Posted by Jason O on Nov 30, 2016 in European Union
Say what you will about current French President Francois Hollande, but he is solid on two things. One is France’s role in NATO, and the defence of Europe, and the other is fighting Islamic extremists across the world and especially in Africa, where French troops have been deployed by him.
I bring this up because of the serious possibility that the second round of the French presidential election next year may offer the choice of two pro-Putin candidates. Two candidates who see the Kremlin not as a threatening meddler in the affairs of the US and Europe, both physically and through media manipulation, but as a wronged victim.
Two candidates with less than enthusiasm about NATO, which has provided this continent with security since 1949.
Two candidates who, if the phone call came from the President of Estonia begging for help from a Russian invasion, may refuse to answer the phone, or give mealy-mouthed support but not contribute France’s military might to the defence of its partners.
France is one of the great nations. It is also a nation whose very soil is soaked in the blood of foreigners who gave their lives both defending and liberating the country. If there is one nation whose honour is tied up in the defence of the weaker nations from external aggression, it is France.
Posted by Jason O on Nov 26, 2016 in European Union
On May 7th of next year, Europe’s golden age of peace and prosperity could come to an end, as France votes in the second round of the presidential election.
Now: let me be clear. This is not hyperbole. In both the Brexit referendum and the US presidential election the progressive side of the argument laid it on thick. A vote for Trump or Brexit meant catastrophe, disaster, chaos. The voters didn’t believe it and they were right. My side were so hysterical at times that even if every thing we said had a grain of truth, and most of it did, we were left looking ridiculous after the result.
I’ve no doubt Brexit will still hurt the UK more than help it, but the UK will get by somehow. Trump is a different beast altogether, in that nobody (including, I suspect, the president-elect himself) knows quite what to expect. But whatever happens, it isn’t our problem to solve. Only Americans can do that.
But that leaves Le Pen and France. Watching Andrew Marr question her about remarks her father made 30 years ago about the Holocaust makes me fear that once again the liberal media don’t get it. The public don’t give a shit about what her father said. They care about whether she is talking about things that worry them in a a language they understand, and the answer is yes. Call her all the names you want: a Nazi, a racist, a fascist…it doesn’t matter. As with calling Trump a pervert, a racist, a misogynist, those labels are only cared about by people who aren’t going to vote for her anyway. She’s got the racist vote locked up, and knows it, and is going now for people who would never vote for her father but might vote for the pro-Israel pro-gay rights pro-choice Le Pen. The Le Pen who seems to have an economic vision where the political establishment has no answers but paralysis.
It’s that vision that should worry us. It’s very simple. France first. In jobs, investment, trade, she wants to raise protection against competition from foreign products and labour. It’s a very clean, simple message to sell. If you’re a farmer, the idea that your products on the shelves will be made more competitive because everybody else will be heavily tariffed or even barred. That you won’t have some Pole or Spaniard competing against you for a job. That she will return a New Franc that will be competitively devalued, a currency and a national budget under the control of the French and not some bureaucrat in Brussels or Frankfurt.
And that’s even before she starts rounding up the dark faces on the streets that scare you when they have a rucksack.
Taken at face value, it’s a very attractive proposition for many.
But as with pretty much every proposition put forward by the populist left or right, it refuses to face up to the complexity and integration of modern life.
For a start, France leaving the euro, which she has proposed, will break up the EU as anything other than a nominal entity. A France that devalues sharply will force Spain and Italy to do the same, and with France, Spain and Italy out of the euro it is the Deutsche Mark in everything but name. A sharply appreciating euro will destroy Germany’s exports, and coupled with French tariffs will almost certainly trigger retaliation protectionist measures. With that the single market is dead.
From an Irish perspective, by the way, the question will be asked. If there is no European single market, why would major exporters want to be based on a small island in the Atlantic?
Yes, we have to rely on France’s mainstream politicians to put up the defence, but given how that fared in the UK and US it’s not hopeful.
Assuming Italy doesn’t disintegrate politically and vote to exit the euro before May, France is it.
The front line.
