This democracy thing is far more fragile than we realise.
I thought I’d repost this rather than write another blog on the same theme. Don’t forget to check out this article about public spending by the BBC’s Nick Robinson, as I think they dovetail nicely. By the way, make sure to watch the short film, it’s fascinating.
1. A sense of entitlement, spread across nearly every social class, that informs people that they somehow have a right to far more government expenditure being spent on them than they ever contribute in taxes, whilst at the same time believing that they are overtaxed and that others are either paying less or getting more from the state.
2. A professional political class that sees winning elections and remaining in office as a career in itself, that sees defined political values as a means to an end rather than an end goal, and that has developed its own sense of Washington Beltway/Westminster Village/Leinster House Doheny and Nesbitt set of priorities and scorecards that are getting further and further removed from the concerns of their respective publics.
3. An electorate, shaped by a post-1950s consumer culture, that expects its political leaders to deliver an unachievable level of political and indeed emotional gratification, constantly leading to disappointment in the political process. For example, this writer encountered people expressing disappointment in a new Irish government for not implementing election promises before they had actually taken office. In addition, that same electorate subscribes to a right to cheap credit but does not accept the balancing obligation of accepting a lower standard of living in order to meet those debts.
4. A media that, due to commercial realities, does not see informing the public or indeed educating them as being a high priority, but instead sees the destruction of political figures, parties and institutions as a legitimate goal in itself, as is the injecting of extreme emotion into any story where possible.
5. The corrupting effect of fundraising on the political system coupled with (see point four) a media that both decries corruption caused by fundraising but also the use of public funds to eliminate the need for private funding. Likewise, a public that demands high standards of political ethics but is unwilling to resource them, leading to candidates who are either funded by other individuals or else are privately wealthy, both cases to which the public also objects.
6. The pervasive influence of modern marketing techniques within politics, in particular the adjusting of parties to become entities espousing the least offensive lowest common denominator coupled with focusing on emotional but essentially distracting “hot button” issues. These are a direct challenge to the concept of politics being a menu of policy options that a well informed electorate can choose from. In Ireland, for example, there are supermarket chains offering more distinctive options than most of our main political parties.
Posted by Jason O on Oct 21, 2014 in Irish Politics
Even when I was an active Young Progressive Democrat, I never believed in the idea that just because someone was young, they were automatically “a breath of fresh air.” Indeed, some of the most reactionary party bootlickers tend to be members of youth parties, eagerly allying themselves to the party bosses and being their useful little minions in the hope of future reward. That’s not to say I didn’t play ball with headquarters. Of course I did, because you have to if you want to get something done. But you have to be in politics for more than just the greasy pole.
I’m writing on the subject because a number of members of Fianna Fail have all raised, in different ways, a similar point with me about their party. Each one of them regarded the younger members of the party, from Senator Averil Power to Councillors like Malcolm Byrne, James Lawless, Kate Feeney and Paul McAuliffe, as being vital to the party’s recovery, not just because they could win seats but because each was actually interested in ideas. I’ve met them all, and know some better than others, but I’d agree with the assessment. That’s not to say I agree with them all, by the way. But each one had a rational and thoughtful approach to ideas which went far beyond the super county councillors that seem to populate their parliamentary party.
And, by the way, it’s not something limited to Fianna Fail either. If you take Rebecca Moynihan in Labour, or Barry Saul in Fine Gael, or Sinn Fein’s Donnchadh O’Laoghaire, you also get a generation of young elected representatives who have an interest in the big picture. As an aside, and I don’t want to overhype it, but exposure through their respective European party memberships to sister parties in the EPP, SD, ALDE and GUE does have an effect.
Of course, that’s not to say that guarantees change. The Fine Gael and Labour parliamentary parties are full of young deputies who talked radical when running and then knuckled under, supporting a government that was so conservative on political reform that it actively sabotaged its own stated policies.
The hope is that as the old guard step down, the young turks might hold to their promise. Of course, it wouldn’t be the first time people reached the top and suddenly decide that the system is grand. But there’s a chance.
Posted by Jason O on Oct 20, 2014 in Irish Politics
If you get a chance, check out www.publicpolicy.ie, the website of the Irish Fiscal Policy Research Centre, which is funded by Atlantic Philanthropies, and is a thinktank dedicated to putting out thoughtful options on various public policy issues.
