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Meanwhile back at the Seanad… April 30, 2010

Posted by WorldbyStorm in back at the Seanad, Uncategorized.
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Much to report since they returned? Nah, not really – and so this post is late this week. Indeed only one or two pieces that really caught my eye and so I present the newer slimline version of Back at the Seanad for your consideration… Yes, less truly is more…

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The Struggle in Greece: English-Language Information April 30, 2010

Posted by Garibaldy in European Politics, The Left.
61 comments

As Greece gears up for a general strike on May 5th, here is a link to the English-language website of PAME (All Workers Militant Front) [but not an image of their May Day poster because it won't work properly].

PAME is a Trade Union Front. It is open, democratic, unifying and it pursues to have among its members the most active, fighting forces of the trade union movement. It has got panhellenic characteristics and focuses on every working field and production branch, in the Public and Private Sector, with no exceptions.
PAME was founded on April 3rd 1999, through the Panhellenic Meeting, held at the Piece and Frienship Stadium , Faliro, Athens, with the participation of 230 trade unions, 18 branch and peripheral associations and 2.500 elected union members.

It also places a strong emphasis on internationalism.

PAME is based on the proletarian internationalism and solidarity principles. Nowadays, in the conditions of the temporary ruling of imperialism we live, the need to Coordinate and Work Together with movements in other countries is strong.
Capitalists’ forces, Socialdemocracy and Opportunism are coordinated through the mechanisms of the Confederation of European Work Unions (SES) and of ITUC. These organizations work for and work with Capitalism.
Facing all these, PAME takes actively part in the attempts to rebuild the class-oriented trade union movement in Europe. We have successfully held, with the cooperation of other union members and trade unions, European trade union meetings in Turkey, in Greece, in France, in Italy and elsewhere. We are going to go on with these efforts because we firmly believe that the situation in Europe affects negatively the whole world. The difficulties the trade union movement faces, do not lay only in fighting capitalists and governments. The union movement has got to fight also some leading groups in CGT France and CCOO Spain and their dirty role in all these.

UPDATE: There is a Facebook Group called Solidarity with the Working People of Greece and Jim has provided a link to a different viewpoint in the comments. As indeed has Mark P.

John Waters champions the status quo…again April 30, 2010

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Economy, European Politics, Irish Politics, Uncategorized.
1 comment so far

JW is in fine fettle this morning about pensions. He’s decided to turn his rage once more on journalists… and sure why not?

And in doing so he asks a very good question and then… well, comprehensively blows it.

What gives highly paid journalists the right to accuse politicians of being far removed from normal income levels?  

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This week from the Irish Election Literature Blog… April 30, 2010

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, The Left.
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Another fine round up from AK and the IELB… As AK notes “…its a bit of a bumper week this week, with a distinct Northern hue” and look what is that we start with? And what is the last piece of contemporary literature on the list below? Hmmmm…

From the Current UK election campaign a Gerry Adams leaflet from West Belfast. It’s interesting to see Sinn Fein as a party in government as opposed to a party of protest as they are in The Republic.

From last weekend, An Éirígí ‘Smash NAMA’ Leaflet, advertising the protest at Anglo Irish Bank.

An Sinn Féin Leaflet from the 1998 Assembly election campaign. The parties aims in the aftermath of the Good Friday Agreement contrast a little to the 2010 Adams leaflet above.

A 1977 Green Cross Christmas card and a Release All our Political Prisoners one too.

From 1993 a Democratic Left Freesheet ‘Euro-Dub’ producd by then MEP, Des Geraghty.

Two Leaflets from the Good Friday Agreement, both in favour. (I’ve a number of other GFA leaflets to post over the next few weeks).

A Northern Ireland Women’s Coaltion Yes to the Good Friday Agreement leaflet.

A Progressive Unionist Party Yes to the Good Friday Agreement Leaflet.

And finally!

My Grandfather Worked in Mines your family owned them!

A small thought or two on reading David McWilliams April 29, 2010

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy.
21 comments

I was reading David McWilliams latest appeal in the Sunday Business Post to us to consider the notion of the Greek government defaulting on its debt  (and the problems the Greek face, and by extension the euro and EU seem to increase almost hourly. Incidentally, there’s a quote in there by the head of the OECD, Angel Gurria, who likens the Greek situation to the Ebola virus, suggesting that when one has Ebola one’s only recourse is to chop off the affected leg. Er… not correct as far as I can make out given that Ebola is a systemic disease that affects blood vessels throughout the body and the ability of blood to coagulate, but I guess whatever works to justify what happens next – eh? Thank God he’s not a doctor, or that he has to talk about anything important like … er… er…) – and obviously by extension perhaps ourselves at some point soon, not least given the small but not insignificant fact that our own deficit is larger than theirs.

And I think he’s got a point. Indeed I’m intrigued reading the last but one issue of Prospect magazine to read a not dissimilar thesis…

The arithmetic is horrible. If Greece is to start paying interest on its debt – rather than rolling it into new loans – by 2011 the government would need to run a primary budget surplus (excluding interest payments) of nearly 10 per cent of GDP. This would require roughly another 14 per cent of GDP in spending cuts and revenue measures, ranking it among the largest fiscal adjustments ever attempted.

Worse still, these large interest payments will mostly be going to Germany and France, further removing income from the Greek economy. If Greece is ever to repay some of this debt it will need a drastic austerity programme lasting decades. This would cause its GDP to fall far more than Ireland’s. Moreover Greek public workers should expect huge pay cuts, which, in the country’s toxic political climate is a sure route to civil strife.

