Posted by Jason O on May 14, 2015 in British Politics
There’s an odd fact to be remembered when one is pondering the outcome of British general elections, a fact that needs not be heeded in almost every other democracy. It is the fact that how the British people actually vote is not the same as what parliament looks like in the end. Thus a clear victory for almost every party in every election since the mid 1970s has inevitably not been reflected in how voters cast their ballots.
The giant electoral brain that is Gerry Lynch recently pointed out that under many PR systems, the Tories and UKIP between them would probably have won a majority anyway. It’s a fair point often ignored by many on the left who just can’t countenance that the British people might actually want a centre-right government.
However, and there is a big however…supposing such an occurrence had happened, and a Cameron/Farage coalition had been formed. It would have implemented a load of hard right social welfare reforms, correct?
Is it? Suddenly, a cluster of UKIP MPs representing former Labour strongholds would happily sit by as their new constituents beat a path to their door to furiously object? Really? I doubt it very much. I think the faultline between the UKIP’s golfclub colonel voters and its former Labour voters would become very clear in the parliamentary party, and Farage would be doing a Nick Clegg with the handbrake to try to keep his new internal party coalition together. And that’s not even taking into account the fact that PR would mean Tory MPs in areas that traditionally don’t elect them under First Past the Post. Tory MPs who again might have constituents who rely more on public services.
It’s all speculation, of course, but my point is this. A voting system that represented all the voters would force any government to have to ensure at least the pacific consent of the majority of voters, something which neither Thatcher nor Blair ever had to worry about.
Labour, the party which bitches about the Tories dividing the nation, has had the opportunity on two occasions, under Wilson and then under Blair, to introduce Proportional Representation. Within Labour there has always been opposition to PR on the basis that it would cost the party seats and thus restrict the party’s ability to implement its agenda without compromising with coalition partners.
Looking at that stance now, it sounds frankly either ludicrous or downright dishonest. There are people in the Labour Party now who, despite rending their garments and wailing at the evils of the Cameron governments, will choose letting the Tories rule with 37% of the vote over having to share power with other parties. Given a choice between inflicting the bedroom tax or welfare cuts or food banks or any of the things they denounce as immoral, and introducing proportional representation, a system which will make those policies much harder to implement, it’s f**k the poor as far as many in Labour are concerned.
So please, spare us the histrionics, Labour. Between 1997 and 2010 you could have changed the electoral system. You didn’t. And now the Tories are going to change the boundaries making it even harder to get them out. Well done.
Posted by Jason O on May 8, 2015 in British Politics
Here we go again.
Bloody hell. Didn’t see that coming. A few ponderings…
1. What on Earth happened to the polls? Are people lying to pollsters, or was there a shift at a very late stage that wasn’t picked up?
2. The vote/seat disparity with regard to UKIP is scandalous. Regardless of whether you agree with them, millions of people voted for them and they got a single seat. The fact that 50% of Scots didn’t vote for the SNP and got 3 MPs for their trouble adds to that scandal, and falsifies the mandate of the SNP.
3. The challenges for the Lib Dems are interesting. The party has an expertise in campaigning, and a pretty solid campaigning infrastructure. It also has a significant number of constituencies where, even in the recent firestorm, there is still has a substantial vote to build on. The big task is carving out a need to vote liberal over Green or Labour.
4. It’s game on for the European referendum so. Would be funny if Cameron traps Boris by putting him in charge of coming back with the much ballyhooed new deal on the EU. Or as we call it in Ireland, “doing a Michael Collins”.
5. By the way, I’ve no doubt that only the Tories can keep Britain in the EU.
6. Finally, a prediction. All this tosh about Cameron now being master of all he surveys is just that. I’m old enough to remember John Major winning a greater majority in the unwinnable election of 1992, and the shine came off the ball within months (caused by the ERM crisis, admittedly) but the reality is that a chunk of the Tory party will never be happy with what deal comes back from Brussels, and when that happens, the fun will really begin.
Posted by Jason O on May 5, 2015 in British Politics
, Irish Politics
As someone who left Northern Ireland to go to university nearly 19 years ago, I can neither vote nor can I contribute, nor am I directly affected by decisions of the Assembly, and so I have avoided commenting on or getting involved in its politics. But like many others who love the province in which I was born and raised, I hope that at this election its people continue to tell the world that Northern Ireland chooses for itself a shared future for all its people.
Amidst all the parties, all the candidates and all the issues, elections sometimes boil down to a straight choice between two futures.
In Northern Ireland, this 7th May, 17 races are either pre-determined, or of so little consequence it hardly matters.
Only one battle counts, and only 2 candidates do. They are Alliance’s Naomi Long, the outgoing MP for East Belfast, and her UUP-supported DUP challenger Gavin Robinson.
Make no mistake about it: the people of East Belfast are being offered a clear choice about the future of Northern Ireland.
Their choice will send a message to the province, and to the world, about how Northern Ireland sees itself in 2015.
Is it a province riddled by parties uniting to perpetuate a dated and bigoted sectarian divide, obsessed with imposing the paraphernalia of tribal division upon others, and whose most senior politicians embrace and pander to homophobia?
Or is it a people which have moved on from decades of distrust and division, who wish to elect parties which are committed to a shared Northern Ireland not just for both sides of the divided community, but for all in Northern Ireland, irrespective of nationality, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.
