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Beyond Parody: Giant steps or Sign the Contract… Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil and the slogans of our two largest political parties… March 31, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Irish Election 2007.
2 comments

Fabulous news everyone.

Should we think of casting our democratic vote for Fianna Fáil we are invited to “take the next steps”. Where? To what purpose? Baby steps or great leaps a la Neil Armstrong? Shuffle, or stride? Forward or back? Up or down? Over and out.

Should by contrast it be Fine Gael that takes our fancy we are inveigled by Enda Kenny during his speech to “Sign the contract: Vote Fine Gael” (and should that not whet our appetite we can also go for “Fine Gael for a better Ireland”. Ireland? Well I never – although I’m reminded of Simon Hoggarts trick in the Guardian of reversing the words to get at the true meaning…Fine Gael for Ireland’s betters?).

A slogan of barely credible banality from FF matched only by one of almost surreal…well…what faux-commercialism (or a hint of the Soprano’s) from FG.

Wouldn’t it be nice to be treated like adults once or twice away from the cod inclusive/populist/business like/tiresome rhetoric of political campaigns, or is that just me?

And if it is a contract that FG are going with as the central plank of their election campaign, seems sort of dangerous ground to me to be on (anyone recall the Contract with America the US Republicans road tested back in 1994s which led to the most protracted gridlock as they sought to apply their ideological precepts with reality and a Democratic President – incidentally got to love the American Dream Restoration Act which was part of the contract). Contracts have a nasty habit of not working out when put into practice. Nor do very specific campaign pledges, and we need only look at Fianna Fáil for proof of that. Having said all that Kenny came across as self assured and confident. No mean trick and just the thing to fire up the party faithful.

I’ll return to this topic over the next day or two.

(While we’re on the subject an odd touch on the part of Fine Gael having a crowd of party members close in around David Daven Power as he gave his report on the 9 o’clock news. Smiling fixedly into the camera far from evoking enthusiasm appears to betoken mania. Still, whatever it takes – eh?)

Cool? Well, maybe not. BBC4, Hawkwind and the counterculture…. March 31, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Music.
3 comments

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Caught BBC4’s Hawkwind and counterculture programmes last night.

Sort of interesting. I’ve fifteen or twenty of their albums all told in various formats. Thing with Hawkwind is that quality control was generally so predictable that it wouldn’t really matter which fifteen or twenty albums one had out of the numerous releases they’ve had over the years. Generally one finds three or four good tracks on a Hawkwind album, any album, and moves on cutting ones losses (or as US rock critic Robert Christgau once wrote In the old days, this likable British band played more benefits than Joan Baez and helped give psychedelic rock its bad name–when you repeat three chords in 4/4 for forty-five minutes, it’s politic to change riffs once in a while).

Still, there was some quality to them that sort of transcended their hippy roots and made them attractive to those of us who found punk a more congenial musical touchstone (Simon Reynolds in his likeable Rip it Up and Start Again, Postpunk 1978-1984 notes that Throbbing Gristle in an earlier incarnation as COUM Transmissions were part of the psychedelic underground and supported Hawkwind). In part that might have been the way in which they touched on Neu and Can like rythyms and textures, in part the fact Lemmy – who managed the difficult trick of achieving a crossover audience between metal and punk – had been a member and had sung on their best known tracks – such as Silver Machine. Perhaps too it was the gravelly quality of the voices (particularly of Dave Brock), which rather like Ian Curtis in Joy Division, sounded older and therefore for some reason more authoritative. Jon Savage’s “Englands Dreaming: Sex Pistols and Punk Rock” in it’s discography of influences on Punk namechecks two Hawkwind albums. And perhaps slightly depressingly the Sex Pistols played “Silver Machine” in their late 1990s reunion performances, perhaps ironically, perhaps not. Peter Hook is said according to wiki to have found them a significant influence. And in a way what wasn’t to like?