France is where a Europe of free movement and cooperation and prosperity unknown in this continent’s history could come to an end. The freedom of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania hinges on how the people of Brest and Toulouse vote. If they vote for a woman who thinks that Putin is the victim and NATO a plot by the Baltics to intimidate Russia, we may well see the flickering light of free nations extinguished once against on the south coast of the Baltic sea.
May will decide what you tell your grandchildren, of a Europe free for all from Tallinn to Galway, or a forgotten backwater of small nations squabbling in an economic quagmire, shivering behind choking protectionism and border controls. A quaint place that once mattered, but now with our children scrabbling on the streets of once great European cities for coins scattered by Chinese tourists.
At its heart is the belief that things are terrible and can’t get any worse. It’s a belief that should be moronic to anyone with any knowledge of European history. This continent wrote the textbook on things getting worse.
Step up onto the bridge overlooking Birkenau’s entrance and see where the trains were unloaded, and tell me it can’t get any worse than it is now.
It can’t happen here?
Funny, I remember when Brexit and Trump couldn’t happen either.
Washington DC, January 2019.
Sources in the White House have confirmed that President Trump will soon meet the congressional leadership to discuss the ongoing impact on his personal wealth following the terrorist attacks on four of his hotels across the world.
Following attacks on the Trump Hotels in Brazil, Panama and Hawaii, with a combined death toll of 643 people, and the foiled bomb attack in Vancouver, the organisation has seen a sharp drop in bookings and revenue as the businesses have become seen as proxy targets against the president and his policies.
In addition, the business has struggled to secure insurance in recent months, and is engaged in an expensive legal battle with its current insurers to maintain policies. The current insurer has been required to make nearly $250 million in payments so far as a result of the attacks. Another $1 billion is expected to be paid out.
A spokesperson for the Trump family has suggested that as the attacks on the United States and the Trump family are “de facto the same thing”, the US taxpayer should compensate the family for its financial losses as a result of their willingness to serve as first family.
In addition, the president has ordered the Pentagon to draw up plans to deploy US troops to protect the various assets. He has also insisted that the State department demand those forces be permitted to be deployed in those countries to protect the properties. Both the British and Irish governments have already agreed.
A number of terrorist groups have declared Trump businesses to be legitimate targets across the world, given the president’s close involvement.
A source in the CIA has stated that “they see these attacks as a means of reducing the president’s wealth, which, as we all know, is a subject he is very sensitive about. They know it’s a way of getting under his skin. The fact that he rants about it on Twitter after every attack doesn’t help.”
Posted by Jason O on Nov 21, 2016 in Irish Politics
, The Times Ireland Edition
Previously published in The Times Ireland Edition.
I’ve always been a science fiction fan. Not one of those “a thousand years in the future” types, but more of the shape of things to come in twenty or thirty years. As a result, I was always fascinated by dystopian movies like “The Children of Men” or “Escape from New York”, both of which take place, respectively, in a still recognizable Britain or US not too far in the future. In “Escape from New York”, the United States is ruled by a far-right president wreaking violence upon those who do not conform to his definition of traditional American (read Christian) values. The same applies to Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”, where the American establishment is toppled by misogynistic white male extremists who believe women should be second class citizens. It was the question of how we got from here to there which intrigued me.
This week, the voters of the United States will answer that question. How the richest, most progressive, most powerful nation in human history totters on the brink of very possibly sweeping that all away by electing a North American Peron. Never will the phrase “We’re ready to call Florida” induce so much stomach tightening terror as it will on Tuesday night.
Here in Ireland we can do very little about it. It’s America’s world, and we have to live in it, because the alternative is China’s world or Russia’s Europe. Funnily enough, it occurred to me during the week that the US could have made a fortune if it did let, for a handsome fee, foreigners elect two or three members of the electoral college, because we seem to appreciate how much more important it is than at least one in four Americans who won’t bother to vote. I suspect the whole adult population of Estonia would turn out to vote if they could.
There’s nothing we can do but learn our lessons. Trump is just the latest manifestation of a destructive hateful force sweeping across the world, from Farage to Putin to Le Pen to Geert Wilders. Hate is in. Just look at the UK this week, where UK judges who ruled that parliament is sovereign were demonised by newspapers that had only campaigned on that very subject back in June. Foreigners in the UK are keeping their heads, and voices down, for fear of attack. It’s not that racism has suddenly exploded in the UK after the Brexit vote any more than it has in the US or elsewhere, it’s that it has become socially more acceptable. The racists now believe that they speak for the silent majority, which is pretty much the line the Trumpistas take too.
