Posted by Jason O on Apr 30, 2011 in Irish Politics
Let’s be honest: We all know that Enda doesn’t really want to abolish the Seanad. In fact, there’s hardly anyone in politics who wants to. But the Taoiseach has boxed himself into a corner on it, and if he fails to deliver, it will be hung around his neck as a serious indictment of his integrity.
Yet, there’s another way out, where he can keep his parliamentary party (including his new 18 senators) happy whilst keeping his word.
Supposing Enda were to suggest to the people a Seanad reform package. It would, I suspect, have to be pretty radical, if it were to be passed. Say it involved a considerably smaller Seanad that was directly elected, possibly on genuine vocation lines. Say it permitted every voter to affiliate to a specific vocational panel, and elect senators on that basis. The councillors et al would kick up, as they will against everything but the status quo, but it would still give them a chance of being elected, running as candidates endorsed by the Vinters or the IFA or the ICMSA or SIPTU, and is better than being abolished.
But here’s the magic bit: Enda declares that if the reform proposal is rejected in the referendum, he will then put a referendum at the next local or general election to abolish the Seanad, as promised. This allows him to force his PP to sign up to a radical reform, and also encourages them to go out into the country and sell it, knowing full well that a No vote will trigger an abolition referendum. It’s a thought.
Posted by Jason O on Apr 29, 2011 in Not quite serious.
Harry: Looking for a very common commoner.
Buckingham Palace has confirmed that plans are already being drawn up to ensure that second in line to the throne (or spare king) prince Harry marries a woman from a demographic not already represented by Princess Catherine.
A source said: “Let’s be honest. Kate’s the sort of pretty without being a supermodel nice girl that most families would be delighted to see their sons bring home. Unfortunately, there’s a whole chunk of British society that can’t identify with that. So the palace feels that Harry needs to reach out and find someone from that other section of society. Ideally, the sort of girl who glows orange on camera, can be found unconscious on the pavement outside an Essex nightclub at 4am, or has had her genitalia seen by at least a dozen complete strangers. And if she’s been photographed being groped by a professional footballer, why that’s a bonus!”
Prince Harry has told friends that it is his duty to co-operate with the plan, codenamed Operation Bit-of-Rough. He’s quoted as saying “If the protection of the monarchy involves me being involved in three-in-a-bed sessions with Page 3 girls and stars of Celebrity Vajazzlers, so be it. I am, after all, a patriot. Now, where’s that Paki with my coffee?”
Palace sources also pointed out that even if he were to marry “a bit of strange” it wouldn’t stop him from having a affair with someone from his own class. “After all, it didn’t stop his father. Either of them”
Posted by Jason O on Apr 28, 2011 in AV Referendum May 5 2011
One of the curious aspects of the No to AV coalition in Britain is the way that conservatives and non-UKIP eurosceptics have taken a Pavlovian opposition to the proposed new voting system. Writing as a centre-right political activist and blogger, I find this to be quite perplexing, because it simply does not make sense.
The argument against AV made by some Tories is that AV will allow the progressive majority of the British people to finally unite, thus denying the Tories power forever. Ignoring the shockingly undemocratic nature of the proposition, what I find really infuriating about it is that it just isn’t true. It’s a loser’s whinge, that Tory values are the values of the minority. Yet why is it that in the US, Australia and France, for example, the right is not only able to win elections, but win a majority of the votes? Are Tories so unsure of their own values, indeed their own country, that the idea of an electoral system that requires candidates to win a majority of the votes available in a constituency sends them into a panic? Really? They believe themselves to be that politically ugly?
But that pales into the distance when one considers eurosceptic opposition to AV. To their credit, UKIP and Nigel Farage have recognised that AV could give them leverage and possibly even seats in the Commons, by allowing Tory voters to lend a first preference safe in the knowledge that it isn’t splitting the anti-Labour vote. Aha! Cry the No camp. Doesn’t the same apply to the BNP? No, it doesn’t. Even I, an ardent pro-European, accept that euroscepticism in Britain is widespread, popular, and held by perfectly decent people, unlike the foul brew offered by the BNP. Could a UKIP candidate in second place behind a Tory gets preferences from Labour and the Lib Dems in a way that BNP candidates never will? The answer is yes. Of course, perhaps the question hinges on as to whether non-UKIP eurosceptics regard their euroscepticism as being of less importance than their party loyalty? Perhaps. Funny type of patriotism, all the same.
Posted by Jason O on Apr 27, 2011 in Irish Politics
So, there you are. A concerned citizen, who wants to play a part in the better governing of her country. So you run for the county council, and get in, and discover what, exactly? That aside from a bit of tinkering at the budget and the county development plan, there is little of substance you can actually do. The real power is with the county manager, although you can “call” for stuff. Lucky you.
You then get elected to a Regional Authority. A what? One of Ireland’s eight regional authorities! What do you mean you have never heard of them? They’re very important. For example, they….do that thing with the stuff. You even get elected Chairperson of the Authority, following in the footsteps of such memorable Regional Authority Chairpeople as, you know, that guy with the head? But still, you find that’s not enough.
