What if…China intervened in Gaza?

The People’s Republic of China task force departed the huge naval base in Djibouti just as the Chinese ambassador began to speak at the UN Security Council. The People’s Republic, he said, was no longer willing to tolerate the suffering of the people of Gaza. China was going to intervene directly in the conflict.

The global response was predictable.

Those states opposed to Israel, deftly sidestepped the novelty of China taking the high moral road and endorsed the audacious action.

The United States and some of its European allies condemned the announcement, and the US Navy put the Mediterranean fleet on standby.

In Tel Aviv, the Israeli cabinet met in crisis session. The far-right elements of the cabinet called on Israel’s defense forces to attack and destroy the Chinese task force before it entered the canal. The Chief of Staff (COS) of the Israeli military was less than enthusiastic about the proposal. He pointed out that satellite images provided by their American allies showed the Chinese task force was a very significant military force, centered around the People’s Republic’s newest aircraft carrier.

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What if…Ireland elected a socialist government?

Finally. A People’s Government!

It was a combination of global events that swept so many governments from power. The global economic meltdown, the war in Eastern Europe. The invasion of Taiwan. The ruling SF/FF/FG coalition just didn’t have the ability to see beyond “business as usual” and ended up with 40% of the Dail between them as the loose Coalition Of The Left took the majority under its charismatic Marxist leader.

To the surprise of the new opposition parties, the new government moved to introduce legislation immediately.

A right to occupy unoccupied buildings that hadn’t paid their vacancy tax was rushed through in days, as was a bill to nationalise all vulture fund holdings in Ireland.

A bank run started on the night of the election result, with everything from credit union accounts to Prize Bonds to State Bonds being cashed in or transferred out of the jurisdiction of the state to the extent but by the time the new government temporarily banned money leaving the state it was already too late, with the banks and the credit unions and other institutions in serious shortage of liquid cash.

The new government also introduced legislation to nationalise all childcare facilities across the country under a new national child care service which would provide free childcare to all who needed it.

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What if…The UK elected a genuine hard right Tory government.

The Prime Minister, Sir Keir Starmer MP, leaving Downing Street having announced his resignation.

The Prime Minister, Sir Keir Starmer MP, leaving Downing Street having announced his resignation.

The exit poll turned out to be accurate when it predicted that Sir Keir Starmer was going to be a one-term prime minister. The Labour vote had collapsed to the late twenties, with the Green Party and the Liberal Democrats hoovering up the disgruntled voters of the “Keirslide” of 2024. The Tories, with 36% of the vote, were back with a 60 seat majority, wiping out among others the 150 Labour MPs who had five years previously wiped out 150 Tory MPs.

The new Conservative leader had come out of nowhere, sweeping aside the Bravermans and Mordaunts with his telegenic looks and a set of policies that would have gotten one expelled from the party 15 years previously. He was Marmite from the word go, his posh diction carrying positions once unacceptable in polite company. Almost immediate a third of the country adored him, and a third hated him with a passion. Jude Law with Nigel Farage’s beliefs.

He moved quickly, bringing not just one but two former PMs back into the cabinet, as Foreign Secretary and Defence Secretary specifically. He also immediately announced the UK’s withdrawal from the Treaty of Dublin which had been the cornerstone of the Starmer administration re-engagement with Europe. Rejoining the customs union in all but name, and quietly rejoining many EU programmes was now, once again, suspended with the stroke of a pen. “They need us more than we need them, etc, etc”.

There was no doddering around. A stack of ready to go bills were on the order paper in days.

The Deep State Expulsion Act allowed ministers to appoint their own Permanent Secretaries from outside the civil service.

The Fairness in Broadcasting Act guaranteed freedom of speech to all broadcasters within libel constraints, and abolished OFCOM. It also permitted paid political advertising on all forms of broadcasting. All restrictions on political donations were abolished, and all taxpayer funding of political parties and campaigning organisations was scrapped.