As for Ireland? Could we see a rise in demagoguery? We certainly have no shortage of populists, but it is striking, indeed curious, that the race card has never really taken root here. There have been attempts to suggest that the citizenship referendum was some sort of indicator, but even the alphabet left don’t buy that. Know how I know? There’s no Repeal the Citizenship Amendment movement from them or anyone else.
It’s not that we don’t have racists in our society, but they seem to be trapped on the crazy fringe, always two sentences away from talking about bloodlines and “protecting our culture”. The sort of people who say “I’m completely against racism…against white people!” and think it’s a real rabbit out of the hat moment.
The scary thing about the race issue is that once it takes hold in a society, it’s impervious to facts. UKIP voters nearly always overestimate what percentage of the UK population is Muslim, non-white, or not born in the UK. But as Trump has proven, facts don’t matter to those voters.
A clear barrier to an Irish Trump would be the fact that Irish politics is personality centric. Who could be our Trump anyway? The only politician of recent years who had the sort of popular appeal of Donald Trump was Bertie, and he never showed any desire, to his credit, to divide people. But supposing an Evil Bertie did come along, a man of the people who whipped up fear about Muslims and black faces and “we need to look after our own people first” and all the rest. Who played the same well tested card about who is getting all the housing? Who is being let into the country? Why aren’t the refugees going to Muslim countries?
The other barrier to an Irish Trump is that geography nearly always beats ideology. An Irish Trump could be agreed with one hundred percent on the doors, but they then vote for the other guy because he “got the 46A stop moved for me granny”.
An Irish Trump would need to be a clear communicator, but not too polished. Ideally from a rural background, with a bit of GAA in their history but comfortable at a soccer match. Not an ideologue, because that’s where they always fail, thinking that being anti-immigrant means they have to be anti-gay and pro-life too. The assassinated Dutch politician Pym Fortuyn figured that one out years ago, recognising that voters aren’t ideologically strait-jacketed but like their views a la carte.
We think we wouldn’t be foolish enough to vote for an Irish Trump. But people forget: before Hitler there was no Hitler to warn us. As the line goes: the greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.
Previously published in The Times Ireland Edition on 18th July 2016.
Writing on social media last week about the Nice attack, the conservative commentator John McGuirk remarked that “at some point soon, people are going to say “you know, we tried the nice way. We tried tolerance. We tried being understanding. Maybe it’s time to give the crazy guy a shot at it.”
It’s hard to dispute the logic of his argument, given the rollercoaster of the last 12 months. From Trump to Brexit, we are witnessing what some are calling “post-truth” politics but what I prefer to term The Right To One’s Own Facts. The most disturbing aspect of the Brexit debate for me was the willingness of voters particularly but not exclusively on the leave side to casually dismiss facts which did not fit with their worldview.
But what should really alarm us is that there now seems to be substantial numbers of voters who choose to vote recklessly on the basis that “sure, it can’t get any worse, can it?” There are literally millions of people voting for Trumps, Farages and Erdogans. It can always get worse.
In 1979 the trades unions brought down Jim Callaghan’s Labour government because they thought he was too right-wing. Think they were still applauding themselves for that act after ten years of Mrs Thatcher? Reckless voters keep thinking that they can’t break the system, even when they pretend they want to.
But they do want to break it, some say. Why shouldn’t they? They’re disengaged. Except they’re not. They are completely engaged by other taxpayers through the state. It often provides their dole, their healthcare, their housing, their kids’ education, all funded by the taxes of voters whom they themselves seem to hold in contempt for being “an elite”.
The welfare state isn’t some form of natural fiscal phenomenon. It’s a decision by voters collectively to provide what is, in many instances, a form of nationalised charity. Sure, get insulted all you want at that definition, and talk about entitlements and rights, but bear in mind that whilst all of us, in every class, cannot avoid paying some tax, even if it is just VAT, some pay far more into the pot than they draw out, and others vice versa. You know where the poor are disengaged properly? Venezuela. When you can’t even find toilet paper on the supermarket shelves. Disengagement? That’s abandonment by the state, and it isn’t happening here.