So you get onto one of Ireland’s two Regional Assemblies, where you get to fill out expense forms, and deny that the whole thing is a bit of a con to fool them fellas in Brussels that we’re actually a proper country with local government and the like.
But you want to do more, and so you run for Seanad Eireann. And guess what? Your fellow councillors elect you. And so in the Seanad you discover that you have the power to, well, wave at government bills as they pass you. But you can also “call” for stuff.
No, you decide, the real power is in the Dail. So you set your hat at that, and sure enough, the people of your area put you over the quota and into Dail Eireann. You’ve arrived. Well, as a backbencher, you can, eh, wave at government bills as they pass you and “Call” for stuff.
Then they decide to make you a minister of state. Finally. Finally! Power! Now you can use your powers as a minister to initiate….eh….what, the cabinet has all the power? Hardly any junior ministers actually do anything?
Finally, you reach the cabinet. Now, you have power. But here’s the thing: Of the 1627 councillors, 60 senators and 166 TDs, 15 cabinet ministers have the vast, vast majority of the power. Or 0.8%.
Which makes the other 99.2% a pretty poor use of time, surely?
Posted by Jason O on Apr 26, 2011 in Books
Disturbing in its credibility.
“Afterlight” by Alex Scarrow is the sequel to the deeply troubling “Last Light” (Which I reviewed here) although it should be stressed that it isn’t really necessary to have to read “Last Light” to understand or enjoy the sequel. I say deeply troubling, but that probably says more about how disturbing I find the concept of total social breakdown.
The novel tells the story of a group of survivors of the complete collapse of civilisation following the sudden and terminal interruption of the global oil supply. Where Scarrow really puts the frighteners in is in his description of how fragile western society is, and how many things (clean water, heat, light, law and order) we take for granted. In particular, the picture he paints of gangs of roaming teenage gangs raping and murdering without remorse, or of religion being used as a means of manipulating desperate mobs of ordinary people is quite thought provoking because it rings true. Certain images, like those of families who choose to collectively commit suicide with sleeping tablets, huddled together in beds, stayed with me well after I finished the novel. As I said, Scarrow delivers because the world he creates has upsetting credibility.
It’s an absolute page-turner. I’m a leisurely enough reader, but I finished this in two days. I sincerely hope he writes another sequel, because the story of recovery is just as interesting as the initial story of collapse.
Posted by Jason O on Apr 25, 2011 in Irish Politics
I'll u-turn if I want to: The Enda is for turning.
I have, in recent posts here and elsewhere been very critical of Fine Gael. It isn’t out of a partisan bent (I was as glad to see Fianna Fail get a kicking as anyone else) but out of a sense of disappointment at Fine Gael’s u-turns on doing politics differently from the discredited Fianna Fail. The failure to appoint outsiders to the cabinet, the u-turn on state board appointees, and the simple bending over when it came to Michael Lowry leaves one with an impression of Fine Gael who are as aspiring in their sleaziness as Fianna Fail, or just incapable to imposing their will on the government, giggling at the novelty of calling each other “minister” as the civil service continue to run the country as they did under the last crowd.
The upcoming presidential election is another case in point. The story doing the rounds is that Fine Gael is blocking councillors from voting to put David Norris on the ballot. Is this what Enda’s New Politics means? Manouvering in the shadows to keep one’s political enemies off the ballot paper so the people can’t make their choice? How De Valera of them. When Fine Gael’s Mairead McGuinness speaks about being a president of all the people, does she mean except for those people who have the audacity to want to vote for someone else? You’re now in Fine Gael’s Ireland, and you’ll get to vote for whomever we say you can vote for?
Enda can redeem Fine Gael. It’s too early in the government’s term to dismiss them as a failure, but they seem to be missing the importance of symbolic gestures. If the Taoiseach were to announce that whilst Fine Gael will be running their own candidate, he will instruct the party to also nominate (but not endorse) David Norris. Senator Norris is not just any candidate, and the Taoiseach could clearly state that Fine Gael believes that this decision must be decided by the people of Ireland, not the selectorate of De Valera’s constitution. It would be a very classy thing to do.
There’s also another reason: Fianna Fail will have enough Oireachtas members to nominate their own candidate but also to lend additional votes to Senator Norris. If Fianna Fail were to do so, and publicly permit its councillors to support Senator Norris’s efforts in the county councils, it would immediately put Fianna Fail in the moral high ground above Fine Gael’s (and Labour’s, who also have enough Oireachtas members to nominate two candidates) playing of party politics. It’s been a long time since Fianna Fail has been able to breath the sweet clean air at that altitude.
Reading the arguments against the Alternative Vote being put forward by its opponents in the UK, it seems to me that many of them are only familiar with it on a theoretical basis, having never actually used it in real elections. Or in the case of the Tories electing their leader, pretending that they have never used it.
As I’ve posted previously, we use preferential voting in Ireland. Whilst we vote in multi-seat constituencies, and the votes are counted differently, the voting principle is the same. We allocate preferences to candidates based on our first favourite, second favourite, etc.
