The British general election of 2016, held after the collapse of the minority Cameron government of 2015-2016, is recorded in history alongside the 1945, 1979 and 1997 general elections as an election of major historical significance. In short, a key turning point in the politics of Britain.
Not only was it noticeable for the radical overturning of conventional politics with UKIP’s emergence as the largest party in the House of Commons, but also for the election when Britain’s first-past-the-post electoral system finally suffered a major malfunction.
Following UKIP’s modest entry into the Commons in the 2015 general election, and the hung result of that election with the Conservatives remaining the largest party but just barely ahead of Labour, it was not surprising that a second election was to occur within a year. This was triggered primarily by the inability of either David Cameron or Nick Clegg to convince their respective parliamentary parties to consider a second coalition, and the fact that a Labour/Lib pact would just narrowly miss a majority.
The following months were hellish for Cameron, with UKIP, the Conservatives and Labour all level pegging in opinion polls in the early twenties, and with the Lib Dems, now freed from the shackles of government, stabilising at mid-teen level. The Conservative party was now engaged in open civil war between the minority Cameron modernisers and the majority who wished for an open pact with UKIP for the expected next ballot. Cameron and Hague, his foreign secretary, both openly opposed such a pact. It eventually resulted in a vote of no confidence passed by his own parliamentary party, followed by his resignation as both Conservative leader and Prime Minister a mere eleven months after the last election. Read more…
Posted by Jason O on Apr 12, 2014 in Irish Politics
Repost: It may surprise some of you, but I’m not the most politically correct of people. However, there is one issue where I am quite lefty, and that is on the issue of requiring, by law, that 40% of all seats in the Dail be reserved for men, and 40% for women.
Oh sure, I’ve heard the opposing arguments before. Seats should be filled on merit! It doesn’t matter if 100% of TDs are women, provided they are all good! But why is it that we’ve never had 100% women. Or 75%. or 50%, or even 25%? Opponents of quotas say that it will leave us with poor quality TDs. Why? Is it that we don’t have 83 talented women in the country? Or is it that Fianna Fail or Fine Gael do not have 44 really talented women? As it happens, I’ve tended to find FF and FG women to be, on balance, smarter than FF or FG men, but terrified of showing it. As for the argument that it will make some women TDs feel like second class TDs, we can solve that by having a quota for men too. And by the way, I don’t think the current Dail is in any position to be lecturing people about quality.
Our system is essentially family unfriendly, which means women unfriendly, and that’ll only change when enough women are in the Dail to make the issue matter.
As for the argument that we need to change other things first, like childcare and the culture, my problem with that point is that we have been making it for 30 years and it hasn’t worked, whereas quotas, over night, will. A new Dail elected with a gender quota will have at least 40% of its membership being women, whilst the culture argument could go on for years without actually getting results. That’s where the anti-quota people always fall: they can’t guarantee a better result. Quotas can. Just ask the PSNI. Are there some rubbish Catholic coppers in the North? Probably. Does the PSNI have more cross community support than the RUC? Definitely.
Here’s my final point: where’s the harm in trying quotas? What’s the worst that can happen? We end up with some rubbish female TDs? So what? We already have plenty of rubbish male TDs and no one in the political establishment is trying to get them out.
Posted by Jason O on Apr 11, 2014 in Irish Politics
I, like most Irish settled people, have an inbuilt prejudice against Travellers. From a revulsion to my perception of what their lifestyle is, to their rejection of that most sacred of Irish sacred cows, owning property, it’s hard-wired in me. I can be appalled at how the Republicans in the US treat minorities, or the Israelis the Palestinians, yet if I hear that a brother is dating a Traveller, there’ll be that knowing look exchanged between family members without a word needing to be said. I suspect I’m not that different from most settled Irish people.
Having said that, I rarely see my point of view reflected in the Traveller debate. Instead, I see two points of view expressed: the first is that anyone who speaks about Travellers in anything other than glowing or pitying terms is a racist, and the second is sweeping generalisations about Travellers that if you replaced “Travellers” with “Jews” would sound like Hitler’s warm-up guy getting the crowd going at Nuremburg.
