Whilst I do disagree with many of the anti-water tax protesters (not all of them, mind) I do have great sympathy with one point they make. When Irish politicians of almost any political persuasion make a promise, it’s very hard to take it to the bank.
I have no doubt that there is no party in Dail Eireann that would support privatising Irish Water. But I also know, from my own personal experience, that there is no shortage of Irish political types who, if told by their political bosses to work out a way of doing it without calling it “privatisation” would do it without a single moral qualm. Not only that, but they’d regard themselves as really clever for figuring it out. You’ve met them: they’re the people who say “water charge” every time you say “water tax” as if they can hypnotise you to their view through repetition, and end up coming across as disingenuous tossers.
This is the problem. We talk about the need for political reform, but the biggest reform should be for a politician’s word to actually mean something. Our problem is that our political system is occupied at all levels by people for whom honour means nothing. Who say they won’t go into government with X, and then after the election find some fragment of an excuse to do the exact opposite of what they said they’d do. That’s why so many of us have lost faith in the political system.
Fianna Fail have a policy document on their website which pledges, amongst other things, to stop sitting TDs from being ministers at the same time. It’s an incredibly radical proposal. Yet is there anyone who believes they’ll actually implement it? Of course they won’t, yet it’s their stated policy right there in black and white. This isn’t to single out Fianna Fail: indeed, if recent history has told us anything, Fianna Fail’s problem has not been breaking promises but making outlandish spending promises and keeping them. But it is indicative of how one’s word means nothing in Irish politics. Fine Gael and Labour sabotaged their own stated policy on an elected mayor for Dublin.
It doesn’t have to be like this, nor does it cost money to change. It starts with politicians who are serious not about their promises but the reality of what they can actually deliver in office.
Honour should not be a fool’s word in Irish politics. Honour matters.
“The ordinary people” is a phrase that has been hi-jacked by every political conman and huckster since Roman times. He falsely claims to speaks for them, and gains his legitimacy through them, and therefore if you are against him, you’re an enemy of the ordinary people.
We’ve seen this fraud appear on our streets in recent days, on-the-make politicians whipping up mobs into emotional hysteria and then letting them loose. Paisley was a big man for this sort of thing, stirring up the red mist and then walking away if anyone ever got killed.
Now we have a type of politician who sees democratic elections and parliament as a mere tool that they’ll use when it suits, and discard when not. They’ll claim to be nationalists or socialists. They’re big on using the courts to defend their own rights, but will set up their own courts if it’s one of their number accused of rape. They’ll scream “human rights” if Gardai prevent them from going anywhere, but will arbitrarily detain Irish citizens who happen to hold government office. They’ll demand you pay more tax, but declare that they don’t have to pay their taxes if it doesn’t suit them, whether on water or illegal cigarettes or diesel. They’ll justify physical assaults on other citizens as acts of frustration, but if a young Garda defends herself it’s the state crushing opposition.
Fascism is a word that’s casually bandied around, and mostly with a racial connotation. But that’s just one form of fascism. Another form is a group of self-appointed demagogues who have won some votes and now decide to impose their will upon the majority, by a mixture of elections, intimidation and cherry-picking of which parts of a democratic society suit them and which don’t.
In recent years, all across Europe, we’ve seen these people use the frustrations of people to build a political movement founded on intimidation and fear and a belief that the law is not what the courts or parliament says it is, but what they decide in their back rooms.
They’ve finally on Irish streets. It’s time for democrats to suit up.
She doesn’t like paying higher taxes any more than anyone else, or having her public services cut. But she’s rational, and calm, and irritated by the emotional hysteria that seems to pass for debate in modern politics. She hates the masochistic delight that some wallow in over The Banks, like the Vikings and the Brits and the potatoes before them, something out of our control to point a finger at and wail and scream at and blame for our shortcomings.
She knows that every extra euro somebody wants spent on Special Needs Assistants or A&E has to come from somebody else’s pocket, and that’s not right wing or Thatcherite, that’s just sums. As it happens, she is quite left wing on social spending, and that’s why she quietly fills in her standing order to various charities, but that costs money too. But she makes that sacrifice because she knows that things cost money and how strongly you feel about something doesn’t change the basic maths.
That’s why, if she could, she’d vote for the Troika. For calm rational technocrats who look at spreadsheets and tell you what you can afford and can’t. Sure, if you want to increase education spending by X, then you have to increase taxes by Y.
