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Corbyn’s Labour leadership bid shows anti-austerity message popular

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Hong Kong

‘Small circle’ election self-destructs

www.socialistworld.net, 07/03/2012
website of the committee for a workers' international, CWI

Mass struggle needed for genuine and fair elections and the end of tycoon rule

Editorial from Socialist magazine (CWI in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan)

Popular anger over scandals around the political figures – Donald Tsang Yam-kuen and Henry Tang Ying-yen – and against the March 25 pseudo elections was shown when around 10,000 people marched in Hong Kong last weekend, in demonstrations on Saturday and Sunday. Marchers demanded the resignation and prosecution of Chief Executive, Tsang, and pledged complete opposition to what is known as the ‘small circle’ election in which only an elite layer can vote.

In Hong Kong, candidates for government office cannot belong to a political party, to insure they serve only ‘one master’ – the Chinese dictatorship. There are two main political camps – the establishment camp (an assortment of pro-Beijing parties) and the pan-democrats (an assortment of parties advocating universal suffrage) – but only individuals from the former can win government positions under the present system.

Hong Kong’s rigged ‘small circle’ election for Chief Executive (CE) has disintegrated into a scandal-plagued farce. As the saying goes, truth is stranger than fiction, and the dramatic events of recent weeks confirm this. A succession of scandals has left no doubt about the culture of corruption, lying, law breaking and cronyism surrounding Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing political elite and the business tycoons they serve. These scandals have spread to the current Chief Executive, Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, who is facing possible impeachment with just four months left in office. On 1 March, Tsang apologised before an extraordinary session of the largely powerless pseudo-parliament – the Legislative Council - confessing that his jet-setting antics (see below) had “shaken the public’s belief in Hong Kong’s system.”

Around the world there is a surge of protest against the capitalist “1 percent” who control the economy and all political decision-making. But Hong Kong’s elitist election system is not even open to one percent of voters! An election committee of just 1,200 people – 0.017 percent of citizens – will choose the next Chief Executive. The committee is dominated by tycoons and the super-rich, with a thin layer of ‘other interest groups’ added in order to cloud the picture. Even this arrangement is no more than a front for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which ultimately decides.

Simulation exercise goes awry

Previously – in 2007 and 2002 – Beijing fielded just one candidate, who of course won the ‘election’. This year, it has given the go-ahead for a simulated contest with a second candidate from its own camp. This was done for a number of reasons, but mainly in response to mounting pressure within society for real democracy. The ‘small circle’ election model is widely discredited. Beijing therefore wanted a choreographed ‘election’ contest with all the trappings of a real election (rival manifestos, opinion polls, campaign rallies and debates) but without real voters! This, they figured, would lend a certain measure of popular legitimacy to the winning candidate. This would also give Beijing more options in the future as it manoeuvres to limit popular demands for universal suffrage and defend its own ‘bottom line’ – to maintain overall control. The 1,200-member election committee could, they calculate, be revamped whenever the electoral franchise is widened in future to become a nomination committee (i.e. ‘filtering system’ to keep undesirable candidates from running).

But the ‘contest between gentlemen’ envisaged by the CCP has collapsed. In its place, Hong Kongers have been treated to a blood-fight between the two pro-Beijing contenders: former Chief Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen and former Executive Council convenor Leung Chun-ying. This reflects a wider power struggle within Hong Kong’s capitalist elite – and not only there. Undoubtedly, the intense behind-the-scenes manoeuvring we are witnessing also reflects emerging splits within the Chinese dictatorship itself.

The collapse of Henry Tang’s campaign

It was known from the start that Beijing’s favoured candidate, Henry Tang, was a dull and rather dull-witted businessman-turned-official. But few could have predicted the spectacular collapse of his campaign and the dithering, inept performances that have now become his stock-in-trade. This also says a lot about the ‘powerful team’ of business luminaries who are running Tang’s campaign. His team is headed by Bank of East Asia boss David Li Kwok-po. Former Hong Kong Monetary Authority (central bank) chief Joseph Yam Chi-kwong is ‘senior adviser’ to Tang, while another team member is billionaire Joseph Lau Luen Hung, whose brother Thomas shot to notoriety recently by giving Donald Tsang and his wife a “lift” back to Hong Kong on his HK152 million super-yacht after the CE’s impeccably timed casino holiday in Macau!

