An Occasional Guide to Irish Politics: The Handwringer.

handwringing“What…about…the…children???” She will bellow, head rubbernecking around the studio audience, making eye contact with all to ensure that no one cares more about the issue than her, and that everyone knows it, too.

Everything is a simple equation: If we can afford to bale out the banks, then surely we can afford to fund absolutely every single request for spending from every other NGO too? If you even question it, you hate children/animals/basket weavers from North West Kilkenny, and wish they were dead, don’t you? Don’t You!

She has “no problem” paying extra taxes to help the weak, she says. She tends to say that a lot when centre-right governments are in power. When Labour, her party of choice, do get into power, she curiously goes quiet on the issue, not resigning over the u-turn but telling anyone else also recently appointed to the National Bruised Knee Advisory Board that they must be “realistic” and support the party leadership.

She rails against low pay, and can’t understand how anyone can get by on less than €95k a year, or indeed pay their own pension. She has never worked in the private sector, save for her sister’s angels, tarots and power crystals shop which surprisingly went bust six weeks after opening.

Interestingly, when she lived in Britain, working with the National Council for Balloonist Vertigo Sufferers, she would give out yards about the council tax, and eventually moved to a Tory council where the tax was lower, even if she had to step over drug addicts outside Waitrose.

An Occasional Guide to Irish Politics: The surprisingly cold candidate.

Icy icy baby!

Icy icy baby!

On paper, she’s electoral gold. She’s pretty, young and well-educated. She looks great on a poster and even better in real life, bringing that X factor to politics. Except she doesn’t. When you meet her, she smiles at you and shakes your hand and affects to listen to you, yet you can’t help notice that the smile has all the warmth of an open fridge full of fish fingers. In fact, you can’t help feeling that the smile is like that of some sort of alien doppelganger, like someone who has only learnt how to smile late in life and is trying to copy someone else a little too hard.

Her earnest look is betrayed by that flicker as you talk to her, that millisecond when she looks over your shoulder to identify her next port of call. Yet the smile remains rigid, even though you know she’s not listening. And there’s the test right there: If you were to suddenly say to her “My mickey is unusually heavy. Would you like to see?” She’d keep smiling, her brain miles away, whereas a really good and forthright candidate would at least ask: “Fair enough. Will it increase the chance of me getting a number one?”

An Occasional Guide to Irish Politics: The Plank.

Let’s be honest. The suit is wearing him.

“Now, he should be party leader!” They gush. “After all, he’s from a lovely family. And he wears a suit so well.”  All this is true. On top of that, he’s a tall, handsome young man, comes from a family with money, and is by all accounts a kind and decent man with impeccable manners. Woman find him attractive, particularly women of a certain vintage, thrusting their heavily perfumed cleavage at him as he works a room. He’s the sort of guy a nice middle class mother would give herself a hernia pulling her daughter across a hotel reception room by the arm to introduce to him. He will actually get better looking as he gets older, and looks like a cabinet minister.

The problem is that he is actually a nicely finished plank. He struggles to utter even the most bland of statements, and would almost certainly end up the tool of those around him. He has never expressed an original political idea in his life, and maybe it is that which keeps him so popular, allowing people to project on to his attractive blandness that which they want to see themselves. It’s an attractive quality in a mannequin, but in a Taoiseach? When people speak of a candidate being “presidential timber”, the problem is that in his case, he literally is. Solid Irish oak. But it polishes up so well!

An Occasional Guide to Irish Politics: The Wolf in Independent Clothing.

We’ve all met them, and if the polls are to be believed, there are, potentially, quite a few of them out there. When it reaches them, when it’s their turn, they square up, and stick their jaws out, and announce: “Well, I’m voting for an independent!”. Now, don’t get me wrong. There are some pretty good independent candidates out there, and parties don’t hold a monopoly on good ideas or commitment to the country. The good independents tend to balance local concerns with national issues, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

However, they seem to be the minority. I’m talking about the yahoos such as those who were party members five minutes ago, and supported party policies five minutes ago, now seemingly cleansed by the activation of the political Romulan cloaking device. I’m talking about candidates who look blankly at you if you raise senior bond holders or property market management or separation of the executive and parliament, like a dog being shown a card trick (Hat tip: PJ O’Rourke). The buckos who use phrases like “for the ordinary people”, whatever that means.