Interesting stuff for the policy wonks amongst us. You know who you are. Yes, you with a copy of Prospect magazine secretly stuffed in the middle of GQ. I’m looking at you.
Posted by Jason O on Oct 17, 2014 in Irish Politics
, Not quite serious.
The Taoiseach has ordered immediate action by the relevant state officials to prepare the state for a possible case of the Ebola virus. Speaking through a keyhole in his office, Mr Kenny told reporters that he was not overly concerned but had ordered ministers to watch the 1995 film about an Ebola variant, or indeed “any film with Kevin Spacey in it. He’s so watchable.”
The government has also moved to appoint a semi-state body to be ready to deal with the situation. “An Bord Aggggh! is being assembled as we speak. I’m told the Attorney General’s office is fast-tracking the necessary legislation to clearly define the salaries, expenses, bonuses and pension entitlements of its new employees, and any other stuff it’s required to do.”
The government has begun to draw up a list of appropriate appointees, including a former Fine Gael Councillor who had “a terrible dose last Christmas, couldn’t shake it at all, got into me chest and I had to go on the antibiotics. Over the Christmas!” and a nephew of the Taoiseach’s who has “seen every season of The Walking Dead and that Jude Law film which someone said was quite good.”
Posted by Jason O on Oct 15, 2014 in Irish Politics
So, where are we standing today?
Fine Gael: continue to consolidate themselves as the dominant party of the centre-right, business, stability and the political status quo. That’s not to be disparaging, as that’s a considerable constituency in any western country, and set’s them up to be the largest party in the next Dail. Many of its younger deputies, though talented, have basically surrendered their reformist instincts to Enda’s no-change-if-possible conservatism. Having said all that, The Party of The Recovery is a powerful platform to stand on.
Sinn Fein: are rapidly becoming the anti-Fine Gael. Not as left wing as they pretend (their wealth tax has more loopholes than Irish corporate taxation law) but setting themselves up not so much as the party of the have-nots as the want-someone-elses. Again, a considerable constituency that could leave them in largest party status if they can get over the we’ll-shoot-you-if-you-disagree baggage.
Fianna Fail: I never believed that FF was finished in 2011, and I still don’t. One aspect of FF that the media is missing is the sheer talent outside the Dail party, especially amongst their younger councillors. FF is in the odd position of having a Dail party that sounds like a crowd of county councillors, whilst many of its young reps (Averil Power, Paul McAuliffe, Kate Feeney, James Lawless, Malcolm Byrne) sound like thoughtful legislators, and tend to be better informed too. The party still suffers from an inability to restrain its knee-jerk populist pandering, and a leader with the right vision but an unwillingness to enforce it on the party.
Labour: Joan Burton seems to be settling on a strategy of humility for the overblown promises of the Gilmore for Taoiseach era and quiet delivery for Labour’s public sector constituency. Given the circumstances, it’s not the worst plan.
The Alphabet Left: The SWP, PBP, SP, AAA and UL continue to take up space in parliament for what reason I can’t fathom. After all, is there anyone who believes that Richard Boyd Barrett or Joe will actually negotiate with anyone on forming a government? As the Dublin South West, Dublin European Parliament and Dublin West elections showed, the hard left save a particular level of ice-pickery for others on the hard left. Effectively a form of political graffiti.
The Independents: arguably the biggest threat to good government, primarily because we have no real idea what’ll happen if 25 odd (and some very odd) Ind TDs were to have a serious say in a hung Dail. Still, might be a few bob to be made on the telly rights.
The Greens: Ah Jaysus, look at their little faces. A good performance in the Euros and some good candidates elected in the locals throughout the country might give them a modest re-entry back into the Dail. Hard to see where Ryan will make his comeback though, given that Dublin South (Rathdown, whatever that is?) is now a three seater. Dun Laoghaire tricky too with the Ceann Comhairle and the People’s Front of Killiney performing strongly in the locals.
Repost: This post I wrote 18 months ago has suddenly started gaining hits. Recent poll, maybe? Thought I’d post it again. And yes, I know it upsets some in FF. Your objections are noted. As ever, the offer to write a reply stands. And no, you can’t reply anonymously so stop asking! I’ll happily post your criticisms but you have to make them in public.
