Nothing to do with me, Guv.
He is almost single-handedly responsible for the state of Irish politics. Mostly because he suffers from that endemic self delusion that seems to be hard wired into Irish DNA. Put him in front of a pollster or an academic and he’ll give textbook answers about the need for democratic accountability and check and balances and proper scrutiny of legislation. He’s a model citizen.
Until he votes, because when he does, none of those lofty criteria apply. When he votes, it’s for the local fella who delivers for the local parish. Legislator? Scrutiniser of executives? The local fella could be chopping up people (in another parish, of course) and eating them with a fine Chianti and some Lima beans and he’d still vote for him, as long as he got the pension for the brother in law who’s only 27.
When it comes down to it, he wants someone else to vote for proper economic management and world class health standards and a professionally run country.
And by the way, the irony isn’t that he doesn’t vote for it himself. The irony is that he actually gets angry when other people won’t vote for it.
Who do those people think they are, coming down to his level? Just look at the state they have the country in, the bastards.
They started appearing through letterboxes about a year ago, and the clever ones boast all the tricks of the trade. Firstly, those from the three main parties will hardly mention politics at all. They’ll be from “Local area representatives”, which is basically a makey up title parties now use for people who haven’t been selected yet. But regardless of the party, keep an eye out for the common features:
1. You can play bingo with them. Look out for “Community”, “Working with”, “Local services”, “Committed to”, “Passionate about”, “Delivering solutions”, “Delighted”, “Resource”, “A strong voice”, “A fresh voice”, “A new voice for…”. They will also tell you how opposed they are to things they have no control over, but will avoid committing to anything over which they have any power.
2. The leaflet will have a slight air of “what the f**k can I put on this leaflet to fill space without offending absolutely anybody about anything?”. Truth is, if they could just post a giant picture of themselves through your letter box without coming across as an awful prick, they would.
3. They’ll talk an awful lot about spending other people’s money, whilst assuring you that it isn’t your money they’re spending.
4. The size of the party logo will depend on how long they’ve been in power. Some Labour people seem to have run out of red ink.
5. The date on the leaflet will be vague, or non-existent, to allow the candidates to use if for months. Yet it’ll be written in a style to give an impression that it’s put out regularly, with phrases like Community Noticeboard or Keeping You Informed or Update on it.
6. It’ll have details on something bizarre that you have never considered, which will make the candidate sound like he/she has got some form of political OCD: “I’m very excited at the news that Fecker Road is to get a new solar powered stop sign. I’ve had to loosen my trousers since I heard the news.”
7. Don’t forget the standard candidate pic: smart casual in front of a local landmark, to remind you that he’s actually been in a place you might recognise. Folded arms are meant to convey business, as if to say “See that sky? I made that.” A pose in front of something bad, like potholes or graffiti will be accompanied by a grimace or frown, to show he’s unhappy, and does not approve of bad things. If he really cared he’d fling his own body into the pothole so that people could step on his back as they pass. If he really cared.
8. He’ll namecheck local areas in a way that makes him sound like Rain Man: “I think what the people of Blackrock, Stillorgan, Deansgrange, Foxrock and Lower Earth Orbit are really concerned about is…”.
9. Just once, you’d love to see the phrase “I’m running for the council because I quite fancy being a TD, and this is the first hoop I have to jump through. If I’m lucky, I’ll be out of the council faster than Jimmy Saville at a Daily Mail readers convention.”
10. Candidates will very rarely mention other candidates’ records. Unlike in the US, where your record in office is examined, in Ireland we actually have people running against crooks condemned by tribunals who will refuse to mention it. Primarily because there’s an unwritten gentleman’s agreement amongst the parties to play nice. Sure we’re all trying to just get elected, aren’t we?
11. See on the leaflet the other party candidates? “The Local Team”? Normally at the bottom of the leaflet in smaller writing than anything else? That’s who they’re actually running against.
By the way, if you happen to come across one that actually tells you what the candidate will do with the Local Property Tax powers THEY ACTUALLY HAVE, frame it! Councillors have the power to reduce the LPT rate, but keep it quiet because it involves making spending choices. Most candidates prefer banging will on about stuff they can’t control, like abolishing the LPT. Stuff they have as much control over as your cat/dog/SkyPlus remote.
Hmmm. How to work SkyPlus? Now there’s something useful for a leaflet.
Posted by Jason O on Dec 3, 2013 in Books
“Dominion” by CJ Sansom is set in a 1952 Britain which, following Lord Halifax’s accession to the premiership in 1940, has become a ”finlandised” satellite state of Nazi Germany.
