Posted by Jason O on Apr 13, 2013 in British Politics
Repost for the week that was in it:
Mrs Thatcher, not one for sleeping much to begin with, had nevertheless been awoken with the news. HMS Invincible had been hit by at least three exocet missiles, and was sinking. Casualties were lighter than expected, but the captain had given the abandon ship order. The prime minister, after ensuring that all possible aid was given to the escaping survivors, addressed the question her assembled military and political staff waited for. Could they still retake the islands? Admiral Woodward was blunt. Air cover was vital, and with Invincible lost, HMS Hermes was now the sole provider of air cover, and the Argentinians knew it too. The entire enemy air force, he said, would be tasked with sinking the Hermes. That was easier said than done, given the range problems the Argentine Air Force had, having to fly from the mainland, but it meant that the closer the Hermes was to the Falklands themselves, to provide air support for ground forces, the greater the risk was that it could be hit.
Woodward also pointed out the effect the sinking of the Invincible would have on the morale of both sides, and that it would play a significant role. He was right. The following morning, despite D Notices being issued to all British newspapers, the Sun and the Mirror both ran with screen grabs from an American TV crew in a chartered plane who had footage of the ship’s last moments before it slipped beneath. The Sun declared “You Argy Bastards!” whilst the Mirror went with the more restrained “Revenge now!” The country swung solidly behind the prime minister, but then, it did not know what she knew. She had a choice. Risk the Hermes in close support, the loss of which would mean the end of the campaign, or risk soldiers lives without air support. Her political advisers were clear. Parliament would not wear the loss of the Hermes, and she would be gone by the end of the day. They advocated a landing without full air support.
The military objected strongly, with the head of the army threatening to resign in a red-faced heated exchange with a political advisor where he refused to put British soldiers into unnecessary danger to save a politician’s blushes. Mrs Thatcher, in a moment of honour that even her most ardent opponents recognised as an act of nobility, assured the general that she would never give such an order. She then instructed her foreign secretary to contact the Americans to act as go-betweens.
US Secretary of State Alexander Haig quickly negotiated a ceasefire, and within three weeks US helicopters were landing in the Falklands to evacuate any Falkland Islanders who wished to be evacuated from the conflict zone. The talks in Washington quickly settled on the concept of Britain conceeding shared sovereignty of the islands in return for an Argentine withdrawal. When Mrs Thatcher visited the White House to make it clear to President Reagan that such an option was not acceptable, the president diplomatically informed her that she had no choice. Argentina was the force on the ground and she was negotiating from a position of weakness. She then requested US military assistance to change that fact. When President Reagan refused, she departed, and never spoke to him again for the rest of his life.
With the task force limping back to Portsmouth, the polls, which previous to the invasion had the newly formed centrist Social Democratic Party with over 50%, and the Tories in third place, opened up even wider. The prime minister delayed the general election until May 1984, but the desperate economic news and the humiliation of the Falklands led to her being christened “The Jimmy Carter of British Politics” by Liberal leader David Steel, and the voters seemed to agree, handing a huge majority to the SDP-Liberal Alliance with just under 48% of the vote. Labour suffered losses too, but the real casualties were the Conservative Party, who stumbled back into Parliament with less than 50 seats, Mrs Thatcher losing her own seat in Finchley by 234 votes.
Roy Jenkins, the former Labour Chancellor and President of the European Commission, and now prime minister, moved quickly to take advantage of the momentum of his historic win. Bills on constitutional reform, including changing the voting system, were quickly passed through the Commons, with the House of Lords, despite having only a tiny minority of SDP and Liberal peers, afraid to block a government which such a huge mandate. Jenkins also surprised many by making trades union reform a centrepiece of his government, although looking to Germany for inspiration. The new legislation swept away many of the old restrictive practices whilst putting in place generous profit sharing arrangements for employees, and tax incentives for the companies that signed up to them. The Jenkins government radically changed the approach of the government to industry and manufacturing, investing state money in companies willing to take the long term view, whilst pushing in the EEC for a dismantling of barriers to a European single market.
Jenkins then lobbied for, and succeeded in the appointment of a British President of the European Commission to take a tough approach to this agenda. European history books written years later credited the beginning of the final phase of European integration, a real single market, with the ten year European Commission led by President Thatcher.
Posted by Jason O on Dec 10, 2012 in eNovels & Writing
“EarthOne”, my first published short story, is now available here on Amazon.com as an eBook, and shows once again the dexterity of Amazon.com in permitting the publication of fiction in a format that would just not be economical through traditional publication means. It is, for me, a means of experimenting with fictional ideas that I feel would not justify a novel.
“EarthOne” tells the speculative story of a piece of software designed to run a country, and how society deals with the idea, as leaders and their peoples from a tiny island nation to a failing US city to the People’s Republic of China confront both the challenges and indeed opportunities of the concept, ultimately asking themselves: can we trust this thing we have created?
