White Pledges to Bridge the Disconnect
I am today announcing that I will be a candidate for the leadership of the Labour Party. My grandfather was an active trade unionist and a Labour candidate in this city in the 1950s. As a child I helped my dad canvass for the party. So I grew up with the principles of social justice, equality, and democracy.
These Labour values have been a progressive force in Irish life for over a century. They are as relevant today as they were at any time in our history. But we must attune those values to the very real problems of today, and to the challenges of tomorrow.
In last week’s local and European elections Labour suffered very serious losses. While we have strained the loyalty of our supporters on many occasions since we entered government in 2011, the scale of our defeat in the recent elections demonstrates a clear disconnect with our traditional support base.
Across Europe social democratic parties have been rebuffed in favour of a kind of ‘anti-politics’. Anti-politics will only lead to a more uncertain future: unregulated market-driven capitalism, a retreat from the public sphere, and system breakdown. I believe that social democracy is our greatest protection against such a prospect. The Labour Party from its inception, more than any other party in this State, has single-mindedly, consistently and without fear or favour, promoted the ideals of equality and justice for all.
Anti-politics robs us of ideals. As the great social historian Tony Judt has remarked: “Ideals matter: without idealism politics is reduced to a form of social accounting”.
We have an opportunity now to address the deep crisis for our party – energetically and openly. My task – our task – is to make the Labour Party – the party of social democracy – relevant again both to its core constituency and to the people of Ireland.
To do so, we will need the active support and involvement of all sections of our party. We will need to listen, and to empower our party representatives, members and supporters in a way that captures their energy and their idealism, and that renews their trust.
This calls for clarity about our fundamental principles and objectives; honesty about the future and what can realistically be achieved; and a shared vision for Ireland that takes us beyond the shocks of the economic collapse.
People have demanded political reform and constitutional change, and we must fight for its delivery. People have demanded a more equitable form of resource distribution, and we must use our role in government to vigorously make this case. But we also need to be straight with people about the limits of what we can achieve, and within those limits where the priorities should lie.
We must steady our resolve as a party, and as a party in government. This requires steely determination, strong negotiating skills, and an ability to resolve problems. I will bring those skills to the leadership drawing on my track record inside and outside of politics.
I want to pay tribute to the stellar contribution made by Eamon Gilmore at the helm of the Labour Party since 2007. He brought us to our greatest ever election victory in 2011.
Since then, as a party we have come through a testing period in government. We have suffered a traumatic election reverse, and we need to embark on a project of renewal. This begins with the choice of a new leader – a new voice, a new style, and a new approach.
I believe I am the right person at the right time to lead this project of renewal and restoration. I believe that I can be a bridge to the new generation that must lead Labour in the coming years.
I am looking forward now to the engagement we will have during the course of the campaign.