The British general election of 2016, held after the collapse of the minority Cameron government of 2015-2016, is recorded in history alongside the 1945, 1979 and 1997 general elections as an election of major historical significance. In short, a key turning point in the politics of Britain.
Not only was it noticeable for the radical overturning of conventional politics with UKIP’s emergence as the largest party in the House of Commons, but also for the election when Britain’s first-past-the-post electoral system finally suffered a major malfunction.
Following UKIP’s modest entry into the Commons in the 2015 general election, and the hung result of that election with the Conservatives remaining the largest party but just barely ahead of Labour, it was not surprising that a second election was to occur within a year. This was triggered primarily by the inability of either David Cameron or Nick Clegg to convince their respective parliamentary parties to consider a second coalition, and the fact that a Labour/Lib pact would just narrowly miss a majority.
The following months were hellish for Cameron, with UKIP, the Conservatives and Labour all level pegging in opinion polls in the early twenties, and with the Lib Dems, now freed from the shackles of government, stabilising at mid-teen level. The Conservative party was now engaged in open civil war between the minority Cameron modernisers and the majority who wished for an open pact with UKIP for the expected next ballot. Cameron and Hague, his foreign secretary, both openly opposed such a pact. It eventually resulted in a vote of no confidence passed by his own parliamentary party, followed by his resignation as both Conservative leader and Prime Minister a mere eleven months after the last election. Read more…
Supposing you wanted to secretly take over Britain? How would you go about it? Well, one step you’d almost certainly take would be to disarm Britain’s ability to prevent you carrying out your diabolical plot. That could involve eliminating Britain’s most famous secret agent, of course, but it could also involve depriving the UK of its direct ability to control or influence events. In short, tricking the British into withdrawing from the European Union would be a masterstroke.
Think about it: of course Britain will still trade with the EU after withdrawal. But the reality is that many British companies, with an eye to the continental market, will lobby their home government to effectively copy EU regulations because it’ll allow them to save money by having the same manufacturing and compliance regime for both the EU and UK markets. Regulations which, after withdrawal, Britain will have no say in creating or amending.
It’s true, Britain will not be LEGALLY bound to obey or implement these regulations, but the sheer economic gravity of the vast EU monolith beside it will just make it easier. Especially given that the British withdrawal deprives moderate eurosceptics or reformers within the EU of their strongest ally.
In short, Britain will have been reduced from the second most important nation in the EU to a de facto EU protectorate, a dominion state, nominally independent but behind closed doors still caught in the EU regulatory web. But with no British voice at the table. No commissioner, no ministers, no MEPs representing the British view. Even better, the British people will never know, seeing the blue flags vanishing but not knowing that the EU influence remains.
As coups go, it’s a very British one. If Blofeld were a European Federalist, he’d be very pleased with Agent Farage. Very pleased indeed.
Posted by Jason O on Apr 1, 2014 in Irish Politics
, Not quite serious.
Chaos broke out in Leinster House this morning as deputies and senators collectively realised that they were actually expected to implement stuff promised before the general election. “It came as a shock to me,” one unnamed deputy said, “when a constituent just happened to point out that they expected me to actually carry out the stuff I’d promised before polling day. To be honest, I’d never looked at it that way before. Do you think that’s why people are always so angry with us?”
The Taoiseach has announced an emergency cabinet meeting to consider this stunning new development, and was last seen going through bins in government buildings asking as to whether anyone had a copy of “that manifesto yoke” he held up a lot during the election campaign.
The Minister for the Environment has been rapidly rereading all of his pre-election promises about creating an elected Mayor for Dublin. “You mean, I’m supposed to do all this stuff? Jaykers! Who knew?”
Pat Rabbitte has been prescribed a sedative and a few days rest.
Posted by Jason O on Mar 30, 2014 in Jason's Diary
, Not quite serious.
There’s a small but committed group of people who when they hear the name “Benedict Cumberbatch” don’t automatically think of “Sherlock Holmes” but instead think of ”Captain Martin Crieff”.
