Jason OMahony - Irish political blogger, Irish politics, EU politics
 
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An Occasional Guide to Irish Politics: The Curse of the Shoo-In Candidate.

pol books2It’s a uniquely Irish concept. In other countries, parties brag about how well their candidate is doing. Not in Ireland. In Ireland, candidates, especially ones defending a seat, play up how desperate things are, how bad the campaign is going, how “the seat is gone”. There is nothing a candidate hates more than people saying she’s a dead cert, because in Ireland that’s political death. More people have gone into an election as the dead cert and come out with less votes than Gary Glitter at a National Association of Creches AGM.

It’s all to do with the second guessing poker nature of the Single Transferable Vote system. STV is a logical, rational and fair voting system which gives voters a wider choice than almost any voting system in the world. It asks voters to select their candidates in order of preference. As a result, there’s little chance of wasting one’s vote on an unelectable candidate.

But it never expected that it would have to deal with the Irish psyche, and voters who don’t just consider who they’d like to elect, but who they think other people are going to elect too, and so discount their own vote and transfer their vote to their second choice in the hope of getting a second bite of the cherry. It’s hardly surprising, as this is exactly the same way Irish people choose their third level educational future through the Central Applications Office. They’re asked to pick what course they really want, and instead enter what course they think they’ll get, and are then disappointed when they miss the course they actually wanted in the first place. They then vote the same way.

As a result, you have party voters who decide that Party X’s candidate A is a definite, and so instead gives their first preference to candidate A’s running mate, to give her a chance at taking a second seat for the party. The problem is that large numbers of candidate A’s loyal voters are all thinking the same thing, and so the running mate gets elected and candidate A is surprisingly defeated to the shock of all, with voters looking blankly at each other with a “Jaysus, if I’d only known. Sure everybody I know said they wanted him in!”

How do you prevent it? Vote for your favourite candidate first. It really is that simple. Really.

 
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Great TV: The Irish RM

Posted by Jason O on Aug 26, 2018 in Cult TV, Movies/TV/DVDs

the-irish-rm“The Irish RM”, which ran for three series from 1983-85, has unfairly been dismissed in recent years as a bit of paddywhackery about the clever English been driven to despair by the stupid ways of the pre-independence Irish of 1897 to 1905, when it is set. I have to admit that until I rewatched the series on DVD recently I held that view myself, based on vague memories of it on TV as a child.

Watching it now, however, reveals that the show was much more subtle and balanced in its portrayal of the two countries and their views of each other. Indeed, if one is being honest, it’s arguable that there is one only episode, its final one, where the English score a clear victory over the Irish. As Yates himself discovers, what looks to an outsider like a bit of Irish stupidity is almost always revealed to be hiding some scheme behind it.

Set in a rural Cork district in 1897, the series tells in comedy drama form the tribulations of Major Sinclair Yates (Peter Bowles), a decent if unimaginative new appointment as the resident magistrate. Yates finds that not only does he have to deal with the Machiavellian smoke and mirrors of the local Catholic rural poor, but also the Protestant Anglo-Irish ascendancy who are often hand in glove with the Catholics against the stiff rule of Dublin Castle.

The show was well received in its first broadcast, not only for its entertainment value but also for the fact that it was one of the few major TV drama productions filmed in Ireland in the mid-1980s, and provided a platform for a Who’s Who of Irish acting talent including Bryan Murray in a career-defining role as the roguish but lovable Flurry Knox, Niall Toibin as his equally roguish henchman Slipper and Anna Manahan as the terrifying Mrs Cadogan. Everybody else from Mick Lally, Noel Purcell, Frank Kelly, Joe Lynch, Alan Stanford, Lise Ann McLaughlin, Pat Laffan, Eamonn Morrissey, Brendan Conroy, Virginia Lawless, David Kelly, Jonathan Ryan and others all got their bit.

In fact, it’s quite possible that no one in Ireland over 40 has not met someone who was in it at some stage. Off the top of my head I can think of three people I’ve met who had roles in it. Retweet this if you’ve met one of them!

The humour is gentle, and there is a little bit too much chasing a goose around a garden type shenanigans for my liking, but it is a charming show with some top class performances. Worth another look.

 
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Cult TV: 1990

Posted by Jason O on Aug 25, 2018 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!

SPOILER ALERT***

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.

 
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Where Eight Bells Toll: When Anthony Hopkins was an action hero.

Posted by Jason O on Aug 20, 2018 in Movies/TV/DVDs

hopkinsBefore his breakthrough role (all less than 20 minutes of it) in “The Silence of the Lambs” in 1991, Anthony Hopkins had been a successful if moderately well known actor. In 1971, he starred as British secret agent Commander Philip Calvert in the film of Alastair Maclean’s “Where Eight Bells Toll”, which was intended to have been the first in a series of movies about Calvert.

The film is noticeable for being a very low-key thriller, a sort of modest budget 007 about Calvert investigating the disappearance of ships carrying gold bullion off the coast of Scotland. Hopkins, like Michael Caine’s Harry Palmer, plays the role as a tough but workaday johnny just doing his job. It’s a pity they didn’t do any more of the movies, as the character is actually quite likable. He’s rude, shouty towards his boss, vicious in fights, yet has a moral compass. The late Robert Morley is superb as his boss, who expresses shock at the possibility of a member of his club being a baddie: “But he’s on the wine committee!”

I posted the below scene, which is the last scene in the movie (it does not really ruin any plot) because it highlights the character, and the theme tune which will bounce around your head for days afterwards.

 
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The future of Europe could be decided next May.

Posted by Jason O on Aug 19, 2018 in European Union

The Times ScreenshotPreviously published in The Times Ireland Edition.