The other awkward reality about reckless voters is their contribution to the rise of the hard anti-immigrant right in Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland. What do these countries all have in common? How about, in one study after another, they collectively have the highest standards of living as nations in the world, which actually means in human history. So what’s their gripe? How disengaged are they? Is their broadband speed letting them down? Not getting enough time to play Pokemon?
What unifies Trump voters, Brexit voters, far right and far left voters? For some it is simple racism. We seem to believe that racism is no longer possible, but is merely a symptom of some other underlying cause. But guess what? Some people just don’t like people who are a different colour or creed. It doesn’t matter why, we just have to ignore them because their opinions are irrational and listening to them about the direction of society is like listening to Jimmy Saville about child protection protocols.
But I would suggest that the racists are a minority, and the real motivating factor for many of these voters is the speed of change, and that’s a big problem. Yes, immigration transforms societies, but so does technology. The speed of transport has sped up immigration, but it has also sped up shipping times from the cheaper labour less employment rights factories of China and thus made off-shoring jobs much more viable. How do you stop that?
The Trumps and the Le Pens can stop immigration, and erect walls, both physically and tariff. But they can only alter the speed of change by actually withdrawing their respective countries from the globalized economy, which has all sorts of consequences from labour shortages to the price of food in the shops.
For me, the greatest reason why we should ignore reckless voters is their belief that complexity can be removed. That “take back control” or “just send them all home” is an actual solution. This is using a match to see if there is any petrol left in the drum stuff, and it must be opposed.
Of course, all that assumes that a majority of voters will vote in a non-reckless way, and that, in the age of Trump, is a hell of an assumption to make. Just look at the Erdogan of Turkey.
In 1932, in Germany, 52% of voters voted for either the Nazi party or the Communist party. Many of those same voters would have to wait for 17 years for another free election, and only after their country lay literally in ruins and under occupation.
It is very possible for voters in a democracy to vote to abolish themselves. Reckless voters have a right to be heard. But they don’t have a right to grab control of the wheel of the bus and take us all down with them. Nor are we obliged to let them.
The FBI agents didn’t arrive until the media, tipped off by Rudy Giuliani’s Department of Justice, were in place. Secretary Clinton opened the door herself, and invited the flak jacketed agents into her hallway. She looked refreshed and prepared, in a purple pantsuit.
The first mistake happened there. The new FBI director had handpicked agents with a clear disposition against her, and when one agent grabbed her wrist roughly and spun her to cuff her, one of President Clinton’s Secret Service detail stepped forward and pulled the FBI’s hand off her.
“She is cooperating. Show her some respect.” The Secret Service man said, squaring up to him.
The FBI agent went for his gun, but the Secret Service, trained for the sudden appearance of weapons had their guns our faster.
All on live TV, after the FBI in their zealotry hadn’t closed the door behind them and dozens of zoom lenses and microphones recorded the incident.
Giuliani, who had been watching in his office with his staff of young men, shouted down the frat boy whooping that had accompanied the initial entry into the Clinton home in upstate New York.
He, an old master of the live TV perp walk from his days as a US Attorney, had given instructions for her to be brought out in cuffs. But this was getting out of hand.
On TV, President Clinton stepped through his secret service detail and stood in front of the FBI.
“There’s no need for this. Hillary is cooperating.”
Secretary Clinton put her hand on the Secret Service man’s shoulder.
“Stand down, Tom. Let’s let these guys do their jobs.”
The agent in charge, suddenly realising that the door was open and that they were probably live on TV, had the sense to calm the situation.
“Thank you, madam secretary,” he said, and put the cuffs on her wrists, clicking them loosely.
“Are those really necessary?” President Clinton said.
“Who ordered you to put handcuffs on a 69 year old women with no history of violence?”
“Vince Foster would disagree…” one of the agents quipped, before realising.
President Clinton, spun on his heel and looked at the agent.
“That’s the way it is, it is?”