As I said, I’m prejudiced in my gut, but my head says differently. My head says that there are some lousy Travellers out there, and I’ve had dealings with them, but that there are also Travellers who are all just as decent as anyone else. As there are Catholics, Protestants, Immigrants, and people from Leitrim. You can no more say every Traveller is anti-social than you can say every Catholic priest or English TV presenter is a paedophile, or every Irish Catholic is a Terrorist, or every German is a Nazi. You can’t just lump people together, because Dr. King was right: you have to judge every individual on the content of their individual character, and the real racists are the people who decide to go with their gut rather than their rational heads.
Of course, that doesn’t address the elephant in the room, which some county councillors have got into trouble for. Take the issue of Traveller accommodation. Would I welcome one beside my house? Of course not, and here’s why:
1. Because regardless of how I feel about it, its presence will affect the value of my home, and that matters, and some may sneer at the middle class obsessiveness of that, but it’s a reality for me and hundreds of thousands of others. Even if you don’t care, prospective buyers of your house will.
2. Secondly, there is a perception that anti-social behaviour is associated with Traveller sites. Again, some is true, but then there are some sites where locals admit they’ve never had an issue. But one thing is agreed upon: a feeling that if there is anti-social behaviour, both the Guards and the Local Authority will wash their hands of it.
Fix those two issues and we might get progress. If you designate residences around Traveller sites as income tax free zones up to a certain level, you’ll protect the value of the homes and give the local settled community a quid pro quo. But that’s racist! some will cry. That’s suggesting that having a Traveller site is some sort of social burden! Whether it is true or not, that’s the perception, and we have to deal with it.
Finally, let’s remember one thing: you know that emotional unease we get around Travellers? That feeling that they are different and maybe slightly beneath us? Don’t forget that’s pretty much the same feeling many Brits get around the Irish. To many Brits, Paddies, Travellers, they’re all the same thing. Think about that.
Posted by Jason O on Apr 10, 2014 in Irish Politics
Everybody (save for a few ideologues) is in favour of lower taxes and value-for-money spending. Until, of course, it comes to a bit of public spending they actually approve of or benefit from. It’s this argument which has prevented most modern governments from seriously reducing the share of national wealth that is spent on public spending.
The problem is that there are still large sections of society who do not recognise the connection between taxation and spending. This is hardly surprising, as we lived through a whole political generation of politicians from all parties telling us that we can have both low taxes and high spending.
Maybe it’s time to confront the voters with a choice. Supposing we proposed a constitutional amendment that barred the government from taking more than 40% of anyone’s gross income in tax. Would the Irish vote for that? There’d certainly be a huge debate, about what constitutes “Tax” (does it include VAT, waste and water charges? I’d say Yes, No and No) and there certainly would be opposition from the People’s Front of Judea. They’d almost certainly want to put a threshold into the constitution, which would not be practical.
But the core question would remain: would the Irish vote for it? On the one hand, they’d twig pretty quickly that they were voting to cut taxes on the rich. But on the other hand, many people would see that they were also voting to cut their own taxes, and I think that would win out.
But the real effect would be the reality that it would immediately limit the amount of money the state could raise in revenue, forcing either cuts in spending, or (less likely in Ireland, I know) the state trying to get better value out of what it had.
After a few years, as the revenue cap would feed through into services, a debate would almost certainly start again about changing or scrapping the Tax Bar. This in itself would be a very healthy thing, because it would force our slippery pols to take sides, either for or against. It would be one of the first honest debates we’d every have in the country, based on real choices.
Supposing you wanted to secretly take over Britain? How would you go about it? Well, one step you’d almost certainly take would be to disarm Britain’s ability to prevent you carrying out your diabolical plot. That could involve eliminating Britain’s most famous secret agent, of course, but it could also involve depriving the UK of its direct ability to control or influence events. In short, tricking the British into withdrawing from the European Union would be a masterstroke.
Think about it: of course Britain will still trade with the EU after withdrawal. But the reality is that many British companies, with an eye to the continental market, will lobby their home government to effectively copy EU regulations because it’ll allow them to save money by having the same manufacturing and compliance regime for both the EU and UK markets. Regulations which, after withdrawal, Britain will have no say in creating or amending.
