Jason OMahony - Irish political blogger, Irish politics, EU politics
 
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What’s wrong with this picture?

Posted by Jason O on May 31, 2010 in Irish Politics

Here’s a wheeze, you know, for a laugh. Supposing we got rid of all our political parties. ALL of them. And started up brand new parties. What sort of parties would naturally emerge, and who would vote for them?

The Centre Party: Made up of careerist thieves who want to be in politics because it pays well and gives an opportunity to steal. Primarily former FF or FG people who regard The Economist as a bit fancy, and aren’t that interested in politics. Elected by people who vote for someone because they’re “a lovely man from the area” even as he’s making his secretary, pregnant with their child, have an abortion. Strong rural base.

The Social Justice Party: Mostly Labour, Public Sector trades union activists, and NGO types. Elected by people who make their living spending other people’s taxes, through either pay or welfare payments.

The Free Democrats: Pro-Business. Low Tax. Tough on Law and Order. Supported by businessmen, large and small, and the professional classes. 

Ireland First: Traditionalist. Pro-Irish language. Pro-high spending on social issues. Anti-immigration. Anti-EU. Elected by a mixture of the old and by embittered sections of the working class.   

 
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A vote for Fine Gael is a vote for Labour which is a vote for Jack O’Connor.

Posted by Jason O on May 30, 2010 in Irish Politics

Vote FG, Get me! And Jack!

Vote FG, Get me! And Jack!

Today’s Sunday Business Post Red C poll has FG and Labour on a combined 52%, which makes me ponder. They are the alternative government, facing the worst economic crisis in the country’s history, against a governing party that is at its lowest poll ratings ever, and they can only get 52%?

Aside from the Enda factor, which FGers just do a “Can’t hear you!” Hands-on-ears on when it’s mentioned, there is a bigger issue. FG is still basing its campaign on not being FF, and Labour are still sending such mixed signals on public spending cuts and public sector reform as to neutralise FG. As a voter, if I bother to vote at all, I’m drifting towards FF (whom I really despise) because I at least know what I get with a vote for FF. If I vote FG, I get Labour policies, which basically seem to say that I, as aprivate sector PAYE worker, am in a lower caste than a public sector worker. I have no reason to believe that FG will protect me from that excess because FG refuse to deal with the reality. I might even be able to live with Labour if I knew beforehand what an FG/ Labour Govt would be doing, but they refuse to tell me.

In short, if FG and Labour refuse to tell me, before an election, what they will do jointly in government, then a vote for FG is a vote for Labour which is a vote for the public sector unions.     

 
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An Occasional Guide to Irish Politics: The Anatomy of an Irish Issue.

Posted by Jason O on May 28, 2010 in Irish Politics, Not quite serious.

An issue arises that catches the attention of the nation. Reviews are ordered. Followed by other reviews of the reviews. NGOs demand resources*. The relevant minister, or even the Taoiseach, pledges that the issue will be addressed, and that the govt will work towards ensuring that the issue never occurs again.

No one wishes to address the core issue: That an issue needs resources to resolve, that resources cost money, that money means taxes, and that no one (including the NGO involved, which does not wish to muddy itself with the reality of actually paying for what it wants) is willing to advocate either a specific tax to pay for these resources, or direct the funds for these resources from other areas of spending, thus affecting other NGOs and interest groups.

Instead, the issue is made a priority. Alongside the other priorities helping the old, those with disabilities, the unemployed, the farmers, low paid workers, the mentally ill, the GAA, the banks, the car dealers, the inner cities, the west of Ireland, rural areas, publicans, unemployment blackspots, any constituency with an Independent TD, and anyone who can get organised enough to get a delegation together to visit their TD. All these groups are deemed to be priorities worthy of extra resources*.

There is talk amongst government backbenchers of appointing a minister of state for priorities to take responsibility for making priorities a priority. Backbenchers call for the decision to appoint a minister of state for priorities to be made a priority. 

Due to legal reasons, the Attorney General advises that no one can be blamed for the issue. However, early retirement or reassignment to another well remunerated state position would be “appropriate”. Tasty pensions all around for everyone concerned.

The country sits back, to prepare itself for the next issue to erupt.   

*Resources: Money raised by taxing other people (certainly not the recipient of the additional resources) more.

 
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Daniel Hannan & Douglas Carswell: The Ainsley Hayes of Euroscepticism.

Posted by Jason O on May 27, 2010 in British Politics, European Union

Ainsley Hayes: I don't think they can fill a cocktail dress to the same degree, though.

Ainsley Hayes: I don't think they can fill a cocktail dress to the same degree, though.

Some of the best episodes of the much missed “The West Wing” featured the delectable Emily Proctor as Ainsley Hayes, a smart and sassy Republican who was willing to challenge the liberal orthodoxies of the Bartlet White House without becoming a gay bashing poor grinding GOP ogre. Often, her arguments rang true, and forced the Bartlet liberals to confront uncomfortable realities.

