Is it a bird, is it a plane, no, it’s the middle class!

On Friday, as I was reading the Twitter feed as results came in, I started noticing a certain tone amongst some No voters. It seemed to focus on the fact that a coalition of middle class and rural voters were outnumbering lower income voters at the polls. One tweeter in particular described it as something akin to the haves outvoting the have nots.

Two things struck me about this:

The first was the dismissive attitude towards middle class voters, as if they were somehow not real people. This is a common attitude in Britain and Ireland, that “middle class” is something to be sneered at as lacking some sort of authenticity, as if south Cork or south Dublin were not really parts of Ireland but just happen to be geographically located there.

Then there was the anger that lower income voters, through “austerity”, were being deprived by this evil coalition of their “due”. Now, think about this for a moment, because it is a discussion that needs to be had in Ireland. We are cutting spending because we don’t have money. The only way we can get money is through borrowing or through taxation. Essentially, a section of Irish politics, pertaining to represent lower income voters, is demanding a wealth transfer, through higher taxes, from voters wealthier than they are. Why? Has this wealth been created by the sweat of their brow through exploitation? For the most part, no. In fact, many of the most angry have not had much sweat on their brow for quite a while, so what is their beef? The answer is that they believe that they are plain and simply entitled to someone else’s money. It is the great un-had debate in Irish life, that people who want your money have a greater right to it than you have a right to keep it.

At this stage of the argument, the question of bank bailouts gets flung into the argument like some sort of economic kryptonite, but that does not work, because whilst anger towards the bailouts is perfectly justified, Gerry Adams and Joe Higgins et al were demanding other people’s money way before a single bank was ever bailed out.

This is a class issue, and it is time we confront it. We have an upper and middle class which generates most of the tax revenue that funds our public services for those on a lower income. That’s not to say that working class people do not generate wealth through their work, because they do, but the truth is that they earn less but also contribute less in actual taxation. A large section of those most unhappy with the share out of wealth in our society have (whisper this) not actually contributed towards it in any significant way. Yet they feel indignant about their share? Really?

Many of those tweeting demanded a party to speak up for lower income voters. They’re dead right, and we are moving towards a more class-based party system, and I would argue that this is not a bad thing. Sinn Fein seems to speak now primarily (but not exclusively) for a semi-permanent welfare class, and Fine Gael for business and the private sector middle class and farmers, like a normal centre-right party. Fianna Fail and Labour, on the other hand, are both suffering from an unwillingness to clearly define who they speak for. In fact, it was FF under Bertie Ahern, and the inability of Fianna Fail to say no to any section of society (Other than the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement who requested additional funding, funnily enough) that caused the problems we are in now. Likewise, Labour is struggling to define whose interest it is in government to voice, seeing itself as a proto-Fianna Fail party of all the people and slumping to 10% as a result by pleasing no one.

Of course, it is never that easy. Pearse Doherty does not walk the byroads of Donegal espousing socialism, and Fine Gael and Fianna Fail both have “working class” (whatever that means these days) members and representatives. Curiously, the emergence of a class-based party for lower income voters, openly attacking the middle classes, could ironically end up harming its core supporters by revealing and isolating their relatively small numbers. There is also the jarring fact (for left wingers) that, as Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan both discovered, their most dedicated supporters were not middle class voters but the aspiring blue collar voter who desired to be a member of the middle class.

People forget that whilst both the upper and lower classes are prone to self betrayal, whether it was by Ramsay MacDonald or Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the middle class always remains loyal to itself. 

And now some post-campaign pre-result analysis.

I thought I’d take a risk and write this morning about the outcome of the campaign before knowing the result, if only to write honestly about the campaign rather than with the benefit of hindsight.

Firstly, there were certain factors which I think will probably shape the final outcome, if not decide it entirely:

The first was the election of Francois Hollande, which shook the Yes side badly, because here was a major player suggesting that the world will not fall in if we vote No. He stepped back from it a bit, but the damage was done, and a lot of soft Yes votes certainly started looking again at their choice. Richard Bruton’s accidental blurting out of a straight answer about a second vote was embarrassing, but then he wasn’t exactly letting a state secret out.