It’s true, Britain will not be LEGALLY bound to obey or implement these regulations, but the sheer economic gravity of the vast EU monolith beside it will just make it easier. Especially given that the British withdrawal deprives moderate eurosceptics or reformers within the EU of their strongest ally.
In short, Britain will have been reduced from the second most important nation in the EU to a de facto EU protectorate, a dominion state, nominally independent but behind closed doors still caught in the EU regulatory web. But with no British voice at the table. No commissioner, no ministers, no MEPs representing the British view. Even better, the British people will never know, seeing the blue flags vanishing but not knowing that the EU influence remains.
As coups go, it’s a very British one. If Blofeld were a European Federalist, he’d be very pleased with Agent Farage. Very pleased indeed.
Posted by Jason O on Apr 7, 2014 in Movies/TV/DVDs
One of the curiosities about recent TV and movie drama set in tyrannical futures is that they tend to be set in an overhyped right-wing future, dominated by fascism, the religious right, or big business. It’s quite rare that, with the exception of Orwell’s 1984, which could just as easily be about fascism, you come across a fictional portrayal of a recognisable left wing tyranny dominated by, say, the unions and an overbearing state. In today’s climate, the idea of union leaders actively dominating a country’s political system is pretty far fetched, but in the 1970s in Britain, it wasn’t that radical an idea to extrapolate past the industrial chaos of the 1970s into a Socialist dominated Britain.
Ironically, it was that bastion of liberalism, the BBC, which produced the concept. “1990″, starring Edward Woodward as a rebellious journalist facing down the government’s menacing Public Control Department, ran for two seasons in 1977/78. Like most drama produced in the 1970s, it’s studio bound talkiness can be quite irritating to a modern TV audience used to speedy plot progress, save maybe for “Mad Men” fans, of course. I can’t say that I really recommend it as entertaining (You can find most episodes on Youtube and make your own judgement) but as a political concept piece it’s quite interesting for its novelty.
The show is set in a fictional 1990, seven years after the economic collapse of Britain leads to the coming to power of a hard left union dominated government in a general election where only 20% bother to vote. The government implements all the classics: nationalises nearly all business, introduces penal taxation, taxes imports and luxury goods and bans overtime (to create job sharing). It deals with the “rich fleeing high taxes” problem by introducing an East German exit visa system. You simply can’t leave, and a lot of the show is about Edward Woodward’s resistance leader Jim Kyle trying to help mostly talented people, or political dissidents, get over the English channel.
What’s interesting about “1990″ is the subtlety. The country is still nominally a democracy with a parliament (although fresh elections are indefinitely postponed), and there’s still a few non-state owned newspapers, but try to print anything overly critical of the state and the union shop stewards basically refuse to operate the printing presses. It’s an very right wing dramatic viewpoint that is hard to imagine on television today. The Home Office’s Public Control Department (PCD) basically operate as a relatively non-violent Stasi, sending opponents of the regime off to Adult Rehabilitation Centres where they’re electroshocked into being good citizens.
The state doesn’t like open Soviet style violence, because of the poor publicity it causes in the rest of Europe and the US, and so pressures people in more imaginative ways, such as Automatic Systematic Harassment, where an individual is targeted and subjected to every single legal inspection possible. Your car is constantly checked to ensure it’s legally compliant. Your taxes are scrutinised. Every form you have ever signed is gone over to see if you made any errors and therefore possibly broke the law. Your bins are checked to see if you are dumping things you shouldn’t be dumping. All legal, and individually all reasonable actions even in today’s society, but taken together it’s “the slow steamroller of the state”.
The cast isn’t bad, with Woodward (who shared the show’s conservative anti-tax philosophy) beginning to develop that shouty acting style he would later bring to “The Equalizer”. But it is very slow. Apparently, by the way, the concept of the show came to writer Wilfred Greatorex after his house was raided by VAT inspectors!
If you are going to watch the series, don’t read this, because I wanted to comment on how the series concludes.
