Posted by Jason O on Apr 9, 2015 in British Politics
When I was a member of the Young Progressive Democrats many, many moons ago, I used to attend conferences of our sister party the Liberal Democrats. I found them to be very camp (I was just coming out of my homophobic phrase) and also exceptionally left wing. Yet I still felt very comfortable with them, and knew that if I were British I would have been a Lib Dem.
Why? Because I felt that they had a streak of decency in them. But also because they were not an ideologically straitjacketed party. Whereas the Tories were hounding out Heathite liberals and Labour were still working their way through their leftwing Don Quixote moment, the Lib Dems were the middle party. The party of reason.
It is, of course, easier to be like that when you don’t have to be in government. Contact with government for the Lib Dems was not much different from the Irish Greens entry into government: a form of political anaphylactic shock. The Libs Dems, like the Irish Greens a party built on being nice and pure and offering a berth to pretty much anyone with a grievance about the bigger parties, took a hammering. The reality of budgets and choices in office chased away almost all the purists and the fantasists. The grand promises of opposition, like tuition fees, suddenly turn from a banner into a lump hammer to be beaten with.
We now see the real Liberal Democrats, all 7-10% of them. We see a party that has been hardened by government, hopefully more cautious about what it promises, but above all a party that has had a positive impact.
Lower paid workers keep more of their pay-packets. Overseas aid was protected. ID cards were scrapped.
Yes, there have been compromises. Tuition fees. The Bedroom Tax. Political reform. But isn’t that the reality of modern politics? Cameron gets it in the ear from his right about Lib Dem vetoes. Ed Miliband served under Blair, a man despised by the party’s left. But you know what? If you support Proportional Representation then you have to recognise that politics is about compromise. Too many Lib Dems seems to think that PR will magically turn the whole country into nice happy liberals.
The politics of compromise is here to stay, and with Nick Clegg you get a centre party that speaks for the middle and simple liberal values. British politics without the Lib Dems is not better politics, but a politics of the Tories pandering to UKIP and Labour pandering to the SNP and the Greens. Britain needs a middle party, a party that admits that some solutions come from the right and some from the left. Britain needs the Lib Dems to survive.
Am I disappointed by Nick? Of course. But one party has to stand up, in particular, for Europe and the idea of Europe. I watched him debate Farage on the EU, and Farage clearly won, firing out one witty pub-friendly quip after another. Nick was all facts and boring statistics and the truth. It was boring and not funny. But it was the truth, and someone in British politics has got to stand up to The Daily Mail and The Daily Express and say yes, Europe is worth saving.
That’s why I still agree with Nick.
Posted by Jason O on Mar 29, 2015 in British Politics
, Irish Politics
A long post: you might want a cup of tea with this one.
When the Taoiseach was told the news by the British Prime Minister, they say that his heart actually tightened and he was short of breath. He could have been forgiven if it had been true. England, the PM announced, was pulling out of the United Kingdom. After Scotland’s withdrawal the previous year a wave of introspection had swept south of the border, and suddenly English taxpayers were asking why they were paying billions to a bunch of ungrateful paddies. Enough was enough.
The truth, the PM said, is that we would have pulled out decades ago if it hadn’t been for the IRA. There’s nothing in Ulster for us, but we just couldn’t be seen to give in to the Provos. You know, spirit of the Blitz and all that. But now most English people don’t give a toss. It’ll be like Hong Kong: flag lowered, soldiers in big hats saluting, and that’ll be that. You’ll be the man who united Ireland, the PM said. You can thank me later.
The Taoiseach actually vomited when he was alone. His first reaction had been to beg the Brits not to leave. Where the hell was he going to find €10 billion a year extra to fund the north? Increase USC by two and a half times? But he couldn’t beg, because he knew that both MI5 and the dark shades brigade in Harcourt Street were both recording the conversation, and a leak of the prime minister of Ireland begging the Brits not to leave would get him killed. In Boston, quite literally.
Supposing, after the terrible events of 9/11, the United States had acted differently. Imagine if it had worked to improve its intelligence and internal security capacity, but not launched the War on Terror. Instead, it deployed special forces discreetly throughout the world to destroy Al Qaeda and hunt down Bin Laden.
Imagine now we lived in a world where the US and her allies had not invaded Afghanistan and Iraq. Afganistan is still a medieval backwater where women are treated appallingly, and Saddam Hussein or his odious sons are still in power in Iraq.
It’s not a pretty sight, save for the fact that The West has not turned two invasions into a recruiting bonanza for Islamic extremists. Thousands of allied soldiers have not died. Hundreds of thousands of civilians are not dead. Billions have not been spent on wars that have at worst not delivered what we hoped, and at best created new problems.
Are we actually that worse off? ISIS is not fighting in Iraq. The Arab Spring probably hasn’t happened. George Bush and Tony Blair have both left office in quite high esteem, two safe pairs of hands who steered The West through one of its’ darkest days.