For the No side, I’m not sure they ever quite recovered from the early part of the campaign where they struggled to answer the “yes, but where WILL the money come from?” question. Richard Boyd Barrett’s honest answer, through €10 billion in new taxes, was novel, as was Mary Lou’s new found respect for the IMF.

In terms of bizarre aspects of the campaign, someone really needs to tell Nigel Farage that he isn’t helping the No side, God love him. By all accounts a decent and fun fella, he has the unfortunate ability to remind Irish people of the man sent by an absentee landlord to put you and your children off your quarter acre.

Labour’s surreal bank guarantee posters had all the hallmarks of a gang of people who spend too much time in Leinster House scoring points in the chamber. Nobody gives a toss how Sinn Fein voted on the bank guarantee. It had the air of a political strategy designed using a protractor and graph paper.

Pat Kenny’s performance on the Frontline debate. Hmmm.  

One other curio: I’m surprised how the right-wing Vote No to defund the Croke Park Agreement message never took off. I’m also surprised at the number of people who told me they were voting Yes because the treaty would stop future governments, especially a Sinn Fein government, from going hogwild spending, again, another argument you did not hear much in the media. 

Finally, a request: We don’t know the result yet. When we do, can we please be spared the “The people have spoken clearly and courageously/The people were obviously bullied” ding-dong of old? Please? Just watch how quickly our friends in the UK go from “plucky little Ireland” to “what do you expect from the Irish?” if we vote Yes.

Why I am voting Yes.

This is a strange referendum. Since the Nice Treaty, I have started every campaign on the No side, a believer in European integration but uneasy about the tawdry nature of the treaties, and the constant delay in addressing the Democratic Disconnect. During the course of every campaign, however, I have been driven to the Yes side by the hysterical, populist, opportunistic and reckless arguments of many of the major players in the No campaign, and a desire that my vote not be taken as an endorsement of them. It should be said, of course, that there were some on the No side who opposed the previous treaties for honourable reasons, but it was not they who made me vote Yes.

This time is different. There are people whom I respect, whose political opinions are not that different from mine, who will be voting No, and for reasons that I may not agree with but can understand. This treaty, like its predecessors, fails to deal with the democratic issues within the EU and is only one part of an overall solution to the crisis this continent finds itself in. It is primarily, as Declan Ganley has pointed out, for political consumption in Germany.

So why am I voting Yes?

I agree with about 90% of what Declan Ganley says. I even agree with some of Sinn Fein’s arguments about the need for spending. But the No side cannot convince me that we will have access to vital funding if we need it. Moreover, if they were to succeed in achieving a No vote, and were proven wrong about funding, I do not believe that Sinn Fein or the ULA would do anything but immediately and shamelessly attack the government for the outcome.

In short, a No vote will not be Sinn Fein’s problem but yet another tool for them to use in their populist easy answers campaign to win power in this country. After all, can anyone imagine any possible scenario where Sinn Fein in opposition would advocate a Yes vote? Any at all? It is Sinn Fein’s voters who will bear the brunt of social welfare payments being cut in the event of a lack of EU funding, and the fact that Sinn Fein are willing to take that risk with the people who vote for them shows a cold political calculating ability probably unmatched in this republic.

Of course, Sinn Fein and the ULA maintain that the treaty will copper fasten austerity. This has for me raised the question of what they believe austerity means? It is not true, for example, that this treaty will restrict the ability of an Irish government to expand social spending. What this treaty will do will be to force future politicians promising public spending to openly explain who will pay the extra taxes required to fund their promises, something the ULA and Sinn Fein are deeply uncomfortable with.

If anything, this aspect of the treaty is one of the few positive parts of the whole process, in that it may force those on the so-called Irish Left to openly espouse real socialist policies including the sacrifice of common taxes for the common good. This treaty will make politicians (on all sides) confront the reality of their promises, and for that reason, EU reasons aside, it is worth voting for on Thursday.

Jason’s Diary.