She can’t watch politicians anymore, with their time-eating pre-packaged inoffensive “hard working families” and “investment” and “resources” and basic refusal to tell voters that no, you can’t have your cake and eat someone else’s cake too. Don’t get her started on the angry hateful faces “in the audience”, the witchcraft denouncers of the modern age, wrapping their consumer fuelled frustrations with their own lives into a tight ball of bile and directing it at the cowering, stuttering spineless half-men of Irish politics who just sit and take it like scolded dogs. She watches the cyclical nature of Irish politics getting shorter, with opposition parties making promises that have to be broken sooner and sooner in office.
She thinks she’s alone in her anger, and she’s not. The problem is that there’s a groupthink, where 30% of big-mouths get to tell the rest of us that this is a terrible country (it isn’t) and nothing works (it does)and the health service is Third World (no, it isn’t) and all politicians are corrupt (no, they’re not) and we go along with their image of the country. She knows this is a country with problems but also a country with great strengths.
Is it so unreasonable for her to look for a candidate that doesn’t dress up what they want to do, that gives a cold credible analysis of what they will do in office? Who doesn’t build a campaign on subliminal promises that are so nebulous that they’ll never be met because we can’t measure them. Is it really that unreasonable to look for that?
There’s a common theme in many science fiction stories of humanity making great sacrifices to ensure the survival of the species. One of the most prevalent features of such stories is the creation of a vessel or bunker to ensure that a group of highly skilled humans survive whatever the imminent catastrophe is. As stories go they’re wonderful tales of Man at his most noble, sacrificing himself so that the great idea of humanity itself can survive.
It’s all, of course, absolute bollocks. The reality is that humanity would be incapable of dealing with such a situation. Supposing, say, the US Government announced that it had detected a massive unstoppable asteroid heading towards Earth. The right would deny the science and announce that it was just a socialist plot to raise taxes to build a space ark. The left would say it was a conspiracy by the military-industrial complex to divert money from social spending. Iran would blame the Jews. Someone would blame the gays, and so on.
Even if both sides did finally agree that the destruction of Earth was imminent, picture the blazing rows of how we’d choose who was to go in the space ark. The fights over sex, religion, colour, gender, transgender and that’s before Russia and China’s best and brightest nominees just happen to be from the most powerful families in their respective lands. In the west we’d have endless debates. Why should those fancy scientists get all the seats, the vox pops will say? Why are we sending a load of nerds into space and not J-Lo? Why not a TV show where the public and minor celebrities can compete for seats? I’m A Celeb Get Me Off This Doomed Rock? Picture the reaction of Americans and Europeans when they see a crew that resembles humanity, made up mostly of Asians and Africans.
Space ark? We’d have annihilated ourselves in the war over places on board way before the asteroid ever reached us.
Today, in the US, large numbers of conservatives believe they’re entitled to a version of science which matches their political prejudices. In Europe large numbers of left-wing voters believe they can vote themselves early retirement and better pensions and a welfare state without confronting the ugly right-wing reality of how to pay for it. In Ireland, some voters are getting indignant at the idea of paying for water. This is the age where feeling strongly about something is, for many, as legitimate as the rational facts.
Consider climate change: even amongst those people who do accept the science, there’s a reluctance to actually support measures that could prevent further change but would involve anything but the most minor changes to our consumerist lifestyles. We’re not talking about separating paper from plastic here, and we’re doing ourselves no favours pretending it is that easy. If we are genuinely serious about the changes needed to prevent further environmental damage to the planet, we are talking about massive restriction on private car ownership and air travel along with huge reductions in food and consumer product to save the planet for PEOPLE WHO HAVE NOT BEEN BORN YET. This from a society that bitches when petrol prices increase? From a society that objects to mandatory pensions for people who will actually need those pensions in their own lifetime?
Forget it. It isn’t going to happen. Mankind has crossed over the tipping point where emotion and consumer desire triumphs rational analysis. You reading this will probably not see the end of life on this planet. But your grandchildren might.
But that’s not even the scary bit. The scary bit is what I call the Stalin factor. It’s that awkward bit of history we don’t talk about. The fact that in order to destroy Nazism we needed a monster like Stalin willing to brutally command and sacrifice millions of Russians. If Stalin had been a nice liberal democrat Russia would have been defeated by Hitler. Awkward, I know, but probably true.