Right, you’ve been warned. One of the basic premises of the show is that high ranking civil servants, although nominally under political control, are actually in charge. In the final episodes the Home Secretary Kate Smith (played coquettishly by the late Yvonne Mitchell, in her final role, and portrayed as a cross between Barbara Castle and Margaret Thatcher), a supporter of the regime, begins to realise that the public is tiring of the PCD, and betrays the PCD on television, announcing that the cabinet are shocked are the abuse of power by senior PCD officials. She actually leads a mob of angry citizens on a raid on PCD headquarters, but makes sure that they don’t destroy the PCD’s vast computer database because it’ll be allegedly needed for the trials of the PCD officials she’s only been instructing days previously. It’s a wonderfully cynical performance, and although it does herald a return to normal civil liberties and politics, it ends the series ominously.
Posted by Jason O on Apr 4, 2014 in Irish Politics
Fianna Fail are back, at least if today’s Irish Times opinion poll (here) is to be believed. I can’t claim to be surprised, because within mere weeks of Fine Gael and Labour taking power they started doing an poor impression of Fianna Fail anyway. It’s incredible when you think about it: here’s a party that actually had to beg foreigners to take over the wheel because they couldn’t hack it, and now we’re digging them up and declaring them lost treasure.
Yet Fine Gael and Labour can blame no one but themselves. Having failed to win an election together for 29 years, wouldn’t you think they’d have put some thought into how they were going to manage expectations, especially as 2011 was the Unlosable election?
Both parties have failed to learn the lessons of the 1994-97 Rainbow government, which went into the election with a competent economic record (Ruairi Quinn having been one of the best finance ministers we ever had) and yet still lost, primarily because Labour voters abandoned the party in droves. Why? Because, once again, Labour had failed to manage expectations, throwing every promise short of free liposuction at voters and then wondering why they were disappointed afterwards?
Does it mean people have forgiven Fianna Fail? Probably not. The party is just the handiest frying pan at hand to fling at the coalition. Ironically, Fianna Fail with a bit of courage and restraining its worst “say anything!” demons could probably soar ahead, but like the coalition, they’re building an electoral base on vague promises (hands up who can sum up FF’s costed alternative to the property tax, water tax and UHI? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?) and will sure enough disappoint when they return to government.
Sinn Fein are now where the Greens were pre-2007. Unsoiled by government and with a voter base that has never been disappointed by the realities of government. The difference with Sinn Fein is that they seem aware of the opportunity, by refusing to join a coalition as junior partner, to become at least the main opposition party in the republic, something Labour’s conscience used to wrestle with constantly before losing every time to the smack of warm Merc leather on Labour minister arse.
Finally, there’s the 20% “Feck yiz all” independent vote, with the Joe Higgins/People’s Front of Killiney vote thrown in. The fact that the Irish Left are still struggling to get any sort of significant electoral purchase tells us both a lot of about their inability, but also the reality that most Irish people are happy with how our society as its structured. Even a vote for Independents is less a vote for radical change and more a vote for the status quo but with more money taken from someone else and spent “in the parish.”
In Greece, when they want change they vote for Communists. We vote for fellas who were loyal members of Fianna Fail or Fine Gael just before the selection convention went sour.
As ever, a great little country.
Posted by Jason O on Apr 1, 2014 in Irish Politics
, Not quite serious.
Chaos broke out in Leinster House this morning as deputies and senators collectively realised that they were actually expected to implement stuff promised before the general election. “It came as a shock to me,” one unnamed deputy said, “when a constituent just happened to point out that they expected me to actually carry out the stuff I’d promised before polling day. To be honest, I’d never looked at it that way before. Do you think that’s why people are always so angry with us?”
The Taoiseach has announced an emergency cabinet meeting to consider this stunning new development, and was last seen going through bins in government buildings asking as to whether anyone had a copy of “that manifesto yoke” he held up a lot during the election campaign.
The Minister for the Environment has been rapidly rereading all of his pre-election promises about creating an elected Mayor for Dublin. “You mean, I’m supposed to do all this stuff? Jaykers! Who knew?”
Pat Rabbitte has been prescribed a sedative and a few days rest.
Posted by Jason O on Mar 31, 2014 in Irish Politics
The decision by Phil Hogan to put a bizarre obstacle in front of a referendum for Dublin Mayor shows us that Fine Gael and Labour are no longer the second-class masters of the political side-step. It’s a savvy move, which will allow Hogan to pretend to be in favour of reform having made sure to stall it. This type of carry-on is becoming very much the motif of the two coalition parties: big talk on reform of politics, the Seanad, local government, followed by inaction or, in this case, actual sabotage. Tonight there are good people in both parties looking at the creature they helped elect, and like the farm animals in Orwell’s novel, looking in the window of the house and not sure what they can see anymore.
