Jason OMahony - Irish political blogger, Irish politics, EU politics
 
0

No-Deal Brexit won’t be a catastrophe. For their own sake, remainers should stop saying it will.

Posted by Jason O on Sep 21, 2018 in Brexit Referendum, British Politics, European Union

political-map-of-europe-lgPreviously published in The Times Ireland Edition. 

If one was fortunate enough to own a hyperbole mine, you’d do no better than be exporting into the no deal brexit debate, where your commodity would find good prices and healthy demand. If you were then to rely solely on the partisans, you’d be left with two clear impressions. The first is that a no deal brexit will be such a “Shaun of the Dead” dystopian apocalypse that you should not be surprised if you encounter, on the streets of London, a zombified Jacob Rees-Mogg shuffling towards you demanding to “eat your brains, assuming it is of course a convenient time for you”. Alternatively, you could also come away with the idea that a no deal Brexit will be the equivalent of either Idris Elba or Jennifer Lawrence (your choice) ringing you up to inform you that they need you around their place to help them try on all the new ridiculously tight swimwear they’ve just bought.

I say this as a convinced remainer and believer in the European project. My “own side” has been guilty from day one of flinging a tsunami of hysteria, promising such terrible consequences upon Britain that when those consequences did not immediately occur it did if anything call into question the very credibility of the remain side.

Only last week employment statistics released in the UK showed that unemployment in Britain has dropped to its lowest level in 40 years,  something which if the brexit campaign had promised during the referendum would have been absolutely dispatched by the remain campaign as fantasy.

Now, with no deal hurtling towards us, remainers continue to paint a picture of a post-brexit Britain on the edge of the breakdown of civilisation.

Let’s address a simple fact: even if there is a no deal brexit in March of next year, Britain will recover. It’s true that in the immediate short-term there could be huge difficulties with food and medicine shipments and customs control and clearance, and the recognition of British and EU drivers legal qualifications and credentials as they bring goods to and fro from Britain. It’s very reasonable to suspect that there will be difficulties.

But guess what: Britain can take it.

What’s more is that in the weeks and months after brexit, the European Union having made its point will then do what it always does. It will find a calm and rational solution to accommodate to some degree the needs of both sides because the reality is that both sides do want to trade. Both sides will also have citizens trapped behind “enemy lines” in the others’ jurisdiction and as a result both sides will want to address their needs.

Remainers need to stop painting a picture of economic and social collapse because it will reflect badly upon them when it doesn’t happen. Six months after brexit the situation will be running relatively smoothly, but the images of chaos painted by some remainers will be forever a matter of historical record and used against them for years to come, and that is not in their interest nor is it in Britain’s long-term interests.

This is not, by the way, a suggestion to remainers that they surrender, or indeed cease attempting to bring about a second referendum or as reasonable a version of brexit as is possible.

Instead I’d ask remainers to consider the overall reality of what is about to occur.  Whilst it is true that remainers have not used restraint in painting a picture of post-brexit Britain, neither have the brexiteers and in the long term it is the brexiteers who are going to be most disappointed for one simple reason.  

With the exception of China which by its sheer size occupies an almost unique position in terms of global trade the reality is that most prosperous countries prosper because they trade with the most prosperous markets closest to them. Brexiteers throughout the campaign have consistently presented the idea that Britain’s natural market is now on the other side of the planet and that somehow the European Union is a vague passing fancy that is bound to disappear into the mists of history any day now, taking with it its vast single market.  

Well it’s not.

At its heart, despite the rigidity of Michel Barnier’s negotiating stance, the reality is that the great success that is the European Union has been powered primarily by a pragmatic approach to resolving its challenges.

By logic the euro should not exist. By logic the EU should be disintegrating, less popular across the union than it has ever been. By logic brexit, one could argue, should have triggered a domino effect across Europe. But it didn’t, because the European Union has proven itself to be one of the most supple gymnasts of modern political history. You know the baddy Terminator robot that keeps changing shape as it needs? That’s the EU, that is.

And so, my fellow remainers, cut it out. You don’t have to overhype, because the laws of reality are on your side. The future of Britain as a country is one of a country still hard wired into the region of Europe despite the desires of brexiteers to sail away like Elizabethan buccaneers.

Reality will lead to certain conclusions.

The first is that even outside the European Union Britain is going to be trapped in the economic and regulatory gravitational field of our much vaster planetary body. This is a fact.  

Through sheer economic size British exporters will continue to lobby within a post-brexit Britain for British products to be regulatory compatible with whatever the European Union decides to apply to its products.

Just look at GDPR, a clear example of that legal force which applies to economic actors far removed from the physical European Union because they wish to have access to the single market.

Finally, here’s a reason why you shouldn’t overhype the consequences of brexit.

Brexit will allow a future British government made up of former remainers and those who see the benefit of Britain remaining close to its European partners greater opportunities now to integrate Britain into the European legal and regulatory framework.

Say what?

Think about it. How many Brits can name the director-general of the World Trade Organisation?  Essentially the EU is being downgraded from a visible force in daily British life to just another one of those international organisations.

No more UKIP MEPS. No more “Look what some Belgian said in the European Parliament!”

Will the BBC even report from Brussels as much?