The ‘basement-gate’ scandal revealed a massive ‘underground palace’ or leisure area, built illegally at the Tang family mansion in Kowloon Tong. Tang’s response set a new record for evasiveness and blunders, first by trying to hide its existence, then claiming the illegal construction was a ‘storage room’, and finally blaming his wife and asking the public for a ‘second chance’! The Tangs’ opulent basement complex houses a wine-tasting room, gym, film theatre, hair salon and swimming pool. If, as seems likely, the illegal basement complex was part of the original design for the house, erected in 2007, Tang or his wife could face up to two years in jail for attempting to defraud the buildings department. They have now been ordered to demolish the basement, which will reportedly be filled with concrete!

These revelations of the pampered and corrupt lifestyle of the capitalist elite have sickened and angered the vast majority, especially given Hong Kong’s cramped living conditions and sky-high costs. The city has the world’s most unaffordable housing thanks to Tang’s tycoon friends. With a reported area of 2,400 square feet, the Tangs’ underground ‘leisure palace’ alone is five times bigger than the average Hong Kong apartment, and 40 times the size of our notorious subdivided apartments or ‘cubicles’!

A recent well-publicised survey by the US-based National Academy of Sciences found that “the wealthy are more likely to lie, cheat and break the law than those who have less”. These findings – no surprise to socialists – are certainly borne out by the antics of Tang and his coterie. Tang was a member of the government charged with cracking down on illegal structures. In May last year, members of the government were ordered to put their own houses in order – literally – and report any illegal structures. This followed a scandal involving unauthorised construction work at the home of Donald Tsang. Five members of the government are known to have committed similar violations of the law. More then these transgressions, it is the mind-set of the ruling elite – that they are above their own laws – that has outraged millions. Tang claims his campaign is about “defending Hong Kong’s core values”. This must mean “the rights of the rich to break the law,” noted a South China Morning Post columnist.

Why didn’t Tang quit?

“Tang has no option but to quit the race,” declared the editorial page of the South China Morning Post (17 February). His credibility has been “buried in the underground palace”, said Apple Daily. Yet Tang’s campaign staggers on. This is clearly not just a personal decision (in so far as Tang makes any decisions) but reflects the wishes – or rather instructions – of both Beijing and the tycoons. His decision not to withdraw has been described as “shameless,” “absurd”, and “a travesty”. In opinion polls, two-thirds say he should quit the race. Even the Liberal Party, which Tang helped to found, is threatening, for its own opportunist reasons, not to vote for Tang in the election committee “if a majority of the population is still opposed.”

It is the system itself, and not just the person, Tang, that is ‘shameless’ and ‘absurd’. Even more disreputable then, is the decision of the Democratic Party’s Albert Ho Chun-yan to continue playing his ‘minor role’ in this farce. Ho’s motives for entering the contest – he does not even have a theoretical chance of victory [and therefore does not need to resign his party affiliation]– were from the outset cynical: to grab some publicity for his party and demonstrate goodwill towards Beijing in pursuit of the Democrats’ chimera of ‘negotiations for democracy’.

As the ‘Socialist’ magazine has always insisted, the struggle for real democratic rights will not be granted by a ‘benevolent’ dictatorship; it must be fought for through mass struggle, not just in Hong Kong but also by linking up with the workers and poor masses in mainland China. The compromise wing of the pan-democrats have only played into the hands of the CCP, by opposing real resistance and lending a ‘democratic’ façade to anti-democratic manoeuvres such as this ‘small circle’ election and the 2010 electoral reform package.

Tang is the main choice of the dominant tycoon class. He is the scion of a Shanghai textile empire. His father Tang Hsiang-chien was ranked the 40th-richest person in Hong Kong in 2010 (Forbes Magazine) and is said to be close to former Chinese leader Jiang Zemin. Tang is backed by a ‘Who’s Who’ of Hong Kong’s top bankers and property developers. Of the 12 major property conglomerates, which wield 64 votes in the election committee, 38 of them have already nominated Tang. HSBC Asia Pacific chief executive Peter Wong Tung-shun, who has just ordered 3,000 job cuts in Hong Kong, is another prominent Tang supporter, as is Li Ka-shing, Hong Kong’s richest man.