When humanity faces a life ending event, it won’t be the consensus building Obamas or Merkels or Camerons that will seize power and do what needs to be done, but some monster who will sacrifice millions to save the rest of us. Who’ll bomb the countries that refuse to reduce their CO2 emissions. Who’ll use directed, possibly forced labour and penal taxation to build the vast sea walls to protect us from the rising waters. Who’ll jail the protestors who oppose new nuclear plants and gas pipes and wind farms and vast solar arrays blighting our landscape or try to defend their right to own a family car. Who’ll put on trial the people who secretly try to keep cattle or pigs or even private farmland. Who’ll occupy Saudi Arabia and Iraq and Iran and Kuwait to secure control of the deadly substance destroying humanity. Who’ll nationalise oil and energy companies and force them to develop new technologies and execute the board members and stockholders who try to protect their wealth.
The reality, the awful grim reality, is that when the chips are down it’ll be up to some absolute bastard to save humanity.
This is one of those counterfactuals that doesn’t hinge on a simple what-if-X-hadn’t-died. The truth is, it’s almost impossible to imagine Ireland not being partitioned without A) the British turning a blind eye (and that includes elements of the British Army which might have mutinied) and B) a civil war between, effectively, Catholic and Protestant that would have been far more vicious than the actual Irish Civil War of 1921-23. It would probably have ended with a mass exodus by thousands of Protestants from the north, pretty high loss of life (especially amongst areas with one group living amongst a predominantly larger one, such as Catholic areas in Belfast) and an historical legacy that we would be thoroughly ashamed of today.
Putting that aside, the question I ask is what sort of Ireland would have developed if the country had not been partitioned, nor fought a bloody and sectarian civil war?
Would we have still had the civil war we had? Given that the treaty did not bring about a republic in name and still required an oath of loyalty to the British monarch, it’s quite possible. But what if the unionist majority in the north (those who decided to stay) regarded the treaty as the best of a bad lot, and decided to fight to defend it given its recognition of their religious freedoms? We forget that the same elections that elected the second Dail in 1921 also elected 40 unionists would could presumably have taken their seats in the Dail, and so would have passed the treaty by an overwhelming majority.
I was asked during the week if I could speak from The Late Late Show audience in favour of water charges. As it happened, I couldn’t, as I had a prior commitment. But to be honest, if I was free, I’m not sure I would have agreed anyway. Fair play to the RTE researcher who was diligently trying to get some pro-water charge voices into the audience for balance, but the bear-pit format of RTE audience debates on political issues is so awful that I avoid them. It’s not just RTE either. I’ve been elsewhere, and there’s an over-emotional sound-bite culture that drives the format now. No room to make longer points, or actually debate comments from others, and an obsession with getting “as many voices” into the debate, which favours 15 tiny slivers of opinion over say, 4 people discussing an issue. When you’re in the studio, you can see the “Be short, be short!” look of panic in the producer’s eyes, which is understandable. He or she is just doing their job, but it doesn’t help inform anybody. Surely there’s room somewhere in the Irish media for a show with a long discussion and a modest number of participants?
The new polls from Scotland are fascinating, pointing to a Labour meltdown in the next year’s general election. Now, All four of Britain’s main parties look like getting screwed by First Past the Post in different ways, which must be a first. There’s also the possibility of the SNP holding the balance of power, which will be very entertaining. Turns out the Brits may not need Proportional Representation to look like Italy after all. Yet still the Tories won’t concede that FPTP is an electoral system for a different age.
Check out Peter Kellner from Yougov’s Scottish poll analysis here.
The other interesting/milk out of nose from laughing development in UK politics is that the rise of UKIP seems to be making the EU more popular in Britain! UKIP’s repellence towards many voters seems to have made them look at the EU again on the basis of “If these guys are against it, can it be that bad?” Be funny in Nigel Farage turned out to be the man who saved Britain in Europe.
Of course, don’t forget the EU’s ability to be its own worst enemy. Watch how the latest row over EU money causes a sharp drop in support.
Repost: I’m delighted to see that Des O’Malley, one of my great political heroes, launched his autobiography “Conduct Unbecoming” yesterday. In honour, I thought I’d repost this from 2012:
I was watching Michael McDowell recently on The Saturday Night Show and almost saw him roll his eyes when asked about the Progressive Democrat legacy in government. I don’t blame him, because the party’s time in government, now seen as an historical event as opposed to being part of a current party’s baggage, allows certain myths to gather about the party, which I thought I’d write about.