Brexit Britain in the future will be a Britain paying hardly any media attention to decisions made in the European Commission or European Council. Yet the British embassy in Brussels will possibly be the largest UK embassy in the world, crammed full of diplomats quietly negotiating very long very tedious and very boring under-the-table technical agreements with the European Union which will effectively bind Britain to the EU, just in a far less transparent way than it currently is.

Hardline brexiteers will twig this, of course, and will probably give out blue bloody murder. But what will they be able to do about it? Try and get a referendum on the Agreement on Furniture Parts (Ball-bearings and castors) mutual standards recognition? Really?

The default of no deal is Britain surrendering its rule-making status and becoming, GDPR style, a rule-taker. Brexit means takes-it.

As an Irish remainer remaining in the EU, I can live with that.

 
1

We need to take the lead on tax harmonisation.

Previously published in The Sunday Times Ireland Edition

Who would have thought that Brexit was going to be so boring? It’s going on and on and on and aside from the odd entertaining scene provided by Brexiteers united in a bond of trust akin to that of your average New Jersey gangster, it feels like nothing is actually happening.

As if that isn’t bad enough, our political parties know that despite the mind-numbing tedium of the process, they have to be seen to be constantly talking about it because it is, of course, very important to our open island economy. That would be fine if Fianna Fail and Fine Gael and Labour and even (whisper it) the shinners all had differing opinions on what our response to Brexit should be. But they don’t. Each one is an interpretative dance saying the same thing: no border, keep the UK market open, and keep the rights our citizens currently enjoy both here and in the UK. Even an election won’t change it, regardless of whether FF or FG end up propping up the other, the Schrodinger’s Cat of Irish politics, both in and out of power simultaneously.

The funny thing is that there is a huge issue looming towards us which is going to require a huge national debate. It has the potential to tear us apart, destroy our European policy, indeed call into question if not our membership of the European Union itself but at least the Eurozone. Whilst Micheal and Leo are down in steerage, drawing each other like “one of your French girls”, there’s a wall of pain looming out of the night towards us and we may not have anyone in the crow’s nest with binoculars.

It is, of course, our old friend, tax harmonisation. It’s back on the table, it isn’t going away, and more to the point, we should be willing to engage. It’s time we start the national debate. Should we support a European corporation tax regime?

We all know the arguments against. Our sovereign right to set corporate tax is the closest thing we have in Ireland to the Americans right to bear arms. Whereas in the US middle-aged men dress up in combat gear and take up positions on streets with ridiculously unnecessary firepower, in Ireland corporate lawyers stand menacing with copies of the Maastricht treaty tucked in underarm holsters. We’re on a rock in the north Atlantic, and without the power to help giant corporations fiddle their taxes (sorry, achieve optimum tax efficiency) we have bugger all to offer them compared to other countries within the single market. That and we’re a bleeding island too, that doesn’t help either.

True, we do speak English. The Americans regard us as less objectionable than the French and not as scary as the Germans, and in any case they’re related to half of us. Also it helps that our nearest neighbours seem determined to win the Olympic gold in self-face punching, but the tax issue is a big deal to us.

But things are changing on the continent. Emmanuel Macron is busy trying to push through reforms to French labour law to, you know, let businesses hire people without the MD having to surrender a kidney as a hostage. But as his plummeting poll numbers show, he’ll need to do something to shore up the centre-left vote that put him in. What better way than kicking the crap out of mega-companies? Nobody likes them anyway, so make them pay more than the current somewhat modest contribution they make to our corporate tax coffers? Hence our problem.

We could panic, and try to hold the line. It would at least save us the hassle of having to think up a new policy. Lord knows, our politicians sure hate having to think up anything other than new ways to spend other people’s money. Didn’t we get through the first fifty years of independence on a single idea? That everything was the dirty Brits fault and if they cleared off out of the north we’d be in clover? That was quickly followed up by Jaysus, Look at the Size Of The Wallet On That German Fella! Now we’re like a non-violent Pablo Escobar, helping all sorts dig holes to bury whatever it is they’re burying, of which we’d be shocked, shocked I tells ye, to discover was money.

Now that era is coming to a close, and rather than roar and shout and play the victim, let’s confront a few harsh realities.

Yes, Macron needs the tax revenue. But so do we. Just go into McDonalds and see the stationary robot you type your order into. We’re entering a new period of human existence, where labour surplus (what we used to call unemployment) mixed with longer life expectancy will require huge wealth redistribution. Everything from more health spending to a basic income will require more tax revenue, and Ireland alone can’t raise that money if it is engaged in tax competition with other members of the single market.

The argument has always been made that we will be screwed by a consolidated tax base (CCCTB) because we lose a very attractive tool and get little in return as many of those companies, hit by taxes wherever they are in the EU, decide to move to the continent where the main marketplace is.

It’s a fair point. It’s also why Ireland can’t just drag our heels but have to leap forward with a proposal. That yes, we are willing to drop our veto to tax harmonisation. But only if it goes the whole way by creating a central European Corporate Tax Treasury. A central fund where all Europe’s corporate tax revenue will go, and where a country like Ireland, at a serious disadvantage being both on the Atlantic rim and an island, will be guaranteed a compensatory share. A share we can use to openly bribe companies to stay here, whilst enlarging the corporate tax take for all of Europe.