There is probably no activity as entertaining in Irish politics as watching a member of Fianna Fail and one of Fine Gael debating the differences between their parties in front of a non-partisan audience. Curiously, it is a rare enough event.
Stage 1. Both sides nod solemnly in agreement that there is a huge difference between their parties.
Stage 2. When asked about what values separate the parties, the Fianna Failer is first in with “republicanism”. A request for definition is met with a vague candyfloss enunciation, normally with the phrase “social justice” thrown into the mix. The Fine Gaeler claims the declaration as an accurate description of FG values. FF immediately launches an attack along the lines of “well then why did you cut X?” followed by FG saying “sure, what about when you cut Y in government?”
Both sides are broken up and returned to corners.
Stage 3. A second attempt is made at values. A commitment to a United Ireland is mentioned by FF as being “deeper” in FF. FG lists out everything from the declaration of the Republic to the Anglo Irish Agreement. Another fracas ensues with pointed references to personalities in other parties.
Stage 4. A foriegn member of the audience asks for a comparison to conventional parties in continental Europe and elsewhere. Both sides unite to point out that Irish politics has no comparison to any other political system in Human history. “That’s for fucking sure” a voice from the audience remarks loudly.
Stage 5. Economic values are questioned. Both parties immediately descend into a nit-picking “you did this in government” row. FF claims to be a party of the working class and small farmer. FG claims it has support amongst both classes. Both parties dispute being pro-business compared to other parties. An audience member points out that both parties received most of their funding from business. The audience member is personally attacked for having “an agenda”. The actual question about who funds the two parties is deliberately ignored.
Stage 6. Both parties are asked to cease referencing past events and address the future, with a simple declaration of the values that will shape the parties in the future. Both make statements about the future which mention dignity, employment, social justice and prosperity. They are pretty much the same statement. When challenged on this, each points out that the character of the other party means that the other party does not mean what he says. Both then launch into a point-by-point historic nit-picking contest.
Stage 7. Both particpiants take to Twitter and Facebook to attack the event as biased against one party and obviously run for the benefit of the other, accusing the moderator of “bashing” their party. Both are quick to stress that no one cares about this stuff except people “obsessed” with historical events and this has nothing to do with “real” politics.
Posted by Jason O on Oct 5, 2014 in Irish Politics
, Not quite serious.
Meanwhile, in an alternate universe…
Micheal Martin is sitting nervously in a small waiting room in North Dublin, a battered jotter with “Election 2016 strategy” written on the front cover in his best copperplate.
“The mayor will see you now,” the young official says, and leads him into the modern glass and timber office of the first directly elected executive mayor of Dublin Fingal. A number of whiteboards are dotted around the room, with budget projections and policy concepts scrawled on them. Behind her, on very full but tidy bookshelves, a picture of her and Mayor Bill De Blasio of New York sits between reports on urban renewal and poverty reduction. The county flag, Dublin flag, tricolour and EU flag all stand behind the desk. It’s all very The West Wing.
Her office is nicer than his.
Averil Power offers him a seat, and a cup of green tea. He comes to the point quickly.
“I need you to run in the general.”
“Micheal, I’ve only been in office for a year, since Big Phil brought in elected mayors. And you know the Can’t Have Your Cake And Eat It law as well as I do. I’d have to resign as mayor first, in order to run.”
“Yes, well, I know, but…”
“I like being mayor. I control a budget of €215 million. We’re doing really interesting things here. Breakfast clubs for low income kids, commercial-rate free enterprise zones, more social housing. It’s not like the Seanad at all, Michael. I don’t have to sit with aul fellas banging on about Garth Brooks or seagulls or listen to Norris talking about people’s fannies. I get to have quiet meetings with the county manager and experts and we calmly discuss our options and make actual decisions that matter. Decisions that actually matter, Micheal!”
“That’s great but…”
“And anyway, you know damn well Big Phil put all the mayors 100% in charge of the Local Property Tax. My face is actually on the bill people get through the letterbox. My face! It’s the law! I set the property tax rate, and Big Phil has made sure everybody knows.
Someone told me recently that he’s so devious, Micheal, that he’s started making witty asides to himself in a southern US accent. The point is, there’s no guarantee I could actually win a seat anyway. At least if I serve my full term I can show people how I spent their property tax…eh… Micheal, are you crying?”
