An Occasional Guide to Irish Politics: The Party Loyalist.

Repost: You can hear him in a quiet room, mouth hanging open, air rushing in and out as his dull eyes stare blankly into an imaginary distance. Occasionally, the waft of stale urine will emanate from him. For him, the party is everything, and the affixation or removal of party membership decides his opinion on a person. A party man can do no wrong, and a non-party man can do no right.

The truth is that the party, with its open-to-all-with-a-pulse policy, has provided a social structure to him that exists nowhere else in his life. A two line notice of a cumann meeting is carefully scrutinised a dozen times and then placed on the carefully dusted mantelpiece over the fire where his mother knows not to touch it. Everyday, he takes it down to read again, to just make sure that he has the date and time and location correct, even though all three are the same every month.

He will be at the meeting at least 45 minutes early, with a Club Orange in front of him bought with the €10 his mother gave him, and will twist in the seat every time the door opens to see if a party member is coming in. Continue reading

An Occasional Guide to Irish Politics: The Wolf in Independent Clothing.

We’ve all met them, and if the polls are to be believed, there are, potentially, quite a few of them out there. When it reaches them, when it’s their turn, they square up, and stick their jaws out, and announce: “Well, I’m voting for an independent!”. Now, don’t get me wrong. There are some pretty good independent candidates out there, and parties don’t hold a monopoly on good ideas or commitment to the country. The good independents tend to balance local concerns with national issues, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

However, they seem to be the minority. I’m talking about the yahoos such as those who were party members five minutes ago, and supported party policies five minutes ago, now seemingly cleansed by the activation of the political Romulan cloaking device. I’m talking about candidates who look blankly at you if you raise senior bond holders or property market management or separation of the executive and parliament, like a dog being shown a card trick (Hat tip: PJ O’Rourke). The buckos who use phrases like “for the ordinary people”, whatever that means.

What is even more depressing is to ask just who are the Irish voters who have witnessed our economic devastation by  a failure of national policy, and decided that the source of our problems is that we did not have enough Jackie Healy-Raes in the Dail? Our big problems, unemployment and emigration, are caused by a failure of national policy, and it is there that they will be resolved. Electing Sean WellGot because he’s from the right parish isn’t the solution.

Are they thick, or is it that they’re so angry with the status quo that voting independent is the equivalent of voting None Of The Above?

An Occasional Guide to Irish Politics: The establishment “anti-establishment” journalist.

typewriterHe touts himself as a straight talker, man of the people and enemy of the establishment. Except when he’s working for RTE or the biggest media groups in the country. On the radio, he’s scathing of public figures until they appear on the show, where the sound of him performing fellatio upon them can be quite stomach churning. And don’t let him talk to anyone vaguely famous from across the water: He’ll pull that “You and I have been long enough in this game…” lark in a nauseous attempt to put himself on an equal standing with people who have no idea who he is.    
In short, his slogan should be quite simply: I say the establishment disgusts me, but I have my price. Which is probably a good thing, given the amount of Columbian marching powder he vacuums up on a weekly basis. His anti-establishment credentials are best summed up by the theme of an ad that once appeared in a newspaper for a phone sex line: “I’m not gay, but I think the guy sucking my cock might be.”

The New Dail.

I’m not going to bother talking too much about Enda’s new cabinet, as I don’t have much interest in the Irish “Who is up, who is down” thing. He’s gone for experience over youth, which is fair enough. He’s appointed fewer women ministers than under the “conservative” FF/PD coalitions, which must be slightly awkward for Labour, but it’s not a huge deal. He also missed an opportunity for a symbolic “New Politics” appointment of an outside technocrat through the Seanad, but maybe he’ll do something with the junior ministers. But at the moment it looks a bit stale as a government, like a really exciting 1987 cabinet.

Shane Ross, Joe Higgins and Ming suggest that they might be worth keeping in the House. Richard Boyd Barrett and Clare Daly could learn a lot from Joe, in terms of humour (His “There’s two of us in it, Taoiseach” remark to Bertie about Bertie’s socialism counts as one of the all time greats) but also, in RBB’s case, in sartorial style. Joe dresses smartly without being flash, whereas RBB looked like he was about to address a Kazakh tractor factory. His humourless hectoring and Single Transferable Speech will wear us all out soon enough. Ross has “Parliamentarian” stamped all over him and is almost certainly going to be a pain in the arse to the government front bench, which is exactly what he’s there for, and Ming has a refreshing honesty about him. I suspect Mick Wallace, from his lacklustre performance today, could burn out very quickly indeed.

