Jason OMahony - Irish political blogger, Irish politics, EU politics

Debate No.3: Cameron breaks into a sprint.

Posted by Jason O on Apr 30, 2010 in British Politics

Cameron: The Winner.

Cameron: The Winner.

It would be hard for a non-partisan viewer to say anything other than David Cameron clearly won last night. He was concise, hit his button issues and set up a very clear philosophical difference between himself and the two others on tax and basically who creates wealth in a modern economy. He sounded and looked like a prime minister, and has peaked just nicely. He scored a nice hit against Nick Clegg on the Euro, but didn’t bang on about it too much because he knows, I suspect, that it doesn’t register with Brits as much as it does inside his party. He also had Nick Clegg on the defensive over immigration. The one surprise was that he didn’t push the Vote Clegg Get Brown message very hard, or go on too much about a hung parliament, which would make you wonder what polling data he’s seeing.

This was, by far, Nick Clegg’s worst debate, but by no means a disaster. He was weak on the Euro, although probably right to just get away from the issue altogether. The “Here they go again, those pesky old parties” schtick was getting very irritating by the end. His defence of his immigration policy, on the other hand, was one of the most noble defences of a policy I’ve seen in a long time. It is what people always say they want a politician to do: Tell them the truth, and follow through with an honest policy even if it is unpopular but the right thing to do. I was against an amnesty, but Nick Clegg made simple good sense about actually dealing with an issue as opposed to just talking about it. It’ll probably lose him votes, but he’s still right. Clegg sounded, by far, like the most normal of the three, and will be hoping that it’ll allow him to hold on to most of the Cleggmania surge, and win second place in the polls.

Gordon Brown looked like he’d been mugged in the car park before the debate. The fact is, he’d have had to put in a Jed Bartlet performance to get any sort of traction. Labour have lost, and he’s just turning up. Admittedly, playing his strongest card, the “don’t change horses” one, but I think people have made up their mind about Gordon Brown. He was very good on the estate tax though, and did take the wind out of Cameron’s sails a bit by pointing out who actually pays it. He also acknowledged the Bigotgate thing in a fair way. He just didn’t bring enough of himself, Gordon Brown, husband and father, to the debate, instead bringing Gordon Brown the statistics machine.

They should have shown him this before the debate. It’s another progressive leader on the ropes, and always brings a tear to my eye.    


How Fianna Fail sees itself.

Posted by Jason O on Apr 29, 2010 in Irish Politics

A curiously honest statement.

A curiously honest statement.

I stumbled across this on Fianna Fail’s website, and I have to say that I’m fascinated by it, because it is a wonderfully accurate declaration of how FF see themselves, certainly far more honest than I think FF actually mean it to be. My comments are in italics.

“Fianna Fáil represents the mainstream of Irish life. FF gets 42% of the vote, which is a minority, which means that a majority of Irish people are not in the mainstream? It is the only party which on several occasions has commanded overall majorities in Dáil Éireann. This is the second line, and already they’re talking about winning stuff as opposed to why they want to win, which is, I suspect, the way most FF candidates think. Since its foundation Fianna Fáil has been the single most coherent Coherent? They’ve been against the Anglo-Irish Agreement, in favour of it, against extradition, in favour of it, against divorce, in favour of it, against the single european act, in favour of it, against partnership for peace, in favour of it, against cutbacks, in favour of them, against tax cuts, in favour of them, against contraception, in favour of it, against coalition, in favour of it, force in Irish politics, so much so indeed that alternative governments have been characterised by their opposition to Fianna Fáil as their only common bond. Electorally Fianna Fáil is second only to the Social Democrats in Sweden in its length of tenure in office. Again, the entire first paragraph pretty much about winning as opposed to why they want to win. It really is an end in itself.

Fianna Fáil adheres to the great democratic principle of government of the people, by the people and for the people. As opposed to what? Government by cats? Government by hippotamus? The party’s name incorporates the words ‘The Republican Party’ in its title. Republican here stands both for the unity of the island and a commitment to the historic principles of European republican philosophy, namely liberty from pesky regulators?, equality unless you’re gay, of course and fraternity, which is a posh word for “looking after me mates”.

Fianna Fáil has always had a ‘can do’ attitude. The Party has always been positive and never defeatist in its thinking. What does this even mean?  Fianna Fáil aims to unite all in a common identity of self-confident Irish men and women in a dynamic, vibrant, prosperous nation.”

Curiously, Fine Gael doesn’t have anything like this on their site. They do talk about what Fianna Fail stands for an awful lot. Which is nice.


Are the Irish economically challenged?

Posted by Jason O on Apr 28, 2010 in Irish Politics

People before money. Unless it's my money, of course!

People before money. Unless it's my money, of course!

