Berlusconi. Putin. Erdogan. Farage. Le Pen. Wilders. What do all these names have in common? All have built a cult of personality on a platform of authoritarian nationalist populism. But another factor is that each one of them has built a movement which will suffer a serious, possibly even fatal blow, if one of the above were to die suddenly.
It’s a curious feature of the hard right, the centralising of power around a key figure. As Franco, Mussolini and others proved, pull the keystone figure away and the whole structure could collapse in a way that democratic centrist parties just don’t.
If Farage, Berlusconi or Putin in particular suddenly passed away in the night there’d be a actual chaos in their organisations, a genuine vacuum and lack of clear succession that could destroy the whole enterprise in a vicious struggle for power.
Just a thought.
Posted by Jason O on Dec 11, 2014 in Irish Politics
If recent polls are to be believed, and they certainly should be taken as indicative, the next Dail will have a possible majority of populist TDs. Whilst they probably won’t want to agree on anything unpopular like passing a budget, it’s not unreasonable to assume that a majority could be found to abolish water charges relatively quickly.
If you read through our lovely constitution, you’ll discover that even a majority of Dail Eireann may not have the power to do so.
I refer learned colleagues to article 18: “Dáil Éireann shall not pass any vote or resolution, and no law shall be enacted, for the appropriation of revenue or other public moneys unless the purpose of the appropriation shall have been recommended to Dáil Éireann by a message from the Government signed by the Taoiseach.“
Sure that’s grand, says you. Sure Enda will be long gone anyway. Except he (or his successor) may not be, because until the Dail assembles a majority to elect a new Taoiseach, the sitting Taoiseach stays in office as acting Taoiseach, and, thanks to Dev, has a de facto veto over spending bills despite not having a majority.
On the other hand, having gotten hammered in the general election, do we really think Fine Gael will want to keep defending a policy for which, though right, has modest public support? Probably not.
But it does raise an interesting point: Enda can’t be voted out. A replacement, with the support quite possibly of both Shane Ross and Richard Boyd Barrett, has to be voted in, with a majority. That’ll be fun.
A harmless inoffensive new John A. Costello who seems to agree with everybody whilst keeping his own opinions to himself. Now, I know this fella from Drumcondra…
“We’re not taking it any more! It’s time the country be taken back by the ordinary people! Feck the bankers and the political parties! It’s time for a country based on social justice and equality and housing and health and education as rights! Yes to free healthcare! Yes to free education! Yes to…sorry, say that again…you want to pay for free healthcare by doing what?…means testing children’s allowance….now, hold on a minute there…putting Capital Gains Tax on private residences…wait there one minute now…the rich should pay higher taxes, but not ordinary people like me, yes, I know I bought my house for €300k and it’s now worth €500k, but that’s MY MONEY….tax MY profit???….to fund free healthcare and social justice?…….get away from MY money, d’ya hear, that €200k profit is MY money, not yours! Get your stinking thieving hands off my filthy lucre!”
Posted by Jason O on Nov 28, 2014 in European Union
, Irish Politics
Some years ago, a number of Irish politicians knowingly sentenced some their constituents to death. A report by experts pointed out that small local hospitals did not have the experience, capacity and technology to provide specialist care in the case of heart attacks. In effect, the report said that a person who had a heart attack on the steps of the local hospital stood a better chance of survival if they were flown by air ambulance to a regional hospital with a dedicated experienced unit who dealt with heart attacks every day.
A rational analysis of the report would have led to a debate about how to ensure that such an efficient air ambulance unit could be provided. Instead, in Ireland, the local deputies argued that every small local hospital should have such a cardiac unit, a proposal that was not only impractical but if attempted to be implemented would suck resources from other parts of the health service, thus resulting in unnecessary deaths from non-cardiac related illness.
Why did they do it? Why did these elected representatives knowingly campaign for a policy they knew would actually kill some of their constituents? Primarily, one would suggest, because their constituents demanded it, and in a democracy, the voter is always right. Even when he or she doesn’t read the report or just plain refuses to accept its findings because he or she simply don’t like them. The voter rules.
When the voter is then standing over the grave of his or her wife or husband who died on an operating table from a heart attack, in the local hospital, it’s not their fault. It’s the health service’s fault for not providing a world class cardiac unit in a tiny town. The local deputy will attend the funeral and agree that the wife or husband has been let down, despite having known this would happen from the expert report. And so on it goes.
In a democracy, the pointed finger beats rational fact every time.