It’s a big deal. It might even need a referendum, given the fact that we would be effectively ceding some tax-raising powers to Brussels. This is high stakes, because the Brits have proven that they can’t stop European integration and we can’t either.

But we can turn this to our strength. Google and Apple and the rest aren’t dummies. They can see the argument on corporate tax is changing globally. Now, with the Brits sailing off into the 19th century, the corporations still have a friend at the table that gets them. That will listen.

Us. The island between Boston and Berlin.

But only if we take the lead, work that seat, be the bridge between our FDI friends and the Macron-Merkel alliance.  

Scary? Yup. That’s life in bed with the giant Franco-German elephant.

But rather than complain about being squashed, better we get an early say as to who gets what side of the bed. 

 
0

British politics needs a bit of Irish in it.

The Times ScreenshotPreviously published in The Times Ireland Edition

I came across an intriguing opinion poll by YouGov last week which gave an insight into the difference as to how Irish and British voters approach voting. The poll was questioning British voters as to how they would vote in the event of a second referendum on brexit. It offered voters three choices: remain, a “soft brexit” deal and “hard brexit”, what we call “no deal”.

The poll addressed the issue of a remain win by splitting the brexit vote: the idea that if remain voters stay together and brexit voters split between the two brexit options remain would win a first past the post contest even though a majority of voters actually voted for brexit. It proposed a preferential voting system to ensure that the final result would have the support of over 50% of voters. What we in Ireland know as the single transferable vote.

For the benefit of those readers who are not familiar with preferential voting, quite simply it works like this: if you are faced with a number of choices you place the number one beside your favourite candidate, number two beside your second favourite candidate and so on.

By doing so you are essentially telling vote counters that “This is my first choice. If he/she/it cannot win,  I would like my vote to go to my second choice and so on until someone is elected. The idea being that your vote may not get your favourite candidate elected, but it will at least help elect someone less objectionable to you.

As a voting system it has been very successful in Ireland, as determined by the fact that both attempts to change it to first past the post, in 1959 and 1968 in referendums were both rejected by voters, in 1968 by a 20% margin.

What was interesting about the poll, however, was that it first asked voters to choose amongst the three options, and to make a second preference choice in the event the first choice was eliminated.

41% of those polled refused to offer a second preference.

Think about that for a minute. Think about it in the context of going into a restaurant and asking the waiter to bring you a steak. He says “I’m sorry sir, we’re out of steak, would you care to look at the menu for something else?”. Now, normally people would be disappointed that they couldn’t have the first choice but nevertheless look through the menu for something that they would be satisfied with. The 41% are essentially saying they’d like steak and if they can’t have steak they don’t want anything else and would rather go hungry.

From an Irish perspective, this is downright peculiar. The number of people in Irish elections who fail to transfer after their first preference is actually quite small because Irish voters recognise that even if one does not get the one’s first choice, you can still use your ballot to try and stop the option you detest the most. This matters because the brexit vote was the single most democratic act in British history since 1935: at no other time has any party or proposition won a majority of the vote on a turnout like that of June 2016.

I find it hard to believe, therefore, that there are large numbers on either side of the debate in Britain who have no view as to what would be the least worst option if they could not get brexit or remain. The idea that someone who voted for remain, if they knew that remain was going to lose would not prefer a soft brexit rather than the hard brexit seems to me to be quite bizarre.

In the same way I would assume that people who wish a hard brexit would prefer a soft brexit rather than to remain in the European Union.

There are those who could make the argument that if they thought that the choice was between remain and a soft brexit and they supported a full brexit they might actually prefer to remain in the European Union on the basis that soft brexit, as Tony Blair argues, is the worst of both worlds.

But 41% having no second opinion? Really? Unless it’s a case of “I’ve voted for what I want and I’ll burn down the place rather than consider a second slightly less attractive option” which is always possible, I suppose.  

Britain is not a complete stranger to the single transferable vote or as it is known in Britain, AV. They know the alternative vote having rejected it overwhelmingly in a referendum in 2011.

But things change. The reality is that a preferential voting system whether used in a single decision such as this or used in multi seat constituencies as in Dail elections and in Northern Ireland would resolve not just the issue of a final decision by the British people as to whether brexit should go ahead.

STV also offers British voters a solution to a problem which is currently poisoning their political system.

Take the current talk of a general election to settle the issue. It wouldn’t, because it can’t. The current first past the post electoral system is malfunctioning so badly that it could easily result in a majority of remain voters or a majority of leave voters winning the popular vote but being deprived of a fair voice in the parliament that resulted.

Both the Labour Party and the Conservative Party are so split that a general election just reveals that there are people who are trapped in political parties with people with whom they fundamentally disagree with on this issue and others, and the electoral system is forcing them to remain in that party and is forcing voters then to make false choices.

What does voting Tory mean in the next election if you vote for John Redwood or Ian Duncan Smith or Anna Soubry or Ken Clarke?

If you are a solid remain voter and decide to go the whole hog and vote Liberal Democrat you may in fact be splitting in the remain vote and helping brexiteers win. The same applies to UKIP voters wanting to vote pure brexit. They’ll drain brexit votes away from more viable brexit candidates.  

STV solves all this: there’s no such thing as a wasted vote. You can transfer your preferences from your first choice to other remain or brexit candidates as you see fit without hurting their chance of being elected. STV is the voter’s friend.  

