Down The Rabbitte Hole

Pat Rabbitte was so convinced a right-wing single party government would collapse that he saw Labour’s participation in coalition as a must. But he is not a right-wing politician. We are told of this in today’s Irish Times, which publishes his response to an article written by Diarmaid Ferriter last Saturday.

Whilst the sound of the respective surnames suggests a debate alive with animal spirits, Rabbitte’s piece is more Golden Cleric Award than bloodsport. Rather than address the substance of Ferriter’s piece -that Rabbitte’s condescension towards the “chaos out there” is of a piece with his drift rightward, along with the rest of the Labour Party- Rabbitte mounts a defence of his record and that of his party, shot through with an anti-intellectual streak that also characterises some of the other more voluble members of his party.

Rabbitte’s brandishing of the word “adduce” cannot hide the fact that he doesn’t know what Peter Mair’s term “democracy without a demos” actually means. The ‘national unity government’ Rabbitte cites most certainly does not indicate the presence of a demos.

Mair’s point was that the institutional mechanisms of the European Union ‘depoliticize much of the policy-making process at the domestic level – by reducing the policy range, instruments and repertoire available to national governments and to the parties who organize them’. Hence the fact that there is a government with a sizeable majority -‘effectively a government of national unity’, in Rabbitte’s words- is neither here nor there.

The policies carried out by Rabbitte’s ‘government of national unity’ were entirely in keeping with the broad parameters of Troika demands. The public did not come into it. In the context of bank bailouts, the point of ‘national unity governments’ is generally to ram through measures to which the population would not consent if it were consulted directly. The mantra of the early years of this government was, after all, the ‘loss of economic sovereignty’.

As Mair saw it, the weight of European institutions that were free from democratic controls would cause publics kept at a remove from the sphere of decision-making to end up wondering just what the point of toothless local democratic institutions was, to say nothing of what the point of Pat Rabbitte is.

Rabbitte includes the obligatory paragraphs about Syriza and pointy-headed intellectuals who think there is an alternative to neoliberal capitalism. But the difference between Rabbitte and Syriza is that for the former, the will of capital must be assumed as one’s own will ex ante. This is all the easier when you have no idea what democracy means, no demos to hold you to account.

Events in Greece and Brussels in recent days have shown that EU ruling elites can crucify a country through openly sadistic measures. They can openly overrule the express democratic wish of a populace in ways that contradict even their own economic orthodoxy. As Yanis Varoufakis pointed out: the grouping of Eurozone ministers is not even a legally constituted entity and its meeting proceedings are not even recorded, and yet it has the power to lay waste to a country that is not willing to bear the social cost of keeping speculative finance profitable. This situation is a threat to democratic life that, far from being solved by easy electoral formulations, will require deep deliberation by real democrats across Europe. But Rabbitte seems to thing the current balance of forces and structure of power is fine and dandy. Maybe I would too, if I was on his pension.

But Rabbitte, for one, welcomes our new finance sector overlords. For have they not been gracious indeed in inflicting less punishment on Ireland for capitulating swiftly? His injunction, to look at Greece to see where that carry-on will take you, not only shows he is not a democrat, and that along with his Labour colleagues he has not the slightest sense of internationalism (though we already knew this from his dire warnings that millions of Polish migrants would ‘displace’ Irish people from their jobs), but that he sees a slave mentality as the political norm. Doesn’t the master, after all, treat some slaves better than others? We sick, boss?

Rabbitte rebuts Ferriter’s charge that he is ‘more right than centre’ by saying that the ‘rescue’ of a market economy -he does not outline what this entailed- was not a question of ideology, right, left or centre. Well indeed: right-wing politicians always say that policies that transfer wealth to the richest in society and attack working conditions and social rights are not a question of ideology. Power for such figures, after all, triumphs over the principle of truth.

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