Their song Urban Guerilla released in 1973 just at the point of a PIRA bombing campaign (and subsequently withdrawn) was effectively proto-punk with lyrics like:

I’m an urban guerrilla
I make bombs in my cellar
I’m a derelict dweller
I’m a potential killer
I’m a street fighting dancer
I’m a revolutionary romancer
My rising sign is Cancer
I’m a two-tone panther

So let’s not talk of love and flowers
And things that don’t explode
We’ve used up all of our magic powers
Trying to do it in the road

So watch out Mr. Business Man
Your empire’s about to blow
I think you’d better listen, man
In case you did not know

Of course, the ‘man’ bit still kept it firmly in the more gonzoid space rock, former hippy territory.

I saw them in 2001 in Dublin and they were more or less as expected – bar, I think, Simon House on violin wearing silk hot pants (fashion tip, men in their fifties really should think long and hard about such sartorial choices). Right down the David Hardy images of aliens and spaceships projected behind them on the wall of the Ambassador. And no doubt the gig was identical to ones they played in the 1970s, or indeed ones they’re playing now. Although to move onto a certain unpleasantness, despite reforming in 2000 with the entirety of their original and subsequent line ups they split up again in acrimony with one faction around Nik Turner creating the Ex-Hawkwind and then being sued by Brock. Turner and his compadres now front Space Ritual, singing – why Hawkwind songs of course.

But while that was a welcome surprise for a Friday nights viewing, the program that came after was in some respects more intriguing. This was entitled New Horizons and was clearly made in the year of zonk (somewhere in the late 1960s and early 1970s). Various luminaries were interviewed including those involved in support organisations for those in the ‘underground’ and editor of Oz Richard Neville.

And it was curious, perhaps I’m being a tad unfair, but wow, what a middle class project hippy and the underground were. In some respects, and again it’s not entirely right to judge such things on a single program, there seemed to be a sort of implicit contempt not merely for ‘straight’ society, but for the working class. Neville, for example, particularly singled out people ‘banging out parts on a Ford motor car’ for his ire.

As an aside, Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood loathed hippies and called them ‘hippo’s’.

Perhaps Hawkwind singer Robert Calvert, who was in himself a casualty of the underground, managed to put it best on his own song on the “Quark, Strangeness and Charm” album (notable for the lead track and it’s propositions about the connections between Einstein’s love life and relativity):

Days of the Underground (Brock / Calvert)

In visions of acid
we saw through delusion
and brainbox pollution
we knew we were right
the streets were our oyster
we smoked urban poison
and turned all this noise on
we knew how to fight
we dropped out and tuned in
spoke secret jargon
and we did not bargain
for what we had found
in the days of the underground

we believed in guevera
we saw that head held up
and our anger welled up
but we kept it cool
no need for machine guns
the system was crumbling
our leaders were fumbling
while we broke every rule
we saw them on t.v.
they’d blown their cover
and we tried to smother
their voices with sound
in the days of the underground

what ever happened
to those chromium heroes
are there none of them
still left around
since the days (daze)
of the underground?

The mix of drug fuelled indivualism, revolutionary (Guevera) but suitably distant and nebulous socialism and antagonism to the crumbling welfare state was so replete with contradiction that the ‘daze’ were indeed numbered. Poor old Marcuse, whipping boy of left and right, was dragged up in the program as a major influence, and perhaps he was, but in footage of “progressive” bands like Quintessence (meh) who blended “eastern philosophy” (but “not too heavy” eastern philosophy as one contributor helpfully pointed out) with rock in a fairly indigestable mix. Jon Savage in “Englands Dreaming” points out the oddities of how many within the underground ‘went into the various authoritarian, Eastern religious movements that oddly paralleled the rise in Christian fundamentalism” (and strange that this dynamic replicated itself in ‘straight edge’ and elements of crusty in subsequent decades, a dynamic that makes me permanently wary of certain elements of direct democracy).

It was fairly easy to see how punk and post punk went throught them for the proverbial short cut.

