Another one for the political junkies, “Alpha Dogs” details the rise and fall of Sawyer-Miller, one of the first political consultancy firms, and a firm that played a major role in bringing down both Marcos and Pinochet. Full of little nuggets of political wisdom, including their polling which told Listerine that as their consumers were the sort of people who obey instructions on products, they could increase their sales of Listerine by 25%, by increasing the cap size by 25%. They also proved, in getting Boston Mayor Kevin White reelected in the 1970s, that voters will vote for a candidate they don’t actually like if they can be convinced that he is a) competant, and b) will use competancy to pursue the interests of people like them.
It also highlighted for me how different Irish politics is from most other western countries, in that whilst politics is dominated by professional politicians everywhere, it is remarkable how in Ireland political issues play such a minor role in elections, something Frank Luntz talked about when he was in Ireland. Irish politicians are far more sophisticated in knowing what makes their constituents tick than any pollster can tell them, yet that knowledge seems to paralyse them into policy inactivity. It isn’t that issues like taxes or spending or immigration don’t exist in Ireland, it’s that an entire political class has managed to pull off the most brilliant political three card trick ever, and convinced voters voting to elect members of a national parliament that those issues have nothing to do with them!
A very entertaining read, and the sort of book that political anoraks will need to read with a pen in one hand for marking passages. Or is that just me?
It’s very easy to understand the recent calls for hate crime legislation that came from many decent people, rightly outraged at the racist attack on a Chinese woman near Dublin’s Royal Canal.
But would it have helped her if such a law was already on the statute book?
Would those who attacked her have paused because they would have feared crossing some legal rubicon?
It’s all well and good having laws in statute books, but what anyone under physical criminal attack needs is help, primarily from either police capable of delivering a speedy and robust defence, or the attackers fearing that continuing the attack will reduce their chance of escape.
What comes after, how society deals with the crime through its judicial system, is a different matter.
But for now, we need to focus on rapid response to the crime-in-progress, and it’s simply not logical to expect the Garda to be everywhere.
Even if we doubled the number of Guards it would have only a limited impact and almost less in public perception than the cost of doing it.
But I can’t help thinking technology and some imagination might give a better return.
Perhaps highly visible Garda drones should be commonplace, hovering over high-risk areas and connected to a command centre that can automatically feed images into facial recognition software. They can be used to rush quickly to reported incidents, and whilst they can’t physically intervene they can assist in the apprehension of criminal suspects by ground units.
Indeed, a group of criminals engaged in, say, a mugging, have an incentive to desist and flee because the drone can only track a few of them at a time.
Would putting more Garda on motorbikes (guided by Drone Central) allow for a more rapid deployment?
Should those convicted be required to register their mobile phones with the Garda, and carrying an unregistered device be made a criminal offence for convicted criminals? A sort of digital ASBO?
I can’t claim to have any expertise in law enforcement of course, and there will almost certainly be problems with the above suggestions, but surely some experimentation might help.
The NYPD cracking down on illegal street windscreen cleaners resulted in loads of warrant jumpers being accidentally located. Many old-guard cops in New York City sneered when the ComStat crime tracking system was first mooted, but it became an important aid in identifying crime patterns and allowing for the better targeting of resources. It played a significant role in the reduction of crime in New York in the 1990s.
One interesting point would be that such use of technology would possibly lead to an increase in reported crime, as citizens who currently may not bother to report crime because they have no faith in it being investigated might then do so. Imagine an app where one could report “low level” crime like graffiti or vandalism or flytipping, knowing that every report adds to a better picture of where crime is or more importantly might occur, and allow for better deployment of resources.
The suggested use of much greater surveillance, through recognition software, data collection and eyes-in-the-sky certainly warrants a debate about what sort of society do we want?
Do we want to live in a country like that?
What if the choice is between the nominal freedom of less surveillance, where some gang of gurriers can kick your teeth in with both your and their privacy being respected, or a Garda drone either frightening them into stopping or guiding Gardai to your location?
What would you prefer? It probably depends on whether your mouth is filled with the slight metallic taste of your own blood.
To paraphrase one of fiction’s most hardline lawmen, who do you want to see arriving when you’re being mugged? A policeman or your attacker’s human rights advocate?
Of course we must have human rights.
We have to be very careful about not accidentally stumbling into a police state.
I’m also very much a sceptic about throwing anyone in prison and throwing away the key.
It’s incredibly expensive and for the most part it doesn’t work.
Nor am I certain what the alternative is.
But I do know one thing for certain.