The irony is that the single transferable vote is a British invention, devised by a British lawyer named Thomas Hare. Britain imposed it as part of the Anglo Irish treaty in an attempt to ensure that in Northern Ireland catholics will get fair representation, and the same in Southern Ireland for protestants.  It worked. So much so that the unionists abolished STV for Stormont elections as soon as they could.

A fair-minded citizen of the republic would have to admit that the single transferable vote was one of the greatest gifts the British actually gave the Irish people. It’s fair, transparent, and highly  entertaining to watch on the day of an election count.

It’s a system that has served us well, as it has the people of Scotland, Northern Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Malta and India. As a means of healing the tension that has arisen between the UK and Ireland since June 2016 we could do a lot worse than offer to help Britain adopt the election system they gifted us nearly 100 years ago. Go on: it really is as easy as one two three.

 
0

eNovella: A Little Piece of Europe.

The very near future. Welcome to the European Union Safezone in North Africa.

2 million refugees trying to make a life in a city-state on the edge of Europe.

For the disgraced former British prime minister and his Irish deputy put in charge of running it, a chance at redemption.

For the refugee Syrian businessman, it’s a chance at a new life for his family.

For the young Somali woman fleeing terror, it’s a chance to perhaps no longer be afraid.

For the young Islamic State operative, it’s a chance to strike at the west… 

Now available as an eBook on Amazon here.

ALPOE cover

 

 
0

For the world, and for itself, Europe must act its size.

Posted by Jason O on Apr 18, 2018 in Brexit Referendum, British Politics, European Union, US Politics

political-map-of-europe-lgIn the United States cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, Northern France, the bodies of over 9000 US servicemen rest. Over 9000 Americans who gave their lives on the beaches of Normandy and elsewhere to free Europe from the shackles of Nazism. It is not an exaggeration to say that without their sacrifice, Western Europe would not know the 71 years of freedom it has enjoyed since the war.

The United States is not our enemy, nor should it ever be. The common values and the common history of the Atlantic, of Europe and America, mean too much.

But the election of the current President of the United States puts unique challenges in the path of Europe. From the defence of our Eastern most nations, to the securing of our southern borders, to our relations with Islam, to the defence of free trade and the prosperity it generates, these challenges throw a gauntlet down before this generation of Europeans and our leaders.

We are not some feeble minor nation. We are 450 million of the richest people on Earth, with some of the most powerful industries on the planet. We own one of the greatest common markets in human history. We build ships and cars and planes and aircraft carriers and yes, even nuclear weapons. We grow the finest foods on the planet, in vast quantities. We have the most beautiful cities in the world.

We are, in terms of spending, the second great military power on the planet if but we choose to recognize it.

And we are the greatest home on the planet to freedom, to tolerance, to diversity. We do not recognize torture. We do not execute our people. We do not boast of how many of our people we jail. We believe healthcare is a human right, not a privilege.

We are not perfect. Among us are extremists, both religious and political, including those who seek to deny the hateful crimes of the past against the Jewish people and others. But there is a majority across our continent which stands fast against those demons of both our past and our present, ready to fight, at the polling booth, on the streets.

Those demons, they shall not pass.

There are those who say there is no such thing as a European demos. That you can not build a united Europe because Europeans do not share a common history or common values.

The current incumbents of the Kremlin and the White House have disproved that. Europeans of the right and left have looked on in recent times and agreed that there is an alternative to a nationalism built on suspicion and fear. That love of one’s homeland does not automatically indicate fear of another.

Look at the response of Europeans to the attacks in Paris and Brussels and Madrid and Berlin. We did not treat those attacks as outrages in strange distant lands. They were attacks on us all, on our ways.

That is what unites Europeans. That I can walk the beautiful streets of Barcelona or Paris or Milano and know that an attack on them is an attack on my values too.

This is not a call for an identikit single nation called Europe. We are sovereign proud nations, proud of our flags and our history.

History has thought us that the defence of that sovereignty will come from the sharing of tasks and resources to magnify the power of all.

It’s time for us to recognize that the great nation to our east only respects strength, and that the great nation to our west is in a time of great insular strain. Given those realities, Europe must act decisively to secure its own interest and speak with strength in defence of our values.

We must build a European Defence Force, made up of volunteers, with the clear objective of pooling enough existing resources to get the increased capability we need to secure our borders east and south.

We must establish, in Northern Africa or elsewhere, an EU run refugee safezone to provide shelter for anyone fleeing oppression, and allowing us to restore full control of our continental borders. No more can we let our despotic neighbours use refugees as a boot with which to press on our throat.

We, as one of the three great economic powers, should enter immediate negotiations to create an Atlantic free trade area. Unlike others, we can negotiate with the United States as an economic equal, because we are. We should do so, but only as an equal.

These great projects are as much an act of self interest of the nations of free Europe as a pursuit of noble ideals. But both roads lead to the same destination. A strong Europe as the tool of its sovereign nations, putting our values at the table of nations.

In the words of that great European, Winston Churchill: Let Europe arise. 

 
0

The Great Voter Transfer Window.

Marine-LePenPreviously published in The Times Ireland Edition.

