by Frank Schnittger
Wed Feb 16th, 2011 at 08:51:51 AM EST
In the dim and distant past I studied a sociologist called Andre Gunder Frank who developed a version of dependency theory whereby international capitalism promoted local comprador bourgeoisie elites to do their dirty work in ruling third world dependent countries. He should know. He worked with Salvador Allende in Chile.
The primary function of these local elites was to make the particular country in question safe for international monopoly capitalism by controlling the political system, the local media, and, if necessary, the local military. Tax incentives for business, low corporate taxes, "free" trade policies, a stable "investment climate" and light touch regulation of business were the key things the comprador bourgeoisie were required to deliver. In return they got rising property values, good jobs in multinational firms, knock on opportunities for local service companies, and a small share of the profits through (low) local taxation.
I am reminded of their characteristics by the rise of Enda Kenny as the almost certain next Taoiseach of Ireland, quite possibly as the leader of a single party Fine Gael Government. Kenny has just had another photo op meeting with a friendly fellow EPP European leader, Angela Merkel, in a bid to look "Prime Ministerial" ahead of the second Party Leaders televised debate this evening.
Promoted by Colman: I'm too depressed by the whole thing to write about it.
Kenny missed the first televised TV debate between new Fianna Fail leader, Michael Martin, and Labour Leader Eamon Gilmore last week claiming the moderator, Vincent Browne, had been offensive to him in the past. It didn't do his party any harm in the opinion polls however, with Fine Gael rising to 38% and now looking like being able to form a Government with or without Labour support after the election.
Graph of opinion poll results (from three separate pollsters) for party support since the 2007 general election.
Fine Gael have risen steadily in the polls especially since a failed leadership heave against Enda Kenny in June 2010. Labour's decline since then almost exactly mirrors Fine Gael's rise. Fianna Fail are flat-lining in the mid-teens since their precipitous decline from a high of 47% as recently as June 2008. Labour, Sinn Fein and Independents have gained somewhat from this decline, but the main beneficiary has been Fine Gael.
Most people would interpret this as simply one conservative party gaining at the expense of another. But there are significant differences between Fianna Fail and Fine Gael. Fianna Fail arose out of the anti-Treaty side in the 1922 civil war and opposed the partition of Ireland. As such they have strong radical nationalist roots and were always regarded with some disdain by the pro-Treaty, solid, old money, law and order, professional, bourgeoisie of Fine Gael who regarded them as upstart cowboy developers and get rich quick merchants. Fianna Fail's "crony capitalism" with their developer and banker friends has, of course, now been thoroughly discredited, but it did retain some semblance of nationalism despite the dominance of neo-liberalism since Charlie McCreevy's time as Finance Minister.
Fine Gael's roots in the respectable business and professional classes have become closely aligned with the success of the multi-national sector in the Irish economy and the EU political project. As such - despite protestations to the contrary - it is unlikely it would have pursued a significantly different policy regarding the Bank Guarantee and ECB/IMF deal had it been in Government at the time. Perhaps Fine Gael would have been less credulous in its dealing with the banks, because it wasn't their cronies who were busy running the banks into the ground, and their roots would have been in the more traditional and prudent forms of banking extant when they were last in power. One of their new candidates in Dublin South - Peter Mathews - is an ex-banker who is arguing the inevitability of default. It will be interesting to see whether he gets a ministerial job. I somehow doubt it!
So now Fine Gael is leveraging its EPP friends in Europe to gain the aura of a party who can negotiate effectively on Ireland's behalf - thus undermining Fianna Fail's claim that the ECB/IMF deal was the best deal possible and that it is largely non-renegotiable. No doubt Merkel, Barroso et all will require a quid pro uo in the form of a cooperative attitude towards Merkel's ideas for new fiscal Governance within the Eurozone. They will be pushing an open door because Fine Gael have seized the opportunity of Ireland's fiscal crisis to propose swinging cuts in Ireland's public service - a constituency always closer to the heart of Fianna Fail and Labour.
In The Irish General Election (Update 3) I made the following prediction based on opinion polls up to Feb. 2nd.
I wouldn't change much in the prediction based on the opinion polls since then except that if current trends continue, Fine Gael is likely to top 70 seats which makes a Minority Fine Gael Government with Fianna Fail abstention and/or independent support a distinct possibility and could make Labour dispensable as a coalition partner.
In a strange way I would almost prefer a Fine Gael Government to a Fine Gael Labour coalition because it is likely to be short lived - with Fine Gael bearing the full brunt of the unpopularity of continuing austerity policies - and offers Labour the opportunity of leading the opposition and consolidating its position as the second largest party at the expense of Fianna Fail. Otherwise Labour will once again implode as it's base rebels against the austerity policies a Fine Gael led Government will insist on.
Key to this scenario is that Labour wins more seats than Fianna Fail - not a foregone conclusion, as Fianna Fails has many more established candidates and many of those telling pollsters they will vote Independent may be "shy Fianna Fail" voters who will support their local established Fianna Fail candidate on a personal rather than party basis. The election outcome is currently on a knife edge and the electorate is still very volatile with c. 17% "don't knows", and turnout on the day also likely to influence the outcome. The second televised debate involving the five main party leaders may have some impact, although Kenny's reputation as a debater is so poor it will not be hard for him to surprise on the upside.
That he is virtually the sole candidate for Taoiseach is a sad indictment of the Irish body politic because even most Fine Gaelers don't think particularly highly of him. He has ridden the wave of anti-Fianna Fail revulsion without providing any significant policy alternative. He has consistently trailed Michel Martin, Eamon Gilmore and even Gerry Adams in "satisfaction with party leaders" polls, and should be a soft touch for Merkel, Sarkozy and Barroso to stitch up with a cosmetic renegotiation of the ECB/IMF deal.
In the words of Andre Gunder Frank, the comprador bourgeoisie elite will be well and truly in place.
Update [2011-2-16 6:50:10 by Frank Schnittger]: Another new poll by Millward Brown out today (and added to graphic above) confirms previous poll trends but shows Fine Gael up 8 points since the last Millward Brown poll on the 1st. February. Labour is marginally up but Fianna Fail is down to a record low despite Michael Martin being acknowledged in the media as the "winner" of the first TV debate. The poll was taken just before the second TV debate which the MSM have called a draw and therefore a success for Fine Gael Leader, Enda Kenny, as they regard him as the weakest debater.[END UPDATE]