My personal safety, my liberty and right to walk this country without fear of assault is at least as equal as the rights of the people who might assault me, and if the defence of those rights involves living in a society with a greater level of public surveillance, I can live with that.
I get that putting young people into a brutal prison system is almost guaranteed to make them criminals.
We should not see prison as primarily some sort of old testament form of revenge. We should also recognise that the likes of Norway has had great success in reducing juvenile crime by taking a more liberal and enlightened approach to incarceration.
I’m willing to look at all that and yes, if necessary, fund it with my taxes.
But what I’m not willing to tolerate is that I have to sacrifice my physical safety to reach that point.
Yes, prison should be about rehabilitation, but primarily it should be about keeping violent people physically away from the rest of us, and yes, that should be its primary function.
As part of that debate, there’s much talk in recent times about the phrase Defund the Police.
As slogans go, it’s hard to imagine one which is so damaging to the cause it purports to advance. In fairness, for many of its advocates, Defund the Police isn’t about abandoning our law enforcement-free streets to thugs, but proactively spending on things that might prevent crime in the first place.
It’s a perfectly noble aim.
I just prefer the slogan in its original form: Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime.
The Airbus A380 started moving as soon as the door was closed, before the cars in the motorcade even had time to get fully clear of the massive thrust of the engines. The pilot, a colonel in the French air force, slammed the engines into full throttle to execute what was called a hard take-off, the plane getting into the air quickly and immediately into a sharp incline to gain as much height as possible. A number of Elysee officials who had been busy securing the president of the French Republic before getting back to their seats were knocked off their feet by the angle, both being grabbed by burly bodyguards and pulled into seats as the plane reached its cruising height.
The military cabin crew, briefed as to the situation, had immediately lowered all the blinds on the windows, so that the passengers on-board could not see the military airbase and Paris speed away into the distance.
It actually meant they would not be blinded by the detonation of a nuclear warhead over the French capital as was one possibility they were expecting at this very moment. Nor could they see the four heavily fuelled and armed Rafale fighters escorting the plane on its pre-planned flight plan, designed to avoid major urban areas and military targets (for spotting purposes and also because they were likely nuclear targets) and take the plane out over the Atlantic.
Fans of the hugely successful ABC sitcom “Modern Family” will be no strangers to family patriarch Jay Pritchett.
Jay is your All-American red-blooded male. He likes sports, beer, movies where women are called dames, and is a successful and wealthy businessman. He’s a pretty traditional guy. You could well believe he voted for Trump.
Except, well, here’s the thing about Jay Pritchett. His wife is Columbian, as is his stepson. His son is gay, and married. His daughter is married to A Modern Man in touch with his feelings.
Has all this made him a liberal? Not really. But it has made him very tolerant. He rolls his eyes at his wife’s culture and his son’s gay lifestyle. But he doesn’t judge them, doesn’t interfere, just leaves them alone and hopes they leave him alone with one of his war books. Nor is he rigidly opposed to change: he tried to learn Spanish to make his wife less self-conscious about her accent, and was a big hit with his son’s gay friends.
He is, in short, an old fashioned moderate Republican. He does roll his eyes at gay marriage and the rest but he doesn’t oppose them. They’re not for him, but he doesn’t care what some other guy does. That’s his business.
Jay Pritchett is the bridge that could heal America. Comfortable with the beer and bbq working joes, respectful of non-traditional lifestyles.
A version of this was previous published in The Times Ireland Edition:
If early campaign awards were to be given out at this stage of the abortion referendum, you’d have to give them to the anti-repeal campaign. Their posters have been textbook examples of communicating simple effective messages: one in five pregnancies end in abortion in the UK, licence to kill? (with that non-judgmental ask-yourself question mark) , after 11 weeks, etc. There’s also that very subtle message aimed at people who just don’t want this sort of thing in the constitution: can you really trust politicians, if the amendment is repealed, to not start passing liberal abortion-on-demand laws in the future?
Even the phrase abortion-on-demand is nicely provocative, conjuring up an image of a foetus-hating angry feminist demanding a termination with fist hammering on counter. You never hear the phrase dentistry-on-demand.
The funny thing about the politicians message is that it does have a ring of truth to it, because we have seen one group of people move in Ireland after a referendum from outright opposition to becoming more flexible on abortion because it was politically convenient.
The pro-life campaign.
In the three 1992 abortion referendums, on information, travel and what we then called the “substantive issue”, large elements of the pro-life coalition campaigned against the right to travel, using, in their advocacy, all the messages the pro-life campaign now use. That a woman utilizing the right to travel was travelling to carry out all the acts which are now described in the anti-repeal posters.