A judicial reform bill allowed for the appointment by the Home Secretary of hundreds of new judges “more in tune with modern thinking” and a very generous but time-limited retirement package was offered to existing judges. Many took it up.

A bill to hold a referendum on the restoration of the death penalty was rushed through, as was a Parliament Act to remove the ability of the House of Lords to do anything but hiss at legislation passed by the Commons. Owen Jones MP, the new Green MP for Bristol, was quick to point out that the upper house was now simply a members club for big party donors that just happened to be attached to parliament.

The new PM announced that all local and regional elections would be held on a single “Mid-Term” election day and that all forms of proportional representation would be scrapped. When this was pointed out that it would lead to a massive SNP landslide in Scotland, he shrugged.

But the most controversial bill was the NHS Reform Act which moved every single NHS trust and asset into a public company, the shares of which were then shared out to every adult in the country.

Over a million people marched against the bill, and polls showed 70% of voters were against the proposal, but the prime minister was adamant. He was not “privatising” the NHS. Yes, the shares would be listed on the London Stock Exchange, but they’d only be available to trade if the ordinary British citizens who now held the share certificates chose to sell them. He had made it a a truly public-owned health service. “I shall be keeping my shares. But if ordinary Brits choose to sell theirs, it’s them privatising the NHS, not me.”

As soon as members of the public used the handy phone app to offer their shares for sale, there was a stampede, and by close of business on the first day 80% of the shares had been sold. The protests started to peter out.

Keir Starmer the former prime minister, who had specifically blocked any electoral reform that would required a British government to win the support of at least 50% of the electorate, was physically attacked so many times that he had to withdraw from public appearances. The new PM offered publicly to give Sir Keir bodyguards to protect him from “his former supporters”.

The Mid-Term elections were dominated by the Death Penalty referendum which saw a huge Brexit-style increase in turnout in traditional low-vote areas, and boosted the Conservative vote share to 40% and a landslide win against the splintered opposition’s 60% share of the vote. The referendum passed 52%- 48%.

The new PM, along with his blonde principle-flexible foreign minister then surprised everyone by flying to Moscow to meet the elderly Russian tyrant, and announced that it was time for Europe to reintegrate the Russia of the Bolshoi, Tolstoy and traditional Christian values back into the continent, and that the now low intensity war in Ukraine be brought to a negotiated end.

The prime minister told Steve Bannon’s Patriot News Network in an exclusive interview that he would be withdrawing the UK from the Treaty of Warsaw negotiated by Starmer which had created an Anglo-Polish led defence alliance in Eastern Europe, and confirmed that it was his belief that the maintaining of UK forces near the Russian frontier did little to “contribute to trust” and that he’d be withdrawing them.

“Pouring more weapons into this conflict is not the way to go,” the new foreign secretary said without a glimmer of shame.

The Russian dictator smiled on approvingly.

The Jupiter Decision: A political short story about nuclear war in Europe.

FRANCE-POLITICS-DEFENCEThe 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.

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We are obsessed with holding people accountable, and it’s for the wrong reasons.

It’s the word that beats all words in the Rock Paper Scissors arguments within politics. Being “accountable” beats everything else, the “Will someone PLEASE think of the children!” argument that no one dares oppose or stand up to.

Take the scandal involving the Post Office in the UK. There COULD be grey areas in all of it: diligent PO senior executives taking their job of protecting public money from in-house fraud and theft very very seriously. And there probably are, in an organization that big, sub-postmasters who do have their fingers in the till. There’s also the confirmation bias of introducing a new IT system to combat fraud which from day one generates loads of evidence of fraud which confirms, in the eyes of those who commissioned it just how good their new system is.

But there’s also a moment where the same senior executives surely realized that the Horizon system was generating incorrect information that made accusations of theft at best unsound and at worse actually a threat to the individual freedom of SPMs if pursued for prosecution.