The answer is staring us in the face. It’s so simple. On this side of the Atlantic we have a bunch of  Islamophobic globalist conspiracy-fearing The Past was Just Better Somehow voters. On the other side we have a bunch of Islamophobic globalist conspiracy-fearing voters.

Wouldn’t they all be happier together? Or put it another way. Imagine Hillary voters stepping off a boat onto a continent with no death penalty, universal healthcare, strict gun control and where even conservatives support the welfare safety net? Who think countries working together is actually normal and not a conspiracy of the Rothschild family?

See where I’m coming from here?

We need an Atlantic voter transfer window. We send them our crazies, we take their rationals.

There are challenges, of course, but also opportunities. Don’t tell me there isn’t a huge TV opportunity in watching Trump, Wilders and Le Pen voters getting to know each other.

“Wait a minute: you guys speak French?”

“Pardon? To whom do I give this doctor’s bill? What? I have to pay for it myself? Sacre bleu!”

But at least they could agree on one thing: they all hate Muslims.

“A toast to our American friends!”

“Eh, pardon Madame Le Pen, but we don’t drink wine here. Alcohol is evil! This here is a dry county!”

“Eh, OK…can we all agree that Muslims are terrible?”

“Yes!”

“Nearly as bad as the Jews!”

“Eh, steady on there.”

“And don’t get me started on them darn tootin’ homosexuals!”

“No, we’re against the Muslims because they’re against the homosexuals.”

“The Muslims are against the homosexuals?”

We did this once before, you know.

Put a load of fanatics on a boat and sent them to America.

It was called the Mayflower.

 
0

We have no concept of what war means.

Posted by Jason O on Jan 1, 2017 in Brexit Referendum, British Politics, European Union, Irish Politics

estonian-troopsPreviously published in The Times Ireland Edition

Last week I was discussing online Sinn Fein’s proposed constitutional amendment on neutrality. As it happens, as someone who is unashamedly pro-NATO, I actually have little problem with Sinn Fein’s desire to put a constitutional ban on us joining military alliance.

For one, it means that Sinn Fein accepts, despite protests to the contrary for years, that the EU is not a military alliance, and that therefore military cooperation within the EU would be compliant with the Irish constitution. Glad to hear it. I’m not sure that is Sinn Fein’s actual aim, but as the 8th amendment has proven, sticking this stuff in Bunreacht na hEireann can actually have the opposite effect to what was intended.

It would also mean we’d have to have a referendum to join NATO. Again, shock horror! Is there anyone who thought that we wouldn’t? Really? I can live quite comfortably with the idea of Ireland not being in NATO for the simple reason that NATO is very important to the defence of this continent, and I don’t really want some sub-par Irish minister interfering with its work. Better we remain outside and just adopt NATO standards after they have been agreed by serious people, as we do now.

But back to my online discussion. A person very sincere in their beliefs about Irish neutrality informed me that they were completely against Irish troops ever serving in a conflict.

The statement fascinated me, because it assumed, as many, perhaps most Irish people do, that conflict is a choice. That if a country chooses not to be involved in war, then it doesn’t have to be.

It’s the sort of utopian view of war that only two sorts of countries can indulge in: ones that are armed heavily enough to make an aggressor think twice, or one that is actually physically hiding behind well-armed and friendly nations. Guess which one we are.

The statement caught my eye because I’d been reading tweets from the various Baltic ambassadors to NATO. Well, someone has to. But all three are full of reports of their local forces, both full-time and reserve, engaged in exercises and training with NATO partners. All three, along with their partners, are genuinely concerned at the possibility of a Russian attack on one of those countries under the pretext of protecting the Russian minority living in them.

Ordinary Estonians are giving up their weekends to drill and train in guerrilla and interdiction tactics to delay invading Russian forces until their NATO partners can reach them. Indeed, each country has seen the number of external NATO forces increase within the country for both training assistance but also as a deterrent against the aggression of the Kremlin.

Imagine an Irishman telling those Estonian farmers, bus drivers and shopkeepers that if they don’t want a war, they should leave NATO and tell the Russians that they want peace. That you can avoid war by just not participating. That NATO are the baddies.

If there is a conflict in the Baltics or elsewhere, it’s possible that we may not be directly involved. The US may or may not need to use Shannon. That’s assuming the US helps: we can’t be certain with the new guy. He might want a deposit first.

But supposing the US requested the use of Shannon as an emergency landing facility, and it was followed up by a threat from the Russians that such use would make Shannon and its surrounds a military target. Would we tell the Russians to get stuffed? Or block the runway to stop damaged US planes from using it, possibly threatening the lives of US pilots, live on US television?

Either way, we’re suddenly involved.

Ireland doesn’t do war. That’s not to say the Irish don’t do war, as those thousands of Irish who fought in the allied forces can testify. Or those Irish who went during the Spanish civil war to fight against fascism (socialists, liberals and republicans) or to complain about the food (the blueshirts).

But as a country, war is something that happens to other people because they sort of like it or are a bit mad. If the Russians bombed us half the country would blame the Americans, waiting for the Russians to arrive so they can sue them for compensation.