David McWilliams’s producer, Mary Catherine Brouder, sent me this link to his latest Punk Economics film on the euro crisis. It’s very well put together and is a great example of how to communicate a complex issue in a digestible format. A bit long at nine and a half minutes, but that’s probably unavoidable given the subject matter.

I don’t agree with all the analysis. Like nearly everyone on the No side, he seems to be advocating an enormous game of chicken with Germany with no plan as to how we handle the massive shortfall in cash if they call our bluff. Secondly, his suggestion that the ordinary German in the strasse disagrees with Angela’s refusal to bail out the rest of Europe is, how shall I describe it, novel? That seems to be the other unifying factor on the No side, that Ireland is the only real democracy in Europe.

It’s worth watching. You can see it here.

Jason’s Diary.

Just a few general observations today. Check out Greg Bowler’s excellent piece here on what happens if we vote No. I’m not sure I quite agree with everything in it, but it’s a fair picture.

The Spoofer’s Guide to the Fiscal Treaty (Now with extra Ganley!) is available here.

I see a poll recently announced that a substantial section of voters say that they still have little or no knowledge of the treaty. In the usual infantilisation (A word introduced to me by Pat Hynes for which I’m very grateful) of Irish voters no pollster seems to ask those voters what they have actually done to inform themselves? Both the Yes and No sides are pumping out information, as is the referendum commission. I’d love a pollster to quiz those voters as to what they have actually done to inform themselves. If you’re not going to bother informing yourself you can go to hell.

Finally, a rant. Yeah, I know, shock, horror etc. What is it about the Irish and sunshine and litter? Seriously, who stands up in a park or on a beach, surveys the empty wrappers and cans, and walks away without feeling any responsibility whatsoever for putting them in a bin? And don’t start me on “the bins were full” crap. Bring it home with you. It’s your crap. This is one area where this liberal would happily horsewhip the bastards. We have to live here, God has given us a pretty beautiful country which other people are willing to pay to visit, and we don’t need to be throwing obstacles in our own way.


5 things that might help save Europe.

It's time to think big.

It's time to think big.

Let’s be honest: the eurozone crisis is not all that is wrong with Europe, but the final straw that did the damage, bringing to the surface pretty much every grievance and complaint people have about the European Union and the process of European integration. And guess what? A lot of it is true. It has been a top down process, and whilst the union is not the EUSSR that the headbangers describe, the truth is, it is not a democracy by any standard that any member state would recognise. Many eurosceptics raise legitimate points of criticism. Having said that, the inability of European leaders to act courageously has been caused primarily by the failure of those same leaders to explain the need for European integration to their own people.

Yet it has worked, and even the most ardent of British eurosceptics still want to preserve many of the aspects of the union, in particular the single market. Here are a few things that I think we should consider to save Europe.

1. Eurobonds. We need to deal with the massive debt. At the same time, Germans, Finns and others can’t be expected to just carry the burden. They fear, not unreasonably, that in the middle of their apple strudel in the great European restaurant every other country is going to suddenly leg it for the door stiffing them with the bill. Supposing we agree to create eurobonds, issued centrally by the European Council, with the contributory nations like Germany having a veto over the amount raised, and with the specific spending of those bonds controlled directly by the Commission. This is not Daddy writing another cheque to be spent on beer, but Daddy paying for your college fees directly in the hope it gets you a paying job. Those member states that require them must sign up for the Fiscal Compact, and cede their right to issue national bonds. A EU-wide tax on a common commodity (Petrol?) could be levied in the countries using bonds to create a revenue to pay down the bonds, and possibly pay compensation to those countries who have higher borrowing costs having ceded national bonds. Consideration could also be given to the temporary transfer of public revenue raising assets like airports or toll roads as collateral against the bonds. An act, incidentally, that would create a powerful EU-owned multinational corporation to manage those assets on behalf of the union.

2. Such a radical proposal should be put to the electorate of each country wishing to have access to eurobonds, to seek a democratic mandate for the tough fiscal discipline required.Those countries that vote No do not get access to eurobonds.