The tycoons want a pliant front man in Government House. They are wary of Leung, who is ambitious and is seen to represent a rival faction of second-tier business interests that resent the existing pecking order of tycoon empires. Both of Beijing’s candidates have clearly capitalist agendas, but while Tang represents the neo-liberal orthodoxy of ‘small government’, Leung is a social liberal, favouring more government intervention in areas like pensions and housing. Some anti-Leung commentators attack him as a ‘socialist’, but this is a preposterous allegation, echoing similar attacks on Obama by extreme-right Republicans.

Crisis is a fact – what next?

Beijing now faces a serious dilemma and the risk of a political crisis no matter who wins in Hong Kong. After the basement scandal broke, many thought Beijing would hastily improvise a ‘Plan B’ and cast in a new candidate such as the biggest pro-Beijing party DAB’s honorary chairman Tsang Yok-sing before the February deadline for nominations expired. But Beijing is sticking with ‘Plan A’ – at least for the time being. This is partly because it believes any change now would be a sign of panic, but also because it is hesitating over what its next step should be. The bureaucratic machinery of the central government can, in times of dramatic change, face paralysis and indecision, with no one wanting to carry the can in the event of failure. The entry of a third establishment candidate, which looked possible at one stage, would also have increased the risk that none of Beijing’s nominees would get the required 601 votes on March 25, forcing an even more embarrassing re-run of the election to be held in May.

As many have warned, Hong Kong could face “a governance crisis” should Tang be chosen in the face of widespread public hostility. Even Tang’s former comrade-in-arms, Liberal Party honorary chairman, James Tien Pei-chun, has warned that tens of thousands could take to the streets in a re-run of the 2003 events. The ramifications of this go beyond Hong Kong.

It is the likely successor to president Hu Jintao, Xi Jinping, who carries the ultimate responsibility for political developments in Hong Kong. An anonymous source close to the central government gave this verdict: “If the situation in Hong Kong gets out of hand, it will reflect badly on the new leadership [in China]. This is not just a Hong Kong affair.” (South China Morning Post, 29 February)

The sharpening power struggle within the Chinese one-party state, between ‘liberalisers’ and ‘state-capitalists’ on the one hand, and among competing regional and business factions on the other, means that Xi will face hurdles to establishing his authority. Should Hong Kong suffer political instability, Xi will face the question: How can you run China if you can’t run Hong Kong?

Beijing has been taken aback by the ferocity of the Tang-Leung rivalry. This reflects a power struggle within the capitalist establishment that has been enormously sharpened by the ‘election’ campaign and its mud slinging. This split at the top is in turn a symptom of the deepening crisis of capitalism. This, by the way, is a major reason why the CCP does not want to entertain ideas of ‘Western-style democracy’ in China, knowing that its own elite power struggle, which is repressed and contained at this stage within the dictatorial strait-jacket, would likely explode and pose a threat to its own rule. This could very likely develop even on the basis of a limited, Hong Kong-style mock election, should such an experiment be reproduced in China. That Beijing has lost control of the process in Hong Kong will sound even more alarm bells over its own ‘reform’ deliberations.

CCP-tycoon alliance

Since the early 1980s, and the start of the reunification process, the CCP has built up close links with the dominant tycoon families in Hong Kong, and since 1997 it has ruled the territory largely through them. The CCP’s support for Tang was predicated on the fact that he was the tycoons’ choice and represented a ‘safe pair of hands’ based on his record in previous governments. Beijing gave the green light to Leung’s challenge only to create the illusion of a real ‘election’. Leung himself probably stood with the next race, in 2017, in his sights, rather than a serious hope of becoming CE now. But elections, like any field of struggle, have their own logic. Leung himself almost certainly underestimated the devastating political fall-out that would result from the ‘basement-gate’ scandal, which his camp initiated. The capitalist establishment as a whole only have the dimmest of realisations of the explosive mood that is developing in society. But for Leung there’s no turning back. The damage – to his own system – is already done.