What is even more depressing is to ask just who are the Irish voters who have witnessed our economic devastation by  a failure of national policy, and decided that the source of our problems is that we did not have enough Jackie Healy-Raes in the Dail? Our big problems, unemployment and emigration, are caused by a failure of national policy, and it is there that they will be resolved. Electing Sean WellGot because he’s from the right parish isn’t the solution.

Are they thick, or is it that they’re so angry with the status quo that voting independent is the equivalent of voting None Of The Above?

An Occasional Guide to Irish Politics: The establishment “anti-establishment” journalist.

typewriterHe touts himself as a straight talker, man of the people and enemy of the establishment. Except when he’s working for RTE or the biggest media groups in the country. On the radio, he’s scathing of public figures until they appear on the show, where the sound of him performing fellatio upon them can be quite stomach churning. And don’t let him talk to anyone vaguely famous from across the water: He’ll pull that “You and I have been long enough in this game…” lark in a nauseous attempt to put himself on an equal standing with people who have no idea who he is.    
In short, his slogan should be quite simply: I say the establishment disgusts me, but I have my price. Which is probably a good thing, given the amount of Columbian marching powder he vacuums up on a weekly basis. His anti-establishment credentials are best summed up by the theme of an ad that once appeared in a newspaper for a phone sex line: “I’m not gay, but I think the guy sucking my cock might be.”

The New Dail.

I’m not going to bother talking too much about Enda’s new cabinet, as I don’t have much interest in the Irish “Who is up, who is down” thing. He’s gone for experience over youth, which is fair enough. He’s appointed fewer women ministers than under the “conservative” FF/PD coalitions, which must be slightly awkward for Labour, but it’s not a huge deal. He also missed an opportunity for a symbolic “New Politics” appointment of an outside technocrat through the Seanad, but maybe he’ll do something with the junior ministers. But at the moment it looks a bit stale as a government, like a really exciting 1987 cabinet.

Shane Ross, Joe Higgins and Ming suggest that they might be worth keeping in the House. Richard Boyd Barrett and Clare Daly could learn a lot from Joe, in terms of humour (His “There’s two of us in it, Taoiseach” remark to Bertie about Bertie’s socialism counts as one of the all time greats) but also, in RBB’s case, in sartorial style. Joe dresses smartly without being flash, whereas RBB looked like he was about to address a Kazakh tractor factory. His humourless hectoring and Single Transferable Speech will wear us all out soon enough. Ross has “Parliamentarian” stamped all over him and is almost certainly going to be a pain in the arse to the government front bench, which is exactly what he’s there for, and Ming has a refreshing honesty about him. I suspect Mick Wallace, from his lacklustre performance today, could burn out very quickly indeed.

Gerry Adams seems determined to kick off early as de facto leader of the opposition, forcing Micheal to parry him. That’ll be fun.

I was thrown by Michael Healy-Rae’s combover, as it’s been so long since I’ve seen one. Is it a branding thing? Or has he never heard of Jean-Luc Picard or Grant Mitchell?

Finally, Enda looked the part, and his steely responses to Micheal shows that, just maybe, the office maketh the man.

Waiting for disappointment.

There is nothing the Irish like more than a good betrayal. As a people, the idea of being screwed over by someone else, whether it is the British, the banks, the IMF or our own potatoes, delivers in us a masochistic pleasure, allowing us to  believe ourselves to not be masters of our own destiny, but instead, the pitiful plaything of other greater forces. Many an Irishman gets no greater pleasure than, as the jackboot of the oppressor pushes his face into the cold wet soil, he gives the oppressor the dirtiest scowl he has ever received! Let him go back to his big house and better living standards knowing that we have scrabbled in our own filth and shook our fist in his direction (when he wasn’t looking, of course)!

Already, yesterday, before the new government has even been sworn in, I encountered someone who is “disappointed” with the new government. Before they are even the new government! Yet even as I dismissed the criticism, I know in my own heart that I’m just waiting to be disappointed by Enda and Co. Not by their inability to transform the country’s economic situation, which is something over which they will only have limited control, but that shadow over the face moment when they become the establishment and step quietly away from the stuff they spoke with passion about in opposition. I’m waiting for that moment when they start to actively sabotage political reform, or at worst defang it so that it becomes meaningless. Watch as local government reform gradually gets watered down, or as the constitutional convention gets packed with people who are all for putting symbolic stuff into the constitution, but don’t change the voting system or the balance between voters and the state. Watch as the Dail remains answerable to the Government, not the other way around.