Yet even in 1916, in the proclamation, we recognised the support of gallant allies. Would we have been outraged if tiny Estonia (which in fairness had its own problems in 1916) had sent troops to help fight during the Rising? Or would we fete them today as heroes and friends of Ireland? Yet if Estonia, a tiny free country dominated by a larger aggressive and imperialist neighbour asked for our help, our response would be “that’s not our problem”? Is it because we see ourselves not as a nation that shapes events but primarily as a victim nation that constantly needs help from others?

The truth is that if the Baltics asked for volunteers to help defend them, I suspect that there would not be a shortage of  Irish volunteers willing to fight to defend other small free nations, even if collectively as a people we washed our hands of it.

After all, even in our own war of independence most people sat it out to see what side triumphed, then stormed in at the end claiming they were onside all along.

It’s an Irish tradition.   

 
0

Reckless voters must be confronted.

ErdoganPreviously 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. 

 
0

The Immigration Police

blakes sevenRepost.

England, 2023. Five years after Brexit.

The roaring and shouting after England and Wales left the EU was loud and colourful. A generation of politicians who had supported British membership found themselves demonised as Quislings and traitors, and quietly retired from public life, and every ministerial speech was peppered with Eurosceptic hyperbole as the new regime took office.

Over time, however, the EUphoria died away, as the government and the tabloids turned to the issue that had carried the Brexiteers over the line: Immigration.

The new government moved quickly to deliver on the issue. Tough new visa requirements were in place, and whilst existing legal residents were permitted to stay, they could not be joined by relatives, and so as many returned to their home countries they were not replaced. The teary-eyed right-wingers who had choked back stories of Commonwealth citizens (“our kith and kin”), every one of whom seemed to be related to a spitfire pilot, being put behind queues of stony faced Poles, suddenly and bizarrely seemed to go cool on Pakistani and Indian and African immigrants having easier access. The number of people legally entering the UK dropped significantly.

The tabloids, robbed of the EU pinata to mercilessly beat, but knowing that immigration was still the story that stirred the loins, turned their attention to the government. the new line was that the government was full of mealy-mouthed liberals letting people sneakily in. That and the EU was actively conspiring to flood England with immigrants through Ireland, Scotland and Calais, of course.

The government, like all populist governments, was as concerned about how to be seen to be doing something as actually doing something. The truth was that the immigration controls were not delivering the rewards the tabloids had promised. Housing was not cheaper, as fewer immigrants had only freed up the very lowest in housing quality, which in turn had forced landlords to improve the quality but raise rents to pay for it. The vast numbers of manual workers needed to fund large scale building of houses didn’t exist, resulting in builders struggling to find the skilled labourers to do the job. The Irish workers that they could source, due to a common deal with Ireland, expected top dollar, and all that contributed to higher costs and thus higher prices. The NHS and other public services were struggling under staff shortages as it emerged that many of the hard-pressed English white working class didn’t actually have the skills to fill the jobs. But the government was too scared to issue too many working visas to fill those jobs, as the tabloids, bereft of the EU to blame, had now doubled down on ANY immigrant “depriving” Brits of a job. Politically, it was better to leave those jobs empty.

With the labour shortage feeding into wage rises, inflation, public service waiting lists and rental rises, the Government decided to go fully for immigrants as the problem.

The launch of the Immigration Police was a huge media managed affair. The logo of the new force, a union flag in the shape of a shield, was emblazoned on the fleet of shiny new vehicles and officers unveiled by Prime Minister Johnson. The helmeted, combat trousered police, who vaguely resembled the baddies from “Blake’s Seven” but with huge union flags on their shoulders, grinned at the prime minister’s jokes about them “scaring the hell out of him”.

As with everything in post-Thatcher Britain, the Immigration Police was a private for-profit tendered service, the contract held by a huge security company with a very mixed record.

Within months of commencing operations, the IP was the new source of fury for the right-wing tabloids. The fact that a significant number of IP officers were themselves illegal immigrants who had gotten through the cut-price vetting process resulted in the resignation of the Home Secretary, and the tender holder announcing that it could no longer fulfill the contract under such arduous “red tape”. The subsequent taking of the company to court by the Home Office resulted in even more embarrassing revelations including the fact that some immigrant IP officers from some countries seemed to be using their very considerable IP powers to pursue vendettas against people from other tribal areas or religious groups.

The Government was forced to introduce emergency legislation to nationalise the whole IP organisation, making it a state agency. This, as it always seems to do, then sent costs through the roof as the new IP management, made up of Home Office staff, were more than happy to spend millions on vetting.

Three years after its initial launch the IP had been “purged” of illegal immigrants. It was also running hugely over-budget, requiring cuts elsewhere to feed its huge fiscal maw, and led by a very media savvy chief executive who fended off any attempt to trim the rapidly expanding budget with tales of hordes of terrorists and illegal workers sweeping towards virginal England. The IP’s media budget was very substantial.

Aside from its internal chaos, the daily operations of the IP became problematic. Although initially popular, with black cab drivers beeping their horns at speeding IP vehicles, sirens flashing, off to defend England, the reality of the organisation’s nebulous task began to take the shine off rapidly. The new Home Secretary, of Asian extraction and from the hard-right of the party, was adamant that the IP must be visibly active which led to huge poster campaigns asking the public to cooperate. One stand-up comedian likened the posters to the “Be Pure! Be Vigilant! Behave!” posters of the 200oAD comic character Thomas De Torquemada. The IP also started setting up random street checkpoints, which began to jar even with the most right-wing of blazer-wearing golf club Mosleys. Camera footage of IP officers singling out dark-skinned pedestrians alone caused a row, and in one case a riot where a number of black and East Asian youths proceeded to beat up the aggressive IP officers. This resulted in the local police having to intervene.