The tycoons – who care even less about opinion polls and democratic niceties than the CCP – seem to be sticking with Tang. Their distrust of Leung, and fear that he will be too ‘independent’, has been heightened by his role in the campaign. It is an open secret that Leung’s campaign team are behind the leaks that have destroyed the credibility of Tang, and more recently also of Donald Tsang, whose not-so-private antics have also been used to discredit the Tang camp. The tycoons may lobby hard for Beijing to stick with Tang on the grounds that they ‘cannot work with’ Leung, and that his election tactics have jeopardised the whole basis of their rule.

Is it possible that Beijing could still opt for Tang? It is impossible to predict with any certainty. But the CCP, as shown on many occasions, suffers a massive ‘disconnect’ from the public mood in Hong Kong. Its authoritarian nature means it lacks some of the political tools and instincts associated with managing a ‘democracy’ and weighing up more complex situations that cannot be resolved by bureaucratic diktat. The Chinese regime also, like Hong Kong’s tycoons, suffers from an excess of confidence at present, believing their economic ‘successes’ afford them a degree of infallibility. This could still open a door to Henry Tang, especially if mass opposition is not manifested on the streets.

The farcical disintegration of this election charade presents a huge opportunity for all who oppose dictatorial rule and the capitalist “1 percent”. Today’s massive discontent, which goes beyond opposition to the undemocratic electoral system, and represents a seething rage against the whole ruling class, must be given an organised expression. Street protests and mass activity must be organised to expose all three candidates, their pro-capitalist agendas, and the abomination of the ‘small circle’ election.

Socialist Action will play our part in this struggle. The collapse of the old pan-democratic camp, with the ignominious surrender of the right-wing pan-democrats, necessitates the building of a new democratic movement based on mass struggle, a democratic grassroots membership and a programme to fight capitalism and dictatorship. The decisive force in this context is the working class and the youth, who must create a new grassroots workers’ party with a socialist programme.



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NEWS

Scotland: RISE - launch of a politically unclear left alliance
02/09/2015, Philip Stott, Socialist Party Scotland (CWI), Dundee:
Clear 100% anti-austerity and socialist platform essential steps towards new mass workers’ party

Greece: What does “Popular Unity” stand for?
28/08/2015, Interview with Andreas Payiatsos, Xekinima (CWI in Greece), by Lucy Redler, SAV (CWI in Germany):
New Left force launched following Tsipras’ betrayal

Britain: The Corbyn insurgency
27/08/2015, Editorial of Socialism Today, magazine of the Socialist Party (CWI in England & Wales), September 2015:
Whatever the outcome of the contest, Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign has already transformed the political situation in Britain

Lebanon: ‘Garbage protests’ shake the ruling class
25/08/2015, socialistworld.net:
Interview with Tamer Mahdi, CWI member in Lebanon

World economy: China crisis triggers panic on global markets
25/08/2015, Vincent Kolo, chinaworker.info:
More than $5 trillion wiped off global stock markets in two weeks since Chinese devaluation

Sri Lanka: Election sees Rajapaksa fail to make a come-back
23/08/2015, Srinath Perera, United Socialist Party (CWI in Sri Lanka):
Neo-liberal policies of UNP-led government will not satisfy demands of workers and poor.

Gulf War: 25 years since invasion of Kuwait
22/08/2015, Niall Mulholland, CWI:
’Unfinished business’ remains today

Scotland and the Jeremy Corbyn campaign
20/08/2015, Editorial taken from the current issue of the Socialist - the paper of Socialist Party Scotland (CWI):
The response to Corbyn’s campaign has parallels with the outpouring of class anger that was seen during the independence referendum

Thailand: Bomb in Bangkok kills 20
19/08/2015, Per-Ake Westerlund, Rattvisepartiet Socialisterna (CWI in Sweden):
Country plagued by military junta and economic downturn

Greece and the latest phase of the EU crisis
18/08/2015, Tony Saunois, CWI, from September 2015 issue of Socialism Today, magazine of the Socialist Party (CWI in England & Wales):
Alexis Tsipras and the Syriza leadership have pushed through parliament the third bailout – and further deep cuts – although only with the help of right-wing parties. However, the crises in Greece, the eurozone and wider EU are far from over…

Britain: Corbyn challenge - a very welcome political upheaval
17/08/2015, Interview with Judy Beishon in the Socialist, paper of the Socialist Party (CWI in England & Wales):
The Labour Party’s right-wing leaders have been astonished and horrified at the over-flowing rallies for Jeremy Corbyn around the UK over the last few weeks