Cumberbatch plays Crieff in the BBC radio comedy “Cabin Pressure”, which tells the misadventures of MJN Airlines, a single plane charter airline struggling to keep going. MJN is owned by Carolyn Knapp-Shappey, played by the excellent Stephanie Cole (who starred in the underrated 1990s sitcom Waiting for God as the sharp tongued retirement home resident Diana), assisted by her over-enthusiastic son Arthur (John Finnemore, who also created and wrote the show). Cumberbatch plays Crieff, who is chief pilot merely because he agrees to work without pay, such is his love of flying. Finally, there’s the excellent Roger Allam (Peter Mannion in The Thick of It) who pretty much steals the show as the dry-witted fixer co-pilot Douglas Richardson.
The humour is gentle but genuinely funny, and proof once again that good comedy doesn’t always have to be edgy, sarcastic or vicious. The final episode has actually been recorded, and will be broadcast in December, and the entire series is available on Audible.
Posted by Jason O on Mar 27, 2014 in Irish Politics
, Not quite serious.
Note: this was originally written in 2010 about a different scandal. I recycle as appropriate. Curiously, I rarely have to rewrite or change it.
Given the moral failings of the Irish as a race, it is hardly surprising that there is a clear and tested timeline to every scandal which besets Irish society, whether it is moral, political, social or financial. The timeline is as such:
1. Issue emerges. Country particularly mortified at how the British media cover it.
2. Public gasps at details. Sunday papers revel in particularly gory details. Fintan O’Toole writes a pithy piece which explains the cogent details very succinctly, and then drizzles it in extra-virgin head shaking like a nice salad.
3. Opposition call for unspecified action (“Something must be done! We need action!”) or specific action outside the power of the government. (“Bishops must resign! The effect on water of gravity must be reversed! Board members must be frozen in carbonite like Han Solo in The Empire Strikes Back!”)
4. Government shakes heads, and promises that said event (Clerical child abuse/flooding/banking corruption/Semi state squandering/asteroid crashing into the Earth) must never be permitted to happen again, and calls for commission to investigate report of commission which investigated incident. The Public Accounts Committee dances the traditional “Outraged! Outraged we are!” dance.
5. Media, political establishment, voters, realising that they actually play golf/went to school/are second cousin of individuals named in report, start calling for “due process” to be observed, and instead focus on details of events as if they were some abstract natural disaster.
6. The lawyers get involved. People’s right to “their good name”, passing of time, death of witnesses, gums up process of pursuit of actual criminals, drags investigations, trials, etc, in and out of high court for years.
7. Government takes money off people who did not commit these crimes (Taxes), and gives it to victims. The perpetrators contribution is eaten up in legal fees.
8. Some public officials take early retirement, on full pension. Which is pretty much the equivalent of a modest win in the National Lottery. Nobody goes to jail, except maybe a journalist who reveals how this thing is panning out, and is done for contempt of court.
9. In general election, Irish people vote for same people who allowed scandal to occur, on basis that although he/she failed to act to prevent sexual assault of children/building houses underwater, etc, he/she was always “very good for the area.” Irish people elect the crowd who used to do this sort of stuff before the current crowd got in by complaining that the last crowd who used to do this stuff did this stuff. They immediately start doing the stuff they complained the last crowd were always doing.
10. In 10 years, another commission reports on poor handling of this scandal. Reset to step 1.
They started appearing through letterboxes about a year ago, and the clever ones boast all the tricks of the trade. Firstly, those from the three main parties will hardly mention politics at all. They’ll be from “Local area representatives”, which is basically a makey up title parties now use for people who haven’t been selected yet. But regardless of the party, keep an eye out for the common features:
1. You can play bingo with them. Look out for “Community”, “Working with”, “Local services”, “Committed to”, “Passionate about”, “Delivering solutions”, “Delighted”, “Resource”, “A strong voice”, “A fresh voice”, “A new voice for…”. They will also tell you how opposed they are to things they have no control over, but will avoid committing to anything over which they have any power.
2. The leaflet will have a slight air of “what the f**k can I put on this leaflet to fill space without offending absolutely anybody about anything?”. Truth is, if they could just post a giant picture of themselves through your letter box without coming across as an awful prick, they would.
3. They’ll talk an awful lot about spending other people’s money, whilst assuring you that it isn’t your money they’re spending.
4. The size of the party logo will depend on how long they’ve been in power. Some Labour people seem to have run out of red ink. When FF were in power, their logo resembled a high speed daddy long legs impact.
5. The date on the leaflet will be vague, or non-existent, to allow the candidates to use if for months. Yet it’ll be written in a style to give an impression that it’s put out regularly, with phrases like Community Noticeboard or Keeping You Informed or Update on it.