Gerry Adams seems determined to kick off early as de facto leader of the opposition, forcing Micheal to parry him. That’ll be fun.

I was thrown by Michael Healy-Rae’s combover, as it’s been so long since I’ve seen one. Is it a branding thing? Or has he never heard of Jean-Luc Picard or Grant Mitchell?

Finally, Enda looked the part, and his steely responses to Micheal shows that, just maybe, the office maketh the man.

Waiting for disappointment.

There is nothing the Irish like more than a good betrayal. As a people, the idea of being screwed over by someone else, whether it is the British, the banks, the IMF or our own potatoes, delivers in us a masochistic pleasure, allowing us to  believe ourselves to not be masters of our own destiny, but instead, the pitiful plaything of other greater forces. Many an Irishman gets no greater pleasure than, as the jackboot of the oppressor pushes his face into the cold wet soil, he gives the oppressor the dirtiest scowl he has ever received! Let him go back to his big house and better living standards knowing that we have scrabbled in our own filth and shook our fist in his direction (when he wasn’t looking, of course)!

Already, yesterday, before the new government has even been sworn in, I encountered someone who is “disappointed” with the new government. Before they are even the new government! Yet even as I dismissed the criticism, I know in my own heart that I’m just waiting to be disappointed by Enda and Co. Not by their inability to transform the country’s economic situation, which is something over which they will only have limited control, but that shadow over the face moment when they become the establishment and step quietly away from the stuff they spoke with passion about in opposition. I’m waiting for that moment when they start to actively sabotage political reform, or at worst defang it so that it becomes meaningless. Watch as local government reform gradually gets watered down, or as the constitutional convention gets packed with people who are all for putting symbolic stuff into the constitution, but don’t change the voting system or the balance between voters and the state. Watch as the Dail remains answerable to the Government, not the other way around.

Maybe I’m a cynic. They are entitled to the benefit of the doubt, and maybe they will surprise us by, for example, nominating people from outside the Dail (like Pat Cox) as ministers. If they do, they deserve credit for it, and get it (from me) they shall.

Enda and Eamon deserve the benefit of the doubt. For now.

I’ve only managed a very cursory read of the programme for government, because of deadlines, and I do intend to post something more substantial about it later this week, but my initial feelings are mixed. There is some good stuff in it on political reform, but there seems an awful lot of “reviews” and open-ended stuff that makes me think that if the coalition think that they can get away with avoiding any serious action on it, they will.

Andrea, my partner-in-crime over at thinks it is a good document, but then she holds politicians in much higher regard than I do. I don’t think they’re inherently evil,  I just think that they regularly need to be shown the whip to keep them in line. Political reform is, I suspect, going to be one of those areas where the crop will need to be kept close to hand.

On the positive side, you have to be impressed with the clockwork mechanism we have now developed for assembling governments after elections. I remember watching, wth other pol hacks,  the sheer terror on the faces of British political journalists last May when they realised no one had won an overall majority. It was really very funny as they talked about the pound collapsing, etc, and I remember thinking: “Either British politicians seriously overestimate their own importance, or Britain as a country is far more unstable than Ireland. Or Belgium, for that matter. Or Italy, even.”

Of course, it all turned out to be balls. But then, Britain wouldn’t be the first country to have politicians who overestimate their indispensability.

Additional note: I don’t hold out much hope for serious political reform when I hear RTE describe replacing Garda ministerial drivers with civilians as “political reform”. 

Labour: A brick wall vs. a hard place.

Into the Valley of Death rode the 37.

Into the Valley of Death rode the 37.

It’s time it was said: Labour had a mediocre election. I’ll pause here for a moment to let the indignation rise. Best number of seats ever, etc. Yes, I know. But seriously: Fianna Fail was like Himmler at a Bar Mitzvah and Labour beat them by a mere 2%? Labour are 2% more popular than the party that destroyed the country? Seriously?

80% of Irish voters, looking at the Labour candidates on the ballot paper, decided to give their first preference elsewhere. Yes, many of them came back to Labour eventually in lower preferences, but at that stage it was probably as much an anti-Fianna Fail thing as it was pro-Labour. Which begs the question: Is this proof that Labour has finally broken through into second party status, or is this just, like 1992, a flash-in-the-pan skin deep result? Will election 2016 be where a leaner, fitter Fianna Fail punches Labour to the ground and takes second place? Is there anyone who really believes that Labour will come out of election 2016 will more seats than they had going in? Yes, I know, five years away, ridiculous to speculate, etc. But in your gut?