Maybe I’m a cynic. They are entitled to the benefit of the doubt, and maybe they will surprise us by, for example, nominating people from outside the Dail (like Pat Cox) as ministers. If they do, they deserve credit for it, and get it (from me) they shall.

Enda and Eamon deserve the benefit of the doubt. For now.

I’ve only managed a very cursory read of the programme for government, because of deadlines, and I do intend to post something more substantial about it later this week, but my initial feelings are mixed. There is some good stuff in it on political reform, but there seems an awful lot of “reviews” and open-ended stuff that makes me think that if the coalition think that they can get away with avoiding any serious action on it, they will.

Andrea, my partner-in-crime over at thinks it is a good document, but then she holds politicians in much higher regard than I do. I don’t think they’re inherently evil,  I just think that they regularly need to be shown the whip to keep them in line. Political reform is, I suspect, going to be one of those areas where the crop will need to be kept close to hand.

On the positive side, you have to be impressed with the clockwork mechanism we have now developed for assembling governments after elections. I remember watching, wth other pol hacks,  the sheer terror on the faces of British political journalists last May when they realised no one had won an overall majority. It was really very funny as they talked about the pound collapsing, etc, and I remember thinking: “Either British politicians seriously overestimate their own importance, or Britain as a country is far more unstable than Ireland. Or Belgium, for that matter. Or Italy, even.”

Of course, it all turned out to be balls. But then, Britain wouldn’t be the first country to have politicians who overestimate their indispensability.

Additional note: I don’t hold out much hope for serious political reform when I hear RTE describe replacing Garda ministerial drivers with civilians as “political reform”. 

Labour: A brick wall vs. a hard place.

Into the Valley of Death rode the 37.

Into the Valley of Death rode the 37.

It’s time it was said: Labour had a mediocre election. I’ll pause here for a moment to let the indignation rise. Best number of seats ever, etc. Yes, I know. But seriously: Fianna Fail was like Himmler at a Bar Mitzvah and Labour beat them by a mere 2%? Labour are 2% more popular than the party that destroyed the country? Seriously?

80% of Irish voters, looking at the Labour candidates on the ballot paper, decided to give their first preference elsewhere. Yes, many of them came back to Labour eventually in lower preferences, but at that stage it was probably as much an anti-Fianna Fail thing as it was pro-Labour. Which begs the question: Is this proof that Labour has finally broken through into second party status, or is this just, like 1992, a flash-in-the-pan skin deep result? Will election 2016 be where a leaner, fitter Fianna Fail punches Labour to the ground and takes second place? Is there anyone who really believes that Labour will come out of election 2016 will more seats than they had going in? Yes, I know, five years away, ridiculous to speculate, etc. But in your gut?

Today (Sunday) Labour will vote to enter government, and I don’t envy them their choice: They have to vote Yes, because to not do so will be to betray the voters whom they never seriously hinted at that they would stay in opposition. Yet they know in their hearts that going in will give Fianna Fail the prominence and the space to recover, and give Sinn Fein and the United Left a clear target to assault from the left. Labour in opposition, leading it, would be the great transformational moment in Irish politics, Left Vs. Right, and probably dooming Fianna Fail.

But, to their credit, going into government is in the national interest. Yes, there will be those who sneer about careerists and ambition, but there is nothing wrong with ambition. People go into politics to get things done (unless of course you’re Joe Higgins or Richard Boyd Barrett) and Labour are going to take one for the team, and for that we should be grateful. To those about to lose their political lives, we salute you.

The Election 2011 Fantasy Cabinet Allocation.

An Taoiseach and minister for Up Mayo!: Inda.

Minister for Testicular Manipulation: Phil Hogan.

Minister for Renaming The HSE The Health Operations Logistical Executive (HOLE):  James Reilly

Minister for Really Hard Sums That Have Greek Letters In Them And Need Log Tables: Richard Bruton

Minister for Containing Gayness: Lucinda Creighton

Minister for Voldemort Affairs: Leo Varadkar

Minister for Nice Suits: Simon Coveney

Minister for Shouting And Up Mayo More!: Michael Ring

Minister for Speaking In A Low Voice That Sounds Calm: Michael Noonan

Minister for This is Very Serious: Eamon Gilmore

Minister for Haranguing: Go on, guess!

Minister for Fianna Fail Reminders: Pat Rabbitte

Minister for Talking To People Who Own Things Without  Scaring The Shite Out Of Them: Ruairi Quinn

Minister for Talking To Foreigners And Pronouncing Guy In A French Way Without Sniggering: Pat Cox.