Interestingly, Youth Defence opposed the right to travel but were curiously honest in admitting that the problem being committed during the X case was not seeking an abortion but actually informing the government that one was seeking an abortion, thus embarrassing the state into acting, and that the right to travel was not needed for those women who would quietly leave the country. Of course, if the right to travel had been rejected it would not be unreasonable to have expected many pro-lifers to have seized such a result as a mandate to crackdown on women travelling to seek abortions.
The right to travel passed anyway, the only time until now that the Irish people have not been asked to vote to restrict abortion but to grant access to it, albeit anywhere else but in Ireland. It passed by a not unimpressive 62% which told us a lot about the Irish psyche. The whole country chose to look the other way as we sent women onto planes or car ferries, clutching the information we had the decency to allow them to get before setting out on their journeys.
Jesus, we were all heart, so we were.
I’ll be honest. Since then, it’s always bugged me. How can one be against abortion, in favour of the protection of the unborn, but only in a geographical sense? How can one believe that something is a legal entity with rights here, but move it a few feet over a legal border, and one no longer believes in those rights?
When I ask friends of mine who are pro-life how they justify that, the defence is always the same: Ireland can’t be responsible for what abortion laws apply in the UK. But that’s a cop-out, because it isn’t answering my question. My question is why has the pro-life movement abandoned opposition to the right to travel? Why aren’t they trying to repeal that?
The answer they give is that it is not practical to enforce a travel ban on women seeking abortions, but again, that’s not true. If they truly believed in defending every unborn life they’d advocate repeal of the 13th amendment, then set up an Office for the Protection of the Unborn. They’d require every doctor to register every pregnancy they encounter, and track every pregnancy to its conclusion, and prosecute those women who could not account for their full pregnancies. We could have a national confidential line where people could inform the OPU of women they suspect were going to seek an abortion. In short, the state would be carrying out what it is required to do as per the 8th amendment, “guarantees in its laws to respect, and as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.” We have the technology to do all this, and we can afford it. What’s lacking is the political will.
When I say this to pro-life friends they come back with the “as far as practicable” argument, that it just is not realistic to expect the Irish state to do that. But apply that argument to child sex trafficking or female genital mutilation, and tell me that it is none of the Irish state’s business to interdict an Irish child being sent abroad for FGM or to be trafficked into slavery.
Will those same people shrug their shoulders and say that if someone wishes to escort an Irish child from Ireland to another jurisdiction to be sexually abused, that’s just not our problem? Really?
We have the resources and the technology to enforce a ban on travelling to seek an abortion, or to at least punish those who do and use that punishment as a deterrent to protect the unborn.
Is it all a bit Handmaid’s Tale? Of course it is. It would be loopy, and God forbid a foreign national was impregnated by an Irish citizen and then detained in Ireland against her will to prevent her seeking an abortion. We’d go from the Ireland of Panti to the Ireland of the Ayatollah in days. If she was French President Macron would have the Charles De Gaulle aircraft carrier in Dublin Bay within hours and French paratroopers grabbing her faster than you could say “Raid on Entebbe”.
The reality is that most of the pro-life movement don’t want to touch the right to travel because they know, rightly, that it would be a political lost cause. The Irish people would not tolerate it, as they didn’t tolerate it in 1992. Indeed if there is one vote in the history of the Irish as a sovereign people that underlines our ducky-divey approach to morality, it’s our willingness to decide it by geography.
But the decision by the pro-life movement to turn a blind eye to travel is politically astute. In short, given a choice between even making the argument to try to save those unborn who will be sent to the UK, they don’t even want to try. It would cost votes.
But given we can live in a country where every party is “committed” to the restoration of the Irish language, why don’t we have even a few pro-life TDs symbolically trying to restrict the right to travel, to protect those unborn? Because votes wins every time.
Does that make them hypocrites? No more than the rest of us, in fairness.
But a little less of the high moral horse, if you don’t mind.
The reality is that when I look at those posters telling me about what they perceive to be the evils of abortion, I’m reminded that the people who put them up are not as much pro-life as just slightly less pro-choice than me.
Last year I wrote a short novella, “A Little Piece of Europe”, about an EU safezone for refugees.
Why fiction? Why this subject?
Because I’m convinced that the immigration crisis is a grave threat to the stability and indeed existence of the European Union. It is causing huge internal tensions, pitting European nations against each other, and is being manipulated by external powers that want a disunited Europe.
It is also providing fuel to various strands of neo-nazi, both within and outside electoral politics.