Likewise, surely those same executives must had been in a meeting during which someone revealed that yes, it was possible to literally move money around within a branch without leaving a trace and the SPM’s knowledge. Any fan of a TV courtroom drama could tell you that you were on very rocky natural justice grounds there, not just presumably the highly-paid legal advisers to the Post Office.

Surely someone must have raised the question, or is it the case, as it often is, that once the ball is rolling it becomes so much easier just to believe what you want to believe, and ignore the awkward bits?

Having said all that, there’s the danger that accountability is that at all, but the gut instinct to blame. Every now and again you see, particularly in the United States, a story where a mother is arrested for leaving a child unattended in a car, possibly on a hot day. Often, it’s a simple act of recklessness. But every now and again, it’s a single mother going to a job interview, trying to earn a living to provide for both herself and the child with neither the money nor the support network to provide child support, and then she gets judged as a bad mother for taking the risk.

If you want accountability ask yourself who is responsible for not allocating limited public funds to provide affordable childcare for that woman but happily allocating funding to put her in jail and her kid into social care? You want accountability? Answer that one. I suspect you won’t like the answer.

The reality is that we aren’t obsessed with accountability. Often we’re obsessed with allocating blame, finding a human face to link to the scandal or problem that we can then personalize. Like ministers who get blamed for not spending enough on X or cutting Y. Why did you do it, you bastard? It’s because you don’t care, isn’t it? Or because your personal ideology means you actually want to hurt a section of society. Not because the public are only willing to contribute a finite amount of tax revenue for an infinite amount of calls for more public spending.

The truth is that often the lack of accountability isn’t a moral failing but a failure of the culture in an organisation, and the sheer resistance to standing up against the flow. In the Zombie novel “World War Z” by Max Brooks, one country (Israel) manages to be ready for the coming zombie apocalypse by following the (fictional) Tenth Man Rule. This is a proposed policy-making method whereby in a meeting one person is designated to specifically and rigorously oppose the consensus and play Devil’s Advocate, challenging every agreed assumption. It doesn’t mean they’re right all the time: often the consensus is correct. But it means every argument is tested even if it is uncomfortable, and also it can be used to prove later on that every angle has been considered or stress-tested,

Of course holding people accountable is important. But doing that, and attributing blame, can often be two different things entirely. 

Irish Elections 2024: How to use your ballot most effectively.

One of the great mysteries of the age is that we have exported Aonghus McAnally’s “The Lyrics Board” (remember that?) to more countries than we have our electoral system, the Single Transferable Vote. 

It’s a funny one, because STV is probably the most empowering voting system on the planet. It’s fair in that it is reasonably proportional, it lets geographic areas have a clear representative, and it allows voters to personally choose their representatives. 

It also allows voters to vote the way human beings actually vote, as opposed to the weird “My party is perfect, your party should be executed for crimes against decency” approach many party hacks seem to sign up to. 

STV lets voters really like those guys, hate those other guys and meh the rest.

It also has a built-in feature that almost no other voting system has. It permits you to vote for your favourite candidate and stick the electoral knife Agatha Christie deep into the back of that one candidate you really really want to keep out.     

It is by far the best voting system in the world to watch as a spectator support. 

The first count result is not always the absolute decider of all the winners, and transfers allow for last minute Millennium Falcon On Its Side Speeding Through Closing Blast Doors drama comebacks. If the CNN were covering our elections, we’d have theme music for everything from the first count to transfers to the final seat, and a Wolf Blitzer (Politics nerds will get this reference) hologram live from the count centre in Laois-Offaly. 

If you’re a sadist, it’s the political system designed to taunt and dangle false hope in front of politicians who thought their seat was safe/lost and are now mocked often down to the last count. If you asked Schrodinger to design a voting system, he’d come up with this.  

It’s a voting system Dante would have loved, save for the fact that Lucifer would probably look at Irish politics and thinks “Eh, no thanks lads, even I have to look at myself in the mirror occasionally. Also: is that RHI scheme thing still open? Ah: the DUP lads. I bet you’re surprised!”    

