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.”
This democracy thing is far more fragile than we realise.
I thought I’d repost this rather than write another blog on the same theme. Don’t forget to check out this article about public spending by the BBC’s Nick Robinson, as I think they dovetail nicely. By the way, make sure to watch the short film, it’s fascinating.
1. A sense of entitlement, spread across nearly every social class, that informs people that they somehow have a right to far more government expenditure being spent on them than they ever contribute in taxes, whilst at the same time believing that they are overtaxed and that others are either paying less or getting more from the state.
2. A professional political class that sees winning elections and remaining in office as a career in itself, that sees defined political values as a means to an end rather than an end goal, and that has developed its own sense of Washington Beltway/Westminster Village/Leinster House Doheny and Nesbitt set of priorities and scorecards that are getting further and further removed from the concerns of their respective publics.
3. An electorate, shaped by a post-1950s consumer culture, that expects its political leaders to deliver an unachievable level of political and indeed emotional gratification, constantly leading to disappointment in the political process. For example, this writer encountered people expressing disappointment in a new Irish government for not implementing election promises before they had actually taken office. In addition, that same electorate subscribes to a right to cheap credit but does not accept the balancing obligation of accepting a lower standard of living in order to meet those debts.
4. A media that, due to commercial realities, does not see informing the public or indeed educating them as being a high priority, but instead sees the destruction of political figures, parties and institutions as a legitimate goal in itself, as is the injecting of extreme emotion into any story where possible.
5. The corrupting effect of fundraising on the political system coupled with (see point four) a media that both decries corruption caused by fundraising but also the use of public funds to eliminate the need for private funding. Likewise, a public that demands high standards of political ethics but is unwilling to resource them, leading to candidates who are either funded by other individuals or else are privately wealthy, both cases to which the public also objects.
6. The pervasive influence of modern marketing techniques within politics, in particular the adjusting of parties to become entities espousing the least offensive lowest common denominator coupled with focusing on emotional but essentially distracting “hot button” issues. These are a direct challenge to the concept of politics being a menu of policy options that a well informed electorate can choose from. In Ireland, for example, there are supermarket chains offering more distinctive options than most of our main political parties.
Even when I was an active Young Progressive Democrat, I never believed in the idea that just because someone was young, they were automatically “a breath of fresh air.” Indeed, some of the most reactionary party bootlickers tend to be members of youth parties, eagerly allying themselves to the party bosses and being their useful little minions in the hope of future reward. That’s not to say I didn’t play ball with headquarters. Of course I did, because you have to if you want to get something done. But you have to be in politics for more than just the greasy pole.
I’m writing on the subject because a number of members of Fianna Fail have all raised, in different ways, a similar point with me about their party. Each one of them regarded the younger members of the party, from Senator Averil Power to Councillors like Malcolm Byrne, James Lawless, Kate Feeney and Paul McAuliffe, as being vital to the party’s recovery, not just because they could win seats but because each was actually interested in ideas. I’ve met them all, and know some better than others, but I’d agree with the assessment. That’s not to say I agree with them all, by the way. But each one had a rational and thoughtful approach to ideas which went far beyond the super county councillors that seem to populate their parliamentary party.
And, by the way, it’s not something limited to Fianna Fail either. If you take Rebecca Moynihan in Labour, or Barry Saul in Fine Gael, or Sinn Fein’s Donnchadh O’Laoghaire, you also get a generation of young elected representatives who have an interest in the big picture. As an aside, and I don’t want to overhype it, but exposure through their respective European party memberships to sister parties in the EPP, SD, ALDE and GUE does have an effect.
Of course, that’s not to say that guarantees change. The Fine Gael and Labour parliamentary parties are full of young deputies who talked radical when running and then knuckled under, supporting a government that was so conservative on political reform that it actively sabotaged its own stated policies.
The hope is that as the old guard step down, the young turks might hold to their promise. Of course, it wouldn’t be the first time people reached the top and suddenly decide that the system is grand. But there’s a chance.
If you get a chance, check out www.publicpolicy.ie, the website of the Irish Fiscal Policy Research Centre, which is funded by Atlantic Philanthropies, and is a thinktank dedicated to putting out thoughtful options on various public policy issues.