The plot, about resistance agents trying to get an important person out of the country, is particularly engaging on how fascism and anti-Semitism can creep into a society. It’s very easy now, with the benefit of hindsight, to see how the choices made in 1940 were correct, and accuse those who wished to sue for peace as collaborators or fools. Yet at the time, the horrors of the Great War were still fresh in the minds of many, and essentially decent men like Chamberlain desperately wanted to avoid war. Not everybody who opposed war with Germany was a Nazi sympathiser.
The book is a bit overlong and meanders anxiously too much, but really gets going in the final third. Sansom paints what I think is a very accurate picture of what the road not taken could have looked like. He’s no fan on nationalism, and certainly no fan of the SNP judging by this novel!
Posted by Jason O on Nov 30, 2013 in Irish Politics
“Whenever the people are well informed, they can be trusted with their own government.” Thomas Jefferson.
The recent poll in the Irish Times (here) provides an interesting link into what has gone wrong in Ireland in recent years. The facts revealed are one thing, in that may Irish voters are just plain wrong about many of the assumptions they make about their own country. But what’s even more revealing about this is the fact that the political establishment, from Fianna Fail to Fine Gael to Labour, seem incapable of grasping the significance of this. The reality is that there are Fine Gael and Labour backbench TDs who are going to lose their seats in 2016 because voters are actually wrong about the fundamentals of how our country is run. There are voters who think that those same TDs are basically helping themselves personally to funds equal to billions! Yet those same TDs are seemingly unwilling to confront that reality. And not just backbench TDs: just look at the government’s lacklustre response to Eoghan Murphy TD’s Tax Transparency bill, which would have addressed some of the issues.
Why is this? Why are Irish ministers of FF/FG/Lab so unwilling to deal with these issues? Some allege the usual conspiracy theories, but it’s actually worse. The reason Irish governments don’t deal with these issues is because of inertia, conservatism, fear of change (“We’ve never done THAT before, minister”) and a general lack of imagination. The truth is that the defining ideology of most of FF, FG and Labour is that This Is The Way It Has Always Been Done.
One feature of the poll, for example, is the fact that most people don’t know or believe that most politicians have taken pay cuts. Some quite substantial. Yet the government has proven almost incapable of making a big song and dance about this because ministers are still quite well paid, and so don’t want to make a big noise and draw attention. Instead they let their achievements go unnoticed and let moronic myths take root in the Irish psyche.
In my time in politics I met people who were convinced that TDs paid no tax, that every TD got a chauffeur driven Merc, that 50% of the population is Muslim, that political parties get millions to pay for election campaigns, that refugees get free cars because “Dublin Bus are racist”, and that (I’m not joking) 50% of the national budget goes on TD salaries. As a political activist, I challenged all this nonsense, and got the “Yeah, but you would say that” response.
So here’s my question: whose job is it, on behalf of the state, to wake up every morning and communicate true facts to the Irish electorate? Not spin, but actual fact about how scrapping the government jet will not allow us to create millions of public sector jobs. In the run up to every referendum, we have a Referendum Commission whose loyalty is not to parties but the voter.
Why can’t we have a permanent Voter Commission whose job is to tell the truth every day, and get those facts out?
MARTIN SCHULZ: EUROPE’S FIRST PRIME MINISTER?
It’s funny how things happen in Europe. Rarely with big bangs, but instead incrementally, bit by bit, tiny step by cautious tiny step. Next year, another step may be about to occur, an action which has potentially huge consequences for the future of the EU. Yet nobody seems to be noticing.
The Socialists & Democrats group in the European Parliament has nominated Martin Schulz MEP, the German President of the European Parliament, as the “common candidate” of the group for the European Elections in May of next year. This decision will be ratified in March at a S&D party congress. What does that all mean? It means that next May, the S&D group, the second largest group in the parliament, will have a designated candidate for President of the European Commission. The centre-right European People’s Party, the largest group, will nominate their own candidate in Dublin in March, as will the liberal ALDE group (possibly former Belgian PM Guy “Tintin” Verhofstadt). The Greens are holding a primary to allow ordinary EU voters to help pick their candidate here.
Of course, the European media will for the most part ignore this whole dimension, and focus on the usual local bunfights that are European Elections. However, the real fun will happen after the elections, when the member states move to nominate a new European Commission. What happens when they encounter a bolshy parliament which has, in its own mind, fought a European wide general election style campaign and has winners and losers, and designated candidates for the highest office in the EU?