3. We also need to recognise that the union must offer different things to different countries. Some countries see the benefit of a closer union, perhaps even a federation. Others want access to the single market. It’s time that we negotiate those two different types of membership, and the option of complete withdrawal, and let every member state vote, on the same day, on a new variable geometry settlement, letting their people choose which form of membership they sign up for. In short, for Europe to survive as a project, it must receive a mandate from the people of Europe.

4. For the inner core, the Democratic Disconnect has to be resolved once and for all. The people of Europe should elect directly a combined Commission/Council president of the eurozone. Throughout this European crisis, it has become very apparent that no one speaks with a mandate for Europe as a whole, despite the fact that this problem cannot be solved by any single country. It’s like a soccer team without a manager, no one is in charge of the big picture. The phrase “faceless unelected bureaucrats” has got to be destroyed, and only the people can do that with their ballots.

Also, member states should commit, over a ten year period, to holding national elections within the same 12 month period. The constant cycle of elections in Europe is contributing to paralysis, and needs to be addressed in a way that does not damage the democratic legitimacy of national politics.

5. Europe needs to create a European Defence Force. This may sound like a strange issue to bring up in the middle of a financial crisis, but it matters. EU countries spend nearly 70% of what the US spends on defence, yet were nearly beaten by Libya. By creating a small but well resourced EDF (alongside, not replacing national armies) Europe could free up national forces (and money) from combined operations like Somalia, Libya and Afganistan whilst allowing member states to get better military capabilities for less money by reducing duplication. After all, the EU has more soldiers than the US. 

These are just ideas, flaws and all, that I’m throwing into the pot for discussion. Will they work? I don’t know. But I do know that Europe has failed throughout this crisis to get ahead of it and come up with a solution bigger than the problem. Maybe it’s time to think big, because the potential for failure, and its cost, will almost certainly be bigger.

Additional: my apologies with regard to US/EU defence spending. Read the data wrong. EU defence spending is closer to one third of the US.

The No promise.

Mary Lou puts her voters where her mouth is.

Mary Lou puts her voters where her mouth is.

So, what actually happens if we vote No? The Yes campaign say we’ll have no access to funds, less influence, send a bad signal to investors in Ireland, etc. But what’s more interesting is what the No side are saying. What are they claiming a No vote will deliver?

1. It will allow a renegotiation of fiscal severity. Hmm. See, the problem with that is the fact that even Francois Hollande accepts that we have to have a curb on spending. Curbing unaffordable spending is not an ideological thing, it’s the reality of matching resources to demands. It ain’t going away.

2. A vote against the “austerity treaty” will presumably mean no extra austerity, right? After all, they say the treaty will force extra austerity, so therefore a No vote will either reduce the need for extra cutbacks or even reduce the current need? I don’t actually believe this, but this is what they are essentially promising. Just look at Paul Murphy’s posters. Remember how the Yes campaign got (rightly) hammered for “Vote Yes for Jobs”? A No vote is a vote to reverse austerity apparently, through positive energy, angel power, prayer, pretty much anything except actual money. 

3. If we need extra money, it will be found. This is the one. Mary Lou McDonald has pledged that the money will be made available. She has given us her word. In fact, you have to admire her integrity in putting the very day to day existence of her core voters on the line, because if we have to cut, it’ll be social spending that bears the brunt. Like a big pile of casino chips, Mary Lou has pushed her own voters into the middle of the green baize, such is her belief that she has the winning hand. You have to admire the courage. 

Angela’s Choice.

Angela's Ashes? Merkel decides the future of Europe.

Angela's Ashes? Merkel decides the future of Europe.

We can dress the whole Europe debate up in a ballerina’s dress and call it Mary if we like, but the reality is that the future of the European Union hinges on two things: 1) Will Germany save it, and 2) How will Germany come to its decision?

Somewhere in the Federal Chancellery there is a team working on two sets of numbers. The first is the cost to the German taxpayer of leapfrogging this crisis by supporting Eurobonds, quantative easing, and the political unification of the eurozone. The second number is the cost to Germany of a collapse of the eurozone, the baling out of German banks, and with it a rush to “temporary” tariffs and protectionism within the single market.  