“Please Averil! Nobody will run. Hanafin wouldn’t even let me into her office. I had to shout through a letterbox. Then when I got into the office she wouldn’t let me out of the headlock until I called her Mayor Hanafin. Look, I’ve still got the teeth marks on my ear.”
Martin slumps back in his seat.
“I was talking to Gerry, and the Shinners are the same. All his lot are loving being mayors too. He’s actually thinking about running his teddy in Dublin South, and a cardboard cut-out of Spiderman in Cork South Central! This was Big Phil’s plan, you know. Let us win all the mayoral elections and lose all our best candidates. And every time we try to bring up the Property Tax in the Dail Enda starts telling us that it’s our mayors that set it. I’m wandering around the country pleading with people to run. Last night I was so tired that I ended up in a drive-thru McDonald’s in Roscrea! A McDonald’s! I asked the young fella taking my order had he ever considered seeking public office. He turned me down, Averil, he turned me down! Bwaaaaaaa!”
“Here, take a hankie. They’re recycled from decommissioned landmines. Hillary gave me them. Come on, you’ll ruin your lovely shirt. Don’t wipe your nose on your sleeve!”
“Why didn’t those bastards in the government just keep talking guff about political reform? Sure nobody ever really asks on the doors about it anyway, I mean, I’ve never been chased away from a solid Party List using D’Hondt house! Have you? But no, they went and actually brought in reform, and look what it’s done to us and the Shinners. All over the country all our best candidates are runnin’ things and making decisions and now you’re all too good to be TDs!
But someone’s got to sit on the backbenches, Averil, someone has to sit behind me besides Willy. You know how bad it’s gotten in the PP? I’ll tell you. Two of them are dead. Dead! One of them died in his sleep, and the other one tried to read that Thomas Piketty book by accident. We’re carrying them in and out of the chamber like “Weekend at Bernies”, and storing the cadavers in a freezer behind that huge pile of McGrath’s unopened Economist magazines. Sure, nobody’s noticed, and the Irish Times praised their debate attendance records, but it can’t go on Averil, it can’t go on!”
Posted by Jason O on Oct 3, 2014 in Irish Politics
, Not quite serious.
The Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, has announced today that the recent scandal involving party nominees being appointed to state boards has been caused by a magical sorting hat in party headquarters. Journalists were led into a room in the party’s headquarters and shown a large hat which the party claims dispenses suitable names for appointment in compliance with legislation. The Taoiseach, when questioned, expressed his confidence that the hat was very well informed about the requisite regulations in “at least as much as headwear or, say, Heather Humphries, can be in this regard.”
During the press conference, one journalist pointed out that there was a large hole cut into both the hat and the table it was sitting on. The Taoiseach suggested that the building had a particularly virulent rodent problem. Looking under the table, it was revealed that the aforementioned mice seemed to enjoy reading a copy of the Fine Gael membership list.
Micheal Martin, leader of Fianna Fail, attacked the government’s reliance on an inanimate object to make decisions. When he was challenged to prove that he himself was not an inanimate object, he quickly fled from the room. Raised voices were later heard from another room, including a Corkman pleading with a “Miss Hanafin” to “Please, not the wicked stick again, no, not the face, not the face!”
Posted by Jason O on Oct 1, 2014 in Fiction
, Irish Politics
Last year I wrote “Sovereignty”, a radio play about a female Irish Taoiseach. You can read it here.
Posted by Jason O on Sep 24, 2014 in Irish Politics
Fair play to Kildare FF Councillor James Lawless putting his position on Local Property Tax on the record. Makes some good points. There’s something bizarre about watching the hard left doing a Newt Gingrich over taxes whilst centrists are asking how public services will actually be paid for. Weren’t the People’s Front of Killiney et al only bitching recently about local services being cut? Yet now they can afford to cut LPT? Don’t get me wrong: I’m a tax cutter by instinct. But I want to see the sums first and I want to see what spending is being cut, not watching the rainy day fund get pissed away. It’s typical of the populists pretending to be lefties: All demanding Keynesian spending in a recession, but unwilling to save money for the long term and the next recession.
Check out James’ points here. By the way: He’s also to be credited for being one of the few FF people who uses the web well to put across his views.