But no one has heard of these people, the member states will shout, and they’ll be right. Ah, but we have, and we’ve just all been elected in a free and fair election, the parliament will reply, and they will, curiously, be right too.
But surely, the media across Europe will ask, surely the parliament is just a talking shop that can be ignored by the member states? But that’s just the point. Both the national media and indeed the national governments seem to have not quite grasped how much power they have given the European Parliament in every EU treaty, to the extent that the EP can actually block the member states’ nominee for president.
So what happens then? Well, if the member states, through the European Council, do accept the nominee of parliament, that changes everything, because once parliament gets to pick the Commission President once it will hold onto that power for ever more. That means that parliament gets to choose the Commission President into the future, and that means that we now would have an executive both chosen and dismissible by the parliament, albeit held in check by the Council acting as a powerful senate.
And that, my friends, means that Europe has now become a parliamentary democracy with a de facto prime minister answerable not to the member states but parliament. After all, the council can’t dismiss an incumbent President of the Commission, only the parliament can. And if that president is Martin Schulz, the outgoing President of the European Parliament and a man with more ties to the parliament than the national capitals…
Yet say this to the national media, and they look blankly at you.
Posted by Jason O on Nov 24, 2013 in British Politics
Spoiler alert: I’m assuming you’ve seen the Dr Who anniversary episode. If not, why not??
The French National Front has, in the past, been very big on hijacking Joan of Arc as an icon of their values. The Brits, on the other hand, have never been big on that. Winston Churchill sort of fills that particular void, but even then only from a distance. Despite being right on the single most important decision of his life, opposing Hitler, Churchill held opinions that would alienate many on both the modern right and left. Eurosceptics shift uncomfortably at his support for a United States of Europe, and in government after the war he was economically left wing and a union appeaser. The left remember his opposition to Indian independence. Still, one can’t be too picky. JFK was elected in a rigged election. FDR imprisoned Japanese Americans. An icon is supposed to be soothing from a distance but not looked at too closely.
Having said that, watching the 50th anniversary of Dr Who, I couldn’t help thinking that if there is anything that sums up modern Britain, it’s The Doctor. It’s hard to imagine any country where the identity of the actor playing a fictional character on a children’s (yes, that is who it is aimed it, even if it has made efforts to include the whole family) TV show is a source of enormous national debate and media coverage. The Americans don’t do the same about Superman. Even James Bond doesn’t demand the same loyalty.
But Dr Who is different. Possibly because TV is a more intimate form of culture than film, and by the sheer nature of TV producing much greater episodic quantity than film, and the fact that it is family friendly, and the fact that nearly three generations of TV viewers have now grown up with him, The Doctor has managed to find a particular niche.
But there’s more to it than that. Unlike James Bond, Dr Who has modernised to reflect modern Britain, and more to the point, is at ease with it (Prediction: we’ll see a female Dr by 2017). He’s cheeky, informal, comfortable with different cultures and even sexual orientations, and suspicious of big power in whatever form. He’s also from a former superpower long neutered, yet still with cultural impact throughout the galaxy.
To Eurosceptics, he could be an icon for an independent Britain not afraid to face down Brussels. To pro-Europeans he’s someone who recognises the need to work with allies, often by convincing them of his leadership ability in pursuit of a common goal.
But you know why he’s a national hero? I’m not a Brit, but even I felt the hairs rise on the back of my neck when Tom Baker’s voice is heard in the final scene, because it means something. There’s a line in the episode when Rose his companion points out to The War Doctor that the wheezing sound the TARDIS makes is now synonymous with hope, and it’s the truest line in the whole episode, because for every fan from 1963 that’s exactly what the sound meant. That in the middle of an episode, when people were in what seemed like desperate hopeless danger, the sound of the TARDIS materializing always meant one thing: Here Comes Help.
Is there a Brit over six years old who doesn’t know that sound, or not know that a blue police box has absolutely nothing to do with either the police or telephones?
Isn’t that the very definition of iconic?
Posted by Jason O on Nov 17, 2013 in Irish Politics
, Not quite serious.
TMITP: Yes, we should have a new party!
ME: What should it stand for?
TMITP: Well, it should be for the ordinary people, for a start. You know, the Guards, farmers, young people, old people, unemployed, businesspeople, doctors, nurses, people with disabilities. That sort of thing?
ME: So, everybody except property developers and people associated with banks?
TMITP: Absolutely. Except for Sean Quinn, of course. Or my brother in law, obviously. And yer man who built the clubhouse for the hurlin’ in the parish, he’s a lovely fella. NAMA are giving him a shockin’ hard time, I hear.
