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Never mind the statistics just feel the…er… feeling. John Waters has looked into his heart again…. October 31, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Crime, Media and Journalism.
10 comments

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I’ve had no reason to write about John Waters recently. Not entirely sure why, a couple of weeks back he wrote something I strongly agreed with which was pleasant. But with the inevitability of cold in Winter one need merely wait for the next outburst and this week he’s back on top form. The subject is… murder and…er… ‘modernisation’.

There is a point, one can never be sure at what stage but it exists nonetheless, where the most able contrarian tips seemingly inexorably into being a curmudgeon and/or grumpy old man (or woman as the case may be). Christopher Hitchens, his near unimaginable brother Peter, Cohen, Dawkins, Greer. All have moved from one state to another. We can plot their progress on charts, but somehow that doesn’t quite indicate the fearsome energy of their trajectory. Sadly I fear that point was some ways back in the case of JW and that he has joined this glittering host.

One of the features of this process is the way in which an idée fixe develops. In Dawkins case it is that if one says loudly and with great repetition that God doesn’t exist this will somehow sway people from some heavy duty cultural and social conditioning. Well… I guess it’s an idea. In Cohen’s case it is that the Saddam regime was the clearest manifestation of fascism since Germany in 1945 and therefore had to be dealt with in precisely the same way. Genius, perhaps you’ll agree. With JW it is that every problem of the contemporary period is the responsibility of ‘modernisation’. What is fascinating is that JW tends to take the opposite tack from Dawkins – where one depends upon logic and rationality, the other has recourse to the wildest shores of the relative and the emotive.

So, to our columnist…

Experts, by definition, are conspirators against common sense…

The thought struck me last week in the middle of a radio debate with a criminologist on the subject of Ireland’s apparently (note my careful layman’s qualifier) accelerating murder rate. The first two items on the news at the top of that morning’s programme concerned violent killings, but this did not in any way dilute the criminologist’s determination to prove that murder is a media invention.

I made a crude sketch of comparison with New York City, where the homicide rate is now, following a massive spike in the 1980s, back to roughly where it was in the early 1960s. Less than a half-century ago, murders in Ireland were in single figures. This year, to date, there have been 60 homicides, and it is likely that the final 2007 figure will be 1,000 per cent up on when I was a boy.

There is a problem here. Is 60+ a 1000% increase on the early 1960s figures? Well, we’ve looked at these before, haven’t we. Because those figures were not quite in the single figures JW proposes. Between 1960 and 1965 they were for each successive year, 6, 13, 12, 5, 14, 12. Single figures in only two years. It gets worse. For the rest of the decade they remained above 12 and went up to 57 by 1974. [all figures are from The Village]

The expert, pursuing a familiar line, sought, in a series of increasingly fatuous arguments, to deny the validity of this telling comparison. I wasn’t allowing, she said, for the distinction between murder and manslaughter. The population of New York had fallen since the early 1960s. Irish juries had been reluctant to convict for murder while the death penalty remained in place. Far from having a murder crisis, she insisted, Ireland remains one of the safest, most violence-free places in the world.

I didn’t hear the interview, so I cannot tell whether this is a fair summation of the criminologists spiel. But, mention of New York is bizarre. Is he seriously making a comparison between a country of 3 to 4 million people and a city of many millions more? Is it possible to make a direct comparison between state and city? Between widely different sociopolitical and cultural backgrounds? And yet he appears to be doing so. And with no apparent irony considering the way in which he later denigrates those who try to propose international comparisons…

I do not need statistics to tell me that there are many more murders happening in Ireland today than when I was growing up. My sense that this is so has nothing to do with media hype or over-reporting. It is an impression gleaned in the same way as I glean a myriad of other impressions about the society I live in. It is based on what we used to call common sense.

But what does this mean, this recourse to ‘common sense’? A gut reaction? Looking into one’s heart? I don’t know, and I’ll hazard the guess few others do either. Consider the murder rate post 1974 when it jumped to 57. It then fell back to the 30s and has bumped along between 19 (1986) and 66 (2006) with peaks in 1997 (53), 2002 (59) and a drop to 46 in 2004. That is a considerable volume of murders. Each is a tragedy in its own right. But the problem is that it’s not – in international terms – anywhere near the top of the pile.

But why look at the statistics? As John Waters says…

Of course, Irish crime statistics are notoriously inadequate, and it is difficult to make precise comparisons between one country, or one era, and another. But, even allowing for the imprecisions of the available data, the general, approximate picture is stark. Moreover, that general statistical picture reflects what we had just been hearing on the news – what we have been hearing on the news for quite some time now. Looked at year-on-year, the figures appear to support these persistent assertions that the public have been bombarded with an exaggerated view of rising crime. But when you survey the graph of criminality climbing inexorably since the 1960s, it becomes clear that the public’s growing sense of the matter is well founded.

Unfortunately this simply isn’t accurate. Crime statistics regarding murder are not inadequate (note though the subtle shift of terrain in the paragraph above – no longer does he discuss murder but ‘criminality’, a much much more diffuse creature). A rise – inexorable or not, and it has fallen even in the recent past – is not exponential. Population increase alone would suggest that there would be a rise.

To requote Vincent Browne:

In 1983 the population was around 3.5 million; it is now over 4 million. The headline crime rate in 1983 per 1,000 of the population was 29.3. The rate in 2006 was 26. And throughout the period from 1983 to 2006 the rate per 1,000 of the population was have been either static or in decline.

But why mention that troublesome point? Or consider that at historic points the graph went up in a way that links the figures to various processes. The North. Drugs. So on. So forth. And this ‘growing sense’. Let’s think about that. What he seems to be saying is that some cumulative multiplier effect kicks into action. So we’re back on the territory of ‘feelings’.

Nor is it difficult to make comparisons between one country or one era. Otherwise why would JW have wasted 860 odd words on the subject, since if comparisons are difficult to make then common sense or not we have no basis for assessment. But that’s part of the process, because JW doesn’t want to accept the evidence from around the world. Doesn’t want to accept that all, while not exactly well, is not quite at the deluge stage. And hence the inevitable turn inwards. It is a problem, because I say it is a problem. Solipsism becomes the philosophical underpinning of the day.

And it is solipsistic, because curiously he makes no mention of the fact that between 1927 and 1938 inclusive the murder rate was generally as high or higher than it currently is. Perhaps the past is not quite as uncomplicated as he thinks, perhaps his parents might have had a word or two to say about the remarkable drop to single figures (now and again) during the 1950s.

But wait… it’s not all about murder. Perhaps for JW it’s not even about murder, since he argues that:

It is interesting to speculate on the motivations of these “experts”. Superficially, you might decide that they prefer to be saying something unexpected rather than something obvious, and so will continue to promote an exotic theory even in the face of overwhelming evidence. There’s no doubt that these specialists tend to have a contempt for the media, which they regard as pursuing an unscientific approach to reality. But perhaps the most significant factor is that, as a consequence of our way of educating them, experts tend to subscribe, in the manner of a faith, to a modernising ideology which, in an involuted and perverse way, regards criminality as a backhanded compliment to the robustness of the progress agenda. In a certain skewed sense our culture tends to regard rising crime rates as evidence that we are becoming like “other modern societies”. Murder and mayhem are therefore not merely inevitable but, in a certain sense, provide reassurances that the modernising project is unfolding correctly.

