Posted by Jason O on Feb 9, 2012 in US Politics
Why not give the voters a taste?
Watching the vast amounts of money being spent in the Republican primaries, one can’t help wondering what’s the point? Given the way that US politicians keep finding loopholes to sidestep campaign finance laws (SuperPACs anyone?) why not change the law to reflect reality?
Why not let candidates just give money direct to voters? I’m not talking about buying their votes, as the secret ballot would have to be protected. But given the amounts of money spent, why not just cut out the waste and let voters get the benefit of the cash, with the only rule being that they can only be given money before they vote? Ironically, by doing so, it would lessen the power of spin doctors because they wouldn’t be able to make as much money as they do now. Secondly, once voters knew that it was legal for candidates to give them money, they would demand it. Would it effect how people vote? Possibly, but possibly not. Would it force politicians to raise more money? Again, possibly, but so what? The effect of money on the US political system is there anyway, and growing every election cycle, so why not recognize that? This way, at least the voters would benefit directly from the vast infusion of money into US politics. True, you might end up with politicians being betrayed by voters, discovering that after the election the voters had taken their money, lied to them, and voted for the other guy. Would that really be a bad thing?
Posted by Jason O on Feb 7, 2012 in Irish Politics
The cynics amongst us often say that nothing ever changes in Irish politics. It isn’t true. Change does happen in Ireland, just very slowly. Having said that, here are ten things that haven’t changed from the day I first entered active politics in the 1991 local elections.
1. Bizarrely, people still vote for opposition politicians who promise them less painful solutions to current problems.
2. Most Irish elections (local, European, presidential) still don’t matter that much to Irish life.
3. Individual politicians still talk about political reform as if it has nothing to do with them.
4. Abortion and neutrality are still issues that we refuse to confront directly.
5. Local government is still primarily a crèche for aspiring Dail candidates, with opposition parties calling for something to be done about the power of county managers, and governments giving them more power.
6. The dominant political party in the country is still a moderate conservative party that believes in minimal change.
7. Politicians still insist upon avoiding changing the social welfare system in such a way as to allow citizens to get their entitlements directly, despite the availability of technology to allow it. Who gets a TD to help them book a flight online?
8. Most Irish politicians still spend their time calling for other people to make decisions, and regard it as a good day’s work.
9. Demanding a full scale comprehensive review is still regarded as a policy.
10. The oddest things still become big issues, like septic tanks. Remember the rod licence? Or TV deflectors? Or breeding bitches? Meanwhile the big issues like billion euro bank bailouts rumble on untouched.
He touts himself as a straight talker, man of the people and enemy of the establishment. Except when he’s working for RTE or the biggest media groups in the country. On the radio, he’s scathing of public figures until they appear on the show, where the sound of him performing fellatio upon them can be quite stomach churning. And don’t let him talk to anyone vaguely famous from across the water: He’ll pull that “You and I have been long enough in this game…” lark in a nauseous attempt to put himself on an equal standing with people who have no idea who he is.
In short, his slogan should be quite simply: I say the establishment disgusts me, but I have my price. Which is probably a good thing, given the amount of Columbian marching powder he vacuums up on a weekly basis. His anti-establishment credentials are best summed up by the theme of an ad that once appeared in a newspaper for a phone sex line: “I’m not gay, but I think the guy sucking my cock might be.”
Posted by Jason O on Feb 4, 2012 in Books
, British Politics
- An entertaining primer about power.
It would do our new Fine Gael masters no harm if they were to download Tony Blair’s former chief of of staff Jonathan Powell’s book “The New Machiavelli” onto their iPods. At 16 hours, the unabridged version is a hefty chunk of time, but well worth it for those interested not merely in politics but in the exercise of power.
Powell compares Machiavelli’s lessons on the exercise of power from “The Prince” with how decisions were made during his time in the Blair administration. It’s frank, revealing, sometimes funny (there’s a particularly funny story of Powell ringing Blair for advice from Blair’s driver on dealing with a potential car bomb in Powell’s car. Blair relates advice from his driver, gets bored, tells Powell “It’ll probably be OK”, hangs up, and then rings back later to see if he was blown up)
One of the interesting differences I noticed between British and Irish politics was just how more detached British politicians seem to be from actual control. Irish ministers, who serve much longer ministerial terms, tend to get a much better grip on their departments. On top of that, the British media seem to have a much greater say in deciding what government does than the Irish media do, with some individual editors being more powerful than most cabinet ministers.
One final point: Gordon Brown does not come well out of this book. Powell, admittedly, is biased, but the Gordon stories are so bad that I found myself questioning Blair’s judgement in keeping such a paralysing force in his government.
Long, but enjoyable. The short of book you should read/listen to with a notebook ready.