Northern Ireland: Left Challenge for Largest Union’s Leadership
15/08/2015, Socialist Party (CWI in Ireland) reporters:
CWI member, Patrick Mulholland, leads Left campaign for leadership of NIPSA union

Ireland: Paul Murphy and 22 activists to be charged over peaceful protest
14/08/2015, Socialist Party (CWI in Ireland) reporters:
Socialist MP to be charged with false imprisonment for protesting against water charges

CWI School 2015: New Left formations
13/08/2015, Matt Dobson, Socialist Party Scotland (CWI in Scotland):
Report of discussion on New Workers’ Parties, Left Populism and the ideas and programme of PODEMOS, SYRIZA

China: Devaluation of yuan jolts global markets
12/08/2015, Editorial comment by chinaworker.info:
Sudden reversal of Beijing’s exchange rate policy underlines seriousness of China’s economic woes

Malaysia: Prime Minister implicated in financial scandals
11/08/2015, Socialist Alternative (CWI in Malaysia):
Power struggle in UMNO party

France/Britain: Human tragedy of Calais crisis
07/08/2015, Sarah Sachs-Eldridge, from The Socialist (weekly paper of the Socialist Party, CWI England & Wales):
Tories have no solutions

Japan: 70th anniversary of Hiroshima atomic bomb
06/08/2015, Geoff Jones and Kate Jones, from The Socialist (newspaper of the Socialist Party – CWI England & Wales):
Can a future nuclear conflict be avoided?

CWI School: Building the CWI
06/08/2015, Socialistworld.net:
Introductory video to the plenary session on ‘Building the CWI’ shown at the 2015 CWI Summer School, featuring the work of our International across the world

Britain: Jeremy Corbyn – thousands rally to anti-austerity appeal
05/08/2015, Steve Score, Socialist Party (CWI in England & Wales):
Large attendances at Corbyn rallies across country

US: Kshama Sawant leads primary elections count on 50%
05/08/2015, Socialist Alternative reporters:
Seattle socialist primary election success

CWI School: Drawing the lessons from the revolutions in North Africa
03/08/2015, David Johnson, Socialist Party (CWI in England and Wales):
Life and death struggle with the process of counter-revolution.

US: Over 1,000 attend housing debate hosted by Socialist councillor Kshama Sawant
31/07/2015, Kshama Sawant:
Kshama Sawant, Seattle’s socialist councillor defending seat in primary elections on 4 August

CWI School: Social and political turmoil in Ireland
30/07/2015, Eddie McCabe, Socialist Party (CWI in Ireland):
Socialists play key role in rapidly changing situation

Britain: Corbyn’s Labour leadership bid shows anti-austerity message popular
29/07/2015, Editorial from The Socialist, weekly paper of the Socialist Party (CWI England & Wales):
Militant Tendency held up as bogeyman by Labour right and media - What’s the real history?

Turkey: Horrific Suruc massacre
28/07/2015, Paula Mitchell, Socialist Party (CWI in England & Wales):
Only workers’ unity can end terrorism and division

CWI Comment and Analysis

ANALYSIS

Britain: Council cuts and the Corbyn campaign
01/09/2015, Clive Heemskerk, from Socialism Today, September 2015 issue (monthly magazine of the Socialist Party England & Wales):
Potential to resist if follow 80’s Liverpool Council example

Kurdistan: Democratic autonomy or socialism?
29/08/2015, Socialistworld.net:
Articles on Öcalan’s ideas and Rojava, originally published in sozialismus.info, the quaterly magazine of SAV (German section of the CWI)

Sri Lanka: Identifying the challenges after defeat of Rajapaksa
27/08/2015, Siritunga Jayasuriya, United Socialist Party (CWI in Sri Lanka):
Working class struggle top priority for socialists

History: Anniversary of Trotsky’s assassination
21/08/2015, Peter Taaffe, General Secretary Socialist Party (CWI England and Wales), article published on 70th anniversary of Leon Trotsky’s assassination, in 2010:
Coming mass revolts will see workers and youth look to Trotsky’s ideas

Socialism: Past or future?
18/08/2015, Peter Taaffe, Socialist Party (CWI in England & Wales) General Secretary:
Review of ‘PostCapitalism: a guide to our future’ by Paul Mason