As ever, I’d really appreciate honest reviews on Amazon.com
Posted by Jason O on Sep 2, 2012 in Fiction
, Not quite serious.
, US Politics
The following post is an idea for a short story I had about Governor Romney and President Obama being locked in a room together. It’s a very long post. You have been warned!
The governor waved once more to the crowd in the Lynn University auditorium, and walked off the stage, Ann’s hand held firmly in his. In the wings, his campaign manager beamed his reaction to the governor’s performance in the final presidential debate with an enthusiastic two thumbs up.
“Governor, that was marvellous!” he said, with a wide grin. The governor raised an eyebrow. It had been the theme inside the campaign, his alleged 1950s style stiffness becoming a source of light ribbing from his campaign team. He actually found it quite funny, especially as his sons were very much the ringleaders.
The debate had been the hardest of the three, with the president holding his own and the governor having to tread very carefully, especially on Iran. His pollsters had been very clear: Defend Israel Yes, lead America into another Republican war, a big fat No. He felt he had kept the balance.
His sons were giving him firm handshakes and slapping his back when he noticed the head of his Secret Service detail speaking to another man he didn’t recognise. The agent walked over.
“Governor, the president has asked that you join him. A traditional matter, I’m told.”
The governor stiffened. It was not commonly known, and he had certainly not known until he had been informed on winning his party’s nomination, that a communications line between the sitting president and his likely opponent was agreed early in the campaign. If the candidate was informed of the phrase “a traditional matter” it meant that there was a national security issue he needed to be briefed on, off the record and not for campaign exploitation. It was a matter of pride to all in the know that the system had never been abused since it was set up by President Ford in the 1970s. Read more…
Posted by Jason O on May 8, 2012 in Fiction
, Irish Politics
, Not quite serious.
Supposing Bertie had tried to do the right thing...
June 2007. Cowen, blaming Ahern, concedes defeat as Kenny opens negotiations with Rabbitte.
The Taoiseach, Brian Cowen TD, has conceded defeat after tallymen said that FF senator Cyprian Brady would narrowly fail to be elected to the last seat in Dublin Central. This result confirmed that Fianna Fail’s loss of five seats in the general election meant that it was now impossible for the party to attempt to cobble together a majority with the remaining PDs and independents.
Cowen launched a blistering attack on his predecessor, Bertie Ahern TD, for his decision, following the 2002 general election, to restrict mortgage lending and tax breaks. He identified Ahern’s attempts to dampen down the property market as the key reason for Fianna Fail’s defeat in the general election. The decision to restrict lending was very badly received by first time buyers, who accused the government of treating them like children and not letting them borrow as much as they wished.
Ahern’s January 2003 RTE Prime Time interview, where he suggested that the banks and mortgage holders were piling debts upon themselves based on massively overvalued assets caused the Taoiseach to be savaged by the media, who attacked him (and not just in their weighty property supplements) of being alarmist and talking down the market. Ahern’s refusal to back down led to a gradual slow down and modest dip in property values, and following heated rows in heated tents in Galway with party supporters, finance minister Charlie McCreevy announced his resignation, accusing Ahern of lacking courage.
The policy led to a substantial drop in employment in the construction industry, with unemployment leaping from 3.1% to 5.1%, and demands for the Taoiseach’s resignation by some FF backbenchers. Fianna Fail suffered heavy losses in middle class areas in the 2004 local and European elections, with Fine Gael trouncing FF with a clear call to reverse Ahern’s restrictions. Polls showed clearly that Ahern’s interference in the property market was deeply unpopular with middle class and aspiring middle class voters, and in June 2006, following a sustained campaign in the media, Charlie McCreevey announced that he was challenging Bertie Ahern for the party leadership. Although he defeated Ahern in the vote, McCreevy was beaten in the subsequent leadership election by Brian Cowen, his successor as finance minister, who pointed out that he believed in the “traditional idea that the leader of Fianna Failer should be, you know, a member of Fianna Fail.” The new cabinet announced it was reversing Ahern’s restricting on lending and restoring the tax breaks to the building industry.
The incoming Fine Gael/Labour coalition has said that it does not believe the fact that the country is building over 80,000 housing units when Sweden, with double the population, is only building 12,000, to be a cause for concern.
In other news, the family of Capt. Edward Smith, the “mad” captain of the RMS Titanic who rammed an iceberg in 1912 and caused over a €100,000 pounds worth of damage to his own ship, have petitioned the British Government to clear the captain’s name. Smith, who died disgraced in 1950, always maintained that if he attempted to turn the ship away from the iceberg it could have been badly damaged along its hull in such a way as to sink the ship, a theory that modern engineers have recently begun to suggest has merit. For years, the phrase “To Smith Oneself” was a derogatory naval slogan to describe a foolish action taken by a person who claimed that they were attempting to avoid a greater catastrophe.