Whither the Water Tax? March 29, 2007

Posted by franklittle in Democratic Unionist Party, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Sinn Féin, The Left, Trade Unions.
15 comments

As the terrifying prospect of DUP and Sinn Féin Ministers having to take decisions on social and economic issues comes closer day by day, the Coalition Against the Water Charges in the Six Counties is to proceed with rallies this weekend in Belfast, Derry and Strabane. The charges were deferred this week until next year as a result of the deal to restore devolution, but as much as Paisley and Adams will be tripping over themselves to take the credit, it was the mobilisation of people on the ground, due in large part to the unions and the Socialist Party, that actually delivered.

The failure of the main political parties to mobilise on the issue of the Water Tax in the North is, for most of them, hardly surprising. But the vacuum they left opened up an opportunity for the trade union movement, that bastion of hardline left radicalism, to step up to the plate with calls for non-payment from the Northern Ireland Committee of ICTU and the largest unions in the Six. They were helped at ground level by a grassroots campaign organised by community activists with the Socialist Party providing a useful infrastructure. Yes, yes, it’s rare as hen’s teeth for me to praise the Trots, and there are more than enough reports to suggest they used it as a political bludgeon in some places to score a few sectarian points. The SP have, as people involved in the bin charges campaign in Dublin saw, an amazing knack for attacking people for not supporting a campaign while privately doing everything they can to keep political rivals out of it. But, credit where it’s due, they did a lot of the heavy lifting on this one.

The failure of Sinn Féin to support non-payment has attracted a great deal of absolutely justified criticism. The party’s position was often contradictory and seemed poorly thought out. The explanation for not backing non-payment was rooted in the failure of the rent and rates strike against interment of 1971. Not only did this protest fail, but for years afterwards the SDLP hunted down anyone who had initially supported a non-payment campaign they had backed and one can understand why the current generation of the SF leadership, involved in that campaign, would not want to revisit it. But as was pointed out, support for this campaign was limited to the nationalist community, the opposition to Water Charges cut across that with tens of thousands of members of the unionist community backing it. Furthermore, support from the traditionally Protestant organised labour in the North was a vital boost to the Water Charges campaign.

The other explanation for Sinn Féin’s refusal to support the campaign was that the re-establishment of the Assembly would mean the end of water charges and so there was no need for a non-payment campaign. This is based on the notion that London was never serious about Water Charges but was using it as a stick to beat the DUP with. While not necessarily as far-fetched as it sounds, it’s an awfully big leap to pin one’s entire analysis of the issue on the notion that it’s a British plot and the re-establishment of the Executive, never a foregone conclusion, would deal with the issue. If Paisley had balked, the water charges bills would have been dropping through doors right across the North and what would the Shinners do then? Shrug their shoulders and play ‘Blame the Orangies’?

With political parties providing no leadership, unions and local people provided their own. It was the campaign on the ground that ensured the issue remained live and it was the strength of opposition to the water charges on the doorsteps that maximised pressure on the DUP and Sinn Féin coming out of the Assembly elections. It was the threat of mass non-payment that forced the British to back down. It is important that this lesson be understood lest politicians in the Assembly take the credit. People need to appreciate what they accomplished, not men and women in suits in Stormont. Fundamentally, a cross-section of the North saw their political leaders failing them, and chose to empower themselves.

Finally, the issue is as yet not over. As Assistant General Secretary of ICTU Peter Bunting pointed out, “Water charges can be delayed now for short term reasons, but the challenge remains to scrap them entirely.” It is an issue that will be top of the agenda for the incoming Assembly.

According to the Department of Regional Development, £3 billion sterling is needed for water and sewerage in the North until 2023. While the Executive can choose to abolish water charges once it is up and running, it either has to find this money somewhere else, and Gordon Brown is putting on the poor mouth, or demonstrate that the Department’s figures are wrong.

It’s also worth noting that, much like the Bin Charges in the South, if the Assembly chooses not to make water ‘self-financing’ then they will lose the grants from the British Treasury for capital investment in the water services. Down here, if a Council does not apply bin charges, they lose some of the money they get from the Local Government Fund.

In short, the campaign on the Water Tax is not over. Activists have won a victory and inflicted a substantial defeat on proponents of the scheme, but unless the political parties finally step up to their responsibilities, they will have to be prepared to fight again next year.

The question is, will they fight alone again?