1. The PDs espoused the “glorification of greed”. Joe Higgins made this point when the party was wound up, and sneered that the party was reduced to a mere two seats. Aside from noting that the Socialist Party has never ever won more than two seats (note: now 3) in its history, the greed argument is very intellectually lazy. The PDs cut taxes for the rich. They also took huge tranches of low paid workers (wrongly, as it now turns out) entirely out of the tax net. They cut Capital Gains Tax, which boosted economic activity and yes, did make some people a lot of money, But also provided social service revenue. But given that Joe has never advocated the reversal the majority of PD tax cuts, does that mean he too supported the glorification of greed?
2. The PDs espoused a rightwing Thatcherite agenda. When I was in the PDs, we used to fall around in stitches when someone on the left accused us of that. The stormiest meeting I ever attended in the party was a General Council meeting where proposed cuts to the Community Employment Schemes were discussed, and Mary Harney was left in no uncertain terms that CES had to be protected. Certainly, the party did introduce some free-market things into the healthcare sector, like the National Treatment Purchase Fund, which uses taxpayer funds to buy private or public care for public patients, and has treated over 217,000 patients since 2002. Funnily enough, Labour didn’t abolish it when they came to power. But Harney also kept (rightly) the Community Rating system in private health insurance, or as an American would call it: socialism. The party did propose letting the public sector shrink by 25,000 (an extra 0 in a typo boosted the proposal to 250,000 and became THE story of election 1997) but that was by natural shrinkage. As it happens, Labour in government has let more go.
3. The PDs were against public spending. Look at the size of the budget in 1997, and again in 2007 and tell me that was true. I wish it was, but the PDs were just as addicted to spending as any other party. Both benchmarking and decentralisation happened (shamefully) under the PDs. Embarrassing yes, right wing, definitely not.
4.The PDs were against social welfare. Again, the facts don’t speak for themselves. Welfare rates rose under FF and the PDs, and I don’t recall anyone in the party having a problem with it. In fact, the party was particularly proud of the increase in pensions and help for carers. You know, the stuff the Labour Party is currently cutting.
5. The PDs were the party of Big Business. Certainly, the party was openly pro-business, whereas FF and FG tended to hide their business contacts. But who brought in the Minimum Wage, and the Office of Corporate Enforcement, or the Environmental Protection Agency or got rid of Dublin’s smog? Labour, right? No wait, it was Eamon Gilmore and Democratic Left? No, actually, it was the PDs and Fianna Fail. The difference with the PDs was that they did not regard “business” as a dirty word.
6. The PDs were socially liberal. Again, this is a myth which people bought into despite the actual facts. The party abolished the death penalty in 1990, despite the fact that there were FF cabinet ministers (Michael Woods) opposed as recently as 1989. But aside from that, on liberal issues like divorce and contraception, the party did nothing. It attempted to reverse the X case ruling in a referendum, and despite making friendly noises about gay marriage, never actually did anything, leaving the Greens to do the heavy lifting and getting civil partnership through (something for which they deserve far more credit than they ever got). The PDs were not as much liberal as not anti-liberal.
The prime minister, Mr. Cameron, has launched an initiative aimed at reducing the number of witches operating in Ye Olde England. Speaking in Parliament before Lords and Commons, he didst promise that “Ye days of ye foreign witches coming t’fair land and spreading dropsy and Baker’s Knee ’bout place willst come to an end, and I have a three point plan to makes it be!”
Mr. Farage didst question him, declaiming that the prime minister is under the thrall of foreign witches and three, and that he does lie with them and engage in despicable practices involving pesto and fresh fennel and a selection of artisan breads, all alien to these shores. “Not liketh me, who enjoys a tankard of ale as much as the next yeoman, and wenching until the long hours whilst the prime minister doest speak like a Frenchman!”
The prime minister pledged solemnly to increase treasury coin towards the Office of The WitchFinder General.
In other news, the leader of his majesty’s (Gentlemen be upstanding!) loyal opposition is to be attended upon by physicians after become gravely ill whilst attempting to eat a jellied eel sandwich and trying to prove that he too didst enjoy roistering and hullabaloo.
“We have prescribed a course of leeches,” a physician said. “He should recover. Assuming he does not attempt to eat them too.”