Hogan will say that it was the democratic decision of a local authority. He may even oil the hypocrisy with a little brass neck lubricant, and claim that he personally would have voted in favour of a referendum. But the reality is the reality: like Seanad reform, he made sure that the actual decision was denied ordinary voters, who may well have voted against the position but at least would have been offered a chance to vote on it.
Some years ago, I would have been livid at this decision. Today, I’m not that bothered because I never really thought it would happen, the same way I never thought a No vote in the Seanad referendum would lead to radical reform.
I mean, how can you not feel cynical after reading this, from 2010:
“FG to oppose Gormley’s half-baked Dublin Lord Mayor plan: Undeveloped mayoral plan a smokescreen to hide complete absence of local govt reform.
Dublin needs a directly-elected Mayor but the role must have clearly defined, ‘real’ responsibilities and be part of an overall reform of Local Government, Fine Gael Environment & Local Government Spokesman Phil Hogan said today.
Deputy Hogan made his comments as he announced that Fine Gael will oppose John Gormley’s ill-thought out, half-baked plan to hold a mayoral election in the New Year.
“Minister Gormley’s plan is just providing another layer of local government bureaucracy and perceived authority at a time when the country can ill afford it. We have enough organisations and quangos established over the years by Fianna Fail which need to abolished rather than establishing another super-bureaucratic political layer as a vanity project for Minister Gormley.
“I want Dublin to have a Lord Mayor with real responsibilities, a real agenda and a real budget. Instead of giving Dublin this, John Gormley has put forward proposals for a Dublin Lord Mayor that are little more than half-baked and will fail miserably as:
The Mayor will have no clearly defined responsibilities and questions about which decisions lie with the Mayor, which lie with the Council and which lie with the Central Government are still up in the air;
Holding the election in 2010, out of line with the regular local and European elections, makes absolutely no sense. The election for the Mayor should coincide with local elections, to do otherwise is farcical and will, at the very least, only depress turnout;
The Minister still has not outlined any reform of Local Government. His determination to plough on with his ill-thought out plan for a Dublin Mayor must be viewed as a smokescreen to hide his complete absence of action in this area.
“Meanwhile the people of Dublin still suffer from a lack of services from Local Government. In contrast to John Gormley’s spin, Fine Gael set out a comprehensive reform package for Local Government in our document, ‘Power to the People’, that included plans for a directly-elected Dublin Mayor with real powers from 2014. Between now and then, it needs to be planned out which powers reside with the Mayor, which with the Council and which with the Dáil.
“Fine Gael will oppose Minister Gormley’s ridiculous attempt to pull the wool over people’s eyes and demand that Dublin gets what it needs – a mayor with real power and responsibility.”
“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”
Posted by Jason O on Mar 30, 2014 in Jason's Diary
, Not quite serious.
There’s a small but committed group of people who when they hear the name “Benedict Cumberbatch” don’t automatically think of “Sherlock Holmes” but instead think of ”Captain Martin Crieff”.
Cumberbatch plays Crieff in the BBC radio comedy “Cabin Pressure”, which tells the misadventures of MJN Airlines, a single plane charter airline struggling to keep going. MJN is owned by Carolyn Knapp-Shappey, played by the excellent Stephanie Cole (who starred in the underrated 1990s sitcom Waiting for God as the sharp tongued retirement home resident Diana), assisted by her over-enthusiastic son Arthur (John Finnemore, who also created and wrote the show). Cumberbatch plays Crieff, who is chief pilot merely because he agrees to work without pay, such is his love of flying. Finally, there’s the excellent Roger Allam (Peter Mannion in The Thick of It) who pretty much steals the show as the dry-witted fixer co-pilot Douglas Richardson.
The humour is gentle but genuinely funny, and proof once again that good comedy doesn’t always have to be edgy, sarcastic or vicious. The final episode has actually been recorded, and will be broadcast in December, and the entire series is available on Audible.