Mao and Nixon, Thatcher and Gorbachev, Arafat and Rabin, Stalin and Hitler: or the really Great Meeting from History: No. 1,999,131,232,734,489 – Gerry Adams and Ian Paisley March 27, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in media, Northern Ireland, Ulster.
6 comments

So, in the scale of things where does the Adams Paisley encounter sit?

Here?

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Or perhaps here (courtesy of joemomma). Well we never did see the DUP delegation enter the dining room, now did we? Presumably that was Hain, rather than Adams pushing Paisley – or was it the other way around as an appointment with destiny beckoned?

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More important that this?

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Less important than this?
nixon_mao.jpg

What about these, or doesn’t it count because there are three of them?

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For life long enmity (well okay, perhaps not lifelong, but ever since that dinner)

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The two on the left of course. Actually, no also the two on the right. Well, actually, no, all three…

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Shooting fish in a barrel…

rumsfeld-saddam.jpg

But I’m completely wrong, as ever.
The real meetings with the good Doc, the truly historic ones where with the deepest store of bitterness and enmity was put aside and detente declared, never took place…

terenceoneill.jpg

Terence O’Neill, Ulster Unionist, Prime Minister of Northern Ireland,
1963 – 1969

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James Dawson Chichester-Clark, Ulster Unionist, Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, 1969-1971

brianfaulkner.jpg

Brian Faulkner, Ulster Unionist, Prime Minister of Northern Ireland,
1971-1972

After all, Sinn Féin is one thing, but even Christian charity has it’s limits…

_______________________

Being a tedious pedant it just struck me. There was no Hitler Stalin meeting.

Or was there?

The Guardian today: or the way Britain really views Northern Ireland as demonstrated by the Paisley and Adams meeting at Stormont. March 27, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Democratic Unionist Party, media, Northern Ireland, Sinn Féin, Ulster.
3 comments

Yesterday something happened in Stormont. Something unexpected and unprecedented.

You may think that that ‘something’ would, even in this media saturated age, deserve a response on the front page of Britain’s leading left-liberal daily newspaper.

You might suppose that perhaps it would be entirely fitting for that photograph and the start of an article that would continue on pages 2 and 3.

That it would have sidebar articles with response and analysis that would delve into the path taken to this point and where events may take us next.

guardian20070327.jpg

You might suppose wrong…

Instead we are ‘treated’ to disclosures regarding royal wills from the turn of the last century and enquiries into bullying. The former is a non-story, the latter of some significance.
And as to the interesting scenes up at Stormont, well they’re relegated to a tiny intro at the foot of the front page and then page 4. Spread, in the sense that Owen Boycott gives a fairly thin outline of the events and Michael White offers us a workmanlike colour piece/analysis.

Good for them. But not so good for us. And perhaps a telling indication of just where Northern Irish affairs, or Irish affairs sit within the scale of British public and policy opinion.

Perhaps Blair was an aberration.

Amusingly, or not, for those interested in subscribing to their pay as you go PDF version, what then is today’s specimen front page? Why none other than this.guardian20070313.jpg

I couldn’t make it up.

Some table you got there Dr. Paisley and Mr. Adams…or remarkable scenes at Stormont March 26, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Democratic Unionist Party, Northern Ireland, Sinn Féin, Ulster.
27 comments

Hmmm…well that was momentous. Seriously. Yes it was.adams372.gif

This is going to be one of the defining images of Irish history in the early 21st century…that is if it all works out for the best. What to love? The Easter Lily on the lapel. The restricted cúpla focal. The stern expression on Paisley’s face. And then the almost tentative smile in the photograph above.

Perhaps they like each other. Perhaps not.

Anyhow, not sure if it’s just me, but I find the image almost unbearable to look at as if in some fetishistic way (and I mean that in the original sense of the term) it will all go horribly wrong. Actually there are those who would argue that for it to reach this point it already has. Roll on Channel 4 News which is always entertaining for it’s slight sense of bemused detachment when dealing with the North [most engaging gaffe by Alex Thomson saying to Mitchell McLaughlin and Sammy Wilson that this mean 'power sharing was over' - very possibly. Second most engaging gaffe, Mitchell McLaughlin being asked by Thomson if he liked Wilson and replying 'yes, of course' while Wilson was rather more circumspect...although equally telling was Thomson saying how the two men had been 'joshing' prior to the cameras coming on].

