Talking class politics: Workers Party’s Gemma Weir with panel chairperson Fergus O’Hare
Billed as ‘The Left Speaks’, it should have been one of the showpiece debates of the West Belfast Festival / Feile an Phobail. It was more of a whimper than a bang.
Five parties were represented on the panel: the Greens, Sinn Fein, People Before Profit, Progressive Unionists and the Workers Party.
In her opening remarks the Party’s representative Gemma Weir set out a position that was to put the other parties on the back foot.
“One of the main ‘difficulties’ about being the Left is that anyone can claim to be so and many do” she said.
“The acid test, the touchstone and the confirmation comes not with the claims but with the realities. It’s not what people and parties claim to be – it’s what they are that counts. Don’t listen to the rhetoric – examine the policies”, argued Gemma.
The left credentials of the other panelists were exposed by questions from the audience and by their own admissions.
People Before Profit, the Greens and the PUP could not understand how demonstrations like PRIDE, abortion rallies and the result of the Same Sex Marriage referendum in the Republic had not translated into major political change: mistaking a desire for social evolution with radical class based politics.
Sinn Fein was repeatedly challenged about its socialist credentials, its support for lower corporation tax and its collapsing of the Executive. It’s representative, Senator Niall O’Donnghaile, was less than convincing as he effectively apologised for his Party’s position on tax breaks for big business and bluffed his way through a response on Sinn Fein’s socialist credentials. The audience was largely unimpressed by his efforts.
While comfortable with the trappings and rhetoric of socialism it was clear that only one of the panel understood the realities of class politics and the nature of the struggle.
Summing up, Gemma said, “It is class politics that differentiates the left from all other political philosophies and class politics that differentiates between those who claim to be on the left and those who actually are. It is class politics, not identity or cultural politics, which really shape our world”
Gemma’s opening remarks: The Left Speaks