It couldn’t have happened, of course, for the simple reason that the American people and its media would never have settled for anything short of a spectacular act of revenge. And I write that in a non-judgemental way, because it was a very human reaction to rise up and want to wreak vengeance upon those who inflicted such a terrible blow on the US.
But that’s the point. It was a hard blow, but a gnat’s blow in terms of the strength of the United States. Over 3000 people were killed, which is a savage figure. But when you consider that over 30,000 Americans die every year from gun-related deaths, without much panic by US politicians, you realise that the US, and the rest of the western world, can absorb quite a lot of pain.
America could have dismissed 9/11 with a wave of the hand and carried on if it had chosen to. That’s not to say it can dismiss threats to national security. It can’t. The next attack could be a biological weapon, and The West has to act to protect itself. But the US, and The West in general, should perhaps start considering that massive spectacular and visible retaliation does not make the US safer but creates a new generation of enemy recruits.
Imagine if Israel didn’t respond to every attack from Hamas. Imagine if Israel just stood firm and brushed off attack after attack, without bombing the Palestinians in retaliation. Yes, it would be hard, and counter-intuitive, and there would be those on Fox News screaming hysterically and quoting the bible and calling leaders wimps and cowards. But also imagine as days turned into weeks and weeks into months, of rockets being intercepted or landing, but the counter attack never coming. Imagine the anger in Hamas and Al Quaeda, as the US and Israel don’t play their part in the cycle, but instead openly mock the terrorists for their feebleness, for the fact that The West is so strong that their best efforts are as an ant to an elephant.
In short, imagine we told them that they’re just not important enough to invade or bomb. Yes, it would be hard, turning the other cheek. It would also mean turning a blind eye to terrible things done in Nigeria and Mali and Iraq and Syria. It would probably mean we’d need a more enlightened immigration policy to provide refuge for those fleeing those awful regimes, perhaps even paying another country to act as our surrogate reception area.
Would we really be worse off?
Posted by Jason O on Jan 5, 2015 in British Politics
, Not quite serious.
Prime Minister Cameron has confirmed that he will torture and kill a foreigner live on the nation’s favourite soap during the election campaign. Sources close to Tory headquarters have suggested that the measure may help to reassure Tory voters considering defecting to UKIP. “We would have done it earlier, but we had a problem finding a candidate who was dark-skinned enough to rile up our UKIP focus group. Then he started speaking English better than most of the group, which completely confused them. One of the focus group seemed completely thrown by the Received Pronunciation accent of the intended victim and offered him a seat, calling him “your lordship”. Another tugged his forelock when he left the room to use the facilities.”
The Labour Party has responded to the challenge by upping its attempts to win the youth vote. Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls was seen practising on his chopper bike, whilst Ed Miliband badly grazed his knee when he fell off his BMX trying to do a wheelie.
Folks: I’m hoping, in 2015, to start a podcast called “Right, Left & Centre”. The idea will be to have three guests and myself discussing a big political or social idea of Irish, European or international interest. Each guest will be asked to designate themselves as right, left or centre and I hope to have one of each on each panel.
The big questions will be something like “Is Ireland about to get its first left wing government?” or “Is it time to scrap the European Union?” or “Fianna Fail/Fine Gael: is it time?” or “Are the robots going to take all our jobs?”. I’m hoping to avoid the usual Irish “The Week In Politics” party political bunfight, and have no interest in having guests who can’t see beyond the party political, if only because it’s tediously boring.
We’ll be recording over a two hour period on weekday evening or on a weekend as scheduling permits. Assuming the thing works: the first thing could end up a disaster or in the high court.
So, if you’re interested, get in touch on Twitter or on the site here, and yet me know. And don’t forget to class yourself as right, left or centre. And please: there’s a tendency of every Irish person to call themselves centrist, so bear in mind that I only want one per show, unless we have a show where it’s unavoidable!
Most importantly: I want this to be fun and to prove the point that you can disagree with people politically but like them personally.
One more thing: if you’re interested in libelling people or espousing corruption theories about certain millionaires, feck off and do it on your own podcast. I haven’t got the pockets.
1. You, and everybody else, has a right to offend and be offended. Too much freedom of speech always trumps too little.
2. Everybody has the right to keep their money as much as you have the right to keep yours.
3. Before demanding someone have more power over someone else, imagine giving that power to your worst enemy, and see if you’re comfortable with that.
4. The validity of an argument is not increased by how strongly you feel about it.
5. It is possible to disagree with someone’s politics but like them personally.
6. Everybody minding their own business is the solution to far more problems than you think.
7. There’s nothing wrong with wanting a compassionate welfare system. There is something wrong with thinking that basic maths has nothing to do with it. Every euro spent has to be taken or borrowed off someone else.
Berlusconi. Putin. Erdogan. Farage. Le Pen. Wilders. What do all these names have in common? All have built a cult of personality on a platform of authoritarian nationalist populism. But another factor is that each one of them has built a movement which will suffer a serious, possibly even fatal blow, if one of the above were to die suddenly.