The problem is that the experts are right, and JW is sadly incorrect. There is nothing ‘exotic’ or ‘unexpected’ in saying that murder in this society is, while a genuine problem, still remarkably limited. That in comparison to other societies at similar levels of development it is low. That for the general populace the dangers of intersecting with it are remote.

To argue that theirs is a ‘faith’ when it is he who refuses to look at the statistics and draw their lesson is an assertion of remarkable … well, fill in your own word. To then say that they only do this because of some ill-defined link to ‘the modernising project’ (why yes, that pesky Enlightenment and its concentration on the Rational. How modish that must be some x centuries later) is to pile oddity upon oddity.

To then say that those who are actually expert in the field are incorrect because of a ‘feeling’ is to move, despite the rhetorical and lyrical flights of fancy, the language wrapped in prose that is close but unfortunately not quite there with Zizek (which only goes to prove that even if one does move into the thrall of psychoanalysis or pseudo-psychoanalysis a good strong materialist education in Slovenia while part of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia is no harm), is to move to a situation where the rational is dismissed. It’s magical thinking. No more no less.

So, we have an article, so lacking in context, social, political or historical as to be essentially nothing more than a simple attack upon ‘modernising ideology’ and the ‘progress agenda’.

And – in fairness to the criminologist and others, who exactly are we to compare ourselves against other than ‘other modern societies’? Does South Africa give us greater cause for comfort? Brazil? Perhaps Somalia? Afghanistan?

I’m not trying in any sense to downplay the cruelty and pain that accompanies murder. It is a crushing demeaning blow, the antithesis and yet somehow also a core part of the human, and something that our fictions play with too lightly. But it happens. It has happened and arguably it will continue to happen. We can, and must ameliorate it as best as is possible (look at the figures for murder in the domestic context, as Vincent Brown did at the weekend, which vastly outweigh gang on gang murders).

But this isn’t about preventing it, instead we are treated to a hastily assembled attack on ‘modernisation’. That societies change. That technological and social change has been rapid across the 20th century. That that 20th century saw waves of murders as high as the present period and in a population that was much smaller. That we have also seen the proliferation of drugs and arms. That our Gardai have – to my mind – actually managed to hold the line as a largely unarmed police force in this society rather well. That we had the irruption of an unstable and illegitimate polity a mere hundred miles or so to the North (a tricky one that because how to interpret the conflict there? Hard not to see that as a deep frozen history thawing far far too rapidly – but that’s not modernity, or one of the complaints of same, surely?). That change happens because we’re humans. Not one of these matters. Instead the straw man of ‘modernity’ is dragged out for yet another thrashing.

And even were ‘modernisation’ to blame. Or those who propose ‘modernisation’ – and while he doesn’t say that he sails close to the wind. How on earth are we meant to empirically engage with that? Shut down the libraries? Turn off the television? Turn back the clock?

The Waters of Jiving at the Crossroads has seemingly vanished. The Waters who gave us An Intelligent Persons Guide to Modern Ireland has apparently left the building. Both were interesting and useful works. Both contained a humanity and a sense of humour about the travails and triumphs of living in a complex society undergoing – as all societies do – continual change. Now we have a one-note attack on ‘modernisation’ that has become so sustained that I fear there may be a book on the topic in the works. One has to wonder when we’re going to start hearing some proposals for solutions instead of assertions that are factually and conceptually incorrect.

The Left Archive: “On the Resignation of the Cork Branch, from the Irish Communist Organisation”, The Cork Communist Organisation (a split from the ICO) – 1972 October 30, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British and Irish Communist Organisation (BICO), Cork Communist Organisation, Irish Communist Organisation, Irish Left Online Document Archive.
171 comments

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An oddity this week from the Archive (and another donation to the Archive from Jim Lane – for which we’re very grateful). This binder1.pdf is a 20 page pamphlet issued by the Cork Communist Organisation in 1972. This was a split from the then sort of kind of Maoist Irish Communist Organisation which went on to become the British and Irish Communist Organisation. Within the pages of this document are detailed the upset of the CC Organisation at the Irish Communist Organisation and various policy positions. It’s remarkable really.

Accusations of ‘bourgeois factions’, worries about secessionist tendencies (in the geographic sense of the term), the ‘Two Nations’ Theory and so on abound. Forensic attention is paid to these, and yet, let’s not fool ourselves. The debates here mirrored or even predated debates in other organisations over the course of the conflict as those on the Left sought to understand and grapple with aspects of Nationalism.

Throughout there is a real sense of upset and hurt on the part of the CCO, perhaps even incomprehension, at the development (or is it deviation) of the ICO. On one level it is surprising how seriously all this was taken. Train journeys across Ireland to discuss the esoterica of party policy. Debates in pubs and meeting rooms. Of course, that is to ignore the time at which this was taking place. 1972, the conflict in the North gaining pace. Perhaps a sense that revolutionary change was possible, even if one was in the presumably tiny ICO. Incidentally, it’s a world away from the politics I know and experienced. What about representation? The actual as distinct from notional working class? Getting down and dirty organising in constituencies? Was that part of the exercise or was it purely a talking shop? I would very much like to know, and to know what happened to the CCO. Any information would be appreciated….

The subtle pleasures of anonymity on the internet… October 29, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Internet.
37 comments

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An interesting thread on Politics.ie sees a whole host of contributors revealing their ‘true’ identities. It’s great, no doubt, to do so and I can understand the dynamic. There is something very compelling about the ability to conceal and reveal when writing behind a pseudonym or user name. The natural inclination is to emphasise one aspect of personality over another – generally the more attractive aspects at that. Yet, oddly enough, most of those I’ve met in person who I’ve first encountered on the net aren’t that radically different in terms of personality. But if one indulges in that emphasis the danger is that when those meetings occur there is the sense that at least some degree of deceit has been exercised.

On the other hand there are good valid reasons why people want to remain anonymous. If there is an actual connection with political activity the chances are that the overly forthright expression of honesty (or truth as it’s sometimes termed) is going to be problematic. A party member may take the seeming opportunity of anonymity to laud or critique those who in other circumstances couldn’t be touched. The Respect/SWP conflict is fascinating because it is played out on the net as much, if not more, than on the ground in committee rooms. It assumes a ‘meta’ level of existence which is probably enormously satisfying to all involved if only because it exaggerates the actual size and importance of the formations involved. And note that the interest of the older media is minimal in this issue.

My own reason for remaining concealed is in part political, in part professional. In the real world it might be very slightly tricky for me to to hold a public political opinion or to express too forcibly an opinion on a political individual. Probably not much, but one never knows. Back in the late 1990s I conducted research into Irish political parties and found it quite handy to have moved from the party political. Everybody, or so many suppose, is an ex-member of a party.