ME: And what should the new party stand for?
TMITP: Well, it should be against all these taxes, for a start! and all these cutbacks too! Now, I’ve a sister in law who’s a nurse and she has taken a cut of……
ME: Sorry to cut across you, but you want a new party that supports cutting taxes and increasing public spending?
TMITP: That’s right.
ME: Wasn’t that basically the policy of Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, Labour and the PDs that got us into this mess?
TMITP: Eh…yeah…but they forgot about the ordinary people. A new crowd could, like, do it better.
TMITP: By listening to the ordinary people.
ME: Like say the bus drivers, maybe?
TMITP: That crowd! They should be put up against the wall! And don’t get me started on the teachers!
ME: So, teachers aren’t ordinary people, in your opinion?
TMITP: They’re like royalty. Ah, here’s Tom!
ME: Hello Tom. Yer man here was saying teachers are like royalty!
TOM: Are you joking! My youngest is a teacher! The teachers are carryin’ the country! Carryin’ it! If there’s anyone on the pig’s back, it’s the nurses!
TMITP: Now steady on there! The nurses…
ME: Sorry to interrupt Tom, a quick question: do you think we need a new party?
TOM: Oh, absolutely!
ME: And who would it be for?
TOM: The ordinary people, of course!
ME: Grand. What are you drinkin’, Tom?
IN IRELAND, AS IN EVERYWHERE ELSE, 1+1 MUST EQUAL 2.
A repost in honour of our exit from the Troika programme:
Every political culture has its own lexicon. In Chile under Pinochet, people feared the DINA, a secret police so lacking in subtlety that its official symbol actually was an iron fist. In Ireland, when one wants to speak of an all powerful entity, we speak of The Troika. Curiously, opinion is divided on the fiscally fastidious, neatly attired men and women from the wonderfully acronymned EUIMFECB.
The usual suspects, that section of Irish people forever bent on one knee in permanent victim status, equate them with the Gestapo or some form of evil occupying force, which would be accurate if the Gestapo had been invited into a country with vast amounts of money to spend on maintaining public services. Then there are some who say they are vampires, which is half right if someone takes into account that in ancient legend a vampire could only enter a homestead if he was invited.
There’s the problem right there, the awkward fact that grates with their opponents and negates a thousand exclamation marked People’s Front of Judea posters. The Troika didn’t arrive following massive air strikes on Merrion Square or via Tom Hanks style landings on Dollymount Strand. The Imperial March is not played when they step off their plane. They came because we couldn’t solve our own problems. We asked them to come because the people we elect were afraid to tell us the truth about what we would have to do. We needed someone else to say what we were afraid to say to ourselves. In short, we needed grown-ups.
That’s what really troubles us when he sits down with his laptop and opens his spreadsheet. He asks us questions that we don’t like asking ourselves. You want to fund that item of social spending? Sure. Just tell him who specifically is going to pay the extra tax to pay for it? It’s not an unreasonable question, but in Irish politics, where cramming the words “social justice” onto a spreadsheet is actually regarded as a mathematical answer, that is just bad manners. Hasn’t sone one told him that Irish maths is different from that maths they use in other countries?
Oh sure, there are some reading this who will be livid, but it is all faux anger. In Greece the arrival of the Troika nearly elected a communist government. In Ireland who is the most popular opposition party? The people who invited the Troika in the first place.
But what of the ugliest truth? That when we eventually exit the bailout and the Troika bid farewell, it will be their greatest opponents who will silently mourn their exit? Why? Because when Ajai & Co. have gone, we’ll be faced with an even more powerful entity that sends gut wrenching fear up and down the spine of every elected Irish leader: a body far more terrifying that the Troika because unlike them we can’t tell it to leave.
It is, in short, responsibility for our actions, and since independence, through corruption scandals and church child molestation, it has been the creature that hid in the shadows and frightened us the most. And now, when the Troika leave, and we have to survive by our own effort, it will lunge from the shadows at us, because we will be The Man from The Troika then.
Posted by Jason O on Nov 12, 2013 in Irish Politics
Repost: Originally posted May 2012.
I recently had lunch with someone not involved in politics who had been asked to consider running for a party. He refused, and was surprised at the reaction of non-political friends who encouraged him to run. What was interesting, and I’ve experienced it myself, is how non-political people’s view of going into politics differs radically from the reality.
The first big difference is the cost. It amazes me the amount of people who believe that political parties actually fund candidates campaigns. When I ran myself, friends who helped me could not believe how much time was spent fundraising, having assumed that the party just picks up the tab. I know people still paying off overdrafts from campaigns fought a decade ago. I also know a person who refused to believe that campaign workers weren’t all paid by the party.