In his office, Giuliani, listening to the entire conversation broadcast live on TV, was screaming at the screen.
“Close the fucking door! Close the fucking door!”
Secretary Clinton tapped her husband on the arm.
“Don’t worry about it, Bill. Rudy Giuliani obviously thinks I’m very dangerous. Will you bring my reading glasses, honey.”
As she was led out of the house, America had stopped what it was doing to watch the spectacle. A growing crowd was gathering outside the house, and started chanting “Hill-a-ry! Hill-a-ry!” as she was put into one of the 10 FBI jeeps outside the house. She smiled, and held up her her hands in the air, the cuffs very clear to be seen.
It was an image that would become iconic.
Media helicopters and drones buzzed over the scene, following the FBI convoy as they took her to Manhattan to be charged. By the time she arrived at FBI headquarters, thousands of people were present. Some were shouting “Jail her!” but most were supporting her.
When she was led in, accompanied by her husband, there was a wall of noise as the crowd now covered the entire street. The NYPD were desperately trying to redirect traffic.
After an hour, President Clinton exited the building with with some aides and his Secret Service detail. Half way down the steps, surrounded by the media, someone (on advice from James Carville who was in apoplexy watching from Louisiana) handed the former president a loudhailer and a hand mike. He slung the loudhailer over his shoulder, looking like a superannuated student activist.
“My wife Hillary,” he said in that familiar southern drawl, “is a political prisoner.”
“This is the sort of thing you see in Zimbabwe or North Korea. A new president turning the power of the state on his political opponents. You did not see Reagan jail Mondale, or Bush jail Dukakis, or George W jail Al Gore. This, this is disgusting!”
In the DOJ, Giuliani was fielding a call from the President, who did not like what he was seeing. Then something caught his eye on the screen.
The crowd, now maybe 100,000 strong, seemed to ripple as someone moved across the steps of the building. Then the cheering started as people recognised former President Obama and Michelle Obama pushing through. Clinton saw them, and opened his arms to give both a huge embrace. The crowd started cheering, a chant “Let her out!” started, during into a deafening roar.
Giuliani was smart enough to see this was getting out of hand.
“Yes sir….no, I don’t think we should send in the national guard…we’ve a helicopter…yes sir.”
President Obama took the microphone live on camera.
“Michelle and I were downtown when we heard the news…I could not believe what I heard…is this the America we’re living in, where one party has its opponents picked up off the streets? Hell no!”
The crowds chanted back a “Hell no!” at him.
“What happens next? Is Rudy Giuliani going to have her spirited away to some prison in the middle of nowhere, some gulag?”
Giuliani looked at his advisers. That was exactly the plan.
A helicopter took off from the roof of the FBI building, as someone whispered in Clinton’s ear. Clinton gestured to Obama, who handed over the microphone.
“I’ve just been told that Hillary is on that helicopter, and that they’re taking her somewhere. I don’t know where. But my friends, I’ll tell you this. This is a political arrest, and will only be resolved in one place: Washington DC.”
They could hear the chants in the Oval Office. “Let her go!” from just shy of two million people was very loud.
The president was not happy. Despite many questioning his intellect during the campaign, he’d proven himself to have a shrewd political gut, and this sat uneasily. The polls were showing that whilst a solid 40% of the country supported prosecuting her, 50% saw it as purely an act of political revenge.
In the week since her incarceration in a federal prison awaiting trial, in North Dakota, the Democrats had been galvanized. Millions were marching on the streets, and her name was now being compared to Nelson Mandela and Alfred Dreyfus. Foreign leaders hadn’t been helpful, although Putin and the Chinese endorsed his action in the “fight against corruption”. President Le Pen supported him too. That prick Trudeau had led a march to the US embassy in Ottawa to hand in a letter of protest. It wasn’t helped either by the fact that his coarsest supporters were having a field day on the web making remarks about her being sexually assaulted in jail. The First Lady had walked out of a meeting where such remarks had been made.
The visit to the prison by Michelle Obama, Laura Bush, Rosalynn Carter and Barbara Bush had looked awful for the administration on TV.
His advisers had all advised that this was to be expected, and it didn’t matter.
“All this proves is that the people who hate you still hate you,” Chris Christie said.
