being given a choice between a continuation of the current coalition (of Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats (PDs), with the possible support of like-minded independents, if necessary) and an alternative (of Fine Gael, the Labour Party, probably the Green Party, and again the support of like-minded independents, if necessary). In the most recent poll, in today’s Sunday Tribune, the government seems to be marginally ahead. In the election, we, the people, will get the chance to choose between these two alternatives. When the dust clears after the election, if neither of these combinations (with or without the tacit support of Sinn Féin) commands sufficient numbers to nominate a Taoiseach (Prime Minister) and thus to form a government, the Fianna Fáil/Labour scenario pursued by Gerald Barry arises.

However, this was not a scenario on which we, the people, voted. As the election is now being faught, the choice is binary, between the incumbent Fianna Fáil/PD coalition and the current Fine Gael/Labour/Green opposition. This is the only choice. If we say we want neither by returning a hung Dáil (lower house of parliament), that is all that can safely be deduced from the election. If the different combination of Fianna Fáil and Labour were thereafter to emerge from the (no longer smoke-filled) rooms of Leinster House, it could only gain democratic legitimacy if it were to put itself before the people as a choice in a further election. The very idea, of course, would fill the parties with horror – politicians hate elections (looking forward them as turkeys to Christmas or Christians to lions). But the political pundits and those who see elections as a spectator sport would relish it (looking forward to it as families to Christmas dinner or the Roman mob to games in the Colosseum). It would be the only way that the Labour Party could with credibility enter into that coalition. And it would be a government chosen by We, the People.