Attention has already been drawn to the diamond shaped table with Ian Paisley and his minions on one side and Gerry Adams and Mary Lou McDonald on the other (incidentally googling “Paisley Adams” for pics brought up some old Assembly material and some…er…highly pornographic ones too, so exercise caution if you go looking for them – anyway not entirely sure what that’s telling us one way or another).

What to make of it all? Being entirely cynical this was so well choreographed it’s hard to believe they didn’t have at least one run through already, like many a wedding. And the reports from RTÉ that both sides were well pleased afterwards would seem to confirm that.

But…choreographed or not it is something else. I had significant doubts that the DUP would jump over the weekend. Seems those water bills just gave it the edge required.

And from the Sinn Féin point of view this will be hard to beat if the Executive is up and running by May. And the fun we’re about to have. The regular meetings between the First and Deputy First Minister which are slated to take place over the next six weeks.

Speaking of Mary Lou McDonald, yesterday her canvassing in Dublin Central by the Fire Station on North Strand. This evening…why none other than Patricia McKenna.

All the stars – eh? I’m very much looking forward to the distribution of first preferences at the GE.

***************

Two more thoughts. Hain saying that he hadn’t expected a public press conference with the two men. Don’t buy that at all.

But more significantly the absence during that conference of the British or Irish government representatives. That tells us something in itself.

So then, what’s that Plan B again? The Northern Irish Peace Process lurches onwards…but where? March 24, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Democratic Unionist Party, Northern Ireland, Sinn Féin, Ulster.
6 comments

Strange days indeed when according to media reports Paisley is ready to do the business but some of his lieutenants are either less so, or simply won’t, and that’s some 90% voting for a deferral until May.

Is it shadowboxing? Is this the optics of the final round, the point where Paisley is portrayed as the more ameliorative figure barely able to contain those around him in order that they can extract just one more concession, one more guarantee?

And the concessions are coming thick and fast. £1 billion promised by London and Dublin as a means to sugar the pill. A promised review of corporation taxes which might bring the North into line with the very heaven that is the South. And it’s still not enough.

Actually on that point alone, isn’t this weird? Ian Paisley wants to see NI adopt the same tax rate as the rest of the island, but demands that NI remain within the Union. Surely this sort of policy is in effect just the thing to weaken the Union as next up Scotland or Wales adopt different economic policies thereby leaching economic power from London.

How much more to make it stick? SF has rhetorically moved further than the Árd Fhéis motion with Gerry Adams supporting the PSNI. I don’t blame them or him, in fact I think it’s pretty good politics in strategic terms – and. This should smoke out the DUP for once and for all. And arguably it could wreak havoc politically on the DUP if they don’t make the move. For them splendid isolation is not something I suspect their voters (particularly their more newfound ones) will like very much.

That centre ground ballast within Unionism which has tipped towards them may well tip against them and back towards the UUP (particularly if London holds it’s nerve and actually asks them, the voters, to stump up the costs that not entering Stormont and not getting the financial package will result in). That’s a real problem for the DUP because once your base widens out it begins to diffuse ideologically and incorporate people who, for example, aren’t quite as fixated on the fundamental tenets – which as any socialist fule no is the reason parties generally shift towards the centre eventually (and is the reason RSF keep a lid on such things). Not that that isn’t a characteristic of PSF. But somehow they give the impression of being remarkably sanguine about it. Somehow, somewhere, some of the old Marxist determinism has rubbed off on them albeit not in specific ideology.

Perhaps they’re sanguine enough to sweat it out until May. And the rather pitiful DUP, deluded enough to think that that will make a difference. Hoping against hope that somehow SF will slip, that PIRA will do something that can set this back months if not years. That some great point is being made and no great principle being conceded if they do get their six weeks. I think they’ll be disappointed.