I’m still not party political although I have my sympathies as you’ll have noticed, have good relations with people in a broad range of parties and like to think that I stand over my beliefs as best I can when asked about them. You’ll notice that I almost never attack political figures directly. That’s partially courtesy, partially because I can’t see the point and also, being pragmatic, because that sort of approach might be highly counterproductive. So, as regards anonymity, I err on the side of caution. But there is a paradox here, a good bunch of you know precisely who I am, or at least you think you do or at least I suspect you do. In the last week two people have told me they know who I am. And that’s odd as well, because it’s sometimes a bit disappointing to discover someone knows who one is. I’m not sure why that is. It’s a curious dynamic. One feels as if something has been given away. Yet if the other person knows then nothing has been given away. Quite the opposite really.

Perhaps it is also an aspect of the distance between the writer, the written word and the reader. There is an imagined audience out there. To start to put names and faces to it brings it closer. I think that is a good thing. We here at the CLR have always had at least the hope that this could be a platform for many voices. That may or may not occur. But it seems odd – to me at least – to believe in collective efforts and then lock straight into the individual.

Recently, particularly since being on Newstalk, I’ve been toying the with the notion of a slightly more transparent user name. But I kind of like worldbystorm. I took it, as some of you may know, from the lyrics of a Three Johns song, The World By Storm [incidentally listen to Death of the European on their Myspace site for a taste of their aesthetic - "Whom I working for?"... indeed]. The Three Johns, as good Marxists, knew what was what, and while sometimes their enthusiasms missed the target at least they tried:

The World By Storm

I’ll shake my hands across the seven seas

I’ll summon up some strange things to see

And in the airport lounge

Guerilla war is getting down

In the hearts of the passing crowd

Fruits of death are passed around

And in the canyons of N.Y.

F ire power in the jungle

Mine is the gold, Park Avenue!

No one is innocent

In the world by storm

A storm is raging in every placid pool

And the words of poetry they break up every line

And the singer’s voice

Is the grunt of an animal?

In the hearts of the passing crowd

Fruits of death are passed a around

I’d I like to teach the world to sing

But it taught me instead

I wrote this wing one day

On a Jumbo Jet

Screaming electricity

Sing it into my Black Box

In the hearts of the passing crowd

Fruits of death are passed around

I don’t know. “No one is innocent in the world by storm”… sure, they copped it from the Pistols. But they reconfigured it in an explicitly political context. I still believe it. And the other lyrics, overheated as they are perhaps, seem now to me to be prescient about the contemporary world.

Perhaps I’ll keep the user name.

Yes Minister? Well… actually no Minister, we’re not replacing Provisional Licenses just yet… October 28, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.
9 comments

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So then. That lasted precisely three days. 72 hours if we want to be picky. A whole host of expensive Road Safety Authority advertising in the weekend newspapers burnt on the alter of political expediency since, as the Department of Transport notes:

From Tuesday next (30th October 2007) all new applicants for driving licences will be issued with a learner permit. The rules applying to a new applicants learner permit will stipulate that:

  • The holder must be accompanied by a driver who has had a full licence for at least two years;

  • The holder must have the permit for a minimum of 6 months of supervised practice before applying for a test.

From 30th June 2008 all provisional licence holders must be accompanied by a fully licenced driver of at least two years experience.

Well, that’s alright then. The status remains quo, so to speak. A system that has been allowed to develop that permits – indeed arguably encourages – widespread illegality is in place, at least until June 30th and after that? Well, my guess is another extension particularly if the waiting times to tests remain long enough (45 weeks in some centres) to make the 30th of June as aspirational a date for the completion of these processes as any other. I have a test sometime in the next 45 weeks so I’ll be back behind the steering wheel immediately. And maybe, if I’m lucky, I’ll actually pass it. But unlike most in this situation I don’t drive.

But, as an example of how not to do politics I think this matter is fascinating. I can’t help feeling that the Minister was very poorly advised. On a side note I was recently given a box set of Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister. To say that it had a certain familiarity would be to understate it. To suggest that it is timeless would be nearer the mark. The 1980s BBC production values in no way obscure the cynical (perhaps to my mind overly cynical) view of public service and representation. And the concerns – because they deal with the minutiae of government and the broad strokes of policy – remain relevant. First episode of Yes Prime Minister (a series I missed because I was having an appropriately miserable time in college in the mid-1980s) sees Prime Minister Jim Hacker wrestling with Trident and a civil service implacably opposed to any suggestion of doing away with it.
Trident… Provisional Licenses. Well, not quite the same are they? But where were the Sir Humphrey’s to whisper softly that the course of action engaged over the past week was…’unwise’ ? Eamon O Cuiv was sent out on RTÉ at lunchtime yesterday to defend the indefensible and received a roasting from Pat Rabbitte (clearly back on form now that he is no longer leader of the Labour Party) and Lucinda Creighton. And all this was utterly predictable. I’m a bit taken aback by the ferocity of public reaction, but not by that reaction. But I’m not paid to foresee these sort of things. Others are, and didn’t.

And also, as mentioned before, as an example of a political issue that reaches straight to the general public it could hardly be bettered. Consider other mass outcries in the recent past… there were issues relating to child protection which led to marches outside Leinster House, the Iraq War which saw the largest marches ever on the streets of Dublin (funny that – eh – considering our own little war up the road never quite saw the same mobilisation) and numerous other campaigns of greater or lesser degrees of public support. Or consider the media uproar about gang land crime.

Then take another look at the response from the public over the past 72 hours.

Yet as Eagle suggested in the comments:

…although it seems illogical, this is far more important an issue than the state of health system because deep down most people at least acknowledge that there’s no easy answer to those issues. That’s not the case here. This is so simple, the right answer so obvious, that it really illustrates incompetence in a way that the bigger political issues cannot.

That’s a crucial point. The sense that this was government by diktat was central to the protests against this change in the law. Safety is a huge issue, but… and this is often unspoken, there are trade-offs here as in every area of life. The case presented – in the context of safety – was simply not strong enough to overwhelm the sense of anger by those affected and those who know those affected. And it is anger and frustration that has been expressed.

Intriguing then to read the Sunday Business Post RedC poll taken prior to the weekend which saw Fianna Fáil broadly retaining support at 39%, Fine Gael consolidating support at 27% and the Green Party remaining on 7%. A very disappointing loss of support for Labour (in light of the change at the top) and Sinn Féin would appear to have brought back a couple of percentage points that probably went across to Fianna Fáil during the election. Too late… too late… Would that it had been taken a couple of days later. Fascinating to see how the next poll reads. But… this indicates that generally speaking there is a general acceptance of this government, that the Tribunals have had little or no effect upon political standing. And perhaps Fianna Fáil will take heart from the details and hope that the three point turn we just saw will mollify the electorate. But I don’t know. There is an exemplary effect to such things which can lead to the attrition of political credibility, and the beauty of this is that it goes well beyond partisan considerations.