6. It’ll have details on something bizarre that you have never considered, which will make the candidate sound like he/she has got some form of political OCD: “I’m very excited at the news that Fecker Road is to get a new solar powered stop sign. I’ve had to loosen my trousers since I heard the news.”
7. Don’t forget the standard candidate pic: smart casual in front of a local landmark, to remind you that he’s actually been in a place you might recognise. Folded arms are meant to convey business, as if to say “See that sky? I made that.” A pose in front of something bad, like potholes or graffiti will be accompanied by a grimace or frown, to show he’s unhappy, and does not approve of bad things. If he really cared he’d fling his own body into the pothole so that people could step on his back as they pass. If he really cared.
8. He’ll namecheck local areas in a way that makes him sound like Rain Man: “I think what the people of Blackrock, Stillorgan, Deansgrange, Foxrock and Lower Earth Orbit are really concerned about is…”. He’ll do the same in his Ard Fheis speech, claiming ownership of his potential people like King Joffrey.
9. Just once, you’d love to see the phrase “I’m running for the council because I quite fancy being a TD, and this is the first hoop I have to jump through. If I’m lucky, I’ll be out of the council faster than Jimmy Saville at a Daily Mail readers convention.”
10. Candidates will very rarely mention other candidates’ records. Unlike in the US, where your record in office is examined, in Ireland we actually have people running against crooks condemned by tribunals who will refuse to mention it. Primarily because there’s an unwritten gentleman’s agreement amongst the parties to play nice. Sure we’re all trying to just get elected, aren’t we?
11. See on the leaflet the other party candidates? “The Local Team”? Normally at the bottom of the leaflet in smaller writing than anything else? That’s who they’re actually running against.
By the way, if you happen to come across one that actually tells you what the candidate will do with the Local Property Tax powers THEY ACTUALLY HAVE, frame it! Councillors have the power to reduce the LPT rate, but keep it quiet because it involves making spending choices. Most candidates prefer banging will on about stuff they can’t control, like abolishing the LPT. Stuff they have as much control over as your cat/dog/SkyPlus remote.
Hmmm. How to work SkyPlus? Now there’s something useful for a leaflet.
Posted by Jason O on Mar 19, 2014 in Irish Politics
, Not quite serious.
The Strip, Leitrim.
Dateline June 2020. Leitrim. Counting is continuing in the county plebiscite to legalise prostitution and gambling in the county, following a turnout of 72% in the vote yesterday. Opinion polls have shown the result will be very close, but Mayor of Leitrim Billy Murtagh (Independent) has expressed confidence that the people of the county will endorse the proposals of his administration. The Mayor told reporters “When I was directly elected Mayor of this county by the people last year, I told them that Leitrim, like every county under the new devolution and local government laws, has an opportunity to make its own economic way, and it is my belief that this county can be the Las Vegas of Ireland. We’ll even take a more relaxed approach to drink driving, although I understand the Sligo Police Department will have checkpoints on the county border, as is their right. We will of course have proper regulation, but this is going to be the entertainment capital of this whole island, and remember, what happens in Leitrim stays in Leitrim!”
Opponents of the plan include both of Mayor Murtagh’s opponents in the mayoral election. Angela Hartigan, the Fine Gael candidate, has savaged the idea saying that “it will turn Leitrim into the gutter of Ireland”. She has proposed that Leitrim, because of its important place in the heritage of Ireland, should have its economic growth subsidised by other more prosperous counties. “Leitrim is entitled! It just is!”
Although Leitrim is the first county to exercise its powers under the new legislation, other counties and their mayors are looking on with interest. Mayor Tom Morray (Sinn Fein) of Louth has said that he is considering copying the Leitrim proposals. “It would be a shame not to use our position so close to Belfast for economic advantage. The north of Ireland is absolutely crawling with perverts willing to pay good money. Of course, we’d probably have to put in a few gay knocking shops as well, you know, for the DUP lads, but sure, a euro is a euro.”
Interestingly, not all counties intend to use their new devolution powers to liberalise. Some members of Roscommon County Council are discussing designating North Roscommon as a “family values area” with a ban on the sale of pornography, restrictions on drinking, off licences and nightclubs and a tough zero-tolerance approach to law and order to attract Leitrim residents with young families.
