The Meaning of Varadkar: Beneath the Liberal Mask

Much was made of Leo Varadkar’s youth and commitment to innovation and modernity during the blueshirt leadership elections.

Socialist Worker

The Meaning of Varadkar: Beneath the Liberal Mask
Leo Varadkar with Canadian PM, Justin Trudeau on Toronto Pride

By Sean Egan

Leo’s campaign team made a whistle stop tour of Dublin’s hipster coffee shop circuit. The type of places where an avocado based breakfast and a cup of coffee will set you back at least twenty quid.

Leo spoke about the marathons he runs and his favourite prestige television. All the trappings of a thoroughly modern, successful man. He also modelled himself after other blandly attractive, young centrist leaders like Canada’s Justin Trudeau or France’s Emmanuel Macron.

The early days of his government much like his leadership campaign are  all devoted to displays of progress and movement. However, it’s beginning to feel like a load of hot air:that this new ‘radical’ centrism with its claims of bold ideas and shaking up the status quo is little more than a shallow marketing gimmick the same miserable, derivative capitalist politics that have dominated Ireland since its foundation as a modern state.

While Leo’s youth and supposed commitment to modernisation is meant to set him apart from the corrupt, incompetent and backwards tenure of Enda Kenny and the Fine Gael- Labour coalition he actually represents a hardening of Fine Gael’s right-wing sentiment.

Despite

Despite his early gestures towards a repeal referendum and the prestige derived from his carefully stage managed coming out in concert with the marriage equality referendum Varadkar represents the hard edge of Fine Gael politics, viciously anti-worker, anti-woman and anti-migrant. In fact, Leo and his carefully quaffed counterparts Trudeau and Macron are promoting the same failed policies dressed up as a new vision. In each case they want to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. 

Macron’s victory in France was hailed as a victory for progressivism and common sense after he easily defeated Le Pen. However, in the first months of his presidency he has not made any attempts to address to corruption and government ineptitude he so often skewered during his campaign. In fact, his first target has been organised workers with attacks of France’s labour code which secures French workers from some of the attacks waged by management.

Macron has also aggressively aligned himself with imperialist forces, and during the visit of Israei prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu he conflated opposition to the Israeli occupation of Palestine with anti-Semitism. Macron’s arrogance and attacks on working people have led to the fastest decline in approval ratings in French presidential history: 30% (after winning 66% of the vote in May).

Trudeau is another master of spin and has strategically used the odious homophobia of his predecessor Conservative Stephen Harper to present himself as a champion progressive. Once again, his record says otherwise.

Despite his incorruptible liberal exterior Trudeau’s government is continually engaged in the type of reckless oil and gas exploitation the threatens our entire planet. The construction of the Tar Sands pipeline across miles of Native Land in Standing rock became a focal point for indigenous and environmental activism last year.

Trudeau has also damaged his feminist credentials by continuing to sell massive amounts of arms to Saudi Arabia, a brutally repressive regime in which women and gay people are routinely executed.  Trudeau’s skin-deep liberalism represents a broader trend: the shallow co-option of progressive causes by right wing leaders to capitalise on the political gains of marginalised people. But as soon as this gestural liberalism is seen to clash with the profits of the ruling class it is swiftly discarded.

Reactionary

Leo Varadkar has been more open than some of his contemporaries about the reactionary side to his politics. His blatant attempt to capitalise on middle class resentment with his campaign  about ‘welfare cheats’ and appeals to ‘people who get up early in the morning’ represent the hateful anti-working class rhetoric of Thatcherites. In his campaign for the Fine Gael leadership he was deliberately appealing to the hard right of that right wing party.

It is no accident that beneath all the spin and fine words about new initiatives his government is doing nothing serious to tackle the catastrophic housing and homelessness crisis.

This is combined with his historically vicious stance on the rights of migrants. Back in 2008 Varadkar suggested a scheme that would pay unemployed migrants to leave Ireland. Such a scheme would be well received in the hard right of the Tory party or even UKIP.

Similarly, Varadkar’s indifference towards the flight of refugees and asylum seekers imprisoned in the direct provision system speaks for itself. This combined with his commitment to neo-liberalism and the free market  is the core of Leo Varadkar’s politics: a sort-of Rainbow Thatcherism – a gestural commitment to liberal progress masking a hard right anti-worker, anti-migrant Tory agenda.

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