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

Would the Irish vote for an income tax cap in the constitution?

Posted by Jason O on Apr 10, 2014 in Irish Politics

Everybody (save for a few ideologues) is in favour of lower taxes and value-for-money spending. Until, of course, it comes to a bit of public spending they actually approve of or benefit from. It’s this argument which has prevented most modern governments from seriously reducing the share of national wealth that is spent on public spending.

The problem is that there are still large sections of society who do not recognise the connection between taxation and spending. This is hardly surprising, as we lived through a whole political generation of politicians from all parties telling us that we can have both low taxes and high spending.

Maybe it’s time to confront the voters with a choice. Supposing we proposed a constitutional amendment that barred the government from taking more than 40% of anyone’s gross income in tax. Would the Irish vote for that? There’d certainly be a huge debate, about what constitutes “Tax” (does it include VAT, waste and water charges? I’d say Yes, No and No) and there certainly would be opposition from the People’s Front of Judea. They’d almost certainly want to put a threshold into the constitution, which would not be practical.

But the core question would remain: would the Irish vote for it? On the one hand, they’d twig pretty quickly that they were voting to cut taxes on the rich. But on the other hand, many people would see that they were also voting to cut their own taxes, and I think that would win out.

But the real effect would be the reality that it would immediately limit the amount of money the state could raise in revenue, forcing either cuts in spending, or (less likely in Ireland, I know) the state trying to get better value out of what it had.

After a few years, as the revenue cap would feed through into services, a debate would almost certainly start again about changing or scrapping the Tax Bar. This in itself would be a very healthy thing, because it would force our slippery pols to take sides, either for or against. It would be one of the first honest debates we’d every have in the country, based on real choices.


Is Nigel Farage the unwitting tool of Ernst Stavro Blofeld?

Posted by Jason O on Apr 8, 2014 in British Politics, European Union, Not quite serious.

Supposing you wanted to secretly take over Britain? How would you go about it? Well, one step you’d almost certainly take would be to disarm Britain’s ability to prevent you carrying out your diabolical plot. That could involve eliminating Britain’s most famous secret agent, of course, but it could also involve depriving the UK of its direct ability to control or influence events. In short, tricking the British into withdrawing from the European Union would be a masterstroke.

Think about it: of course Britain will still trade with the EU after withdrawal. But the reality is that many British companies, with an eye to the continental market, will lobby their home government to effectively copy EU regulations because it’ll allow them to save money by having the same manufacturing and compliance regime for both the EU and UK markets. Regulations which, after withdrawal, Britain will have no say in creating or amending.

It’s true, Britain will not be LEGALLY bound to obey or implement these regulations, but the sheer economic gravity of the vast EU monolith beside it will just make it easier. Especially given that the British withdrawal deprives moderate eurosceptics or reformers within the EU of their strongest ally.

In short, Britain will have been reduced from the second most important nation in the EU to a de facto EU protectorate, a dominion state, nominally independent but behind closed doors still caught in the EU regulatory web. But with no British voice at the table. No commissioner, no ministers, no MEPs representing the British view. Even better, the British people will never know, seeing the blue flags vanishing but not knowing that the EU influence remains.

As coups go, it’s a very British one. If Blofeld were a European Federalist, he’d be very pleased with Agent Farage. Very pleased indeed.


Cult TV: 1990

Posted by Jason O on Apr 7, 2014 in Movies/TV/DVDs

One of the curiosities about recent TV and movie drama set in tyrannical futures is that they tend to be set in an overhyped right-wing future, dominated by fascism, the religious right, or big business. It’s quite rare that, with the exception of Orwell’s 1984, which could just as easily be about fascism, you come across a fictional portrayal of a recognisable left wing tyranny dominated by, say, the unions and an overbearing state. In today’s climate, the idea of union leaders actively dominating a country’s political system is pretty far fetched, but in the 1970s in Britain, it wasn’t that radical an idea to extrapolate past the industrial chaos of the 1970s into a Socialist dominated Britain.

Ironically, it was that bastion of liberalism, the BBC, which produced the concept. “1990″, starring Edward Woodward as a rebellious journalist facing down the government’s menacing Public Control Department, ran for two seasons in 1977/78. Like most drama produced in the 1970s, it’s studio bound talkiness can be quite irritating to a modern TV audience used to speedy plot progress, save maybe for “Mad Men” fans, of course. I can’t say that I really recommend it as entertaining (You can find most episodes on Youtube and make your own judgement) but as a political concept piece it’s quite interesting for its novelty.

The show is set in a fictional 1990, seven years after the economic collapse of Britain leads to the coming to power of a hard left union dominated government in a general election where only 20% bother to vote. The government implements all the classics: nationalises nearly all business, introduces penal taxation, taxes imports and luxury goods and bans overtime (to create job sharing). It deals with the “rich fleeing high taxes” problem by introducing an East German exit visa system. You simply can’t leave, and a lot of the show is about Edward Woodward’s resistance leader Jim Kyle trying to help mostly talented people, or political dissidents, get over the English channel.

What’s interesting about “1990″ is the subtlety. The country is still nominally a democracy with a parliament (although fresh elections are indefinitely postponed), and there’s still a few non-state owned newspapers, but try to print anything overly critical of the state and the union shop stewards basically refuse to operate the printing presses. It’s an very right wing dramatic viewpoint that is hard to imagine on television today. The Home Office’s Public Control Department (PCD) basically operate as a relatively non-violent Stasi, sending opponents of the regime off to Adult Rehabilitation Centres where they’re electroshocked into being good citizens.