I wonder does Guy Verhofstadt, former Belgian prime minister and current European Parliament Mr. Brexit ever look out the window and sigh at how aliens have never once tried to kill him?

Not once has he ever had to battle down corridors cracking aliens over the head with blunt objects like the proposed European Hatware for Badgers with Low Esteem directive, perhaps forming a chalk and cheese fighting partnership with Nigel Farage who, let’s be honest, would side with the EU against face-sucking acid-spitting alien psychopaths.

Well, he probably would. They’re illegal immigrants, after all.

It’s never happened, because you can tell the level of public relevance a political institution is held to by whether Hollywood tries to blow it up by alien invasion.

The White House, United States Congress, Houses of Parliament have all had their fair share of punishment rained down upon them from giant alien battlecruisers.

To the best of my knowledge, no alien invasion fleet has ever tried to destroy the European Parliament.

It’s hard to recall any movie or TV series where the European Parliament was involved. One has to go back to the movie “Paris by night” (1985) to recall Charlotte Rampling playing a British member of the European Parliament, and I do vaguely recall that cad and scoundrel Alan B’stard (played by the late Rik Mayall) was an MEP for a short while in “The New Statesman”.

There was even a thriller written in the 1980s called “The Commissioner” about skullduggery in Brussels and written by one Stanley Johnson, father of you-know-who, but the European Parliament is no “West Wing”.

It’s not even “Borgen”.

Well, buckle up. The European parliament is going to become the most exciting place in Europe within the next ten months.

There won’t be any Martians, but there’ll be no shortage of Nazis.  

Some weeks ago I speculated in this column that the European elections in May could turn out to be a contest of high drama between the forces of European moderate centrism of left and right and the extremists from the aspiring Venezuela left to the various shades of hard right political opinion across Europe.

That was before the news that Steve Bannon, the Sith Lord of Trumpism, has decided to set up shop in our fair continent in an attempt to repeat the Trump victory in a new European format.

If I was slightly worried a few weeks ago about the future of Europe I am now terrified.

The reality is that a victory for the forces of extremism in the European Parliament is very possible, and it matters.

It’s quite possible that European citizens, in the usual bolshy elbows-out attitude towards their sitting national governments may decide to go rogue in the European elections of next year in the mistaken belief that European elections don’t matter. It did used to be fairly ho-hum, occasionally livened up by the soon to be gone presence of UKIP MEPs, who were always a bit of fun accusing each other of things when they weren’t beating the crap out of each other.

But now things get serious. Voters might well believe that the previously sleepy yawn-and-you’ll-not-miss-it legislature is a cost-free no-consequence slap in the face to home politicians, that votes for extremists in the European parliament is some sort of harmless minor protest.

In the past it might have been, but if voters think that now they are very much mistaken.

The parliament is not the toothless rubber-stamping forum of the past.  Successive national governments, stung by criticisms of the EU being undemocratic, kept throwing a few morsels of power down into the dungeon holding the infant parliament, and we’re suddenly surprised when a big beast comes bounding up the stairs years later.

It is a legislature with real power including the power to block the European budget, the power to sack the commission and indeed from the last European elections a very significant if debatable power in terms of deciding who will be the next president of the European commission.

The so-called “spitzenkandidaten” process has a potential to be a nightmare scenario. Spitzenkandidaten is an informal understanding between the main parties in the European parliament that each party shall nominate a candidate for the presidency of the European commission and that the party who forms the largest single group in the post-election parliament then has the right to nominate to the European council that candidate for the job

of succeeding Jean-Claude Juncker.

It’s true that the European treaty which governs the appointment of the president of the commission does not specifically give the power of nomination to the European Parliament.

Instead it says vaguely (on something that you really want to be vague about?) that the European council must “take into account” the results of the European elections.

That could mean anything. That could be the European council perusing a copy of The Times before deciding, but this all comes back down to the composition of the European parliament.

What if the largest block in the parliament is made up of hard-right eurosceptics?

Supposing they nominate say Marine Le Pen or Geert Wilders for president?

If they were appointed, that’s the end of the EU.

If the council were to refuse the nominee of the European parliament we get a constitutional crisis with the democratically elected European Parliament on one side and the in-directly elected European council on the other.

Either way is a democratic crisis.

This is why we need to get it clear right now that the president of the commission will be chosen by the member states, not the parliament.

This matters.

The next European elections are going to be a battle between the forces of decency and moderation and those who wish to drive Europe back into darker times.

As part of that we need to abandon the spitzenkandidaten process, which has failed to connect democratically with European voters anyway.

I mean, who can name the last Social Democrat candidate?

I can, but that’s hardly something to brag about.

If anything, I should probably keep that to myself.

It’s also absolutely inconceivable that this European Union or its constituent member states should tolerate the interference or even presence of Steve Bannon within the borders of Europe.

He’s not entitled to be here because he’s not a European Union citizen, if anything more like a de facto enemy combatant, someone who is engaged in a open conspiracy with the far-right to destroy this union.

Steve Bannon should not be allowed into Europe.

If we cannot get consent at European Union level, through the Poles or the Hungarians blocking, then it should be up to individual member states.

Simon Coveney should take the lead and say that Steve Bannon will not be welcome in Ireland and that the minister for justice will have him detained and removed from the jurisdiction of this country if he attempts to enter it.

He should be treated as we would someone advocating radical Islamist terrorism or engaged in espionage and removed accordingly.

We may have held back the forces of darkness when Emmanuel Macron defeated Marine Le Pen, but we are going to have to defeat those forces again and again.

We can at least start by recognising the Hydra when we see it.

Then by promptly cutting off one of its heads.

Copyright © 2018 Jason O Mahony All rights reserved. Email: Jason@JasonOMahony.ie.