Add to that the annoyance over the wage increases for the upper echelons of our political class – incidentally, had to laugh at the idea that somehow the White House or Chequers should be seen as part of the bonus ‘package’ of the US Presidency or the UK Premiership which our own put upon senior political representative is somehow denied. Proportion is all. A wage increase of €38,000 is simply too big at a point when those receiving same are also calling for wage restraint.

I’m not suggesting that this is a mortal blow to the government. Far far from it. With four and a half years to go it looks firmly cemented to power. But I’d be surprised if it had no effect at all, if it didn’t even tangentially add to a sense that perhaps the administration is getting a little ‘old’. That is important because it might just impel others to take another look at party image and wonder is it nearing time for a new broom and that the smack of firm government is rarely valued if it is neither firm nor logical.

A quick thought, has anyone done any sort of calculation on just how well equipped driving schools are to take up the increased demand of drivers keen to be ready for the 28th of June? 

Events, dear boy, events… well yes, look at the Provisional Driving License fiasco… October 26, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.
11 comments

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Well, now there’s no surprise. Clicking over to Politics.ie what does one see but a nascent campaign against the latest attempt by the Government to reform the Driving License situation. In a mass mobilisation that has those of us who have struggled long and hard on numerous political issues weeping into our pints the airwaves have been filled, and now the internet is aflame, with the fury of those who have discovered that the de facto and the de jure are two completely different animals. At least from next week.

No longer will our roads be filled with hundreds of thousands of drivers on Provisional Licenses. A new system of permits is coming in. The madness of first, second and third Provisionals is on its way out. Driving test waiting times of an ‘average’ of 18 weeks will cut through those drivers like the proverbial… well something or another. Our roads will be correspondingly safer.
Except I can’t see any of that working in practice. And for once on a semi-political issue it’s not just me, but a whole heap of people. Because this idea, beautifully crafted by the Minster for Transport Noel Dempsey, burnished to a high reflectivity and all ready for implementation has one major flaw.
It can’t possibly work. The hundreds of thousands don’t have even a notionally capable public transport system to take up their numbers. They number amongst them not merely the boy and girl racers, but also fairly stolid folk of varying years who have – for good or bad – taken advantage of a system that the government (and not just this one) found expedient to retain. And this isn’t just the margins, nor is it the taxi drivers (another group where one sort of expedience was replaced by quite another) who faced public antagonism over decades and therefore were politically speaking fair game. This is actually something close to Middle Ireland, and note how Fine Gael have been quick to capitalise upon the discontent.
Discontent sufficient to see the Minister say that:

…following concerns raised about the short period in which some drivers will have to make new arrangements, the garda authorities will take a ‘common sense’ approach for ‘two or three months’.

Which does not quite jibe with what the Gardai were saying today through a spokesperson:

The spokesman said gardaí would not be using their discretion on a case-by-case basis in relation to provisional drivers and would enforce the law as normal when it comes into effect next week.

How interesting (although to be fair the Garda in charge of Traffic Division was in much more emollient form in the Irish Times today). Still, one has to wonder what exactly were the thoughts around the Cabinet table when this particular policy first saw the light of political day. Did no one stop to think that there might be something of a populist backlash, that the time frame of imposition didn’t come close to matching up the waiting times for tests (full disclosure, I’m currently looking at the guts of 45 weeks for a test in Raheny – by the time I get there perhaps I’ll be in my 43rd year, although I cycle everywhere and where I don’t I take a taxi or train). That the myriad of discontents and furies within the society which don’t get an airing at Election time because people don’t want to rock the boat (i.e. see Fianna Fáil out of office) might leap aboard a bandwagon so perfectly formed for our times. After all, when it comes down to it, is not the prevailing narrative in our society one centered around work and working and so on and so forth?

In the Irish Times there is more:

The Minister also displayed his frustration that the enforcement of the regulations for provisional drivers was detracting from the 126 other measures in the road safety strategy.

“I wish to God the rest of the road safety strategy was getting the same attention from the media. The law will come in on Tuesday. The order is signed . . . the enforcement of the law and how that is going to happen.

Well yes. And no. He’s right, but he’s not displaying any great political instinct if he thinks the aspirational will have a greater impact than the everyday. And in a way that’s what is so disappointing about this whole – and to me somewhat theoretical – argument. There are good strong arguments for change. Something has to be done. But, as the joke goes, I wouldn’t start from here.

The most obvious strategy would be to line up all the ducks in a row. And to phase in the changes in stages, say across 18 months. Long enough to give fair warning, short enough to audit progress. A greater spend on public transport linked very openly to these changes (and something that would be applauded by the coalition partners in the Green Party). Roll out the new buses and rolling stock. Rip up the old Provisional Licenses before the cameras and wave the new Permits cheerily. Ensure all get to testing within – say – three months at most. Noel’s your uncle, and away we go.
There, it’s not that difficult is it?
Which makes me wonder why that wasn’t the strategy adopted. Because surely someone around the table must have thought ‘uh-oh’. And perhaps Noel Dempsey is wondering much the same this evening.

The Left Archive: Addendum to the Workers’ Party 1991 Debate from ‘Making Sense’ October 26, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Left Online Document Archive.
20 comments

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Here, donated anonymously [and we're very grateful for the material] are some of the follow up articles to the last issue of the Workers Party ‘Making Sense’ that we posted a week or two ago. Also, here is that missing right hand page of the article by Paddy Woodworth. Clearly that was a printing error. As an example of the turmoil in the party I think this sequence of articles gives a good impression of the times. What is notable is that trouble was emerging across a range of fronts. It wasn’t just the collapse of the Soviet Union, but also the line on the North and the legacy of the media centred faction which was heartily disliked by apparently all in this discussion. And this I’d argue is crucial to an understanding of the internal dynamics of the WP. It was never, as its rivals and opponents lazily – albeit understandably – characterised it, a simple ‘Stalinist’ party. There were in fact many competing tendencies and currents within it, from democratic socialist, Euro Communist, hard-line Moscow socialists, as Splintered Sunrise has noted there were a small number of traditional Republicans who stuck with OSF and never left (what on earth did they make of it all? Although on second thoughts considering how the party took a bit more of a green turn post split perhaps they were just biding their time) and even believe it or not the occasional member who held Trotsky in high regard (I met that person once or twice). Then there was a socially liberal faction, a socially much more conservative grouping and so on and so forth (all sorts of fun and games in 1990, as I recall, over the issue of gay rights where one very courageous member (who as it happened was himself gay) pointed out at the Ard Fheis that logically 10% or more of those at the top of the hall were gay and the party was simply not addressing the issue from a rights basis. Cue a certain panic in the collective expressions of those who had never thought of the issue, those who had thought of it and had promptly disregarded it and those for whom it was a functional aspect of their lives and it was great to hear it being expressed). And these categories were diffuse which led to all sorts of oddities in the later split with people leaving who should by rights have stayed and people staying who should by rights have left. I’ve noted the current travails of Respect and the SWP. Somehow, although there are obvious differences, there are also similarities in the way that groupings developed and people began to assume ideological positions that would drive them politically for long after. That all this was couched in near existential terms perhaps indicates the solipsistic nature of left politics, or an inevitable human dynamic…

Here is the full Paddy Woodworth article:

woodworth1.pdf

In the March/April edition of “Making Sense” John Lowry critiques Paddy Woodworths original article.

lowry.pdf

Also from that issue – for all you BICO watchers out there – is an interesting debate on the significance of 1916 between MacGiolla and Paul Bew.