I bring it up because every time there is an election I get a flurry of messages, online and personally, from friends, relatives and readers asking how to vote. 

Most political cronies I know are the same. 

It’s an indictment, by the way, as to how badly civics was taught (or not) in our schools, and also the failure of successive  governments to deliver the much-promised electoral commission tasked with running and educating all things election. I never saw a copy of the constitution until I found one by accident in a local newsagent, and bought it, which is also an indictment of my sadly un-misspent youth.  

People do know how to vote, but it’s the subtleties of the Single Transferable Vote that give rise to all sorts of myths and questions. Here’s a few of them. 

  1. Cast your first preference for the person you really want. This sounds so obvious, but it’s true. Don’t try to second guess other voters. Yes, parties try to get people to vote tactically, and if your party winning an extra seat is your primary goal then vote tactically. But remember, in the great majority of constituencies the people who come first to fifth, depending on how many seats are in the constituency, tend to fill the seats in the end. First preferences matter the most, because they are the only vote that will definitely be counted.

  2. You decide where your vote goes, not the parties. A clear preference must be visible to the returning officer before he transfers a vote. Your ballot paper is written permission from you to the returning officer who to transfer to and who not to.  

  3. Your preferences cannot affect your earlier preferences. This is another perennial that seems to have emerged from the mists of psephology. When a lower preference has been reached (2,3,4 etc) it means that the candidate beforehand has been either elected or eliminated for having the least votes available, and so is out of competition for preferences. 

  4. Do not write anything other than numbers on your ballot paper, as anything else may be taken as a sign of political intimidation: that you have been bullied into voting for a certain candidate and have put a mark on the ballot to prove to count observers that you have done what you promised. This may result in your ballot paper being ruled spoiled.

  5. If you want to really try to stop an individual getting elected, give a preference to every other candidate. This means that your vote is available to help any candidate fighting your most hated candidate. The more preferences you leave blank means the less help your vote can potentially be to other candidates. If there is a group of candidates you hate equally, leave them all blank. It means that none of them can help stop any other of them.

  6. No, spoiled or blank ballots do not “automatically go to the government”. I hear this every year, and I have no idea where it comes from.    

We, the people of Malta, and Australia are the only people lucky enough to use STV in national elections. It has its flaws: it makes TDs get a version of the bends if they’re out of their constituency longer than 12 hours, and obsess about the effect of fairies on municipal road planning, but as voter choice goes, it’s hard to beat. 

Why small vulnerable countries need nuclear weapons.

I would not be surprised if, in the next ten years, countries like Poland, Finland  and Sweden suddenly announce that they have acquired a small number of non-ICBM delivered nuclear warheads.

Yes, I know, it’s terrible, shouldn’t we be abolishing nuclear weapons etc?

Yes, all that is true until you are in fear of actually losing your country, and confront the reality that having the ability to deliver a nuclear weapon into a major city of your invader (or potential invader) is the number one way for your country to be taken seriously. Imagine if the Palestinians suddenly confirmed they had a number of working nuclear weapons.

It’s hugely expensive to develop nuclear weapons, of course, and especially refining the weapons grade fissile material you need. The means of delivery, if one is talking about missiles, is also hugely expensive. But put missiles aside, and talk about delivering a weapon to its target by other means, such as a jet fighter or special forces physically transporting the weapon across the border, and it is another question altogether. Would it be possible for Swedish special forces to plant a nuclear bomb in St Petersburg, swimming up the Neva river at night? Very possibly.

The key to nuclear weapon use is as a deterrent, and that means communicating to your opponent your clear ability to carry out such an operation. Could Poland or other European countries quietly communicate with Putin and convince him that a threat to use nuclear weapons by him in the battlefield could be met with a comparable response? Of course.