The former luxury liner continues to be one of the biggest tourist attractions in London, where it is moored.
Posted by Jason O on Mar 3, 2012 in Fiction
, Not quite serious.
, US Politics
The President's Hotline to Heaven.
The first time had been during a decade of the Rosary, as he had knelt in front of the desk, on the giant seal of the United States. It was a regular item on his daily agenda, the small card his personal aide presented him each morning with the day’s itinerary, slivers of time on his schedule to allow him to pray and find the strength from the Lord to continue his work. This was the first time God had ever spoken back.
President Santorum had jerked up when he had heard it, angry that someone had walked into the Oval Office during this private moment of prayer. He’d been very clear from day one that he was not to be disturbed unless it was absolutely vital.
But there had been no one there, and he had dismissed it as a rogue sound fragment, very unusual in the soundproofed office, but not impossible. Two days later, as he prayed, it had happened again. This time, he had heard it clearly.
“You are the one.”
Posted by Jason O on Feb 9, 2012 in Fiction
, US Politics
President Nixon: Tragically Slain in Dallas, 1963.
PRESIDENT NIXON DEAD. SHOT IN DALLAS. VICE PRESIDENT CABOT LODGE SWORN IN AS PRESIDENT.
The murder of Richard M. Nixon on the 22nd November 1963 by Lee Harvey Oswald brought a meteoric political career to a cruelly abrupt end. The man who had risen from entering Congress in 1946 to defeating Senator John F. Kennedy in the razor thin election of 1960 was almost certain to be re-elected in 1964, given his adroit handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis, tough line on Vietnam (remembering Truman’s “losing China”) and his hard-line on civil rights solidifying black votes into the Republican column. The death of the young, cheerful and endearingly awkward war hero president stunned America.
Vice President Henry Cabot Lodge easily defeated Senator Lyndon Baines Johnson, running on a thinly veiled racist (against his own better judgement, he admitted years later) states rights campaign the following year. As history now shows, the Republican landslide of 1964 was the last good thing to happen to the former Massachusetts senator. Read more…
Posted by Jason O on Feb 5, 2012 in Fiction
, Irish Politics
The 1st Irish Free State division wades ashore on Omaha beach, June 6, 1944.
They buried Eamonn De Valera on the 1st October 1943, nearly two weeks after the car crash on the Rock road, Blackrock, which had claimed the life of both the Taoiseach and his Garda driver. Given his iconic status in the political pantheon of the Free State, the Minister for Supplies and de facto successor, Sean Lemass, had delayed the traditional swift burial to allow for a ceremony more befitting “the chief.”
Over a quarter of a million people turned up to pay their respects as the procession made its way from the Pro-Cathedral to Glasnevin, and two days later, the Fianna Fail parliamentary party met and anointed the young 44 year old minister as Taoiseach.
A week after his election as Taoiseach, Lemass was visited by the US ambassador. The visit was perfunctory, the diplomat visiting to pass on the respects of President Roosevelt. As they spoke, the ambassador, who was well briefed as to the differences in outlook between De Valera and his young protégé, decided to take a gamble. By pure coincidence, he had on his person copies of OSS briefing documents outlining allied intelligence on the concentration camps. Lemass read them, asked questions about their veracity, and then opened a discussion with the ambassador about the post-war situation. The world was waiting for the invasion of France, and that, in tandem with the German reversals on the Eastern front, meant that the war was going to end, and Nazi Germany was going to be defeated. On top of that, it was becoming very clear that the United States was going to be the dominant power in the world. Lemass then changed the subject entirely, and spoke about the challenges facing a tiny, newly independent nation like Ireland, and its place in the world.
Posted by Jason O on Jan 9, 2012 in Fiction
, Irish Politics
- Brian Cowen: Leader of the first majority Irish government in 30 years.
Of the two million people who voted in the Irish general election of May 2007, if twenty five thousand had voted a different way, Bertie Ahern could have been re-elected Taoiseach, if he could have convinced both the Progressive Democrats and the Greens to form a coalition. But he never got the chance, with Enda Kenny managing to take Fine Gael from a humiliating defeat in 2002 into government and coalition with Labour and the Greens. that day was to be the high point of Kenny’s political career.
As the global economy nose dived in 2007, Kenny struggled to keep the government together, especially as Labour struggled to keep its deputies onboard in the face of unexpected cutbacks in public spending, and higher taxes. Then came the night of the banking guarantee.