If there is one political fact that you would like every student to know leaving school, it would be that every euro promised by a politician in increased welfare or grants or spending on local facilities has to be taken from someone’s pocket. It really is quite remarkable how Irish people, as a rule, do not seem to make the instinctive connection, as Americans do, between spending and taxation. I say this because I was recently listening to one of the cultural elite on the radio repeating that “criticism” about someone (normally on the right) that they know “the cost of everything and the value of nothing.”  This phrase has always intrigued me, because I have yet to met a single person for whom it does not apply to. The arts subsidy crowd tend to utter it, but try and trim their subsidies and watch them suddenly battle for every cent with all the vigour of a Goldman Sachs banker clutching his bonus. Perhaps we need a new phrase, to sum up the Irish approach to sneering at someone who questions tax and spending: “He is someone who knows the cost of something to himself, but not the value of it to me!”  


Tactical voting is the only way of keeping the Tories out.

Posted by Jason O on Apr 27, 2010 in British Politics

The British voting system: You might as well have a raffle.

The British voting system: You might as well have a raffle.

It’s hard for an Irish voter to comprehend the stupidity of the British voting system. Your vote only matters if you vote for the “right” candidate in the “right” constituency. Huh? But there you have it, with British Anti-PR people saying that the only electoral system that will work in Britain is the one so crude as to be the electoral equivalent of signing one’s name with an ‘X’ using a crayon.

The rise in the Lib Dem vote, apparently at the cost of Labour votes, will help the Tories if individual Lib Dem and Labour voters aren’t smart in how they vote in their individual constituencies. You could have the bizarre situation where the Lib Dem vote rises nationally, in seats where the Lib Dems have no chance, thus taking votes from Labour candidates and letting the Tory squeeze through. Likewise, you could see the Lib Dems, who have lost some votes to the Tories, losing seats because Labour voters still vote Labour in seats where Labour is in third place. It all happened in 1983, where Labour and the SDP/Liberal Alliance got 52% of the vote to the Tories 42% (the Tory vote actually fell, something which has been forgotten in Thatcherite history) yet Mrs Thatcher got a 144 seat majority, the biggest majority since the Labour landslide of 1945. of course, this all assumes that Labour and Lib Dem voters are interchangable. They’re not, and no Tory leader has done more than David Cameron to reach out to Lib Dem voters, with considerable success. But the reality is that if you want a liberal voice in British politics, you need electoral reform, and the Tories are the absolute obstacle to that.

Ironically, Labour wouldn’t have this problem if it had legislated for the Alternative Vote, which deals with this exact problem, but then Labour has always shown itself to have a stunning capacity for sabotaging itself.

One final point: There is a particular dilemma for Lib Dem voters, in that such is the strong performance of the party, it may actually suit the party in the long term to boost its share of the vote even if it means Labour losing seats. After all, having Labour come third yet end up with more seats than the Lib Dems would be a stunning indictment of how unfair FPTP is. But this assumes that the Tories are going to win anyway, and the result is more about symbolism than actual power.


Why do we actually pay the pensions of the public paid elite anyway?

Posted by Jason O on Apr 26, 2010 in Irish Politics

Listening to the recent hoo-haa over Commissioner MGQ’s pension, I was reminded of the way things used to be. There was once a time when most public sector workers and TDs were paid quite badly. But the deal was that the pension was quite good, as compensation. Then we got benchmarking, and suddenly we have created a situation where large volumes of cash (MGQ’s pension of €106K a year would be the equivalent of living off the interest of a €5 million Lotto win) are being paid in pensions to people who can, let’s be honest, afford to fund their own pensions.

Which raises the Holy Grail question. Why does the public have to pay for the pensions of people who are well paid and can afford to fund their own pensions, thank you very much?

Why doesn’t the state just say that anyone on the public teat earning more than, say €55k just pay for their own pension?

On a different note, I see that the government are wheeling out the usual “Advice of the AG which says that we can’t do anything about anything. Sorry” on this. We could always have a referendum permitting the government to modify public pensions, but that would involve FF actually meaning what they say, so don’t hold your breath. Dan Boyle has been tweeting that something needs to be done. Wow. I’ll say one thing, if the Greens ever get into power they’re really going to turn the place upside down!     


David Cameron masterfully decapitates a chicken.

Posted by Jason O on Apr 23, 2010 in British Politics

Very impressive disarming of a situation by Cameron here.


Debate No.2: Clegg holds on, but only just.

