Jason OMahony - Irish political blogger, Irish politics, EU politics
 
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Lovejoy: In defence of gentle television.

Posted by Jason O on Sep 27, 2016 in Cult TV

lovejoyFrom 1986 to 1994, Ian McShane played the near-always described “lovable rogue” antiques trader Lovejoy (“Not Mister. Just Lovejoy.”) in the BBC series of the same name.

The series was a comedy drama about Lovejoy’s adventures as a “divvy”, someone with an innate ability to tell whether an antique was genuine or a forgery. Although ethically supple, Lovejoy was careful never to lie to his clients, and along with his henchmen Eric Catchpole and Tinker Dill, and his will they/won’t do relationship with the very posh Lady Jane Felsham, (Phyllis Logan, later Mrs Hughes in “Downton Abbey”) spent every episode pursuing a valuable antique around the home counties for his commission but also for his love of the pieces themselves.

Such was the show’s success and widespread appeal that when McShane appeared in the gritty crime drama “Sexy Beast” as vicious homosexual crime boss Teddy Bass, some joked that the sub-title of the movie was “that film where Lovejoy gets it up the arse.” Charming, I know.

I’ve always been surprised it’s never been remade. Most of the cast are still alive (Malcolm Tierney, who hammed it up as Lovejoy’s wealthy but not quite as clever rival Charlie Gimbert is no longer with us) and could certainly provide a wealth of support to a new Lovejoy son or daughter. And antiques seem to be bigger in the public mind now than they were back then, certainly if TV is to be judged.

But what made “Lovejoy” was that epitome of gentle family television, without being boring. Although it had the odd murder, it was safe, entertaining and oozing with charm helped by Lovejoy’s habit of breaking the fourth wall to address the audience on a plot point or detail about antiques.

It reminds one, as one gets older, that not all TV drama has to gritty and psychologically disturbing. “Lovejoy” is in the same stable as “Midsomer Murders”, “Death in paradise”,”Minder”, or “Monk”. Not quite as formulaic as “Murder, she wrote” but not going to have you wake up at night screaming either.

Sometimes all you want is a cosy murder with a nice cup of tea and a biscuit.

 
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European Army? Might as well ask for a unicorn whilst you’re at it.

Posted by Jason O on Sep 25, 2016 in European Union, The Times Ireland Edition

The Times ScreenshotPreviously published in The Times Ireland edition

Twitter lit up last week, as it is wont to do, over the news that Hungary and the Czech Republic have called for a European army. Sorry, when I say Twitter, I don’t mean the 80% of Twitter that knows what a Kardashian is, nor the 18% that knows what a Cardassian is, but the 0.2% that worries about stuff like European defence. And that’s being generous.

For the political nerd and certain dog-whistling newspapers of the hard right in Britain, a European Army is a cross between the Loch Ness monster, a yeti, and a credible explanation as to what the hell the TV series “Lost” was actually about. It’s elusive, fascinating, and guaranteed to stir up heated debate on all sides of the argument. It allows our now departing British friends to put on a quite spectacular display of political schizophrenia, going from “Vote Leave because the rest of Europe wants a European army” to “See! Now we have left we can’t veto that crowd creating a European army! We told you!”

In other words, something for pretty much every voice inside the head of your average UKIP member.

From the Irish perspective, we get to do the usual “Down with war, up with peace” thing whilst ignoring the fact that if we hid any further behind NATO we’d all be living off the coast of San Diego. Not to worry: the last time we liberated a beach it was in Wexford for Steven Spielberg. The rest of Europe has never regarded us as one of the “we stand with you” nations. We’re more of a John Hurt in “The Field” operation, stealing ham from a sandwich and then protesting that we didn’t do anything. We don’t conquer other people, we don’t defend them. Nothing to do with us.   

Which is fine, there’s something in the European army debate for everyone as long as you accept the fact that discussing “Lost” is more likely to lead to a satisfactory conclusion than a European army debate ever will.

The Hungarians and Czechs were responding to an initiative by Federica Mogherini, the EU’s High Representative (the title refers to her status, by the way, not any state of narcotic substance use) to begin work on EU military structures. Now, if talks and initiatives about European defence actually counted as military capability, Europe would have the equivalent of a Death Star hovering over the Kremlin. But they don’t. The reality is that all Europe really does is talk about defence and design new logos for yet more defence bodies to talk about defence. But if a couple of thousand tonnes of Russian steel came lumbering over the Finnish or Estonian border, those European defence initiatives wouldn’t count for squat.

Well, maybe that is slightly unfair. The European Defence Agency does quietly work away on those technical things that matter, like research into drones and trying to get Europe some sort of coordinated air transport capability. But the actual shooting at Russians as they fight their way through the streets of Talinn? That’s NATO or to be honest, the Americans we’re relying on, which, whilst watching The Big Giant Loud Blonde Head running for the White House should really make us take this whole defence thing much more seriously.

The primary reason we won’t see a European army anytime soon is because nobody is really willing to die for Estonia, other than maybe Estonians and their near neighbours. Create and fund (there’s the tricky bit) a standalone volunteer European army, made up not of Irish or German soldiers but European soldiers who just happen to be Irish or German, and that might be a different story, but that isn’t going to happen any day soon. We can’t even get Europeans to agree on taxing companies we all say we want to tax.  