“Let’s get through the trial, put her away, and let her rot!”
The meeting broke up with out a decision, the room clearing save for Ivanka Trump. The others knew not to question her remaining.
“This is a huge problem honey!” The president said, slumping in his seat. He was not enjoying being president. He still spent a lot of time in his home in New York, and was beginning to hate having to return to the White House. The constant protest outside Trump Tower annoyed him too. It also grated with him to be booed in his home city, where once people had cheered him on the streets. He’d tried to have them moved on, but both the mayor and governor had refused to deploy heavy forces.
His mood hadn’t been helped by the fact that every business with a Trump in the title was now being permanently picketed by the Let Her Go crowd. Ivanka and the boys had openly talked about rebranding and separating his presidency from his brand in an attempt to save revenues.
“They’re wrong,” she said.
“If Hillary stays in prison she will become the focal point of your presidency. The next election will be a referendum on freeing her. Is that what we want?”
“What’s the alternative?”
“Pardon her. Say that a trial will be divisive and that you want to bring the country together.”
“My supporters will go nuts!”
“You said you’d put her in jail. She’s in jail. Now the country has to move on. I’ve put some words together.”
She handed him a buff folder, which he opened and leaned back in his seat. He smiled.
“Is this legal?”
“I have half a dozen lawyers who say it isn’t illegal.”
Newsflash: The White House has announced that the president will issue a pardon of Secretary Hillary Clinton for all crimes and misdemeanors committed by her. Unusually, for the pardon to take affect, Secretary Clinton is required to sign that she is accepting the pardon.
Some legal scholars suggest that in doing so she would be admitting to having committed the crimes in the first place.
A spokesperson for the president said that the pardon is on its way to North Dakota by fighter jet, and that Mrs Clinton can be home with her family by tonight if she wishes.
The attorney general, Rudy Giuliani, has resigned. He will be replaced by his deputy, Gov. Chris Christie.
The president shall address the nation tonight.
Posted by Jason O on Nov 11, 2016 in US Politics
I wrote this is June 2014:
See this guy to the right here? Many of today’s political anoraks won’t have a clue who he is. But for a period from the late 1950s to the early 1970s, every “Men who will one day be President” list (and it was all men) included the name Hubert Horatio Humphrey.
Starting as a barnstorming anti-segregationist Minnesota mayor in 1948 (when the Democratic Party still had KKK members) through the US Senate through Vice President under LBJ and a tantalisingly close election defeat to Nixon in 1968, Humphrey was the flag bearer of the party’s liberal wing and one of the biggest beasts in the party. Yet he never became president.
I can’t help wondering is Hillary Clinton falling into that mould, as the candidate that everybody knows who seems to have been around forever and is certain to be “the next President” and yet…
Is it possible that the window has already closed, and we just don’t know it, that she is still a woman with deep reservoirs of support yet doesn’t have that widespread appeal to put her over the top?
Whenever I look at Hillary and particularly her supporters, I can’t help thinking that they seem to be people who regard their liberalism as being of the “my butler has an excellent health insurance package” variety. Not bad people, just people living in a different world, who support Obamacare and go to LGBT fundraisers (and know what LGBT means) and then have their driver bring their car around. People who don’t know anybody who doesn’t know an openly gay person. People who regard upstate New York as the epitome of rural.
This is a candidate, don’t forget, who has been pretty much chauffeur-driven for a quarter of a century. When, would you say, was the last time Hillary Clinton was in a Walmart? Now, maybe that doesn’t matter. After all, FDR, the great liberal reformer, was an aristocrat. Ted Kennedy, who passed more legislation to protect working people than any other legislator, came from one of the wealthiest families in America. But people need a certain degree of authenticity. Does this person know what my life is like? That’s a question about HRC that is a hard one to answer.
Humphrey was loved by the big unions, and that was when the unions were the voice of the ordinary American worker, not just the public sector. Can HRC convince that she is the candidate of working people, and not just a collection of liberal elites?
Previously published in The Times Ireland Edition.
Over dinner recently with one of the thinkers of the Irish free market right (alright, it was Cormac Lucey) the subject turned to the prospects of a genuinely pro-free market party.