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Anyhow, from the subsequent Making Sense we have an article by Triona Dooney which also critiques Woodworth…

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And a letter from Woodworth which responds to Lowry.

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Enjoy!

SCHIPS, US Healthcare and Health Insurance… two very different things and a lesson for Ireland. October 25, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Health, The Left, US Politics.
17 comments

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In view of what I was writing about last week the current debate in the US about the SCHIP (State Children’s Health Insurance Program) brings to light a fascinating distinction between health care in Ireland and the US. Or, does it? Perhaps one might argue that the distinction has moved to near-meaninglessness. Now the US debate is one which I’ve only recently tuned in on, and I’m sure that some, or many, of the nuances evade me, but bear with me because this is a learning experience and one which I think has ramifications for the left more broadly. Anyhow, if I pick something up incorrectly no doubt someone will put me right…

Let’s start at the beginning. Slate had an excellent article by Timothy Noah on the program which gives an outline as to what SCHIP is about…

SCHIP, which is funded jointly by the federal government and the states, was created in 1997 as a sort of consolation prize after Congress defeated the Clinton administration’s proposed restructuring of the health-care industry. Its purpose was to provide health insurance to low-income children whose families earned too much to qualify them for Medicaid. States were given broad discretion to set eligibility rules, with the result that in New Jersey, which had the most generous rules, a family of four could participate in S-CHIP even if its income were as high as $72,275. (In explaining his veto, Bush misstated that ceiling as $83,000. He also failed to point out that two months ago his administration effectively lowered the ceiling to about $52,000 for a family of four.)

Remember, Medicaid is remarkably limited. Certainly much much more so than the Irish situation.

These aren’t small things, and progressives should weigh them up carefully when dealing with them, because they provide both an opportunity and danger for forwarding the progressive agenda. Why so? Because as Noah argues:

In vetoing reauthorization of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, George W. Bush has fired the first shot in the battle over health-care reform. The likely result will be to help mobilize support for further government intervention in the health-care market, which would be a very good thing. Thank you, Mr. President!

It’s difficult to pry benefits away from the middle and lower middle classes in contemporary societies. Sure, taking them from those who don’t or can’t vote is a different matter. That becomes a sign of an almost macho political prowess – remember how the parties of center and right (and even the left of center engaged in such rhetoric) vied in the past to do so? Note also how child benefit is one of the great untouchables in this state. Reform might suggest that there is a nonsense in the state giving benefits to all. But two different dynamics come into play. Firstly there is the sense of entitlement by those from all social groups, secondly a natural fear on the left that means testing will result ultimately in the removal of benefits from some sections. I tend towards the second view, as one might imagine. The point is that just as the original and neo-Thatcherite right sought to enmesh people within private commercial networks (literally so in the case of telecoms) so it makes sense for the left to enmesh people within public networks. Not because of hegemonic considerations but because public networks provide in many (but not all) instances the most equitable solution.

But back to SCHIP. What exactly is the problem? Mr. Noah, if you will:

SCHIP has been generous to middle-class families, but its chief benefit has gone to poor families. According to the Congressional Budget Office, SCHIP brought the percentage of children who lack health insurance in families earning up to twice the poverty level (set this year at $17,170 for a family of three; below that, you’re usually eligible for Medicaid) from 26 percent down to 17 percent.

What distresses President Bush about the SCHIP program is that, even before the Democratic Congress voted in its reauthorization to extend eligibility to families with higher incomes, SCHIP was already displacing private plans for somewhere between one-quarter and one-half of all enrollees. That’s because SCHIP was less expensive and provided broader coverage than private plans. Is this a scandal? Only if you think that private health-care plans today are priced reasonably and offer adequate coverage.
Now let’s hold on a moment, because this is important. Bush has said he is vetoing SCHIP because he ‘believes in private medicine. But as Noah reports:

if the SCHIP bill set doctors down the road to serfdom it’s doubtful the American Medical Association would support its passage. What Bush really means is “I believe in private health insurance,”…. Even market fundamentalists are leery of the private health insurance industry these days… I don’t mean to suggest that Milton Friedman groupies now think that substituting government would be an improvement. But when Bush says “I don’t want the federal government making decisions for doctors and customers,” he neglects to point out that currently, private insurers are making decisions for doctors and customers, to the serious detriment of both.

The distinction is incredibly important. Of course Bush doesn’t want socialised medicine, but his real ire is confined to the idea of non-private health insurance, i.e. state health insurance which is of course what SCHIPs is by stealth. And while the AMA is part of an important industry, well, the insurers are part of a more important one.

The new improved SCHIP that Bush rails against is funded by… well, believe it or not a tax on tobacco. Now that’s a sort of hypothecation. Never my favourite route to funding. But, nonetheless, in a polity where the very term public funding is anathema sometimes we have to take what we can get. Noah is rightly cynical about the situation calling it a ‘dumb gimmick’ but he makes a very pertinent point when he suggests that ‘The principle that poor children “deserve” subsidized medical care while poor adults do not is based more on sentimentality and political expediency than on logic or genuine compassion’. Indeed.

He goes further by suggesting that the current outrage over the administration response to SCHIPs (and a veto by Bush) is one that could help lead towards greater support for universal health care. Consider the political context. Hilary Clinton has decided to present Healthcare Redux. This time, presumably, without the pain. The conservative message is somewhat less clear cut than before with significant Republicans actually in favour of a serious extension of healthcare. So the issue becomes less cut and dried than Bush might seek to present it. No bad thing that.

In a way it is interesting to see how in a profoundly less congenial socio-political environment for the left than Europe progress has to be made incrementally, but note too that progress is being made.

Why should this be? On an interesting edition of KCRW’s To The Point the issue was thrashed out amongst various parties including a representative for the libertarian Cato Institute and various journalists.

Perhaps predictably the response from the Cato Institute representative was one which was antagonistic. He characterised this as:

‘…essentially a welfare program… with all the negative effects that go with welfare… expanding into the middle class’. Part of the critique was that there was a ‘crowd-out’ effect whereby people who were covered by private insurance either through employer or their own efforts found it more advantageous to go onto a taxpayer funded program. His solution? Return it to state oversight, with no federal restriction. The key point being as he said was ‘if states want to fund people earning $80,000 a year they should be free to do so’. Methinks I sense a slogan ahead for any such process. Of course in state hands all such programs would be much more likely to be subject to attack. But note the dynamic, it’s the insurance issue which is crucial here (ironically note also that under the Cato Institute would effectively up the effective bureaucracy since it would result in a multiplicity of variants). He also suggested that Republicans tended to shy away from issues of health care – and frankly who could blame them?