As a pro-European, and someone for whom the word federalist is not a filthy swearword, I have the same feeling about British eurosceptics Douglas Carswell and Daniel Hannan, Tory MP and MEP respectively. Admittedly, neither would look as good in a cocktail dress as Ainsley Hayes, although maybe that’s because they just don’t try hard enough. And I disagree with them on the fundamentals (both advocate withdrawal from the EU) but nevertheless, both are worth pro-Europeans listening to if only to confront our own demons. Hannan has done a striking job pointing out the Orwellian attitude of the European Parliament to euroscepticism, an attitude which does not like the reality that euroscepticism is far more prevalent amongst the peoples of Europe than it is in the EP. But what’s more interesting about both men is that they are not your traditional hang-em-and-flog-em Tories. If anything, both are radical libertarians (Carswell, almost unique amongst Tories, supports PR) and their book, “The Plan” is the cornerstone of a thoughtful agenda about where power should reside in a society.

I don’t always agree with them. But I do believe that progress in a society involves listening occasionally to the other side, and to their reasons as to why they have reached the conclusions they have.

After all, fire was not necessarily a bad thing just because the other people in the other cave had it when we didn’t.     

 
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Great Movies you should see: Nixon.

Posted by Jason O on May 27, 2010 in Movies/TV/DVDs

nixonWhen Oliver Stone’s “Nixon” came out in 1995, it got lambasted by all sorts of people. Nixon apologists said it was a hatchet job. Anti-Nixon people said it went too easy on him. I remember seeing it and thinking that it would be almost impossible for someone who was not pretty well read about the politics of the time to understand what the hell it was about.

Watching it again on DVD, and having read an awful lot about Nixon in the ensuing years, I’ve come to appreciate it as a great movie. Anthony Hopkins as Nixon veers dangerously close to what seems to be a parody of Nixon until you actually read and watch Nixon himself, this tortured but brilliant man who managed to drag himself all the way to the White House. He was brilliantly pragmatic, appeared on a national ballot more times than any Republican had or since, and was, by today’s standards, quite progressive in a button down kind of way. Yet his record of deeds and actions is so vast as to allow friends and foes to cherrypick from his soaring achievements and shocking decisions to create an image of either one of the most effective presidents the United States has ever had, or a man who was an immoral monster with the lives of thousands on his hands.

The cast is a solid character actors picturebook, with Paul Sorvino and James Woods in particular eating up scenery as Kissinger and HR Haldeman respectively, and Joan Allen shines as Pat Nixon.

Stone can sometimes be accused to putting into a movie things which are a little too difficult to take seriously: such as when the lantern jawed Powers Boothe as General Haig suggests that the army could be used to prevent Congress impreaching Nixon. There is one scene, however, which reveals a glimpse of the ambivalence of the Nixon record. A group of ultra right wing supporters demands he implement more right wing policies, and he faces them down. When one asks “Are you threatening me, Dick?” Hopkins smiles and says  “The President doesn’t threaten people, Jack. He doesn’t have to.” 

An absolute treat.     

 
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How AV might help the Tories and hammer the Lib Dems.

Posted by Jason O on May 26, 2010 in British Politics

AV: May actually suit a centrist like Cameron.

AV: May actually suit a centrist like Cameron.

Put it down to the political equivalent of having one’s knee tapped with a hammer: The Tories automatically lash out against the Alternative Vote, and promise to campaign against it, seeing it as something that will benefit the Lib Dems. I’m not sure they’re right.

Consider this:

The theory has always been that Lib Dem and Labour voters will transfer to each other. Yet the Con-Lib coalition has now turned that assumption on its head. There will be many Labour voters, fearing that a Lib Dem MP will return a Tory-Lib Dem coalition, who will just refuse to give  a second preference to the Lib Dems.

Secondly, there are now Lib Dem voters who are looking at David Cameron in a different light, and will look at certain pro-Coalition Tory MPs that way too, and will give second preferences to them in a far higher pattern than would have expected in pre-coalition times.

Thirdly, don’t discount the Irish experience: Fianna Fail’s vote went up and the Progressive Democrats vote went down, leading to PD candidates acting effectively as “sweeper” candidates sweeping PD second preferences to Fianna Fail and electing them. It happened the other way too (coalition voters tend to give second preferences to the devil they know)  but if the Lib Dems fail to keep their first preferences ahead of Tories in enough constituencies to be able to benefit from Tory second preferences, they’ll be hammered. As AV in Australia has shown, you need a hefty vote in the first place to be able to benefit from the system. You could actually have the Lib Dem vote rise nationally, but fall in their target seats, and see them win less seats than under first past the post.

Finally, don’t forget that both the Tories and Labour will finally be able to benefit from the refurn of  “prodigal son” second preferences, from UKIP in the Tories case, and the BNP and Greens in Labour’s case. These votes will be vital in tight races, especially as AV will absolutely wipe out transfer-toxic parties like the BNP in terms of actually winning seats, even more than FPTP.  Ironically, the BNP may end up helping Labour by bringing old Labour voters to the polls who would not have voted otherwise, and then vote Labour 2.