Secondly, they couldn’t believe how many party members who demand an input into candidate selection vanish when the campaign starts, leaving candidates for the most part with their own family and friends, often running a campaign with people who are not even supporters of the party. In “The West Wing”, you never saw Jed Bartlett sitting at his kitchen table pleading with friends to give him an hour on a Saturday afternoon to drop a leaflet in an estate, or settling to bring his still half-drunk brother from the night before to drop leaflets with the promise of a dirty fry.
Finally, the sheer amount of time and physical door knocking required stuns non-political people. It always raises a smile amongst veterans when a new campaigner, when asked what they can do, suggests something like “I can help hone your message, spin, that kind of thing?”. This is one of the big jaw-droppers from people who believe that an election campaign is only a month long. That and the realisation that the most welcome contributor to a candidate is not the guy with the campaign politics degree from Harvard but the weirdo wafting of BO who religiously drops 1000 doors every Saturday.
The truth is, not only do normal people not get deeply involved in politics when they realise the sheer effort involved, and the disruption it will cause to their normal work and family life, a new generation of people are not getting involved because they…get this…are actually interested in discussing politics.
What’s that, you say? Surely people interested in politics should join a political party? Actually, no. Don’t. Because there isn’t time with all the above to actually discuss what a given party is for. A candidate who spends his time in a pub discussing political ideas will not get elected. Modern political parties are dominated not by the politically interested but the politically ambitious, people who do not want to do as much as want to be. To them, politics is not an aim but a tool.
Recently, I mentioned to someone the idea of setting up an informal “Chatham House Rule” political debate club that would meet maybe once a month to debate a political issue. No party ding-dongs, just discussion about a given issue, maybe around a motion or policy paper. What surprised me was the amount of party political people whose eyes lit up with enthusiasm for the idea. Not as a forum to further their party interest, but somewhere where they could discuss political ideas that could not be raised in an actual political party.
Somewhere outside of their political activities where they could actually discuss politics, which says it all, really.
HE YEARNS FOR THE GOOD OLD DAYS.
The truth is, if he spoke with footnotes we’d all be better off. “The EU,” he declares, normally a few glasses of Port on board and holding court down the golf club “is obsessed with interfering in our lives. Telling us who we can employ (Women), unsound chaps (homosexuals), fellas who don’t get the culture (Muslims or non-whites) and on top of all that, then ties us up in Health and Safety nonsense (Not poisoning employees) and telling us how to run our businesses (not putting rat droppings in tins of baked beans) It’s a bloody outrage!”
The truth is, and he doesn’t even know it himself, his gripe isn’t with Europe. Europe has become the bête noire, the evil incarnation of all that he dreads, but the reality is that all those things would have come anyway.
He’s not allowed come back from a liquid lunch on a Friday afternoon, and grope the 19 year old office intern. He can’t write “No Darkies, Poofters or Paddies” on job advertisements either. And yes, he does have to treat women equally, and not sexually assault them at the Christmas party, letting them know that if they aren’t a bit friendlier they can clear their desks on Monday.
EU or no EU, no modern western country tolerates that, and whereas the EU may be ensuring that standard is the same across Europe, those standards aren’t just from Europe, they’re from modern society, and he hates that.
His problem is that he’s bought into some fantasy that it can all be reversed, that if those bastards in Brussels are sent packing he and his balding, sweating middle aged pals can all revert back to some sort of 1970s sitcom where they get to do a Benny Hill around the office and cheat their customers.
He genuinely believes that Britain outside the EU will be on an equal footing with the US, China, Brazil, and the remainder of the EU. Why? Because “we won the Battle of Britain and the 1966 World Cup, that’s why!” He’ll even throw a nuclear submarine into the mix, as if that matters. It certainly didn’t in Libya.
But you know what the strangest thing is? In France, he has a counterpart. She’s a hard left socialist who despises the EU for nearly the exact opposite reasons he does. Because it is based around a single market (Market begins with an M, as does Men!), and free trade, and yes, letting people make profit (Profit!) across borders, and lets heterosexual white men (or rapist aspirants, as she titles them) hold jobs at all. In short, she hates the EU because it recognises globalisation, and stops protectionism, and lets people travel and work and make money, and doesn’t demand the immediate nationalisation of, well, everything.
They’ll never meet each other, of course, and more’s the pity. Be fun locking them up in a lift together for a few hours, all the same.