There's an interesting piece in the Sunday Business Post under the headline "Greens shun watchdog role" that summarises the party's relaxed attitude to the latest revelations of the Mahon Tribunal as indicative of a shift away from the role of the "watchdog" of Fianna Fáil in government. Instead the emphasis is placed on implementing the party's own policy agenda. Party insiders justify this stance on two grounds: the PDs blew their political credibility and their electoral base by pretending to be Fianna Fáil's "moral guardians" but perpetuated them in office; and the experience of Green Parties in government elsewhere is summed up as agree the programme and do the business.
Will the rank-and-file of the Greens be content with this quite modest role for the party if and when things get a lot nastier between Ahern and Mahon? Just how much policy will they be able to deliver given that the party controls only two government departments? Much of the government agenda will still be driven by forces and ideas quite hostile to Green politics. This might take a little longer to manifest itself but I suspect that unease among the membership is bound to spread.
The Labour Party also appear sto be honing a much more focused and business like approach to its own future role. The Inside Politics column in the Sunday Tribune reports that a new senior adviser with a reputation as a hight flier has been appointed to Eamon Gilmore's office. A party TD is quoted that the role of the adviser will be "government". Assuming the current Dáil goes to full term, Labour will have been out of office for almost fifteen years and there is little doubt that many of its aged parliamentarians are desperate for one last chance.
In the same Sunday Business Post article a former adviser is quoted echoing the sentiments of a more pragmatic approach to government:
I think they’ve learned from Labour’s obsession with the whole ‘standards’ thing. There’s not much evidence that voters care much about it. [Labour’s election in] 1992 could have ushered in 15 or 20 years of centre-left government, but we threw that away over something nobody can quite remember now.
There are many people in the Labour Party who are frustrated that the Greens are occupying the space that Labour should be in - that is in government with Fianna Fáil. Such a view also seems to be found among senior trade union leaders. I've recently been reading Saving the Future, a very readable if largely uncritical account of Social Partnership and SIPTU leader Jack O'Connor is quoted as saying that Labour's decision not to go back into government with Fianna Fáil in 1994 was "a disastrous decision". This is most likely due to the apparent preference many trade union leaders have of "doing business" with Fianna Fáil. The book's authors quote O'Connor as saying that this type of pragmatism "allows the broader labour movement to influence the direction of government policy to the extent that they could ameliorate the worst effects of what the other side was contemplating".
That is a powerful enough reformist argument and is commonly articulated. It's usually accompanied by swipes against Fine Gael and the rather spurious argument that the social republican roots of Fianna Fáil make that party more objectively open to the influence of labour. The real flaw in the argument is that Labour will always be in a junior and subordinate position, trying to react to an agenda set by more powerful political forces. Instead of obsessing with how to get back into government with Fianna Fáil, Labour should look to ways of broadening its potential electorate.