It’s a curious feature of the hard right, the centralising of power around a key figure. As Franco, Mussolini and others proved, pull the keystone figure away and the whole structure could collapse in a way that democratic centrist parties just don’t.
If Farage, Berlusconi or Putin in particular suddenly passed away in the night there’d be a actual chaos in their organisations, a genuine vacuum and lack of clear succession that could destroy the whole enterprise in a vicious struggle for power.
Just a thought.
The EU: Missed when it’s gone.
NBC Dateline Brussels, Belgium, 2025.
Camera pans an imposing star shaped building, revealing the odd broken window, and weeds growing up through the forecourt. A vandalised sign, missing letters, reads “ur ommission”. Camera pans to a handsome man in his early 40s. The accent is American.
“Ten years ago, this building, housing a body called the European Commission, was one of the most important places in Europe, possibly in the western world. It was here, in sleepy Belgium, now one of the world’s backwaters, that American, Japanese, German and even Chinese businessmen would pay attention to see what consumer protection regulations would have to be met to permit their products be sold to European citizens in Greece, Germany or Galway. It’s hard now to imagine the central committee in Beijing, or tycoons and industrialists in Mumbai caring what Europeans actually think about anything, but there was once a time when the tiny nations of Europe didn’t pander and grovel to China for economic scraps, but were in fact a mighty combined economic power in their own right.
Indeed, when one looks at Prime Minister Cameron having this week to welcome the Chinese invasion of Taiwan, for fear of losing Chinese investment in Britain, it’s a sorry sign of how far Europe has fallen. So what happened? Read more…
Posted by Jason O on Oct 25, 2014 in British Politics
, Not quite serious.
The prime minister, Mr. Cameron, has launched an initiative aimed at reducing the number of witches operating in Ye Olde England. Speaking in Parliament before Lords and Commons, he didst promise that “Ye days of ye foreign witches coming t’fair land and spreading dropsy and Baker’s Knee ’bout place willst come to an end, and I have a three point plan to makes it be!”
Mr. Farage didst question him, declaiming that the prime minister is under the thrall of foreign witches and three, and that he does lie with them and engage in despicable practices involving pesto and fresh fennel and a selection of artisan breads, all alien to these shores. “Not liketh me, who enjoys a tankard of ale as much as the next yeoman, and wenching until the long hours whilst the prime minister doest speak like a Frenchman!”
The prime minister pledged solemnly to increase treasury coin towards the Office of The WitchFinder General.
In other news, the leader of his majesty’s (Gentlemen be upstanding!) loyal opposition is to be attended upon by physicians after become gravely ill whilst attempting to eat a jellied eel sandwich and trying to prove that he too didst enjoy roistering and hullabaloo.
“We have prescribed a course of leeches,” a physician said. “He should recover. Assuming he does not attempt to eat them too.”
This democracy thing is far more fragile than we realise.
I thought I’d repost this rather than write another blog on the same theme. Don’t forget to check out this article about public spending by the BBC’s Nick Robinson, as I think they dovetail nicely. By the way, make sure to watch the short film, it’s fascinating.
1. A sense of entitlement, spread across nearly every social class, that informs people that they somehow have a right to far more government expenditure being spent on them than they ever contribute in taxes, whilst at the same time believing that they are overtaxed and that others are either paying less or getting more from the state.
2. A professional political class that sees winning elections and remaining in office as a career in itself, that sees defined political values as a means to an end rather than an end goal, and that has developed its own sense of Washington Beltway/Westminster Village/Leinster House Doheny and Nesbitt set of priorities and scorecards that are getting further and further removed from the concerns of their respective publics.
3. An electorate, shaped by a post-1950s consumer culture, that expects its political leaders to deliver an unachievable level of political and indeed emotional gratification, constantly leading to disappointment in the political process. For example, this writer encountered people expressing disappointment in a new Irish government for not implementing election promises before they had actually taken office. In addition, that same electorate subscribes to a right to cheap credit but does not accept the balancing obligation of accepting a lower standard of living in order to meet those debts.
4. A media that, due to commercial realities, does not see informing the public or indeed educating them as being a high priority, but instead sees the destruction of political figures, parties and institutions as a legitimate goal in itself, as is the injecting of extreme emotion into any story where possible.
5. The corrupting effect of fundraising on the political system coupled with (see point four) a media that both decries corruption caused by fundraising but also the use of public funds to eliminate the need for private funding. Likewise, a public that demands high standards of political ethics but is unwilling to resource them, leading to candidates who are either funded by other individuals or else are privately wealthy, both cases to which the public also objects.
6. The pervasive influence of modern marketing techniques within politics, in particular the adjusting of parties to become entities espousing the least offensive lowest common denominator coupled with focusing on emotional but essentially distracting “hot button” issues. These are a direct challenge to the concept of politics being a menu of policy options that a well informed electorate can choose from. In Ireland, for example, there are supermarket chains offering more distinctive options than most of our main political parties.