Technology: Will robots end capitalism?
14/08/2015, Interview with Peter Taaffe, conducted by Shahar Ben-Horin from Socialist Struggle Movement (CWI in Israel-Palestine):
Technological developments, the threat to jobs, and perspectives for the struggle against capitalism and for the future of humanity

Ireland: Mass non-payment campaign transforms political landscape
10/08/2015, Cillian Gillespie, Socialist Party (CWI in Ireland):
57% refuse to pay hated water charge

Kurdistan: PYD leaders call for partnership with Bashar al-Assad’s regime
06/08/2015, Serge Jordan, CWI:
No faith in authoritarian rulers and Western powers!

Greece: ‘The working class showed it will return to struggle’
04/08/2015, Interview with a Greek socialist:
After Syriza capitulates, taking first steps towards building a new mass Left alternative to austerity and capitalism

CWI School 2015: World crisis continues amid horrific consequences
03/08/2015, Cillian Gillespie, Socialist Party (CWI in Ireland):
Report of World Perspectives discussion at the 2015 CWI Summer School

CWI School: Europe’s euro-crisis and prospects for class struggle
28/07/2015, Kevin Parslow, Socialist Party (CWI England & Wales):
Ground prepared everywhere for new battles and rise of left formations

China: Stock market crash can turn into a political crisis
08/07/2015, Interview, with chinaworker.info editor, Vincent Kolo:
Regime adopts panic measures as market crash threatens wider economic recession

Greece: Mighty class-based ‘NO’ shakes bosses’ EU
06/07/2015, Editorial comment by Xekinima (CWI Greece), 6 July 2015:
Referendum earthquake sees working class boldly defy Troika and Greece’s servile ruling class!

Britain: Socialists and the EU referendum
03/07/2015, Clive Heemskerk, Socialist Party (CWI in England & Wales):
How should socialists approach the in-or-out EU debate?

Greece: Troika threatens Greeks ahead of referendum
30/06/2015, Andreas Payiatsos and Niall Mulholland:
Vote ‘No’! For a mass working class campaign to oppose Troika and for socialist policies!

Britain’s class battle-lines are drawn
26/06/2015, Hannah Sell, Socialist Party (CWI in England & Wales) Deputy General Secretary - article from ’Socialism Today’:
A quarter-of-a-million people protested through London and Glasgow raising the need for trade union-led struggle

Greece: Tsipras retreats before Troika threats
24/06/2015, Statement by Xekinima (CWI Greece) [dated 23 June 2015]:
What should the SYRIZA Left do next?

Greece: No surrender to‘Gang of Lenders’
22/06/2015, Editorial article from Xekinima (CWI Greece) [dated 17 June 2015]:
Plan an anti-austerity fight-back, with socialist policies!

Iraq/Syria: US imperialist strategy in tatters
12/06/2015, Serge Jordan (CWI):
A year after ISIS captured Mosul, the jihadist group controls about half of Syria and a third of Iraq – more territory than ever before

Greece: Syriza voters want austerity ended, not another ’compromise’ Troika deal
04/06/2015, Editorial article from Xekinima (CWI Greece) website [dated 3 June 2015]:
Break with the austerity - adopt a socialist programme!

China: Is China heading for a new Tiananmen?
04/06/2015, Vincent Kolo, chinaworker.info:
26th anniversary of the Beijing massacre on June 4, 1989, is also a warning of revolutionary shocks ahead

Hong Kong: Endgame for Beijing’s fake democracy plan
03/06/2015, Vincent Kolo, chinaworker.info:
Government’s electoral reform proposals meet with mass opposition

Spain: Victories for Left “popular unity” lists in local elections
02/06/2015, Danny Byrne, CWI:
Two-party system dealt a new blow in local and regional elections

Belgium: Momentum to bring down right wing government lost
01/06/2015, Els Deschoemacker and Eric Byl, LSP/PSL (Belgian section of the CWI), Brussels:
Learn from the struggle, as new opportunities open up

Ireland: Massive ‘Yes’ to Marriage Equality referendum
28/05/2015, Conor Payne, Socialist Party (CWI in Ireland):
Growing opposition to conservative establishment