There are other factors too, but this is really the heart of the matter. Talk of war in Europe is a bit silly, if only for the fact that the one thing Europeans hate more than cutting social spending is increasing defence spending. But a new Europe with a very powerful new Deutschmark pricing out German exports, coupled with populist politicians trying to keep out “unfair” competition from southern countries (and maybe Ireland) is not in Germany’s interest either.

Finally, and this is something that British and Irish audiences don’t quite understand, there is the political factor. Support for European unity runs far deeper in the political structures of most continental countries than we grasp. British eurosceptics constantly remark that the euro was a political project, as if that is a killer argument. It was. It was supposed to be, and whilst it is malfunctioning from bad design, the fact with European integration is that it has been the great success story of post-war Europe. Every week, ministers from powerful Germany to tiny Malta meet to discuss how we solve common European challenges. We don’t pretend that all are equal, but there is an equal respect and an equal right to be at the table where decisions are made. Without the EU, Germany could make decisions on her own, and we would be dragged along in her huge economic gravity field. But here’s the funny thing: Modern Germany does not like being put in that position. That’s the other factor we don’t get: Germany, whilst defending its own interests like every other country, would still rather be part of an agreed gang. That’s how German politics works (the Bundesrat nearly always ends up controlled by the opposition) and that’s how they’re most comfortable.

With Spain too big to save, we’re now in the endgame, and Chancellor Merkel has to make a decision which will shape Europe for the next fifty years. Effectively, she is going to be the mother of a European Federation, or she is going to let the post-war European settlement break up. Churchill or Chamberlain, FDR or Hoover. This is the league she is now in, and the decisions she makes will shape how children learn of her in 2062, either from her portrait on the wall, as a founder of the United States of Europe, or as a footnote explaining how Europe became a Chinese-owned economic backwater. It really is that important.

An Occasional Guide to Irish Politics: The Thatcherite No Voter.

How would she vote on May 31st?

How would she vote on May 31st?

You don’t see him much in the media, because it doesn’t really suit. It’s much easier to have on one side the voices of economic orthodoxy, paying our debts, etc, and on the other side the Anti-Austerity Why Can’t Every Thing Be Nice left. Everybody knows where they stand, and to have a Ron Paul style slash big government by proxy type complicating the issue just doesn’t fit. The idea that there are Irish people who actually think that ever growing public spending might be a bad idea just does not compute in a political system that tries to pretend that there is no left or right in Irish politics. In fact, the idea that such an opinion could be voiced in Ireland is so offensive to some that they try to pretend that it is a fabrication of the Yes side.

But ask yourself this: if they could, how would the British Tories vote in this referendum? He is voting No because he is afraid that there could indeed be another bailout, funding the Croke Park Agreement and civil service increments. In his mind, a No vote will starve the public sector of funds from wherever, and throttle it down to size. The fact that he has Mary Lou, Joe Higgins and Richard Boyd Barrett to actually help him deliver that goal, well, that’s just delicious.

It’s like when Al Qaeda and Mitt Romney both agree that the gays should not have the same rights as, you know, real people. In politics, the strangest people can find themselves in bed together.

Europe needs the far left to win in Greece.

Hitler: Proved himself to be full of shit.

Hitler: Proved himself to be full of shit.

Imagine if the July 1944 plot had been successful, and Hitler had been killed, and the coup had succeeded. The war could possibly have ended earlier. But imagine Hitler’s reputation today, as the guy who could have won the war for Nazi Germany had he not been stabbed in the back by “traitors”. A similar situation exists in Greece, where the Greek people have pretty much turned their back on conventional centrist politics and voted for the extremes of left and right. Well, you know what? This is good.

We need one country to be run by the pain-free populist priests of anti-austerity, so that we can all clearly see what happens when easy answers are applied. We need to kill the Hitler Martyr Myth, that these guys have the answer if only they’d been given a chance. Let’s see how Greece does under Stavros Higgins and Richard Boyd Theodopolopolos.

And, by the way, the EU (and NATO) needs to make it very clear to the Greek military that on no account will any sort of military action against an elected Greek government, even of the far left, be tolerated. The Greek people must be given the right to confront reality themselves, even if that reality is to flush their own country down the toilet.