A journalist from the Christian Science Monitor argued that this was part of an effort by which the Democrats sought to woo middle classes and demonstrate the utility of a Democratic majority. The Senate recently voted the largest increase for spending on college education. The House was working on a ‘bail-out for people affected by sub-prime mortgages’. The idea being to help the middle classes, not just the poorest and SCHIPs being a part of that in the extension of benefits to the middle classes.

It’s not madly progressive on one level. But on another it is important. Because short of revolutionary changes it is essential for society that progressive developments are implemented. I’m always leery of the best blocking the better. And what is the Republican alternative? Tax breaks for individuals – Giuliani has proposed a $7,500 tax deduction for individuals to purchase insurance. But all that seems to do, to my mind, is to feed the already voracious appetite of private health insurers.

In some respects that argument has been largely won on this side of the Atlantic. See how difficult it has been to remove certain benefits, particularly those the middle classes receive. But not entirely.

In our own beleagured polities insurance remains and element of a wedge which is apparently used to drive us in the opposite direction. In a way it is illusory, a means to introduce a layer between customer/patient and health product/service and a means to promote rather specious notions of ‘choice’. And tragically we saw last week what the rhetoric of ‘choice’ delivers in respect of healthcare.

But – to move very slightly away from that terrain – I think the reality of providing contemporary health services has to some degree halted that rightward drift more or less in its tracks. As an ideological battleground it is simply too complex, and too embedded in the public consciousness, to provide the sort of neat little narratives that some would dearly wish for. Brian Cowen’s surly but accurate naming of Health as ‘Angola’ because it resembled a quagmire tells us much of what we need to know about its lack of potential as a vote getter. Mary Harney has displayed some personal courage in remaining within it, but then one might argue if she didn’t what remaining credibility would the Progressive Democrat vehicle have? Presumably a case of going from slim to none.

And while simply throwing money at healthcare is insufficient – and prevention should be the watchword – the illogicality of co-location as a serious means of increasing bed numbers has assumed something of a narrative within the public discourse.

As it happens I’m not antagonistic to private health services in certain instances. In my own experience I can think of certain technologies which arguably should remain outside the public sphere due to their experimental and/or other nature. Nor, as I’ve indicated before, am I entirely upset at the idea of universal health insurance – although I’d prefer a situation where it was funded from taxation. As one of the comments on the previous post on this subject noted before the weekend, insurance top-ups could exist but would acquire nothing more than – perhaps – privacy, or broadband, or whatever. But the core principle has to be that every person receives the necessary care that they require, not that one is given superior care than another. It’s pretty simple really.

[Incidentally, coming tomorrow, an addendum to the Left Archive that will be of interest to those reading Garibaldy's contribution this week]

The Polish Election and Ireland… Different, yes, but strangely familiar if you happen to remember the 1980s October 24, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.
20 comments

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For those of us who are interested in politics the recent Polish election is a God send. After all, it’s now months since the General Election, still more months to the Local elections. And Dáil votes have a certain distance to them.

So, here we are. An European General Election with participants literally on our doorstep (and as a writer to the Irish Times noted today, interesting how they are able to organise votes for their diaspora so effectively while we… don’t).

On one level is hard not to breath something of a sigh of relief when one sees that the eccentric Polish Prime Minister, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, lost the election this weekend to the Civic Platform (PO). The last two years of the Law and Justice Party (PiS) government have been something of a roller coaster ride for Poland, and for Europe. And when one contextualises it with the difficulties that Europe had with Austria in the 1990s during the period where the Freedom Party came into power as a governing coalition it demonstrates just how difficult it can be to deal with right populist groups that reach state power.

Because whatever else the PiS are their populist nature is very clear. And this populism – as with most populisms which are not clearly rooted in an ideology – has led to a bizarre approach to government. In the last two years 14 cabinet members resigned or were fired. That isn’t government, that’s chaos.

And what ideological leanings the PiS led government had were very much bound up in the negative. A strident anti-communism that sought a ‘moral revolution’, which is curious in view of the fact that it is almost two decades since Poland began to shift towards democracy. There was a wholesale effort to root out those who had covertly assisted the Communist regime. The problem, as the US discovered with McCarthy, is that those sort of efforts generally are uncontained and uncontainable and sooner or later come into conflict with power groups within the society (I’ve always thought it was telling how McCarthy ultimately was discredited by taking on the Army – an appallingly inept strategy on his part). And, perhaps the PiS forgot a basic rule of politics which is that while people will pay lip-service to the idea of change or radical action of left or right their enthusiasm tends to wane rapidly.

When Lech Walesa suggests that such processes are out of hand it is clear that there is something wrong. A strong tinge of anti-German feeling was submerged in anti-EU sentiment. A staunchly traditional Catholicism informed social thinking. And this was an oddity, because while some of these views were commonplace in various parts of Europe some decades ago and provided meat to some centre-right projects (although not all, and interestingly the centre-right generally has always found the EU reasonably congenial) there was a decidedly dated aspect to their presentation in this decade.

But this is problematic, because they represent, at least in part, a significant section of Polish society. This section is generally rural and socially although not economically conservative. This section has felt abandoned by the economic and social processes which wracked Poland during the 1990s and early 2000s. They are deeply dubious about the EU, very concerned about a society which has liberalised rapidly and consider that ‘liberal’ elites are in charge, elites which have no understanding of their interests. A society where such a significant group feels alienated from the broader society is one in some trouble. And consider that the PiS received around a third of the poll. In a way we must forget the party and see it merely as the latest manifestation of societal interests. And if by the latter term one wants to define it as a ‘class’, well, why not?

That said, to my mind there is something of the media constructed populist right we see in the UK to the PiS. The same tendencies, anti-EU, conservative nationalist and socially illiberal come to the fore. And the Conservative Party has played with these notions in varying degrees. But the difference is that the Conservative Party is – even now – still a broad church where social illiberalism is recognised to be politically a difficult position to adopt openly. In Poland there are historical, cultural and objective circumstances for some taking those positions. It’s not necessarily pretty, but it is comprehensible.

But thinking about it isn’t there also something very very familiar about this election? The tone, the language. In Poland the political spectrum appears to be currently dominated by the populist centre right and the conservative centre right. Now, it’s always a dubious exercise to map national political systems onto other countries, but… here goes.

As the Irish Times reports:

Figures released by the Polish embassy in Dublin show that 73 per cent of those who voted in Ireland gave their support to the victorious Civic Platform (PO) led by Donald Tusk.

A further 9 per cent favoured the Left and Democrats (LiD), an alliance of left-wing liberals and post-communists. Just over 10 per cent voted for outgoing prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s conservative Law and Justice (Pis) party.

Support for the PO was much higher among the predominantly young Irish-based Poles than among their compatriots in Poland, where the overall vote for Mr Tusk’s pro-European party was 41 per cent, compared with 32 per cent for Mr Kaczynski’s grouping.