Interesting stuff for the policy wonks amongst us. You know who you are. Yes, you with a copy of Prospect magazine secretly stuffed in the middle of GQ. I’m looking at you.
Currently reading Pat Leahy’s “Showtime”. Taking ages due to my very limited reading time, but very readable, especially as a snapshot of recent history. It actually jars sharply with Fianna Fail today, in that you get the distinct impression that there were people in Fianna Fail actually thinking about its future in the run up to the 1997 general election. Not sure the same can be said about now.
Also started watching, on Netflix, the science fiction cult classic “Firefly”, which I’ve never seen before. Basically a western set in space, or Star Wars with Han Solo as the main star. I can see the appeal.
I see there’s talk (again) of Lucinda setting up a new party. I have to admit to great scepticism about the prospect. When the PDs were set up, there was both a demand for PD style policies and no party offering them. I’m not sure the same can be said about today. What is it that a Lucinda led party would be offering that there is genuine popular support for and isn’t already offered by an existing party?
The Taoiseach has ordered immediate action by the relevant state officials to prepare the state for a possible case of the Ebola virus. Speaking through a keyhole in his office, Mr Kenny told reporters that he was not overly concerned but had ordered ministers to watch the 1995 film about an Ebola variant, or indeed “any film with Kevin Spacey in it. He’s so watchable.”
The government has also moved to appoint a semi-state body to be ready to deal with the situation. “An Bord Aggggh! is being assembled as we speak. I’m told the Attorney General’s office is fast-tracking the necessary legislation to clearly define the salaries, expenses, bonuses and pension entitlements of its new employees, and any other stuff it’s required to do.”
The government has begun to draw up a list of appropriate appointees, including a former Fine Gael Councillor who had “a terrible dose last Christmas, couldn’t shake it at all, got into me chest and I had to go on the antibiotics. Over the Christmas!” and a nephew of the Taoiseach’s who has “seen every season of The Walking Dead and that Jude Law film which someone said was quite good.”
Fine Gael: continue to consolidate themselves as the dominant party of the centre-right, business, stability and the political status quo. That’s not to be disparaging, as that’s a considerable constituency in any western country, and set’s them up to be the largest party in the next Dail. Many of its younger deputies, though talented, have basically surrendered their reformist instincts to Enda’s no-change-if-possible conservatism. Having said all that, The Party of The Recovery is a powerful platform to stand on.
Sinn Fein: are rapidly becoming the anti-Fine Gael. Not as left wing as they pretend (their wealth tax has more loopholes than Irish corporate taxation law) but setting themselves up not so much as the party of the have-nots as the want-someone-elses. Again, a considerable constituency that could leave them in largest party status if they can get over the we’ll-shoot-you-if-you-disagree baggage.
Fianna Fail: I never believed that FF was finished in 2011, and I still don’t. One aspect of FF that the media is missing is the sheer talent outside the Dail party, especially amongst their younger councillors. FF is in the odd position of having a Dail party that sounds like a crowd of county councillors, whilst many of its young reps (Averil Power, Paul McAuliffe, Kate Feeney, James Lawless, Malcolm Byrne) sound like thoughtful legislators, and tend to be better informed too. The party still suffers from an inability to restrain its knee-jerk populist pandering, and a leader with the right vision but an unwillingness to enforce it on the party.
Labour: Joan Burton seems to be settling on a strategy of humility for the overblown promises of the Gilmore for Taoiseach era and quiet delivery for Labour’s public sector constituency. Given the circumstances, it’s not the worst plan.
The Alphabet Left: The SWP, PBP, SP, AAA and UL continue to take up space in parliament for what reason I can’t fathom. After all, is there anyone who believes that Richard Boyd Barrett or Joe will actually negotiate with anyone on forming a government? As the Dublin South West, Dublin European Parliament and Dublin West elections showed, the hard left save a particular level of ice-pickery for others on the hard left. Effectively a form of political graffiti.
The Independents: arguably the biggest threat to good government, primarily because we have no real idea what’ll happen if 25 odd (and some very odd) Ind TDs were to have a serious say in a hung Dail. Still, might be a few bob to be made on the telly rights.
