Belfast Telegraph

A new name and a new face. But they’re singing the same old song

By Eamonn McCann

Not only do they not have an answer, they don’t know the question. Across the water, the fact that it was Ant and not Dec who won the Labour Party leadership has provided the political commentariat with a topic for speculation and agitated analysis.

Will Red Ed lead Labour so far to the Left the party will become unelectable? Parts of the Tory Press seem gleefully to think so.

This raises the supplementary question of how Red Ed was able to conceal his deep discontent with the party’s Rightwards trajectory while operating as Gordon Brown’s speechwriter since 1994 and a member of Blair-Brown Cabinets from 2007 until four months ago.

MP Katy Clark unwittingly summed it up in a fringe speech on Sunday night: “It’s good to see someone, who the Blairites didn’t want, elected as leader of the party. I have met Ed Miliband quite a few times and I can honestly say I haven’t a clue what he will be like as leader.”

Therein lay his strong point. Plus the fact that he’s not quite so indelibly stained with the Tory tint of New Labour as ex-Foreign Secretary Dave. This has been enough for union leaders, in particular, to endorse him as the saviour of the soul of the party.

Meanwhile, members of the main opposition party down south are reportedly preparing a heave against the hapless Enda Kenny, presumably to replace him with the supposedly more electable Richard Bruton. The policy differences between the two men might be invisible to the naked eye, but Richard has a more plausible flow of words and, unlike Enda, doesn’t ruin a good suit.

Asked on RTE how his policies would offer a more credible alternative to Fianna Fail’s track record, Mr Bruton allowed that he wouldn’t have gotten the country into a situation in which there is now no option but to pour billions into basket-case banks. The key phrase there is ‘no option’.

Against the background of the two Civil War parties floundering, it’s small wonder, perhaps, that Irish Labour has surged to the top of some opinion polls and now demands to be seen as, potentially, the biggest Dail party.

But there was that phrase again — ‘no option’ — when former party leader and likely Finance Minister in a Labour-led government Pat Rabbitte was asked last week by Vincent Browne what he’d change were he in office.

We could make minor adjustments here and there, responded Pat, honestly enough, but generally speaking, given the unholy mess Fianna Fail was certain to leave behind, Labour would have “no option” but to continue along the same path.

In neither Britain nor Ireland, then, is there a government-in-waiting prescribing a different dose as a remedy for our ills.

Mrs Thatcher must be delighted that her old slogan, There Is No Alternative, has become the mantra of every party in the mainstream. There is a different situation in the United States where the Tea Party Movement has gathered considerable momentum in its drive to mobilise the masses for “a clean break with both Wall Street and Washington” (Sarah Palin).

Disillusionment with capitalism (even if that’s not Tea Party terminology) has become so widespread and well-rooted that Americans are deserting the stock market in droves.

Simultaneously, the Federal Reserve has had to begin to acknowledge that there is little more it can do to steer the economy away from disaster. In the massive bail-out for the banks, support for the mortgage market, quantitative easing and rock-bottom interest rates, the US economy, the driver of the global economy for the last half century, stubbornly refuses to re-start.

One Wall Street commentator suggested last week that “we are witnessing a phenomenon of loss of faith comparable to people’s disaffection with . . . the communist system before its fall”.

Nobody knows the right answers — nor the relevant questions.

What we can say is that the intimations of disaster across the world economy cannot be put down to national circumstances. It cannot be just the emptiness of New Labour, nor the egregiousness of the Tories, neither Fianna Fail corruption nor Fine Gael ineptitude, Tea Party Craziness or Obama’s pusillanimity, which explains the intractable crisis.

There must be something wrong with capitalism itself.

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