So, there is a pro-European, socially liberal, ‘progressive’, pro-freemarket party. Then a somewhat splintered, anti-Europe, populist centre right, nationalist and socially illiberal – perhaps even semi-religious – grouping. The left in its various formations (the LiD) is represented by about 10% of the vote. Not huge – just about what the Labour party might expect.

Okay. It’s not quite Ireland 1981. But it’s not entirely different either. I think one of the most interesting aspects of the vote – particularly amongst voters in Ireland was that it was overwhelmingly (73%) for the Civic Platform. That enthusiasm is very reminiscent for me of a tranche of young Irish voters in the early 1980s who voted for Fine Gael and Garret Fitzgerald then or later. Many subsequently left the country. Granted PO leader Donal Tusk ain’t no Garret Fitzgerald. The latter had genuine centrist social democratic instincts, although these were rather more vague in nature and practice than his supporters might credit him with. Tusk seems to me to be cut from the same cloth as the Progressive Democrats. The situation today is more exaggerated. The PiS garnered a fairly derisory 10% from the Polish in Ireland. That is matching the LiD.

Now, it’s been said, and it is not entirely incorrect, that there were certain aspects of Irish life during the 1950s onwards that were not that dissimilar to the more politically repressive states in Europe. The situation was never quite as bad as some have sought to portray it in retrospect. But it was often far from great and a literal and psychological insularity was its primary characteristic.

But this raises interesting questions. How do the similarities arise? The deadening effect of near-hegemonic ideological or philosophical structures? Religious influence? Social and cultural conservatism? Could it be the influence of the rural on the societal imagination? Conquest and occupation? Consider that both PO and LiS can point to roots in Solidarity.

But let’s be clear about some aspects of this. The Civic Platform is not quite as progressive as one might imagine. They are in favour of a flat tax and their take on labour legislation is not perhaps as enlightened as one might hope for. They too are socially conservative, albeit not in such a tooth-grinding fashion as the PiS. They want to do away with proportionate representation and want the privatization of health care and the economy. Moreover they were close to being coalition partners of the PiS before the 2005 elections. Nor are the PiS as right wing economically as one might think, and certainly far less so than the PO, believing in interventions in the economy by the state (for example they are pro-healthcare). It’s a fascinating conundrum for progressives. On the one hand with the LiS social solidarity might be maintained. On the other with the PO some space would open for societal liberalism. But in either case the shape of the society might be quite different to what progressives would agree with. Heads they win, tails we lose.

The existence of a religious right as a significant political force in the last Polish parliament is also fascinating and troubling. That certainly hasn’t been a feature of Irish political life (perhaps because there was no particular need for one since there was broad societal agreement on the shape of an Irish polity post-Independence). Nor is it fair to paint Fianna Fáil as the PiS. The tenor of the two parties is quite different. More importantly Fianna Fáil was already embedded as a specific element of the Irish polity (as indeed was Fine Gael) and on a political level there was no relatively recent rupture with a pre-existing period as in Poland. But…but… Fianna Fáil certainly lapsed into a populist mode during the 1977 to 1987 period swinging wildly between contradictory ideological poles to no good effect.

And, although determinism can lead to simplistic analyses it is hard not to think that Poland has arrived at a similar, if not identical, situation to that experienced in the Republic after the initial societal liberalisations of the 1960s and 1970s, liberalisations that in Ireland were allied to Vatican II and the broad social and political changes during that period.

Which makes one wonder just how events will unfold in Poland the next ten years or so (incidentally, worth noting that this is something of a shot in the arm for the pro-European lobby).

Local Politics, Sinn Féin and commitment… or, do you want to work until you drop? October 23, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Local Politics, Sinn Féin, The Left.
15 comments

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I’ve meant to look more closely at the most recent issues of Magill. There’s a lot to think about in there – particularly an article Splintered Sunrise drew attention to about the ‘fate’ of the left written from an unusually idiosyncratic view. Still, events get in the way, always with the events. Meanwhile let’s in passing note an inaccurate swipe at Politics.ie in Magill in the most recent issue by Wigmore. Wigmore wrote:

Is there anything as awful as political blog sites? Not the sites of writers and personalities, but the bulletin boards and chat rooms. The hope that the likes of politics.ie would provide a useful debating chamber has receeded, as anoraks post endless amounts of abusive, juvenile messages attacking each other, or attacking mainstream politicians, often on the various aspects of … their physical appearance. It has become the cyber equivalent of the toilet door, with scrawled slogans and unsigned messages. Are these the malcontents who can’t get letters published in the newspapers. Or don’t they have social lives or walking-talking girlfriends, or boyfriends? Get out a bit more, guys and girls. And anyway, the election is over.

Yes. Well. Anyone who does more than pass through knows that far from being graffiti, or anonymous, it is easy to get to know and engage with people constructively. And the accusation of attacks on ‘physical appearance’ puzzle me. But it’s also missing the point. P.ie is interesting because it’s fluid, it’s combative and often partisan. That may sometimes be a weakness, but more often it’s a strength, and for me it remains enormously useful for tracking current events in way that more mainstream and sedate news sources simply are not. And by the way, much as I find Magill entertaining in its own way, the current bi-monthly configuration is a bit puzzling when contextualised by the promise on the masthead of being a ‘monthly’ magazine…

And reading Politics.ie, what do I see?
Why that Nicky Kehoe of Sinn Féin has resigned his seat on Dublin City Council.

Or as breakingnews.ie put it:

A leading Sinn Féin member of Dublin City Council has resigned his seat, the party confirmed tonight.

A spokeswoman for the party said he was the fifth Sinn Féin councillor to resign for personal reasons since 2004 and is the 16th member of the 52 person Dublin council to bow out.

He is reported to have taken the decision for personal family reasons and to allow for younger members in the party to come through…

Already the rumour mill has swung into action. The latter day Kremlinologists who delight in such matters are working over time on reading this. Is it a sign than SF is significantly damaged by the 2007 Election? A portent of troubles over the Peace Process? A guarded signal of discontent by a Councillor who nearly but not quite captured a seat in the constituency in 2002 and who then saw Mary Lou McDonald MEP also fail to win the seat this year

I’ll be honest, I don’t know. I’ve seen Kehoe in action over the past number of years and he’s impressed me as a hard working representative. But so has Christy Burke – who laboured even longer and arguably for less reward. It’s telling that the current mutterings seem to ignore how he gave way as candidate back in the day for the younger Kehoe.

But putting all that aside I think for once it is possible that the old excuse of ‘personal family reasons’ might just be true. Why so? Simply because of the time lines and the math. The next local election is in 2009. The next General Election in 2012 (if not sooner). The local election after that will be in 2014. That’s seven years into the future. That’s the level of commitment demanded and it’s no small commitment. Working on DCC, indeed on any Council, is a largely unrewarding and difficult task. Evening after evening is taken up by meetings. One’s personal life is mortgaged, often – to be honest – to the possibility of future political success. Now, let’s not overstate this. Some people enjoy this enormously. I know a Councillor in the constituency who told me that at first he found the job too time-consuming but in the last year or so had begun to really enjoy it. That happens. But the opposite dynamic also happens.