Francois Hollande ran for the Presidency of France promising to reverse Sarkozy’s very modest pension reforms. How could any intelligent rational man looking at the demographic and life expectancy statistics conclude that people should be permitted to retire earlier? Pensions and increasing care for the elderly cost money, and so more people must work longer and pay taxes to fund those services. Is Hollande a fool, in the real sense? Probably not. But he knew that the voters didn’t care about the statistics. They stamped their foot in the Free Stuff From The Government aisle and had a tantrum, and would only leave with him if he promised them a young pension. Even though he must have known that it was the wrong thing for France’s long-term viability as a self sustaining nation.
It’s an issue we don’t want to confront: modern life, with modern expectations, is incredibly complicated. If you want to build a world class cardiac capacity, it takes years of planning, to bring and train the right people together, in the right place, with the right equipment. It takes long term planning. But democratic politics is becoming less and less tolerant of long term planning. It’s attracting candidates who are thinking more and more short term, sometimes just to Friday afternoon or the following days newspapers, candidates who aren’t interested in anything that they can’t wave at their voters before the next election.
That’s not to say we should scrap democracy, of course. China does long term planning very well, but it also uses tanks against its own people. Democracy is still the most effective bulwark against tyranny and for that alone must be maintained. But as a guarantee of good, rational government it is becoming less and less effective.
The EU: Missed when it’s gone.
NBC Dateline Brussels, Belgium, 2025.
Camera pans an imposing star shaped building, revealing the odd broken window, and weeds growing up through the forecourt. A vandalised sign, missing letters, reads “ur ommission”. Camera pans to a handsome man in his early 40s. The accent is American.
“Ten years ago, this building, housing a body called the European Commission, was one of the most important places in Europe, possibly in the western world. It was here, in sleepy Belgium, now one of the world’s backwaters, that American, Japanese, German and even Chinese businessmen would pay attention to see what consumer protection regulations would have to be met to permit their products be sold to European citizens in Greece, Germany or Galway. It’s hard now to imagine the central committee in Beijing, or tycoons and industrialists in Mumbai caring what Europeans actually think about anything, but there was once a time when the tiny nations of Europe didn’t pander and grovel to China for economic scraps, but were in fact a mighty combined economic power in their own right.
Indeed, when one looks at Prime Minister Cameron having this week to welcome the Chinese invasion of Taiwan, for fear of losing Chinese investment in Britain, it’s a sorry sign of how far Europe has fallen. So what happened? Read more…
Posted by Jason O on Nov 19, 2014 in Irish Politics
Whilst I do disagree with many of the anti-water tax protesters (not all of them, mind) I do have great sympathy with one point they make. When Irish politicians of almost any political persuasion make a promise, it’s very hard to take it to the bank.
I have no doubt that there is no party in Dail Eireann that would support privatising Irish Water. But I also know, from my own personal experience, that there is no shortage of Irish political types who, if told by their political bosses to work out a way of doing it without calling it “privatisation” would do it without a single moral qualm. Not only that, but they’d regard themselves as really clever for figuring it out. You’ve met them: they’re the people who say “water charge” every time you say “water tax” as if they can hypnotise you to their view through repetition, and end up coming across as disingenuous tossers.
This is the problem. We talk about the need for political reform, but the biggest reform should be for a politician’s word to actually mean something. Our problem is that our political system is occupied at all levels by people for whom honour means nothing. Who say they won’t go into government with X, and then after the election find some fragment of an excuse to do the exact opposite of what they said they’d do. That’s why so many of us have lost faith in the political system.
Fianna Fail have a policy document on their website which pledges, amongst other things, to stop sitting TDs from being ministers at the same time. It’s an incredibly radical proposal. Yet is there anyone who believes they’ll actually implement it? Of course they won’t, yet it’s their stated policy right there in black and white. This isn’t to single out Fianna Fail: indeed, if recent history has told us anything, Fianna Fail’s problem has not been breaking promises but making outlandish spending promises and keeping them. But it is indicative of how one’s word means nothing in Irish politics. Fine Gael and Labour sabotaged their own stated policy on an elected mayor for Dublin.
It doesn’t have to be like this, nor does it cost money to change. It starts with politicians who are serious not about their promises but the reality of what they can actually deliver in office.
Honour should not be a fool’s word in Irish politics. Honour matters.
Posted by Jason O on Nov 17, 2014 in Irish Politics
“The ordinary people” is a phrase that has been hi-jacked by every political conman and huckster since Roman times. He falsely claims to speaks for them, and gains his legitimacy through them, and therefore if you are against him, you’re an enemy of the ordinary people.
We’ve seen this fraud appear on our streets in recent days, on-the-make politicians whipping up mobs into emotional hysteria and then letting them loose. Paisley was a big man for this sort of thing, stirring up the red mist and then walking away if anyone ever got killed.