Indeed, relations between the IP and the regular police were strained at best. In London, where the Metropolitan Police had made a serious effort to diversify its membership, the jarring approach of the IP did not go down well. The commissioner complained that the IP was stirring up racial tension in areas where painstaking work by community police officers had finally started to show results. One incident in particular, where two Metropolitan Police officers challenged an overly aggressive IP checkpoint resulted in the IP officer in charge demanding that one of the officers, who was black, prove his legal status in the country and then attempted to arrest him. The situation, again all over the web, was only contained when the Met officers called in an armed SO19 unit and arrested the entire IP patrol to loud cheering and applause from local youths of mixed races.

The Home Secretary was furious. The commissioner backed her men, and when the Home Secretary threatened to fire the commissioner, the commissioner revealed that she had a special investigation unit looking into penetration by the far-right of the IP. She revealed taped footage from an undercover officer of IP officers, who were revealed to be members of various white supremacist organisations, joking and laughing at how they were paid “by one Paki to fit up other niggers and Pakis”.

The Home Secretary was gone by teatime.

Another source of problems for the new Home Secretary was how to verify someone was legally resident in the UK. His officials excitedly dusted off an old file: a National Identity Card. Not surprisingly, he balked at the idea, but the issue was unavoidable. In order to avoid charges of racial profiling, IP checkpoints were now stopping and demanding identification from every person, regardless of age, colour or gender. Many people were now carrying their passports with them everywhere, and the grumbling was beginning. In time honoured fashion, The Daily Mail and The Daily Express, having demanded a “get tough crackdown” on immigration, now did a u-turn and started banging on daily about the IP being a version of the Gestapo harassing ordinary Brits going about their business.

The Home Secretary stared blankly at his officials. Polls showed that middle England was vehemently against having to carry “papers”. Is this what we fought a war for? On the other hand, without some form of verified state backed ID, his officials said, there was no way for the IP to check on-the-spot. Unless, we created a national biometric database, one junior official mused. Then we wouldn’t have to carry ID, just be scanned. Of course, we’d have to scan the entire population.

The Home Secretary died in the ambulance on the way to hospital. The coroner said it was a massive heart attack.

The huge camp near Dover (christened Camp Boris by the media) was also the problem of the new Home Secretary. Since Brexit, the EU had decided that illegal immigration into the UK was not its concern, and so turned a blind eye to migrants making their way across the channel. France had announced that the UK could do its own border control in Dover, and closed its facilities in Calais, the infamous “jungle”. French, Belgian and Dutch police and coastguards were told that preventing “outflows” were not a priority, to the extent that many boat owners on the continent were taking a few quid for carrying illegals to the edge of the UK’s territorial waters and letting their passengers take their chance in a rubber dinghy. All to huge protests from the British ambassador to the EU who was embarrassingly filmed being kept back by security personnel as he tried to lobby ministers attending an EU council meeting.

Huge resources were being deployed along beaches in the south east to capture illegals, and send them to the camp, which now had over 9,000 residents. The decision as to who should run the camp had turned into one of the finest games of bureaucratic pass-the-parcel in years. The Prison Service had said that they were a criminal rehabilitation service, and weren’t suited. The NHS said they weren’t a prison service. The local police said they would have to take “Bobbies off the beat”, and the chief of staff of the army had threatened to publicly resign if the army were told to run the camp. So, it had ended up with the Immigration Police, whose CEO had happily accepted the task then submitted a huge budget supplement request which took the IP’s annual funding clear of the Metropolitan Police’s £3.7 billion.

With scandals within the IP, the ongoing battle to secure the coast (most of the Royal Navy, including the UK’s two new aircraft carriers, were on coastal patrol), the growing unhappiness with the overt and hostile street presence of IP officers demanding “papers” on street corners, the outbreak of riots in Camp Boris was not welcomed by the Government. The IP officers, even with riot gear, struggled to maintain order in two days of rioting. On the third day a large group of young Syrian refugees charged the perimeter, panicking a member of one of the IP armed response units. Without authorisation he emptied his full clip into the crowd, killing nine refugees and wounding another four. Three children were killed in the stampede from the fence. The image went worldwide, and resulted in massive demonstrations against UK embassies.

The Home Secretary, who had only authorised the creation of armed units of the IP three months earlier, in response to stories of some refugees being armed with knives, handed in his resignation to the Prime Minister later that day. The PM was harangued in the house, and in a fit of pique that was typical but would come to haunt him, announced that he would be his own home secretary.

He arrived down to the camp bearing his name just as another riot was getting into its own. Outside the camp, hundreds of young and middle-aged white men, members of the self-appointed United Kingdom Defence Force gathered with baseball bats and crowbars, telling the gathered media they were there to back up the IP and “back Boris”. Another crowd, larger than the UKDF, were made up of anti-fascist protesters who roared abuse at the first crowd.