If you want to know why all this latest guff won’t lead to anything tangible, consider this:

There is currently in existence a detailed plan to create a European army.

It’s a very detailed plan which proposes the creation of a common European army, funded from a common budget.  It lists out how many interceptor fighters should be in each squadron. It permits the European Defence Forces to recruit in the member states. It allows for conscription of males between certain ages. It bars member states from recruiting for national forces except in very limited circumstances, mostly to do with defending overseas territories.

It is so detailed, in fact, that it even has a section on the tax arrangements of military canteens and restaurants.  

In short, it has all the things Sinn Fein, the Daily Mail and the alphabet left warned you about. As someone who supports a common European defence, I got giddy with excitement as I read it, and even more excited when I realised it had been agreed to by German, French, Italian, Dutch and Belgian ministers, who had even drafted a treaty to implement it.

I mean, a treaty! How more serious can you be?

Any day now, right?

The proposal was called the Pleven plan, and was announced in 1952, finally being rejected by the French National Assembly in 1954. Sixty two years ago.  

European Army? Yeah, right.

 
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But do Irish voters really want more housing?

Posted by Jason O on Sep 10, 2016 in Irish Politics, The Times Ireland Edition

The Times ScreenshotPreviously published in The Times Ireland Edition on the 29th August 2016. 

You would have to travel far to find a people with the capacity to comfortably hold two conflicting beliefs at the same time as much as we as a people have.

All this week, in the professional media, on social media, one would easily come away with the impression that the Irish people are absolutely committed to the idea that building more housing is a vital let-nothing-stop-us national priority. Stories of students struggling to find housing, and then being clobbered with high rents, or of homeless people in hotels, it’s all there. The Irish people want more housing built. Fact.

Yet there are more votes mobilised by stopping specific housing proposals than by supporting them. Just look at the leaflets one gets from county councillors, where more often than not, they are bragging about how they got an “inappropriate” development stopped. There’s always a reason, and it’s always worded the same way: “Of course we all support more housing, but the traffic/parking/heritage of this particular part of my ward means that this proposal is not right for the area.”

Invariably, there are hundreds of locals who will have lobbied the councillor. How many people without homes will have lobbied him in support of the development? Aside from the developer, who gets the mark of Cain upon him for being, you know, a developer, almost nobody.

A Fianna Fail candidate told me once of being savaged at the door by a woman in a very posh part of Dun Laoghaire because her daughter couldn’t get a house “in the area”. When he pointed out that he was in favour of a proposed local development, she savaged him for that too. What did she want? Short of putting someone else out of their house and giving it to her daughter, there was no way to please her.

Housing, like Accident & Emergency, is one of those issues that we all support change in theory but would oppose the actual measures needed to deliver it. Not even for nefarious reasons, by the way. Many of the people who oppose local developments do genuinely worry about the affect it’ll have on local traffic or schools or parking or the price of the single most important asset their family owns, their home. It’s very understandable. But at its heart it calls the bluff on the idea that providing housing is an absolute priority of us as a society. It isn’t. It’s actually a “Yeah, let’s have more housing as long as it doesn’t upset other things we value more” priority.

As long as we allow planning decisions to be decided effectively by councillors elected in geographically-based wards, we will struggle to make the planning decisions we need, because there is a fundamental flaw at the heart of the system. The councillors are elected by people who live in the ward, have homes, and so don’t see the need for radical change. The people who don’t have homes, who might vote for pro-building candidates, don’t live for the most part in the area where the planning is proposed and so have no votes.

That’s assuming, by the way, that there is even a pro-building candidate on the ballot paper. Given the local government scandals of the old days, of brown envelopes and section four motions, almost any councillor who supports development is immediately accused by someone of being on the take. You end in a surreal position where conservative “pull the ladder up behind you” and so-called left wing pro-housing councillors terrified of anything with “developer” on it campaign against the same developments. If you want votes, it’s the safest thing to do.

It’s yet another reason why directly-elected mayors would be such a good idea. The mayor would be elected by the county-at-large, and so those who regard housing as an absolute priority would be an important body of voters whose votes would at least matter county-wide. A mayor coming to an end of their term, seeking re-election, would know that the number of homes they built would be a key issue for which they would be held accountable, especially in debates with other mayoral candidates. Finally, there would be a person on a ballot paper every five years whom you could say “See him? He’s the guy who is supposed to deliver on this. Let’s fire him.”

Not someone elected by the people of Some-Other-Parish South Central, and appointed housing minister by his crony the Taoiseach, but instead hired and fired by the people most affected by his housing decisions. 

Of course, that all sounds a bit too much like taking responsibility. We could always just stick an actionable right to housing into the constitution and let the Supreme Court decide national planning and housing budgets, leaning over maps in their wigs dropping high-rise blocks of flats into areas like a giant game of judicial Monopoly. Curiously enough, I could see that working, as it would sit very comfortable with the national sport of blaming those terrible people up in “the castle in Dublin”.

I could see a whole generation of professional fist-shaking Irish politicians breathing a sigh of relief at having yet another responsibility taken off them, and replaced with decades of manufactured indignation about how undemocratic it all is and how vital political reform is. Nice work if you can get it.

Copyright © 2019 Jason O Mahony All rights reserved. Email: Jason@JasonOMahony.ie.