“Not everyone wants to live surrounded by hos and bitches jiving like it’s New Jack City,” Thomas Hartigan, a local farmer and undertaker, remarked.
So, after much political peacockery, thrust-out chests and indignation in the chamber over GSOC, do we actually know if GSOC was bugged or not? Do we in our shite. We might as well all have been playing the banjo in the chamber. Sad thing is that I look at the special advisors and media handlers and they all think this play-acting is all achieving something. Now onto another bunfight about Frank Flannery. Of course, we used to do the same to people “close to FF” when we were in opposition. All a load of nonsense.
Looking at some of the people being selected for the European Parliament, I can’t help thinking that Colm McCarthy’s observation is pretty much correct, that the Irish people think that there’s some Yoda fella in a back room making all the real decisions, and so we can elect clowns because it doesn’t really matter. I often suspect that if we had to directly elect people with real jobs, like air traffic controllers or brain surgeons, the voters would carefully scrutinise their CVs to see did they run Heathrow Control for ten years, or act as head of surgery in Cedar-Sinai or the Mayo Clinic? Yet ask Irish people to elect someone to run a €150 billion euro economy, and we ask was he any good at the hurling?
My best pal in this place is Tom Lavelle, who is FF TD for Mayo North West, or as he says, seven cows, three sheep, 4000 gas workers, 3000 Guards, and 500 Dutch and German ecowarriors.
Tom and I both came in 1981, although he did better than me, spending a few years as minister of state for something involving paperwork, and three months in the cabinet as minister for defence in the chaos of 81/82. Tom always reckons Haughey named him to the cabinet by accident because he got his name wrong, as Tom had not been what was called a Haughey man. Funnily enough, he always maintains that he and Haughey got on well personally, which didn’t surprise me. Unlike me, Tom went to university, studied abroad a bit, and takes an interest in global politics, and Haughey always enjoyed a discussion about The Big Picture. “Ask any of these fuckers about The Big Picture,” he told Tom once, pointing at his cabinet ministers, “and they’d wonder were you talking about screen one in the Savoy.”
Once a week, we get away from the bubble and nip out for lunch. I was asking him how things were going in the DeValera Party. He rolls his eyes. “Micheal, God love him, is doing his best. But some of them think now that 2011 was just a statistical hiccup, and we’ll be back in 2016. There’s a gang of young bucks who’ve started saying that the Irish people owe us an apology. An apology!There’s murmurings about the need for a new leader. The name doing the rounds is Niall Collins.”
“Niall Collins?” I ask, holding me club sandwich in mid-bite. “Sure, when did he start lighting up the place?”
Tom shrugs his shoulders.
“I haven’t a notion. They keep using the word “shrewd” to describe him. I’ve no idea what they’re talking about. Someone saw him reading a book, and they got all excited. You know what they’re like. Do you know that half the last parliamentary party never said a word to Martin Mansergh? Half of them thought he spoke a different language, and the other half were afraid they’d catch it. There’s one of them who blushes every time Averil Power speaks to him and runs out of the room.”
Masterful stroke by Big Phil on the Dublin Mayor thing. He knows councillors don’t want it, but wants to be seen as a man doing things, so he actually transferred the power to stop a referendum on it to the councillors, who will now claim that they’re in favour of reform, just not this reform. Hey presto, the referendum gets blocked, Phil says it was not his choice, nobody gets blamed, and all parties get to say they’re in favour of an elected Dublin Mayor. If Machiavelli were alive today he’d be taking notes and asking people how to spell “Kilkenny”.
Arthur Henchy TD was elected first for Kildare East in 1981. Some of the statistics he studies don’t have horses names beside them.
Posted by Jason O on Mar 18, 2014 in Irish Politics
, Not quite serious.
Coming soon to Carnsore.
Wexford 2020: Despite a series of opinion polls predicting defeat by a 10 point margin, Wexford County today voted by 57.1% in favour of the ESB proposal to build a nuclear power plant at Carnsore Point. Leaders of the NO campaign were quick to condemn the result, pointing out that the voters had been bribed by the Community Gain package that had been promised by the government if the proposal was ratified by the voters of the county.
Under the package, every existing home will be entitled to a a tax free lump sum of €5000 each year, as a recognition of the county’s willingness to “bear the burden” of hosting the nation’s sole nuclear power plant. It is hoped that the scheme, which will last for 20 years, and cost the ESB approximately €28 million per annum, will protect property prices in the county.