Finally, there is a moral question: if Europe is not obliged to do something about dead children on our beaches, then we have learned nothing from our history.
The more I looked at the issue, the more I became convinced that an offshore solution is the right one. Why?
First, because Europe must be able to control its borders and who crosses them. Ordinary Europeans expect this and if the centre-right and centre-left can’t do this, they will elect extremists to do it with violence and brutality.
Secondly, an offshore facility will allow us to provide security, safety, and a place to process and screen refugees according to our values.
Finally, let me stress, I’m not talking about some sort of Australian-style prison camp. I’m talking about a functioning city run by the EU to a standard that will allow refugees to build a life there, whilst slowly absorbing into the EU proper a controlled number of pre-screened applicants.
Why fiction? Because the more I looked at the issue and thought about it, the more questions arose. How would it work? Who would fund it? What problems would it encounter? The more issues that arose, the more I concluded that it was a concept best communicated within a story. So that’s what I did. Told a story.
This is a work of fiction, and so there is dramatic licence. But the core concept is in there, in detail.
Previously published in The Times Ireland Edition.
In 1963 Harold Wilson, then leader of the British Labour Party, made a famous speech where he contrasted the then governing Tories with Labour. He painted the government as a party of the past, and described a future Labour government shaping Britain in the “white heat” of a scientific and technological revolution. Wilson would later write about replacing the cloth cap with the laboratory coat as the uniform of the British working class.
As with many things about Harold Wilson, the hyperbole struggled to match the reality of him in government. But what was interesting was the fact that Labour, as in 1945, was the party of new ideas. The left stood for change, the right the party of the rotten status quo. Across Europe, with the SPD in Germany in the 1960s, or Mitterand’s election to the French presidency in 1981, the left were the parties of progress.
What’s striking today is how, from Ireland through the UK to France and elsewhere, the left are now the party of resistance to logical change.
Consider the attitude across Europe of left parties to raising the retirement age. Almost universally there is opposition, early retirement now seen as a totem that must be protected. This despite the fact that the current retirement band, from 50 to 65, takes no account of the increase in life expectancy. It’s not impossible now for someone who takes early retirement at 50 to live beyond 100 and therefore have spent most of their life retired.
That’s not to say there aren’t good reasons for early retirement. Brickies, firefighters and miners all lead working lives which could leave them physically in rag order in a way many office workers will never be. There have to be exceptions. But what’s striking is the refusal of many on the left to confront the reality. That being 65 now is not the same as being 65 in our grandfathers’ time.
Many of the parties of the left, who actively demand more public spending, then refuse to support pension reform which is needed to generate the very revenue required to fund the spending they call for.
It’s almost impossible to find a party of the left in Europe that has any new ideas about how to manage change. Instead, opposition to free trade, Uber and flexible employment laws is in danger of becoming the standard response, not because they think this will make things better but because they literally have no other ideas.
The left has now become the party of the blacksmith, the gas-lamp lighter, the town crier and the guy who walks in front of cars with a red flag.
What’s most depressing is that now more than ever we need a strong left. Technological change is about to bring a huge challenge to the amount of adequately paid work available compared to the pool of jobseekers. Maybe public works programmes, or a universal basic income will be necessary. But from where I’m sitting, it looks like the left, paralysed by a dirth of new ideas and a Corbynist paranoia of betrayal towards those who do confront the old sacred cows isn’t up to it.
The refusal of the left to consider the inconsiderable could end up strangling the left through simple atrophy. In the UK and France the traditional left is running on the usual “free stuff” platforms and still losing elections. Because they’re just not credible.
Take the minimum wage. It’s not inconceivable that if a country were to introduce a universal basic income, it could make sense to then abolish the minimum wage to allow for the creation of the flexible “gig economy” type jobs that would top up UBI. But can anyone imagine the current left even countenancing that on principle? Even if the evidence emerged that it created more opportunities in a rapidly-automating economy with a labour surplus? To even consider it would lead to denunciations of being a political Judas.
The problem with the European left is that it has gone from being a dynamic flexible force for change into a rigid defender of status quos and fetishes. It does not see the modern world and globalisation as a force to be harnessed and managed but something to be feared and hidden from, behind borders and tariff barriers. Even though these are very old ideas that barely worked in their day and simply don’t apply in an age where many products have no actual physical form.
There has got to be something learned from the fact that the left have actually gone backwards during the greatest crisis of capitalism in living history.
