Belfast Telegraph

Power often corrupts a junior party

By Mohammed Samaana

There is a lesson for junior coalition partners to learn from the results of the recent Irish election.

The Labour Party was in coalition with Fine Gael, the biggest party in the last Dail. Their government implemented unpopular austerity policies, slashing public expenditure by 13% of GDP. Spending was cut by €10bn and tax was increased by €5bn.

Other policies, such as water charges and property tax, caused more anger, especially after figures showed homelessness in the Dublin area had tripled in comparison with the previous year.

As a result the Labour share of the vote plummeted from 19.45% in 2011 to 6.61% in 2016, and it lost 31 seats in the Dail. Fine Gael's support, meanwhile, fell from 36.1% to 24.3%.

So, why is it that the junior partner gets punished severely by the voters? In coalition governments the bigger parties have it their way in terms of policies which tend to be popular with their core supporters.

Fine Gael and Labour can boast about halving unemployment and increasing the GDP by 5% in 2014 and 7% in 2015, but it was an uneven recovery that left many people behind.

According to opinion polls, Fine Gael support remains high among the wealthy, the farmers and university graduates who benefited from the recovery. For those who voted Labour from the working classes, they feel let down, as their living conditions have hardly improved.

This is not the first time this has happened. Labour failed to learn from the Green Party, which went into coalition with Fianna Fail and the Progressive Democrats in 2007 and formed a government that was blamed for the recession. The Green Party lost all of its six seats in the 2011 election.

The Liberal Democrats in Britain also suffered after going into coalition with the Conservative Party, which implemented policies unpopular with Liberal Democrat supporters, especially increasing university fees.

These parties, which claim to be more progressive than their Right-wing senior partners, are victims of their hunger for power and willingness to sacrifice their principles to obtain it.

Mohammed Samaana is a writer based in Belfast

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