Kenny, his finance minister Ruairi Quinn, and Tanaiste Pat Rabbitte listened in silence as the banks outlined their need for massive state support. Rabbitte summoned the Labour ministers to an emergency meeting at 2am, where the options were laid out. He then returned to the Taoiseach to inform him that Labour would support the immediate nationalisation of AIB and the Bank of Ireland, and that it was Labour’s opinion that Anglo Irish Bank was not vital to the national banking system and so, with safeguards for deposits under €100,000, should be permitted to fail. Fine Gael ministers, who had arrived, immediately attacked the Labour proposal as reckless, declaring the nationalisation of the banks to be knee-jerk and unacceptable, and pointing out that there was no information to advise as to what the collapse of Anglo Irish would do to Irish pensions or credit unions.
Labour, however, were adamant, and at 4:40am the Labour ministers resigned. The Taoiseach immediately dispatched Gardai to collect Brian Cowen, the leader of the opposition, and his finance spokesperson. The two Fianna Fail deputies listened to the Taoiseach and his acting finance minister, Michael Noonan explain the situation, and ask for Fianna Fail support for a minority Fine Gael government. Cowen agreed to a public commitment to support the government in issuing a guarantee for all the banks, in return for announcing an early general election within two months.
Kenny had no choice but to agree. As the meeting broke up, one of Kenny’s highly paid advisers suddenly blurted out: “Jesus, has anyone woken up Sargent?”
The Taoiseach addressed the country the following day, explaining the guarantee and announcing the general election. Labour attacked the proposals, but as the election campaign took off, Fianna Fail went for the jugular with the two former coalition partners, with a poster of bundles of money on fire. The slogan, “You just can’t trust them with your money” caught the imagination.
In the party leaders debates, Brian Cowen devastated the squabbling FG and Labour leaders with an assurance that “unlike these two, Fianna Fail will never, never take the country to the stage that we have to go cap in hand to the IMF or anyone else for a bailout.” Although it returned Fianna Fail to its first overall majority in Dail since 1977, it was a clip that would haunt Cowen for the rest of his life.
Posted by Jason O on Jan 3, 2012 in Fiction
, US Politics
Vice President Al Gore’s hair’s breadth carrying of Florida in the 2000 presidential election meant that when terrorists attacked the United States in September 2001, the former highly experienced vice president and senator was in control of the nation’s defences, as opposed to Governor Bush. President Gore spent the following months assembling an international coalition at the United Nations to support the US invasion of Afghanistan and the destruction of both the Taliban and Al Quaeda. His defence secretary (and former Reagan administration official) Robert Gates was criticised for his strategy of utilising a large scale invasion force, with former Ford chief of staff Donald Rumsfeld regarding the large amount of resources used as wasteful, saying that he was “Shocked and awed at the amount of troops committed”. Calls for an invasion of Iraq from former defence secretary Dick Cheney and neo-conservative think tanks were dismissed as a distraction, and didn’t get much traction in the media.
The Gates strategy was vindicated by many, however, when in March 2002, Al Quaeda leader Osama Bin Laden, fleeing advancing US forces, was shot dead by French Special Forces in caves on the Pakistan border, triggering an outbreak of Francophilia in the US and cheering crowds for President Chirac when he visited New York and Washington the following month. British prime minister Tony Blair was lambasted in the British media for not keeping the UK as close to the US as France.
In 2004, President Gore was easily re-elected, defeating Senator John McCain, and causing serious reversals for the GOP in both the house and senate as the Democratic party surged ahead in the polls on national security issues, and the Republicans opposed a Patriot Act which included increased measures to combat white collar crime and money laundering. The collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008, however, meant that the Lieberman-Bayh campaign based around a platform of national security and prosperity disintegrated, ending the sixteen year Democratic domination of the White House.
The new Bush-Palin administration immediately began spending the large budget surplus left by the Democrats on pork barrel projects for key GOP districts mixed with tax cuts for the wealthy, in an attempt to stimulate the economy. It didn’t work, as wealthy taxpayers immediately moved their new found cash abroad to seek better investment returns. At the same time, the administration refused to assist large businesses in difficulty, resulting in the collapse, amongst others, of General Motors, which was promptly bought at a bargain basement price by the Chinese government.
In foreign policy, President Bush had greater success, especially with the outbreak of large scale dissatisfaction in the Middle East, and tyrants being toppled by their own people. When President Bush ordered US aircraft based in Saudi Arabia to support Iraqi protesters and rebel Iraqi army units attempting to overthrow Saddam Hussein, he was welcomed by cheering crowds when he arrived in Baghdad following the lynching of the dictator and his sons by a mob the previous week. The former governor of Florida had been looking forward to the 2012 contest, and the Democratic lineup, including a young and charismatic black second term US senator from Illinois, when an oddly shaped pretzel lodged in his throat and he was found dead on the floor of his living room. America’s first female president was sworn in 35 minutes later.