Today (Sunday) Labour will vote to enter government, and I don’t envy them their choice: They have to vote Yes, because to not do so will be to betray the voters whom they never seriously hinted at that they would stay in opposition. Yet they know in their hearts that going in will give Fianna Fail the prominence and the space to recover, and give Sinn Fein and the United Left a clear target to assault from the left. Labour in opposition, leading it, would be the great transformational moment in Irish politics, Left Vs. Right, and probably dooming Fianna Fail.

But, to their credit, going into government is in the national interest. Yes, there will be those who sneer about careerists and ambition, but there is nothing wrong with ambition. People go into politics to get things done (unless of course you’re Joe Higgins or Richard Boyd Barrett) and Labour are going to take one for the team, and for that we should be grateful. To those about to lose their political lives, we salute you.

The Election 2011 Fantasy Cabinet Allocation.

An Taoiseach and minister for Up Mayo!: Inda.

Minister for Testicular Manipulation: Phil Hogan.

Minister for Renaming The HSE The Health Operations Logistical Executive (HOLE):  James Reilly

Minister for Really Hard Sums That Have Greek Letters In Them And Need Log Tables: Richard Bruton

Minister for Containing Gayness: Lucinda Creighton

Minister for Voldemort Affairs: Leo Varadkar

Minister for Nice Suits: Simon Coveney

Minister for Shouting And Up Mayo More!: Michael Ring

Minister for Speaking In A Low Voice That Sounds Calm: Michael Noonan

Minister for This is Very Serious: Eamon Gilmore

Minister for Haranguing: Go on, guess!

Minister for Fianna Fail Reminders: Pat Rabbitte

Minister for Talking To People Who Own Things Without  Scaring The Shite Out Of Them: Ruairi Quinn

Minister for Talking To Foreigners And Pronouncing Guy In A French Way Without Sniggering: Pat Cox.

Promises: What you can’t deliver, and what you don’t want to.

Call me a cynic (Oh go on!) but I’m just waiting for that moment. You know it: That moment where a new government does something that goes against the tone they ran on in the election.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about a cutback or a tax, that’s par for the course in these times. I’m talking about the political U-turns, the ones they make not because they have to, but because they want to. Like Labour abandoning abortion reform or same-sex marriage, or Fine Gael abandoning Seanad abolition. Things they abandon because it suits the dynamic of the coalition. Of course, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe they’ll surprise me. We’ll get an idea on Friday. 

Labour rushes in to save the Civil War. Again.

Suddenly, a ghostly Dick appeared...

Suddenly, a ghostly Dick appeared...

Let me be clear about what I’m not saying. I understand why Labour want to go into government. Yes, there’s a ego “Hey, look at me, I’m a cabinet minister and you bastards said I’d never amount to anything!” thing, but that’s not unique to Labour. There’s also the simple decent idea that one can do some good in government. But that is very hard when you’re trying to run the country on Tesco coupons clipped from the newspaper. Doing good costs money, and we ain’t got any. I understand why Labour wants to go into government, I really do. To their credit, it’s probably even in the national interest.

But it is not in Labour’s long-term interest. Just look at the figures: Labour got exactly 2% more in first preference votes than Fianna Fail, yet double their seats? What does that tell you? It tells me that Labour were very transfer friendly, the way Fianna Fail and the Greens were before 2007. But not much more popular than Fianna Fail. Now picture Labour 5 years from now, having gone through 5 years of cut backs and even if the recovery is in full swing, Labour will not have been able to live up to the tone it set for itself, of pain-free cutbacks and no income tax rises. Both Labour and Fine Gael will go into Election 2016 against a reinvigorated Fianna Fail (who, if the other opposition parties don’t combine against, will lead the opposition). The result: Fine Gael will take a hit, but remain the largest party. They have so many young TDs bedding in now that they have that chance. But Labour will have put up with 5 years of the United Left and the Shinners hammering them from the left, and being well organised in their constituencies to do something about it. It’s Dick Spring and 1997 all over again, the false dawn of spectacular Labour gains being wiped out faster than you can say “Master Anakin, you’re in a funny mood”

The truth is, If Labour wants to secure itself as the major or at least second party of Irish politics, it needs to lead the opposition and destroy its enemies to its left, and it cannot do that as part of  a tax and cut government. But more importantly, it needs to destroy Fianna Fail, which it could do by becoming the obvious alternative to Fine Gael, and siphoning away Fianna Fail’s working class voters as Fine Gael takes their centre-right voters. But by giving Fianna Fail a lifeline, in effect shoring up the battered, tottering pillar of Civil war politics, Labour has sealed its own fate.

A few quid on Fianna Fail to be the second largest party in the state after the next election, methinks?