The state doesn’t like open Soviet style violence, because of the poor publicity it causes in the rest of Europe and the US, and so pressures people in more imaginative ways, such as Automatic Systematic Harassment, where an individual is targeted and subjected to every single legal inspection possible. Your car is constantly checked to ensure it’s legally compliant. Your taxes are scrutinised. Every form you have ever signed is gone over to see if you made any errors and therefore possibly broke the law. Your bins are checked to see if you are dumping things you shouldn’t be dumping. All legal, and individually all reasonable actions even in today’s society, but taken together it’s “the slow steamroller of the state”.

The cast isn’t bad, with Woodward (who shared the show’s conservative anti-tax philosophy) beginning to develop that shouty acting style he would later bring to “The Equalizer”. But it is very slow. Apparently, by the way, the concept of the show came to writer Wilfred Greatorex after his house was raided by VAT inspectors!


If you are going to watch the series, don’t read this, because I wanted to comment on how the series concludes.

Right, you’ve been warned. One of the basic premises of the show is that high ranking civil servants, although nominally under political control, are actually in charge. In the final episodes the Home Secretary Kate Smith (played coquettishly by the late Yvonne Mitchell, in her final role, and portrayed as a cross between Barbara Castle and Margaret Thatcher), a supporter of the regime, begins to realise that the public is tiring of the PCD, and betrays the PCD on television, announcing that the cabinet are shocked are the abuse of power by senior PCD officials. She actually leads a mob of angry citizens on a raid on PCD headquarters, but makes sure that they don’t destroy the PCD’s vast computer database because it’ll be allegedly needed for the trials of the PCD officials she’s only been instructing days previously. It’s a wonderfully cynical performance, and although it does herald a return to normal civil liberties and politics, it ends the series ominously.


Given a choice between fake Fianna Fail and the real one, why are we surprised that voters turn to the genuine article?

Posted by Jason O on Apr 4, 2014 in Irish Politics

Fianna Fail are back, at least if today’s Irish Times opinion poll (here) is to be believed. I can’t claim to be surprised, because within mere weeks of Fine Gael and Labour taking power they started doing an poor impression of Fianna Fail anyway. It’s incredible when you think about it: here’s a party that actually had to beg foreigners to take over the wheel because they couldn’t hack it, and now we’re digging them up and declaring them lost treasure.

Yet Fine Gael and Labour can blame no one but themselves. Having failed to win an election together for 29 years, wouldn’t you think they’d have put some thought into how they were going to manage expectations, especially as 2011 was the Unlosable election?

Both parties have failed to learn the lessons of the 1994-97 Rainbow government, which went into the election with a competent economic record (Ruairi Quinn having been one of the best finance ministers we ever had) and yet still lost, primarily because Labour voters abandoned the party in droves. Why? Because, once again, Labour had failed to  manage expectations, throwing every promise short of free liposuction at voters and then wondering why they were disappointed afterwards?

Does it mean people have forgiven Fianna Fail? Probably not. The party is just the handiest frying pan at hand to fling at the coalition. Ironically, Fianna Fail with a bit of courage and restraining its worst “say anything!” demons could probably soar ahead, but like the coalition, they’re building an electoral base on vague promises (hands up who can sum up FF’s costed alternative to the property tax, water tax and UHI? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?) and will sure enough disappoint when they return to government.

Sinn Fein are now where the Greens were pre-2007. Unsoiled by government and with a voter base that has never been disappointed by the realities of government. The difference with Sinn Fein is that they seem aware of the opportunity, by refusing to join a coalition as junior partner, to become at least the main opposition party in the republic, something Labour’s conscience used to wrestle with constantly before losing every time to the smack of warm Merc leather on Labour minister arse.

Finally, there’s the 20% “Feck yiz all” independent vote, with the Joe Higgins/People’s Front of Killiney vote thrown in. The fact that the Irish Left are still struggling to get any sort of significant electoral purchase tells us both a lot of about their inability, but also the reality that most Irish people are happy with how our society as its structured. Even a vote for Independents is less a vote for radical change and more a vote for the status quo but with more money taken from someone else and spent “in the parish.”

In Greece, when they want change they vote for Communists. We vote for fellas who were loyal members of Fianna Fail or Fine Gael just before the selection convention went sour.

As ever, a great little country.


Shock as politicians discover link between election promises and being in government.

Posted by Jason O on Apr 1, 2014 in Irish Politics, Not quite serious.

Chaos broke out in Leinster House this morning as deputies and senators collectively realised that they were actually expected to implement stuff promised before the general election. “It came as a shock to me,” one unnamed deputy said, “when a constituent just happened to point out that they expected me to actually carry out the stuff I’d promised before polling day. To be honest, I’d never looked at it that way before. Do you think that’s why people are always so angry with us?”

The Taoiseach has announced an emergency cabinet meeting to consider this stunning new development, and was last seen going through bins in government buildings asking as to whether anyone had a copy of “that manifesto yoke” he held up a lot during the election campaign.

The Minister for the Environment has been rapidly rereading all of his pre-election promises about creating an elected Mayor for Dublin. “You mean, I’m supposed to do all this stuff? Jaykers! Who knew?”

Pat Rabbitte has been prescribed a sedative and a few days rest.

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