Having said that, there is a model for the modern left. Consider that the welfare state in both Ireland and Canada was not built as much by the left as the pragmatic centre and centre-right. Despite hysterical finger-pointing by the left, Theresa May, who is not seen as an extremist outside of Corbynista Labour, has that potential too. To make the Tories the British Fianna Fail, a party that trims and bends between aspiration on one side and support for social welfare on the other.
Outrageous to suggest that? Perhaps.
But remember: it’s the voters who decide where the mainstream is.
President Francois Hollande is leaving office with approval ratings that would make Fred West distance himself. Why is he so unpopular? What terrible thing did he do? Well, alright, he did that thing that every sane Frenchman must know is lethal. It wasn’t having a mistress that was the problem. Sure, that’s to French politics what having a favourite piece of scripture is to US politics. No, he humiliated his partner in the process, and that is the political equivalent of sticking a fork in a toaster.
Even so, he could probably have weathered even that if he’d been actually successful as president, and addressed the economic malaise and self-doubt that that has gripped the French for the last fifteen years. It wasn’t that he did something bad. It was that he, like Sarkozy and Chirac before him, was terrified of doing anything. He simply refused to make bold but unpopular decisions until it was too late.
As he packs his boxes over the weekend it must have occurred to him that trying to avoid being unpopular does not automatically make one popular. It makes one look weak, and that’s never popular. Unlike Blair or Merkel or even George W. Bush who will find their legacies debated for decades, Hollande will be the forgotten president. Not even a quietly competent unshowy John Major type. Just forgotten. That’s not an achievement.
Supposing he had attempted to push through big and radical economic changes, as Gerhard Schroeder had in Germany. Would it have saved his presidency? Possibly not. But Schroeder didn’t leave office a failure. Merkel only bested Schroeder’s SPD in 2005 by a single percentage point, despite his government inflicting radical and painful welfare reforms. He left with a legacy, and that matters. Germany’s prosperity today can be traced in part back to Schroeder’s courage in office.
Hollande’s legacy will be the image of him on a scooter visiting his mistress, looking like a randy Snoopy.
*Assuming he wins. I don’t take that for granted at all.
My fellow French citizens. You, my new employers:
Thank you for the honour you have bestowed on me tonight. This has been an extraordinary election, and has one clear message that has come through tonight from virtually every voter, regardless of whom they voted for.
The French want change.
I am acutely aware that many of you, of right, centre and left did not as much give me your votes as lend them to me.
I understand that. I will not forget that.
It is, as I said, a precious honour that I will treasure with humility.
Our nation faces huge challenges, from the maintaining of economic dignity of our people, to our security from extremists, to our place in the world.
Change is coming at a speed never witnessed before in living memory. The challenges of technological change, of migration, of climate change are all titanic.
Yet this is not a nation of weakness. We are not a people with nothing to offer. We live in the most beautiful country in the world. We produce the greatest food. We build the greatest airliners. Our culture from our language to our movies to our art to our fashion to our literature are those of a superpower. We put nuclear aircraft carriers to sea. Our fighters bomb ISIS. Al Quaeda in Mali did not see a defeated or feeble nation: they flee in terror as our foreign legion liberates the people of that friendly nation.
France is not on its knees. We do not lack strength. What we need now is courage. To not fear change, not be hijacked by it, but to seize it and make it our weapon to do what we want.
The solutions to our problems will not come from just the left or right. This election has shown that a good idea must be respected as such, regardless of which party or candidate suggests it first. I intend to assemble a government of all France, of all talents, of all generations of the French.
I campaigned in favour of free trade and free markets. But also that both must deliver their benefits first to the people.
As France must change, so must Europe. I believe in Europe and its unity as a community of sovereign nations, cooperating on our shared values. But also recognizing that Brussels is the servant of the people, not the master.
They work for us, not the other way.
Both Brussels and the markets, like every good dog, may occasionally need a tap on the nose with a rolled up newspaper to remind them whose house it is that they live in.
We must show generosity to those fleeing war whilst ensuring that we control our borders. To those who see France as a great nation of which they wish to be part of, and who wish to share our values, to you I say you are welcome. You can be a good Frenchman and a good Jew. A good Muslim. A good Christian. A good atheist.
But to those who wish to come to our land and impose other values, the values of the extremist, I say to you: keep walking. This country and this continent are not for you.
And let me be very clear: if the security of the borders of France and Europe require taking action, be it military or humanitarian, outside the continent, so be it. This country will not be found wanting.
My fellow citizens: some recently spoke of Making France Great Again.
France is great. France is strong. France is courageous.
France does not fear the night. France makes the day.