Posted by Jason O on Apr 23, 2010 in British Politics

The Lib Dem leader was the man to beat in this debate, and it’s really touch and go as to who won, Clegg or Cameron. I thought Clegg was particularly weak on Trident, which surprised me, as he was unable to give any idea as to the alternative to Trident, or even a solid committment to keeping Britain a nuclear power. At least he wasn’t as ludicrous as one of his MPs who later claimed, in the post debate spinning, that Britain could give up all her nuclear weapons, but like Japan, have the ability to build one if it needed! Paddy Ashdown put up a much more solid show, suggesting that Trident at least be debated as part of a defence review, which is eminently sensible. On the plus side, although I’m not sure it will win him any votes, he was very good on immigration, outlining a balanced plan for amnesty which is not as half baked as it originally sounded. He also had the one genuine zinger spur of the moment line: ” You can’t deport 900,000 people. We don’t know where they live!” His remark about not being a Man of Faith, something which would kill you in a US debate, was quite refreshing, and will do him little harm. There is an atheist, or at least, secular, vote out there, you know. His promise of an In/Out referendum on the EU will have eurosceptic voters intrigued, and make the Tories uneasy. Clegg has kept this a three way race, which he will be happy with, even if the dizzy heights of Cleggmania are now receding.

Cameron was good and continues to look like a prime minister. On Europe, he was quite balanced, and will be pleased with a well rounded performance. He seemed to get genuinely angry (not a bad thing) about the Labour leaflets accusing him of wanting to cut the winter fuel allowance, but then got into that parliamentary “withdraw!” type language that sounds archaic on television, whereas his on-the-spot pledge not to cut the allowance was good but I think missed by the audience.

The prize for best improved performance must go to Gordon Brown, who came across much more comfortable than last time. He still struggles to shoehorn (So clumsily as to be almost endearing) prepared “jokes” (Like the reference to his sons.) into his speech, and tends to waffle a bit on technical details, and referring to the woman asking about the pension (£59 per week? Surely not. In Ireland it’s €200)  as “woman” was laugh out loud funny. But he did come across as a serious player for serious times, so his people will be happy.

I’m still saying a Conservative majority, and Lib Dems lucky to keep their existing seats, despite an increased vote.     


Democracy, Henry Kissinger style.

Posted by Jason O on Apr 22, 2010 in Irish Politics

I recently came across this quote from the former US Secretary of State, used to justify US support for Pincohet. It’s quite chilling in its rawness, but what is interesting is its interpretation of what democracy is for, that is, good government. Having lived in a country where a plurality of my fellow countrymen have constantly elected Fianna Fail governments, despite all their failures, it is reasonable to say that democracy does not always lead to good government. The Allende government in Chile was actually wrecking the country, but it was elected by the people.

So what is democracy for? Why keep it, especially in an age where voters are becoming less and less willing to grasp the complex challenges of managing a modern society? During the Lisbon referendum, I met many No voters who were voting No for sincere, well-informed and thoughtful reasons. We begged to differ on what was best for the country. But I also met people who were voting No either out of stupidity or a lazy unwillingness to actually inform themselves and instead believed nonsense from extremists. Coincidentally, it is not “patronising” or “arrogant” to tell someone the fact they believe is wrong if it is actually wrong, as has become socially acceptable to announce, any more than it is patronising to tell someone who has doused themselves in petrol that lighting a match is a bad idea.

The reason we need democracy is that it is a bulwark against dictatorship, and for that alone, it is worth its weight in gold. We may elect crooks and fools, but we can also throw them out, and for that alone, it’s worth keeping. Do some in Fianna Fail rob and steal and use the political system to give jobs to the amoral? Yes they do. Would some of them like to ban other parties? Some of them would. But they can’t, because they know that even the Irish people with all their apathy and cynicism won’t put up with that, and that’s why Kissinger is wrong about democracy and letting the people decide.   


Debate No.2: When Cleggmania ended.

Posted by Jason O on Apr 22, 2010 in British Politics

I hope I’m wrong, I really do. I would love the Lib Dems to absolutely storm this election, and finally bring about reform of Britain’s obscene electoral system. But I fear that tonight is the night that the shine comes off Nick Clegg. He’s now the man to beat, expectations are too high for him, and people who have never voted Lib Dem are just looking for an excuse to go back to where they came from.

He knows this too, and maybe he’ll surprise us, but I reckon this is when the Lib Dem vote starts to falter, when Cameron puts the boot in, and the stratospheric poll ratings start to fall. It’ll be interesting if Cameron stays on topic tonight (Foriegn affairs) or decides to use the debate to push the “Vote Yellow Get Brown” message. Also interesting will be how Clegg responds to the Trident and EU questions. I still think the promise of an In/Out referendum may bizarrely attract eurosceptics to the Lib Dem banner, and cause Cameron problems, so it’s all to play for yet. 


Imagine an Irish party running a poster like this.

Posted by Jason O on Apr 21, 2010 in British Politics

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