Posted by Jason O on Feb 4, 2012 in Irish Politics
If Breda O’Brien had any more hoary old chestnuts in this piece in today’s Irish Times, she could have held a conkers convention. I don’t often agree with her, as she holds more traditional conservative views than mine, but I also recognise that holding conservative views does not mean you should be denied a voice either. However, today’s piece does a neat job in summing up almost every unattractive trait that exists in the Irish psyche, which is quite an achievement.
Firstly, she declares that by being denied access to the European Stability Mechanism (the bailout fund) if we vote No (that is, refuse to obey its rules) we are being “bullied by an elite”. Just think about that for a moment. Angela Merkel is pushing this fiscal pact because she has to convince her voters that their money is being spent wisely, and that they’ll get it back. Does that make all 82 million Germans, worried about their money, a bullying elite? Is Germany not a democracy too? Or do Germans not really count as people too?
She then goes on to talk about how voters need to be better informed. Seriously? Having campaigned in a number of referenda, I can tell you that the dirty secret of Irish politics on that old one is not a lack of information, but a refusal of voters to actually read it. I have stood at doors with voters who have denied getting any information, until I pointed out the referendum commission booklet actually sitting on their hall table. What more can we do?
Breda then says that the fiscal pact with prevent Keynesian measures in a recession. No it won’t, provided countries built up a sensible reserve in the good times. Is that really such a bad idea?
Finally, out comes the old gun to the head routine. This is the self pitying aspect that most saddens me, the Irish, once again, as pathetic victim scrabbling in the dirt. There is no gun. We can vote No, and it will be accepted. And no, don’t start the “they’ll make us vote again” crack, because they don’t make us do anything. The Irish people were asked again before, by the Irish people, and they had the opportunity to vote No again, and they didn’t. That’s the thing though, isn’t it? That if the Irish vote Yes, they are being bullied, but if they vote No, it’s the legitimate voice of the people. Some animals are more equal than others, apparently.
Posted by Jason O on Feb 2, 2012 in European Union
, Irish Politics
- It can be a ballot box or a can of petrol. It’s our call.
There is a phrase used in Ireland, “codding ourselves”. I’m unsure as to whether it is used elsewhere, but it basically means that someone is knowingly deluding themselves, usually out of a dislike of the reality. It is a very common practice in Ireland, regarded, in fact, as a daily way of life, especially in Irish politics.
Now, consider the current bunfight going on over the possibility of a referendum on the EU fiscal compact. The government does not want to hold one, because it might lose, and governments don’t like uncertainty. The truth is, the government is afraid that the Irish people might make the wrong choice. But they won’t admit that they don’t want to hold one, instead making legal arguments about the constitution.
Now, when someone like me, on the pro-EU side of the aisle, makes a remark about the people being wrong, there’s normally uproar. The people can do no wrong, won’t be patronised, etc, etc. It is bollocks. Of course the people can do wrong, especially if, as always happens in Ireland, a substantial section of the electorate A) decide to vote not for what is on the ballot paper but what they think should be on the ballot paper, ie the local hospital, property taxes, bank bailouts, Uncle Tom Cobley and all, or B) refuse to believe that the rest of Europe will not save Ireland no matter how reckless we decide to be.
That’s why the government want to avoid a vote. Because we do have a choice. This is a referendum on the bailout too, and the government is afraid that the voters will pour petrol over our house, toss a match at it, and then look proudly at our neighbours as our house burns down.
The others can go on without us, and what happens then? Will the Irish people then turn to the government that agreed to the referendum and thank them for the opportunity to torch the gaff? No, they’ll start screaming at the government about the fact that our house has burnt down, and where are we going to live now? It actually makes more sense to just ignore the usual “undemocratic” jibes and carry on. After all, if Irish political history is anything to go by, they’ll be forgotten in six months. The house will still be there.
Having said that, if the Supreme Court or the Attorney General or even the Oireachtas (yeah, that band of brave heroes) decides that we have to vote, fair enough. The law’s the law. But let’s be honest about it at least, rather than denying that the government wants to avoid a vote.
Posted by Jason O on Feb 1, 2012 in Irish Politics
The Sunday Business Post poll last Sunday has been poked and prodded by the usual suspects. As you are probably aware, it came up with the following figures: Fine Gael 30%, Labour 14%, Fianna Fail 18%, Sinn Fein 17%, Independents and Others (including Green Party at 3% and Socialist Party at 1%) 20%.
Reading them, I came to a different conclusion as to where the Irish people are politically at this moment, if you take their voting preferences and match them not to who they are voting for, but what they are voting for. Look at it this way:
Broad moderate conservative status quo (FF,FG, and say, half the independent vote): 58%
Slightly lefty but not too much of that Swedish taxes stuff (Labour): 14%
Radical let’s try something that sounds new but probably isn’t going by their record in the North (SF): 17%
Genuinely radical (Green,Socialist, some independents): 11%
Whatever way you look at it, even during the biggest crisis in the history of the state, the Irish people are still very, very conservative.