I’m sceptical. After all, Renua with its flat tax proposals made a pitch for the low-tax voter, and crashed faster than a moderate Republican presidential candidate.
Why didn’t it work? Here was a party with a talented party leader in Lucinda Creighton, a parliamentary base with three outgoing TDs, and a clear pitch. All three lost their seats. Did it confirm that there is simply no significant free market vote in Ireland?
Not quite. Renua was tarred from the very start with the whole pro-life thing, given the reasons why Lucinda and the others left Fine Gael. On top of that, unlike the US and UK, it’s not absolutely vital for broad church coalitions to exist in Irish parties. Large numbers of pro-low tax voters are also pro-choice voters, and were repelled by the perception that Renua was the parliamentary wing of the John Charles McQuaid Sub-Committee for the Saving of Souls.
But it’s not just that free market voters were happy with the establishment parties. Nor, by the way, is it true, as many claim, that Irish voters aren’t ideological. The fact that we have never elected a socialist or social democrat-led government isn’t an accident. This is a small c conservative country with a suspicion of economic change and a murderous Bull McCabe obsession with the right to private property.
The Irish are ideological, but won’t admit it. Everybody claims to be middle of the road or liberal. Liberal being shorthand for “fairness”, and fairness being shorthand for “spend money on things I want”. Few people openly identify as conservative in an ideological sense, and being called right-wing is regarded as an insult. Yet, especially in our attitudes to property (where’s my shotgun?), taxes (for other people) and regulation (also for other people) large numbers of Irish people could easily find themselves in the non-Praise Jesus! wing of the US Republican Party. We just won’t admit it.
It begs a question: if there is a classic right-wing vote out there, why isn’t in translated into openly right-wing votes on polling day? Yes, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael are centre-right and still dominate Irish politics. But the answer is in the description: centre-right. Both parties, with their centrist tendencies, are firmly anchored to the “there’s a few quid for yourself” approach to public spending to grease the wheels of popularity. But why aren’t economically right-wing voters voting for right-wing candidates?
The answer to that, I suspect, is that in Ireland geography trumps ideology. Our electoral system is primarily geographically based, and those voters who vote with a free market bias are essentially diluted by the greater majority of voters who cast their first preferences For The Area. It’s why Fine Gael can get working class votes and why Richard Boyd Barrett picks up first preferences from the yachting crowd in Dun Laoghaire. It’s all about the area, and in the area, it’s all about delivery. Banging on about the flat tax on the doorstep just doesn’t compete with getting the stop for the 46A moved closer to your granny’s house because her knee is giving her terrible gip. The 46A is real: the flat tax is a graph. It’s not that most voters aren’t interested, or don’t understand. It just doesn’t compete compared to getting that Aldi stopped or getting a grant for the local GAA’s roof. Let someone else worry about the flat taxes: we’re worried about the flat roof.
But here’s a thought. Supposing you got small businessmen from all over the country into a room. Or farmers. Or trades unionists. Yes, they’d still talk about local experiences, but surely the talk would turn to the big national issues that affect business or farmers? They will discuss the flat tax and public spending and The Big Picture, because in that format, it’s the national issues which are the common factor, as opposed to geography.
This is relevant because last week the Seanad passed the second stage of the reform bill to allow every citizen a vote on one of the vocational panels. Every citizen will have a right to vote in a national Seanad constituency representing, broadly speaking, business, labour, agricultural, cultural or administrative interests. In other words, the aforementioned businessmen in a room get to elect their senators.
In such a scenario, where geographical interests are lessened (never abolished. This is Ireland) it’s not impossible to imagine a party like New Zealand’s Association of Consumers and Taxpayers (ACT-NZ) being formed just to contest for two or three seats on the industrial and commercial panel. Same with a Rural or Farmers Party on the agricultural panel. Or a Young People’s Party on the educational and cultural panel.
Indeed, a new Seanad crammed full of senators elected by interest groups across the land could soon draw media attention away from the Dail.
It’s not impossible that a new Seanad could end up debating the real meat of national issues, with senators aware that their electors live in every parish, united by issue and interest as opposed to place.
Still, that would leave the Dail to provide the vegetables.