Now we have a type of politician who sees democratic elections and parliament as a mere tool that they’ll use when it suits, and discard when not. They’ll claim to be nationalists or socialists. They’re big on using the courts to defend their own rights, but will set up their own courts if it’s one of their number accused of rape. They’ll scream “human rights” if Gardai prevent them from going anywhere, but will arbitrarily detain Irish citizens who happen to hold government office. They’ll demand you pay more tax, but declare that they don’t have to pay their taxes if it doesn’t suit them, whether on water or illegal cigarettes or diesel. They’ll justify physical assaults on other citizens as acts of frustration, but if a young Garda defends herself it’s the state crushing opposition.
Fascism is a word that’s casually bandied around, and mostly with a racial connotation. But that’s just one form of fascism. Another form is a group of self-appointed demagogues who have won some votes and now decide to impose their will upon the majority, by a mixture of elections, intimidation and cherry-picking of which parts of a democratic society suit them and which don’t.
In recent years, all across Europe, we’ve seen these people use the frustrations of people to build a political movement founded on intimidation and fear and a belief that the law is not what the courts or parliament says it is, but what they decide in their back rooms.
They’ve finally on Irish streets. It’s time for democrats to suit up.
She doesn’t like paying higher taxes any more than anyone else, or having her public services cut. But she’s rational, and calm, and irritated by the emotional hysteria that seems to pass for debate in modern politics. She hates the masochistic delight that some wallow in over The Banks, like the Vikings and the Brits and the potatoes before them, something out of our control to point a finger at and wail and scream at and blame for our shortcomings.
She knows that every extra euro somebody wants spent on Special Needs Assistants or A&E has to come from somebody else’s pocket, and that’s not right wing or Thatcherite, that’s just sums. As it happens, she is quite left wing on social spending, and that’s why she quietly fills in her standing order to various charities, but that costs money too. But she makes that sacrifice because she knows that things cost money and how strongly you feel about something doesn’t change the basic maths.
That’s why, if she could, she’d vote for the Troika. For calm rational technocrats who look at spreadsheets and tell you what you can afford and can’t. Sure, if you want to increase education spending by X, then you have to increase taxes by Y.
She can’t watch politicians anymore, with their time-eating pre-packaged inoffensive “hard working families” and “investment” and “resources” and basic refusal to tell voters that no, you can’t have your cake and eat someone else’s cake too. Don’t get her started on the angry hateful faces “in the audience”, the witchcraft denouncers of the modern age, wrapping their consumer fuelled frustrations with their own lives into a tight ball of bile and directing it at the cowering, stuttering spineless half-men of Irish politics who just sit and take it like scolded dogs. She watches the cyclical nature of Irish politics getting shorter, with opposition parties making promises that have to be broken sooner and sooner in office.
She thinks she’s alone in her anger, and she’s not. The problem is that there’s a groupthink, where 30% of big-mouths get to tell the rest of us that this is a terrible country (it isn’t) and nothing works (it does)and the health service is Third World (no, it isn’t) and all politicians are corrupt (no, they’re not) and we go along with their image of the country. She knows this is a country with problems but also a country with great strengths.
Is it so unreasonable for her to look for a candidate that doesn’t dress up what they want to do, that gives a cold credible analysis of what they will do in office? Who doesn’t build a campaign on subliminal promises that are so nebulous that they’ll never be met because we can’t measure them. Is it really that unreasonable to look for that?
Posted by Jason O on Nov 14, 2014 in Irish Politics
Posted by Jason O on Nov 2, 2014 in Fiction
, Irish Politics
DEV: PROBABLY STILL END UP RUNNING THE PLACE.
This is one of those counterfactuals that doesn’t hinge on a simple what-if-X-hadn’t-died. The truth is, it’s almost impossible to imagine Ireland not being partitioned without A) the British turning a blind eye (and that includes elements of the British Army which might have mutinied) and B) a civil war between, effectively, Catholic and Protestant that would have been far more vicious than the actual Irish Civil War of 1921-23. It would probably have ended with a mass exodus by thousands of Protestants from the north, pretty high loss of life (especially amongst areas with one group living amongst a predominantly larger one, such as Catholic areas in Belfast) and an historical legacy that we would be thoroughly ashamed of today.
Putting that aside, the question I ask is what sort of Ireland would have developed if the country had not been partitioned, nor fought a bloody and sectarian civil war?
Would we have still had the civil war we had? Given that the treaty did not bring about a republic in name and still required an oath of loyalty to the British monarch, it’s quite possible. But what if the unionist majority in the north (those who decided to stay) regarded the treaty as the best of a bad lot, and decided to fight to defend it given its recognition of their religious freedoms? We forget that the same elections that elected the second Dail in 1921 also elected 40 unionists would could presumably have taken their seats in the Dail, and so would have passed the treaty by an overwhelming majority.