AV could change everything, but not the way the Lib Dems hope.

 
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What The West Wing taught us about politics.

Posted by Jason O on May 25, 2010 in Not quite serious.

Previously, on The West Wing...

Previously, on The West Wing...

A Good PA is worth his/her weight in gold.

Sometimes your opponent’s ideals are as noble as yours.

Most problems can be solved by a good long walking conversation.

There’s a Latin quotation for every occasion.

Voters will let you do the vision thing as long as you deliver on the potholes.

Surround yourself with really smart people, especially if they occasionally get up your nose and disagree with you.

Good rousing theme music never hurt anyone.

Power means occasionally having a big block of cheese in your hallway.

You won’t get everything done. Do what you can.

It’s not the scandal that gets you as much as the cover-up.

Some things are more important than getting re-elected.

Decisions are made by those who show up.

Everybody needs a Leo.

 
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Is a new party viable?

Posted by Jason O on May 24, 2010 in Irish Politics

Rise, Lord Vader!

Rise, Lord Vader!

Rumours whirl about that Pat Cox and Michael McDowell are pondering the creation of a new political party. Let’s ask ourselves a few questions:

Do we need a new party? That depends on what you want to achieve. Certainly, a party that openly puts the interests of private sector workers ahead of farmers, public sector workers and the Fianna Fail class would attract a certain level of interest. Possibly based on the German FDP.

Who would potentially vote for it? Small businesspeople. Professionals. Private sector workers. Fine Gael supporters unimpressed by Enda. Law and Order types. Social Liberals who don’t like the way Labour keeps eying their wallets. Political reformers who recognise that our current system just isn’t working.  

Who would not vote for it? Public sector workers and their families. Farmers. Hardline catholics. Hardline nationalists. The permanently state funded (NGOs, etc).   

Could it win any seats? Possibly, in Dublin South, South East, Dun Laoghaire, and Cork South Central.

Who would run for it? Colm McCarthy? Emily O’Reilly? Shane Ross? Niamh Brennan? What’s John McGuinness doing these days? 

Possibilities or Pitfalls? Setting up a new party is very hard, very expensive, and would require an organisation. Secondly, the former PD flavour of it may automatically turn some people off. Thirdly, there would be a temptation to be populist (making promises they can’t keep) or even playing the anti EU or anti immigrant card, although both are unlikely under Cox and even under McDowell, who whilst being vaguely eurosceptic (although practically a federalist by British standards) takes a far tougher line on racism in private than many of his opponents would believe.

The party would have to be clear as to whom it would consider coalition with. On the plus side, FG support is almost certainly soft and crying out for something a bit tastier. Also, the Fourth Coming of Michael McDowell would be fun. Let’s not forget: Even in the dark days of the 2007 general election, the PDs got 56,000 votes. A party that accepted it had a modest appeal, and modest targets, that stayed pure to its voters as opposed to going for the classic Irish “Let’s agree with everyone and sort it out later” approach must have a fair crack at 10% of the vote.  

 
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Vaughn Meader.

Posted by Jason O on May 24, 2010 in US Politics

vaughn-meaderThere is a deeply black comic remark made in the 1960s that on 22 November 1963, two New England men were killed by Lee Harvey Oswald. The second was Vaughn Meader. To put it in context, comedian Lenny Bruce, a week after the assasination, apparently opened his show with the line “Vaughn Meader is screwed!”

Vaughn Meader was THE JFK impersonator during Camelot, and as you can see here, he was genuinely funny. He had previously recorded a JFK based comedy album, The First Family, which was one of the biggest selling records of 1962/63, and which President Kennedy supposedly gave out as Christmas gifts. When asked as to whether he was “mad” about the impersonation, Kennedy remarked:  ” Well, eh, I think it actually sounds more like Teddy, so now he’s mad!”   

When the president was murdered, Meader’s career went off a cliff. He was a talented comedian and mimic, but the public, and the television networks could not seperate him from the memory of President Kennedy, and he was effectively barred from television, eventually becoming a country and western singer in his native Maine, dying in 2004. 

 
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Let’s let the people who screwed up write the new constitution.

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

Eamonn Gilmore, who is a politician I respect if rarely agree with, has suggested that we set up a constitutional convention of 30 people, to draft a new constitution. I think that is a good idea. However, his suggestion as to the composition of the convention is mistaken. He wants 33% Politicians, 33% NGOs and Social partners, and 33% real people. In other words, two thirds made up of people who refused to change the political system 14 times before (politicians and their reports) and the unrepresentative socio-establishment who spent all their time at the social partnership talks divvying up other people’s money. Aren’t these the people who have the country the way it is today?

Give that crowd a quarter of the seats, and the other three quarters picked at random from the electoral register. I suspect that we might be surprised at what ordinary people might come up with when they actually have to produce a document. 

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