The Greens: Ah Jaysus, look at their little faces. A good performance in the Euros and some good candidates elected in the locals throughout the country might give them a modest re-entry back into the Dail. Hard to see where Ryan will make his comeback though, given that Dublin South (Rathdown, whatever that is?) is now a three seater. Dun Laoghaire tricky too with the Ceann Comhairle and the People’s Front of Killiney performing strongly in the locals.
Repost: This post I wrote 18 months ago has suddenly started gaining hits. Recent poll, maybe? Thought I’d post it again. And yes, I know it upsets some in FF. Your objections are noted. As ever, the offer to write a reply stands. And no, you can’t reply anonymously so stop asking! I’ll happily post your criticisms but you have to make them in public.
There is probably no activity as entertaining in Irish politics as watching a member of Fianna Fail and one of Fine Gael debating the differences between their parties in front of a non-partisan audience. Curiously, it is a rare enough event.
Stage 1. Both sides nod solemnly in agreement that there is a huge difference between their parties.
Stage 2. When asked about what values separate the parties, the Fianna Failer is first in with “republicanism”. A request for definition is met with a vague candyfloss enunciation, normally with the phrase “social justice” thrown into the mix. The Fine Gaeler claims the declaration as an accurate description of FG values. FF immediately launches an attack along the lines of “well then why did you cut X?” followed by FG saying “sure, what about when you cut Y in government?”
Both sides are broken up and returned to corners.
Stage 3. A second attempt is made at values. A commitment to a United Ireland is mentioned by FF as being “deeper” in FF. FG lists out everything from the declaration of the Republic to the Anglo Irish Agreement. Another fracas ensues with pointed references to personalities in other parties.
Stage 4. A foriegn member of the audience asks for a comparison to conventional parties in continental Europe and elsewhere. Both sides unite to point out that Irish politics has no comparison to any other political system in Human history. “That’s for fucking sure” a voice from the audience remarks loudly.
Stage 5. Economic values are questioned. Both parties immediately descend into a nit-picking “you did this in government” row. FF claims to be a party of the working class and small farmer. FG claims it has support amongst both classes. Both parties dispute being pro-business compared to other parties. An audience member points out that both parties received most of their funding from business. The audience member is personally attacked for having “an agenda”. The actual question about who funds the two parties is deliberately ignored.
Stage 6. Both parties are asked to cease referencing past events and address the future, with a simple declaration of the values that will shape the parties in the future. Both make statements about the future which mention dignity, employment, social justice and prosperity. They are pretty much the same statement. When challenged on this, each points out that the character of the other party means that the other party does not mean what he says. Both then launch into a point-by-point historic nit-picking contest.
Stage 7. Both particpiants take to Twitter and Facebook to attack the event as biased against one party and obviously run for the benefit of the other, accusing the moderator of “bashing” their party. Both are quick to stress that no one cares about this stuff except people “obsessed” with historical events and this has nothing to do with “real” politics.
Federal agents raiding a chocolate factory have uncovered evidence of the massive psychological torturing and poisoning of a small group of children at the direction of confectionary billionaire William Wonka. The world-famous candy manufacturer, who recently donated millions to the Republican party in opposition to “over-regulation in the workplace” was found to have drugged a number of children with experimental poisons. One child was transformed into a state of obesity and also suffered extreme skin pigmentation changes. One small boy was bombarded with radiation, and later died of cancer.
Files also revealed a shockingly casual approach to workplace safety, with one German national falling into an unguarded liquid chocolate manufacturing process and being sucked through industrial vacuum tubes. The child in question is still in residence in a leading German psychological facility. Two other individuals narrowly avoided being cut to pieces by a high speed fan. Another fell into a nut de-shelling device.
Federal agents expressed shock at the number and conditions of over one thousand pygmies, natives of a small African state, being held as an unpaid workforce. The pygmies had become discoloured by exposure to chemicals in the workplace, and had been turned a “grotesque” orange hue through daily exposure. Translators revealed that the pygmies had been told by Wonka that their homeland had been eaten by a giant monster. The state department is making arrangements for their return.
Wonka is believed to have perished later when he escaped in a glass sided rocket powered aircraft of his own design which, after failing to comply with instructions to land by federal authorities, was shot down by scrambled air force jets.