Northern Ireland’s peace is a peace unlike others. In no other part of these isles has a political party had its offices and the homes of its representatives petrol-bombed. In no other part of these isles have elected representatives been the subject of regular and serious death threats. Other parties in Northern Ireland have suffered this in the past, and to some extent all still do.
But the choice for the people of East Belfast in this election is whether they stand behind Long, a leader who has been the subject of death threats simply because her party adopted a position on the flying of flags from public buildings which didn’t entirely support one community. Or do they support the DUP, a party who led the political assault on Alliance’s policy, and failed at every turn to stand up to those who attacked Alliance, and Naomi?
This is a stark choice. It isn’t enough simply to admire Naomi Long, and either stay at home or continue to vote for your own party because you always have done. In a binary choice between only two realistic outcomes, everything other than a vote for Naomi is to stand against her. Nor is it sufficient to cavil that Alliance’s position on flags was provocative, or their policy on flags wrong or poorly executed. The world doesn’t know, and doesn’t care.
The Alliance Party won’t thank me for throwing this issue into the mix, but for me, the choice is simple. Are the people of East Belfast a people who will vote for a leader who has (with David Ford) bravely led a party under seige, a party struggling to reach accommodation on identity between two divided groups? Or will they support the political representatives of her opponents?
Moreover, these last few weeks have refocused the wider world’s attention on another nasty element in Northern Ireland’s society: the misuse of religion to justify unequal treatment of minorities. This time, the DUP has gained worldwide coverage for its views on and proposed treatment of homosexuals: leaving aside Jim Wells, the First Minister publicly rationalised criminalisation of homosexual acts as a legitimate position for his own public representatives, and even invoked God in the Assembly to justify not allowing homosexuals to marry. That the DUP merrily abused the Assembly’s procedures to designate equal marriage an issue of cross-community concern showed the extent to which the DUP is hell-bent on continuing to manipulate to narrow political advantage the twin levers of Northern Ireland’s historic political and religious divide.
When world leaders, when investors and when potential tourists ask about Northern Ireland, they ask whether it has moved on. That question is not just about political violence. It is a question about whether Northern Ireland is an inclusive society. A good place for multinational companies to recruit. A good place for foreign nationals – and in particular the executives of those multinationals – to come to and work. A good place to visit, whatever your background or sexual preference.
Every time they are given the opportunity, the people of Northern Ireland must seize the moment to say they have moved on. Only by repetition of that message can the investment successes of the last few years be built on, and embedded, and Northern Ireland made a genuinely attractive place to do business and travel to.
Despite the polls, and the predictions of the media, the people of East Belfast have not yet been offered the opportunity to deliver that message: they have it on Thursday.
The choice they have is not about parties’ individual policies. It is not a choice about the candidate best versed in national and provincial policy. It is not a choice about which candidate is the better constituency worker. It is not even a choice about which candidate is the more articulate and impressive leader for East Belfast and Northern Ireland in Westminster and on the world stage.
A UK general election in Northern Ireland is not about jobs, nor taxes, nor policies devolved to the Assembly. It is much more than that. Like all elections, it is about hope.
It is a symbol. It is a stand. It is, beyond all else, a message to the world. And let that message be that – when offered a clear choice – the people of Northern Ireland will resolutely hold to the shared future they have dreamed for their children, and which was denied their parents.
When investors, world leaders and opinion-formers point to the DUP’s homophobia, and to Belfast’s past violence over flags, let those who argue the case for economic investment in and political support of Northern Ireland respond: the people of East Belfast chose inclusion. They chose Naomi Long.
Ciaran Toland is a barrister and former member of Alliance.
Posted by Jason O on May 3, 2015 in British Politics
A few thoughts on next Thursday’s vote in the UK:
1. Unless they can deliver on PR, the Lib Dems should stay out of the next coalition. Coalition is a maturing process that scares off fairweather friends and utopians. The Lib Dem party going into opposition, seasoned with former minister, can rebuild as a pragmatic party of the rational centre.
2. Having said that, the Lib Dems public spending promises this time out have been decidedly left-wing. It needs to be careful about becoming Labour-lite, and not apologise for doing so.
3. It will be an absolute scandal that UKIP, the third party nationally in terms of votes cast by ordinary Brits, will come behind the Lib Dems, SNP, DUP, Sinn Fein, Plaid Cymru and possibly even the SDLP in terms of seats. Like them or not, they are the legitimate voice of a substantial section of British voters.
4. British politicians need to get over themselves in terms of “firm government” and banging on about the chaos of coalition or minority government negotiations. Britain is a stable country that will tip along just grand even if its pols take a while to hammer out a deal. Just as the Israelis, Kiwis, Irish, Dutch, Belgians, Swedes, Germans, Italians, Danes, Finns, Norwegians, Portuguese and Poles do. Get over yourselves.
5. British politics will be worse off if Naomi Long and Nick Clegg lose their seats, and more boring if Nigel Farage doesn’t win one.
6. (additional point added later) Interesting that of the 10 parties with seats in the Commons, only 4 are led by people with seats actually in Parliament. Shows the impact of regional and European Parliaments in providing voices/platforms. Especially, ironically, for UKIP, which has been given much more assistance representing its voters by the European Parliament than Westminster ever did.
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.