When the PM arrived, the UKDF cheered and chanted his name, prompting him to wave just as another surge broke through the IP line and charged towards the main gates. The UKDF surged forward before breaking into a Braveheart-style run at the main gate of the camp. The two groups met. The UKDF, unlike the refugees, were armed with a variety of weapons and ploughed into the refugees.

The PM’s bodyguards shoved him into his car, screaming at the driver to get them out of there, all live on TV as a huge fight broke out around them. The IP commander, totally overwhelmed, ordered the use of rubber bullets and water cannon, all aimed at securing the main gate. Some of the baton rounds hit UKDF members, who, seeing the IP firing at them, were overcome with the fury that can only come from experiencing treachery, and attacked the IP vehicles.

The news of the surge at the gate of the camp swept through the camp, encouraging thousands more to rush the entrance, overwhelming the IP officers at the door.

On his way back to Downing street, the PM gave the order for the army to be sent in with more baton rounds.

By evening, order had been restored, but half of the residents of the camp had fled. 39 people were dead, a mixture of refugees, children, IP officers and UKDF members.

In Munich that night a far-right group held a rally, holding aloft images of the British prime minister as they sieg heiled in support.

Watching this on TV, the PM had the good grace to vomit.

 
0

Is it time to make things voter-proof?

Posted by Jason O on Aug 16, 2016 in British Politics, European Union, The Sunday Business Post

The Times ScreenshotPreviously published in The Times Ireland Edition on 8th August 2016.

It seems that it has become one of the latest causes of the Permanently Indignant Left to call for a referendum on TTIP. TTIP? That’s that trade thing, right? Yes, and that’s your first test. Tell me what TTIP means. I ask, by the way, having guessed myself, gotten it wrong, and having to look it up. TTIP is the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, the vast trade deal currently being negotiated between the EU and the US. Depending on whom you listen to, it’ll either boost trade and jobs on both sides of the Atlantic, or it’s a secret plot to hand over vast power to giant corporations who can then go about privatizing everything.

I’ll admit, I knew next to nothing about TTIP, and so went off and found both pro and anti TTIP information, and the more one reads the more you realise how complicated modern international relationships are. Indeed TTIP shows how modern society is a vast collection of moving parts and TTIP and the EU and WTO are an attempt to put some sort of order on them.

Which leads to a bigger question. Are voters actually capable of making a rational decision about these issues?

I’ll be honest: if I were to vote in a referendum on TTIP, I would have to do a few hours study before I knew even vaguely myself whether I thought it’s a good or bad thing. Will other voters do that? Many will, but I suspect most won’t. They’ll be influenced by the opinions of public figures they trust, or, and this is where it gets worrying, by vague nuggets of information they half hear.

What would a TTIP referendum look like, in any EU country? Nearly half the voters would allege its all part of some conspiracy, with everything from the Lizards of Davos to The Rothschilds lobbed in for good measure. Some voters would vote against anything because the government proposed it. In Ireland, some councillor would almost certainly demand local people vote against it unless St. Jude’s gets a new roof for its changing rooms.

I’ve no doubt there are smart people who know TTIP inside out who have serious issues with it. Good. Let them fight it out with other smart people who support it because the rest of us really haven’t a clue.

The truth is that asking the public to vote on TTIP is like asking the public to decide over new techniques in brain surgery. These issues are becoming too technical for the public (myself included) to give anything other than a vague opinion, often based on hearsay information directly contradictory to reality. I’d wager that a large proportion of people who want to stop TTIP can’t tell you what it stands for. If anything, we’ll be voting for who is on what side. So let’s just cut out the middleman and let them decide in parliament.

Is this elitist? Yes. We’re now living in an elitist world. Elite surgeons operate on our loved ones. Elite engineers design and run the nuclear power plants than stop our grannies freezing to death in the winter. Elite chemists design the medicines that cure diseases that killed our ancestors. So why wouldn’t we expect to have elite leaders to run our countries and negotiate our laws and treaties? The alternative is ending up with presidential candidates asking why nuclear weapons can’t be used more often.

But what about us, the voters? Who aren’t experts in nuclear proliferation or labour mobility or life expectancy management? What’s our role? Are we just not intelligent enough to play a role anymore?

Here’s the truth: we don’t need to be experts. But we do need to be able to ask the right questions of experts. We need elite legislatures and voters who know that yes, we do need legislators who know more than we do.

That means we need to take voter education as seriously we require drivers know how to drive.

The programme for government talks of setting up an Electoral Commission to run elections independently. I’d argue that its remit should also include the aggressive year-round education of voters, additionally funded perhaps by a small tax on election posters? Not just on the hows of the political system, but actual facts about our society that voters should know before voting. Is it wrong to educate voters that the government jet and TDs salaries and pensions are a tiny part of the budget? Or that most Irish people get more from the state than they pay in? Or that the rich actually pay the most tax? It’s time for the state to ram political, fiscal and economic reality down the throats of voters, for their own good. Informed voters are as important to a society as qualified surgeons.

We’ve see the alternative in the US, which on the verge of electing a fool as president, on the backs of voters whose ignorance (“Obama is a Muslim born in Kenya!”) is bordering on a belief in a political version of witchcraft.

Democracy isn’t a guarantee of good government, but the last line of defence against tyranny. But in order for it to work, voters have to be able to tell when they’re actually under attack.

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