Posted By: October 18, 2014

 Patrick Murphy. Irish News( Belast). Saturday, October 18, 2014

IF THE major parties in Westminster and the Dáil are not careful, we could be in for a serious outbreak of history. Sinn Féin and UKIP have little common ground in terms of policy, but they share the identical aspiration of exploiting the current unpopularity of traditional parties in forthcoming general elections. Their chances of success are mixed. Sinn Féin appears poised to enter coalition in Dublin. Although UKIP predicts 30 MPs, the first-past-the-post system may limit it to half a dozen. However, any future British government will probably need its support. So, why are Britain and Ireland facing a shake-up of traditional party politics? What influence might the two parties exert on future politics and policies and what impact will it all have in Stormont’s cobwebbed halls? The underlying cause in both countries is the current crisis in capitalism, which has fragmented society through growing inequality. (Yes, free markets, privatised industry and reduced public spending have merely made the rich richer. Don’t take this column’s word for it – the head of the International Monetary Fund this week warned of the “staggering” rise in inequality.) The traditional belief that the market can regulate itself collapsed when unregulated banking destroyed a string of national economies. Governments in London and Dublin punished the banks’ sins by casting ordinary people into economic hell. (Bank of England Governor, Mark Carney, said this week that the bankers who caused the crisis “got away with it.”) Public money bailed out the reckless rich through increased taxation and reduced expenditure in public services. These reactionary policies produced radical politics – to the right in England and (just a bit) to the left in Ireland. In last week’s two Irish by-elections, the traditional big three parties were trounced. But Sinn Féin also failed to win a seat. Their Dublin South-West candidate, Cathal King, was the un-backable favourite, but he suffered a hugely significant defeat by the Socialist Party’s Paul Murphy, running on an anti-austerity ticket. The issue was decided on water charges. Murphy called on people not to pay them. 100,000 marchers in Dublin agreed. Sinn Féin’s King said he would not pay, but Gerry Adams said he would, because he wanted to be “responsible”. The irresponsible party won. (First Year Ethics Paper, Question 1: Is Sinn Féin’s method of opposing British welfare cuts “responsible”?) The result showed that Sinn Féin can easily be outflanked on the left. (The slumbering SDLP has yet to realise this.) Despite portraying themselves as responsible centrists, neither Fine Gael nor Labour voters seemed willing to transfer their preferences to Sinn Féin. The party could also be squeezed from the right. Believing that you are the government in waiting is not enough to win an election. The guarantee of permanent power in the sectarian north does not extend to the more economically literate south. As the Irish budget promised increased numbers of teachers and other public servants, Stormont announced the likely decimation of public services. That leaves Sinn Féin also exposed on its northern front – and that is where UKIP comes in. It destroyed the Tories in one by-election last week and significantly eroded Labour’s vote in another. By exploiting growing disenchantment with government and the European Union, its populist stance is pulling Westminster politics to the right. So there is likely to be even less public money for Stormont from 2015, just a year before the next expected Dáil election in 2016. British politics has the additional influence of growing nationalism. Scotland swung heavily towards independence from austerity, but ultimately settled for a form of political purgatory until the next referendum. The queen’s reported “purring” at the referendum result may tempt you to observe that Sinn Féin and UKIP share a common adulation for royalty, since Sinn Fein now apparently “likes” the queen. The pro-democracy group, Republic, estimates that the royal family costs £300 million annually, which would easily cover welfare cuts and the budget deficit here. So is it “responsible” to “like” royalty?(Oh dear, so many ethical issues may be bad for us on a Saturday.) Sinn Féin’s pre-occupation with respectability in the south may ultimately deny it power there. As Stormont’s finances are squeezed and Fine Gael consolidates itself behind budgetary promises, a loose collection of socialists and independents may take Sinn Féin’s expected place(s) in cabinet, similar to the 1948-51 inter-party coalition. If Sinn Féin does make it into government, the party’s conservative stance in opposition suggests that whereas an outbreak of history in Britain may be serious, the Irish version will be much less contagious. It always is.