The leader of the NO campaign, Sebastian Wilcox-Smyth, speaking from his home in Dalkey, said that the people of Wexford had no right to impose nuclear power on the “ordinary people”, and would be taking the matter to the High Court. Wilcox-Smyth was involved in a controversy during the campaign when it emerged that his group, People Before Everything, had previously campaigned against the building of wind farms near anywhere “where human beings dwell.” The YES campaign suggested building them on Mars.
Posted by Jason O on Mar 17, 2014 in Irish Politics
, Not quite serious.
The Sum Of Our Parts
It seems to me that there are certain attributes that make up the Irish psyche:
1. A deep suspicion of ideas. We’ve never been great on the abstract concept or ideology. An Irishman would think little of going from being a Communist to a Capitalist, as long as there was something in it for him. And the English were in the other camp. Even nationalism, the most powerful political concept in Ireland, has more to do with hating another country than thinking through what it means to be Irish. Yet in our core we are deeply conservative, electing the same centre-right minimum change possible duopoly at EVERY election since 1921.
2. Grouphate. Whereas we don’t do ideas well, we’re Olympic class at hating a designated group. It’s almost impossible in Ireland to separate passionate nationalism from Anglophobia. Just count how many union jacks you have seen in a single week flying in Ireland, before Elizabeth II’s visit. Or have a detailed discussion about what a united Ireland would look like with its most passionate advocates. Once you get past “the effin’ Brits this” or “the bastard Brits that” they’re out of ideas. You’ll get a few slogans at best.
3. Masochism is a national sport in Ireland. Only the Irish would come up with a phrase like “If I had your money, I’d burn me own”. A boot to the throat and a face in the cold wet mud reveals a mind that’s thinking “As soon as this bastard gets off me and walks back to the big house, I’m going to give him the glaring of his life!” Whether it’s the Brits, the IMF, the EU or our own potatoes, someone is always plottin’ agin’ us, and winning too. Curiously, we kinda like the sense of helplessness, and the idea that nothing is really in our power.
4. Hypocrisy is a form of cleverness. Waving your fist at the departing British monarch, before turning to give your son a belt for not getting down on his hands and knees in the dirt as the archbishop passes in his finery, that’s us. Whether it’s abortion, the Irish language, child abuse, neutrality or nuclear power, saying one thing and doing the other is regarded as perfectly normal to the Irish. Only an Irish emigrant can return home to Ireland and start complaining about foreigners taking Irish jobs, and be regarded as being perfectly reasonable. The saddest part is that we approach these issues like a dog with his head under the bed: because he can’t see anyone, he assumes he’s being clever, and no one can see what he’s up to. The problem is that the whole world can see the Irish arse sticking out from under the bed.
5. We are genuinely shocked when other countries act the way we do. We go to Brussels to defend our national interest (read: Money). Yet when the French or Germans do the same thing to us we are stunned, and regard them as bastards for, well, being like us.
6. Loyalty is the trait we rate above everything else, the source of our strength and most of our problems. If one of our friends told us they’d murdered someone, our gut instinct is to find out why, listening carefully for a moral nugget to latch onto to preserve the friendship. It is a noble trait which has kept our communities strong. It’s also why we hardly ever jail anyone for corruption.
7. We assume that rules are a good idea. For other people. Only in Ireland can someone shake their heads in sadness at news of “the carnage on our roads”, shake their fist at the government for “doing nothing”, and then flash their lights at other drivers to warn them not that they are speeding, but that there is a Garda car or a GATSO van parked up ahead trying to catch people breaking the speed limit. Why else would most Irish be happy to choose Catholicism as a religion, other than we have the absolution of the confessional, the “a la carte menu” of religions?
8. We will accept things in other countries that we’d never accept in Ireland. People who sniff at the minimum wage in Ireland will wait tables in Boston, London, Berlin or Melbourne. Go figure.
9. We take greater pleasure in the failure of others more sucessful than us than we do in our own success. Better us all be living in the shit than some of us break out.
10. Yet we can be pragmatic and clever (defeated the British), creative (U2, our comedians), intolerant of total nutters (A democracy since 1921, deposed the Catholic Church eventually) and this is not, in the grand scheme of things, a bad country to live in. Go figure.
Note: A variation of this post was put up in 2011.