In the last election, I went into my polling both knowing who I wanted my first preference to go to, and which candidates I really wanted to keep out, and voted accordingly, as did hundreds of thousands of Irish voters. The surreal “Yes, but what if…” arguments the No side keep throwing out about the psychological meaning of a third preference, etc, never occurred to me, nor, I suspect, to hundreds of thousands of Irish voters. Why not? Because those bizarre arguments tend to be made by professional politicians who really don’t like the increased choice that AV gives to voters. Every argument they make against AV seems to have at its heart the point that “You the voter should not be allowed think or do that”.
Voters, on the other hand, voting under an AV system, think “I really like her, he’s okay, and I can’t stand that other guy with the beard”. The professional politicians on the No side just hate that voters should be given permission by AV to even think like that.
But never mind what I say. If you haven’t made your mind up, just do one thing: Ask some one to show you, with a few scraps of paper, how an AV election works. I believe its inherent common sense and simplicity will convince you. But if it doesn’t, fair enough. Vote the way your conscience dictates. But just make sure that you have seen a simple AV election in action before you vote against it.
Posted by Jason O on Apr 22, 2011 in Irish Politics
Reading the huge sums paid to various banking officials got me thinking: What exactly do you have to do in the banking sector before you are deemed not to have carried out your duties in a way that does not warrant remuneration? I mean, these guys destroyed their own banks as private entities. Actually destroyed them. Did they mention that at the interview, and if they had, what would the interview panel have said?
“I’m sorry?” asked the panel chairperson.
“I was just asking a question. If I run the bank into the ground. I do still get paid, don’t I?” asked the prospective CEO.
What would they have answered? Going by the various defences the banks have been giving, the answer must be “Yes.” That running the bank into the ground is not deemed an unacceptable action by a Irish bank CEO. I wonder what is?
I’ve been thinking about this. If the CEO came in, butchered his staff, and started feasting on their carcasses, what would happen? Obviously, he’d be done for murder. But would he be sacked by the bank? Again, it’s touch and go, but probably, although his counsel could argue that identifying a bank with cannibalism is probably no more harmful than the current image associated with Irish banking.
But would he be paid his full salary and golden handshake? Almost certainly. And the defence given by learned counsel on that would be that at no stage did his contract stipulate that his bonus and exit payment would be forfeit if he devoured members of staff. Indeed there’s an argument that he was reducing the bank’s overheads, pension and health insurance costs by eating staff. And that by doing so, he increased his own cholesterol risk significantly by binge eating so much red meat. It’s not impossible to believe that he would then go on and sue the bank on health and safety grounds due to the fact that at no stage did the company provide him with training as to the dangers of cannibalism.
Great little country, this.
Posted by Jason O on Apr 20, 2011 in Books
, British Politics
, Irish Politics
It’s no secret that I’m a lover of counterfactual/alternative history, and so a book like this gets snapped up by me. “The Prime Ministers who never were” by Francis Beckett is very much for the British politics junkie, as some of the “What ifs” are a bit obscure to a modern audience. Having said that, it’s great fun, and one or two of the short pieces, about, for example, Oswald Mosley leading Labour to victory in 1945 and creating a United States of Europe, or Norman Tebbit arranging the assassination of the IRA Army Council (including a current member of the Dail) is entertaining. It’s also, in its format, very much a dipper into rather than a read from start to end.
Of course, it got me thinking abaout Irish politics. Are there stories to be told about Michael Collins, and or maybe Sean Lemass becoming Taoiseach earlier (Something I have speculated on here) or what if George Colley had defeated Haughey in 1979? How radically different would Irish history have been then?
One final point about the book’s publishers, Biteback, who are creating for themselves a superb niche in putting out political without being boring books. A very savvy operation indeed.
“…and if you’re just joining us here on Election 2015, the news is that despite winning over half the votes of the British people between them, the first government to do that since 1931, the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition has been ousted by Ed Miliband’s Labour party, despite having received less votes than the coalition.”
One of the curious factors in the AV debate, and British politics generally, certainly to an outside observer used to election results having some sort of passing resemblance to how voters actually voted (the novelty!), is how all-or-nothing, indeed how “stroppy/adolescent” so many British politicians are. In the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, South Africa, and indeed all of the European Union, it is perfectly normal for a majority of elected members of a legislature, of differing parties, to sit down and see what deal they can get for the people who elected them. They accept the result, and get down to business, with large parties not surprisingly looking for more than small parties, but if they’re not in the majority, accepting that a majority has to be constructed through discussion and trade.
Yet British No2AV politicians have a bizarre “I want ALL of the cake or none!” approach to politics which is just plain odd. There seriously seem to be members of both Labour and the Conservatives who would have turned down the possibility of tempering the other party on, say, the Lisbon Treaty or the Miners Strike rather than concede the principle of possibly sharing power through a system like AV. Imagine having a dentist who told you that he only will pull out all your teeth, or none. It was that sort of moronic behaviour that let Mrs Thatcher piss off Labour people for 11 years, and Blair piss off Tories for a similar period, without being restrained by anyone.
But then, that’s the strangest thing about British politics, compared to a non-first past the post system. Under our system, the politicians are afraid of the voters, not vice versa.