And for SF it’s not the be all and end all. Sure, they want the GFA implemented in full. But Plan B, a sort of souped up AIA, or something short of joint authority but close to it will probably do quite nicely for now. And in all honesty why not? For them they can say, look we did everything we could and more and Unionism was unable to sit down and work with us. Who now looks intransigent?

But even should this work, and that’s hardly guaranteed, one could ask how long can it last? And hot on the heels of that question is, one can also ask what other alternative is there? And the problem is I keep thinking the answers are not long, and there isn’t, and probably it doesn’t really matter much anyway.

Or does it? One of the reasons Stormont MkI collapsed was the manner in which it was almost completely indifferent (if not often actively hostile) to Nationalism. The spasm of violence that ensued marked a depth of alienation on the part of Nationalism from the structures of Northern Ireland. That alienation sustained prolonged armed violence within the North. Here we see Republicanism conceding much ground. The simple unwillingness of elements within Unionism to engage constructively with Republicanism and Nationalism is an echo of that earlier indifference and hostility (and really, when Reg Empey is saying the DUP should get on with it you know we’re in a different world). Without tending towards the apocalyptic such an approach is dismally counterproductive.

Time to look at the big picture.

Will they, won’t they?

Watch your mouth, Lucinda’s about March 23, 2007

Posted by joemomma in Fine Gael, Progressive Democrats, racism.
2 comments

In a prime piece of silliness, Dublin South East candidate Lucinda Creighton has attacked Fiona O’Malley for ‘racist language’:

Fine Gael Dáil candidate in Dublin South East, Cllr. Lucinda Creighton, has today (Friday) condemned the statement made by Progressive Democrat Energy spokesperson, Fiona O’Malley TD, that she wants to make Irish people the “Wind Arabs of the world”.

O’Malley’s statement appears on the front page of the PD website, accompanied by a picture of the Deputy.

Could be the defining scandal of the election. If you can bear the inflammatory racist rhetoric, you can check out the PD web site for the source of Lucinda’s outrage.

A bit of good news March 23, 2007

Posted by franklittle in Culture, Freedom of speech, Islam, media, Media and Journalism.
6 comments

Last month, I wrote about the trial of Philippe Val, editor of the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo. Val was charged with ‘publically abusing a group of people because of their religion’ by the Paris Mosque and the Union of Islamic Organisations of France because he republished the 12 cartoons featuring the Islamic Prophet Muhammad that first appeared in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten.

Val faced a possible six month prison term and a fine against his magazine but believes in, and what is more important is ready to act at risk to himself in defence of, free speech. Yesterday, a French court ruled in his favour in a trial that united right and left politicians in France in defence of the magazine. Reuters has more details.

“It’s good news for those who believe in freedom of expression and for Muslims who are secular and support the ideals of the republic,” said Val. Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders added, “This judgement is a victory in the cause of press freedom and is in no case the defeat of one community.”

Nice to see the good guys win one every now and again. Solidarité.

The Hidden Story of the Assembly Election March 22, 2007

Posted by franklittle in Irish Election 2007, Marxism, Northern Ireland, The Left.
2 comments

Like no doubt very few other people, I awaited the publication of the latest edition of Socialist Worker with a kind of horrified fascination, curious to see how they would spin the results of their two front organisations, Socialist Environmental Alliance (SEA) in Foyle, where their vote went down, and People Before Profit (PBP) in West Belfast, where they picked up seven or eight hundred votes but made little real impact.

The performance of the PBP candidate, Seán Mitchell, gives us this gem:

Sean’s success in finishing ahead of long established parties like
Alliance and the Workers’ Party was widely regarded as the performance of the election.”

Really. Not Anna Lo taking a seat for Alliance and being the first Chinese woman elected to a parliament in Britain or Ireland? Not the Shinners taking five seats out of six in West Belfast or the DUP continuing to roll over the UUP right across the North? Not the election of the first Green MLA to the Assembly?

No, according to the SWP, a member of theirs who didn’t even have the simple courage or the basic honesty to run under the name of his own party, barely breaking 2% is ‘widely regarded’ as the story of the election. For self-centred arrogance, they really are very, very hard to beat.

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