Let’s also consider that for smaller parties such as SF (and the Labour party, and others) the demands on their Councillors are different to those of the larger parties. It is not coincidental that at residents meetings it is usually the ‘left’ parties, and Fianna Fáil who turn up more often than not. They have to be there. Smaller party or independent machines simply don’t have the heft that the larger ones do. Each vote is fought for on the micro level. And that means being there, on the ground, day in day out.

The banality of evil is a phrase that has achieved a certain currency. Well, what about the banality of local politics?

I’ve been there numerous times and seen the reps from the other side, on campaigns, on residents groups and so on.

There’s nothing like it. Sandwiched into livingrooms of houses, where residents and Councillors attempt to deal with one or other seemingly mundane issue. Traffic, crime, funding for community projects. Usually there is a pall of cigarette smoke. Sure, people go into the garden to have a few, but they tend to leave the door open.

The mind wanders at these things, particularly because agendas appear to be seen as merely the springboard for near Joycean excursions on any and all topics. Two, three hours of that and one is happy to head home and not appear for another month – if the local committee doesn’t want to meet in the meantime or there isn’t a Policing Forum meeting, or some sort of other activity.

What it must be like for the public reps is a different matter. “Not fun” springs to mind as the answer.

And progress is all in political endeavour. For Nicky Kehoe, Councillor, one-time candidate, and a candidate who came tantalisingly close to snatching the prize, the thought of another seven years, or perhaps more, must be the prospect of a living hell. A political ground-hog day.

How would 2008 be different from 2006? Or worse again, 2011? Or 2013? He is 51 today. In 2013 he will be 57. I can only compare it to my situation where I turned 42 last week (cash, no cheques please). The thought of seven years of relentless politics that would leave me still the right side of 50 is disturbing.

And of course written into this is a subtext regarding Mary Lou McDonald. Will she be the Election candidate in 2012? Again, I don’t know. But SF, as with all parties, is looking to the long term. They have to start now, today, on building the profile of a candidate for 2012. I suspect that five years from now the political landscape in the constituency will be rather different. No Ahern for one thing. Perhaps some other party TDs might decide to step down (although that seems – as best as I can judge it – to be highly unlikely). Perhaps SF thinks that with another leader, perhaps a rural based leader, FF might be vulnerable in the urban centres to a renewed assault on its working class vote. Kehoe might well look at the vote and consider that while he came close, MLM didn’t come quite as close, and while an SF candidate might do better – much better- next time there are no guarantees. So why take the risk?

Politics is a tiring business. It takes a very special sort of mind to be willing to remain active and energetic across multiple decades, to stay loyal to a single party, to a single ideology. It needs support, tangible personal and political achievements and the prospect of more in the future. I often look at the vibrant (overly so some might suggest) Fine Gael benches in the Dáil and I wonder how energetic they will be in five years time after five years of opposition have worn them down – and remember they have the advantage of having made it into the heart of the representative democracy. Dublin City Council? Real achievements, fundamental progress, somewhere that genuine positive impacts can be made in enabling people. But for those with ambitions in politics or with a hinterland beyond politics?

So, I’d have enormous sympathy for Kehoe, and indeed any other Councillor in the same predicament, which is to say almost all of them.

The Left Archive: “The Future is Socialism” from the Workers’ Party post-split 1993 October 22, 2007

Posted by guestposter in Irish Left Online Document Archive, The Left.
27 comments

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Long time contributor to our comments Garibaldy has written an introduction to a Workers’ Party document from 1993. This was after the split which resulted in the formation of New Agenda, and later Democratic Left and provides a genuine insight into the thinking of the party during a profoundly difficult period. To me it is interesting how critical it is of unexpected figures. Conor Cruise O’Brien get’s a lash and overall the tone is quite confident, albeit realistic (incidentally, on another tack, the other day I asked did anyone have an SWP or SP/Militant material, or indeed SF material. The point was made that much of this is already on the web, which is true, but the purpose of the Archive is not merely to collate it in a single easily accessible source but also to get some sense of those who are or were in the Irish left organisations to which it relates in order to build up some sense of the ‘social’ history. We have no party line, we don’t censor and we welcome all contributions).

Ooops… left out page 1 in the document. Here it is in full…

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This document was produced by Des O’Hagan, one of the leading theoreticians of The Workers’ Party, for a Special Delegate Conference in November 1993. If Patterns of Betrayal was designed to explain how the 1992 split had come about, The Future is Socialism reasserted The Workers’ Party’s core beliefs in the wake of the changed international and national situation. The very title is a riposte to the end of history. Rereading it in 2007, what is most striking is how accurate its predictions about those retreating from socialism globally were to be, and how different the challenges facing Irish society, north and south, and the Irish left are now.

It is worth briefly remembering the circumstances of November 1993: in the north, despite much recent discussion of peace and even some temporary ceasefires, the Shankill Bombings and the Trick or Treat Massacre at the Rising Sun bar in October suggested that an explosion of sectarian violence unmatched the 1970s was imminent, and the political process seemed deadlocked. Mass unemployment remained a major problem in both states, as did emigration. Ireland was a much more Catholic country – divorce remained illegal, and the moral authority of the church, though damaged, remained extremely powerful. That Ireland has to a large extent disappeared, but reading the pamphlet is a reminder of how suddenly and unexpectedly many of the changes occurred.

Just to mention briefly some of the things that stood out for me. From the very start, The Future is Socialism makes clear the centrality of international forces to its analysis, and to the politics of The Workers’ Party. The 1992 split, and the arguments offered by the DL faction, are presented as local variations of wider developments. Ditto the developments in the leadership of the British Labour Party from which New Labour would emerge. It rejects the rise of managerialism, and insists on the centrality of the question of ownership. The central role of the State in economic development is affirmed. The pamphlet is grounded in a materialist analysis, but (in a somewhat Gramscian way) it insists on the importance of optimism and of ideological struggle. The belief in the need for a disciplined and coherent campaigning party is made clear in the condemnation of those sought to “reduce The Workers’ Party to just another political party”. The revolutionary impact of democratic reforms is an underlying assumption worth thinking about.

The Future is Socialism reminds us of how much has changed but also how much has stayed the same. The economic and social conditions analysed have in some respects changed a great deal. Immigration and house prices, not emigration and unemployment, now dominate public debate. The social assumptions of the Catholic church no longer hold much sway. Depressingly, sectarian politics retain their power and a strong and effective Bill of Rights remains absent. Education remains denominational, north and south. Ireland lacks a democratic culture. Managerialism is the dominant position in European and American politics. The continued privatisation of key state assets and the failure of the anti-capitalist movement of a decade ago to effect much of anything demonstrate the extent to which ownership and organisation addressed in the pamphlet remain key questions for socialists of every variety.

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