There’s also one issue that does not get mentioned often when discussing nuclear weapons, and that is the use of nuclear weapons in a defensive capacity. It would be hardly surprising, for example, if Taiwan had studied the possibility of using underwater nuclear mines as a means of destroying a Chinese invasion fleet. What’s interesting about this is the fact that such a use would happen inside Taiwanese waters, and whilst it would inflict damage on Taiwan from a tsunami etc, it would not count internationally as a hostile act. Nuclear powers have detonated nuclear weapons on their own “territories” in the past.


Nuclear weapons are horrific devices, and should be abolished just as soon as the threat from the other guy to use them goes.

And no…of course I don’t think Ireland should acquire nuclear weapons.

What if…a nuclear attack on Israel?

nuke

Repost: originally written in 2015.

The weapon, later identified as a 10 mega-ton former Soviet warhead, detonated just as the new Knesset began proceedings. In a flash, Israel’s administrative capital, political leadership and just under three quarters of a million Israelis died, along with hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in the West Bank.

The news was greeted in different ways. In the US, the president was rushed to the emergency national airborne command post, whilst the vice president and others were sent to the alternate national command centre in Mount Weather. US forces were ordered to def con 2.

In Cairo, Damascus, Tehran and Riyadh, spontaneous crowds gathered in grotesque displays of euphoria.

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Secret Hitler: Boardgame Review


“Secret Hitler” sounds like boardgame you’d see in an episode of “Family Guy” or “South Park”, calculated to cause offense. It’s not unreasonable to suspect its creators, one of whom created the equally offensive (and entertaining) “Cards Against Humanity” set out with the title to wind-up the easily offended.

Having said that, it is a very enjoyable boardgame. It’s a social deduction game, which means that it’s most about lying. Set in the Weimar Republic in the early 1930s, no knowledge of German politics is needed. Indeed, the game could easily be retooled as “Secret Voldemort” or “Secret Trump”.

One player becomes (secretly) Hitler, and with another (secret) fascist henchman/woman, both with the objective of getting Hitler into the position of chancellor. The other players, who make up the majority of players (you need a five player minimum), are all liberals battling to keep Hitler out.

Each player takes a turn as the rotating president of the republic, selecting which laws (liberal or fascist) to pass and appointing a chancellor at each turn, whilst trying to deduce which player is not really a declared liberal but actually a secret fascist.

It sounds complicated, but once up and running it’s actually quite straightforward. As it progresses players get access to more tools to identify members of the fascist party (or definitely rule non-fascists out), and even attempt to assassinate Hitler before he gets to power (or accidentally kill a fellow liberal). The real devilment is when the fascists, if they’re smart, start making false accusations about others, or even riskily voting for liberal policies to throw others off the scent. I was assassinated by a fascist who pretended I was a fascist. I wasn’t.

Playing it, I was reminded of something I couldn’t quite put my finger on, and then it dawned on me. It was like the John Le Carré thriller “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”, an investigation gradually building up the evidence but still having to make a guess based on probability as to who the baddy is. Once you’re familiar with the gameplay, it becomes possible to spot the clues and determine to a certain degree who the filthy Austrian corporal bastard is.

The packaging, board and game pieces are also very tastefully put together.

I heartily recommend it.

Ireland goes to war? A hypothetical scenario.

NATO tanksOriginally written in 2015.

1st December 2017: Russian forces enter Estonia, Finland and Poland, taking NATO by surprise. Resistance in all three countries is stiff, and US, UK, French, German and Italian aircraft all provide air support.

In the Dail, the Irish government condemns the invasion. Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein call for the United Nations “to act”. They are not specific on detail.

2nd December: it is now clear that a full Russian invasion is underway. Media briefings in Moscow clarify that the purpose of the “pre-emptive defensive action” is to secure the Baltic states, Poland and Finland as neutral states outside of NATO. President Putin goes on TV to explain the action, and, speaking in fluent German, pledges that only those countries are combat areas, and that Russian forces will not invade other European countries.

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