And…

European leaders are wrong to think that greece can achieve a solution through a resumption of normal market lending. it cannot afford to repay its debt at rates that reflect the inherent risk. The only means to refinance its debt at an affordable level would be to grant long-term, subsidised loans that cover a large part of the liabilities due in the next three to five years.

The alternative being?

… for [it] to manage its default in an orderly manner. Reckless lending to the Greek state was based on European creditors terrible decision making. Default teaches creditors – and their governments – a lesson, just as it does the debtors: mistakes cost money, and your mistakes are your own.

The authors of this radical proposition? Well, one, Simon Johnson is a former chief economist at the IMF while Peter Boone is a principal in Salute Capital Management.

In our own situation the Sunday Business Post has taken in its editorial to calling for exemplary actions against bankers… and couched in quite similar language to the above when discussing pension top-ups and such like…

‘The flip-side of accepting massive payments in the good times must be taking responsibility when things go wrong’.

Or… here’s a thought, why not make those massive payments just a little bit – or quite a lot – smaller by taxing them more? After all, it is the SBP itself that argues that:

… taxpayers are being asked to pay for the failures and greed of bankers, in simple terms by sacrificing their standards of living.

And there’s the disconnect. A small number of individuals can through their own actions force a situation where they can immiserate many many others. What possible sanction is appropriate? Imprisonment seems to small, other punishments simply pointless. If any of us have ever wondered at the gulf between the actions of war criminals and the justice meted out to them, well, wonder no more.

All that can be done, bar the obvious recourse to law, is to ensure that this process can never happen again.

As it happens Richard Bruton makes the cogent point in the same edition of the SBP that Anglo should fall because… well… that’s what happens under capitalism. It’s an unusual day when I find myself agreeing with Bruton precisely because of his defence of capitalism, but there we have it.

And this is where I point you to a phrase of McWilliams…

As discussed two weeks ago in this column, history argues that the bailout will be unsuccessful, Greece will implode anyway and the bailout money will be wasted. The reason for this is that the financial markets need to believe that Greece has changed fundamentally. This means that it is not good enough to stump up sufficient to stem this crisis; the EU has to stump up enough money so that Greece never flirts with bankruptcy again – or at least in the foreseeable future.

Recapitalising a country is a bit like recapitalising a bank [shades of Swiss Tony there - wbs]. You need to make sure that you inject enough money into the bank – not so much to ensure that it doesn’t go bust now, but that it never goes bust again.

But how could we be sure that the situation in this state has changed – that all is being done to ensure we will not see a reprise of this, if not tomorrow then in ten or twenty years time? The pension fiasco suggests otherwise, suggests all too much – as noted by the SBP editorial – that it is business, and a highly profitable one for various individuals, as usual with government playing the role of bystander (and speaking of sleight of hand – notable how Maire Geoghegan Quinn had to take the bullet by proxy as it were for the sins of the government in not seeing through the Bank of Ireland mess with any conviction. I mean I hold no candle for the ludicrously inflated pension provision for Oireachtas members, but that seems to me to be a different discussion). And what happens if, or more likely when, this happens again? What’s going to be left for the state, or again more likely us, to fund a private sector that has comprehensively failed given the hill we all have to climb now to pay back that which others dumped upon us?

Gordon Brown speaks out! And they do love that Nick Clegg in the US… but why wouldn’t they? April 29, 2010

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Labour Party, British Politics, Uncategorized.
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Well. What to say? I always took the line that Brown was a bit strange, spun by no end of Blairites, with a pinch of salt (The End of the Party sits on my bookshelf as yet, bar the Introduction, unread). And thing is that he’s really not that strange at all. But… inept? Or at least thoughtless. Or at least caught inside a bubble for too long? Yes to all of those. But when one reads the transcript he actually dealt with the issue, reasonably – although not brilliantly well. There was no reason for the post-discussion critique. He made his case, she appeared at least reasonably mollified. Indeed the tenor of the exchange improved markedly as time went on.

Indeed I’d argue that, as with almost all such ‘errors’ in politics, it’s not the initial act/words that cause the problem, but the walking back. Brown could have phrased subsequent comments on this – even after the ‘bigoted’ comment – in a way which remained true to his thoughts as he had in the actual discussion and remained reasonably graceful to the woman concerned. But no. Damage control slips into action and we’re left with ‘I misunderstood her comments’. No he didn’t. None of us reading the transcript could misunderstand them. Few enough I’d imagine would find it difficult to rebut them as he did. And he dealt with them, as I noted, reasonably well at the time.

How this changes the issues I do not know. Some pretty volatile polling returns out there at the moment. I’d think though that this would help the Conservatives more than anyone else.

Ah well.

Meanwhile, what of the bould Nick Clegg and those fans of his in the US media?

Okay, Anna Applebaum does… No, no, come back. It’s not just Anne Applebaum. And even if she does mention the Clapham omnibus – natch – let’s not ignore or dismiss some thoughts that the current love in raises.

Actually, hold on a second, because Applebaum makes a most peculiar comparison.

Here is a riddle: What would the Tea Party movement look like if it were British, privately educated, and had once worked as a ski instructor in Austria?

And the answer…

It would look like Nick Clegg, leader of the British Liberal Democrats—and possibly the beneficiary of the biggest British voters’ revolution in decades. For those who don’t follow these things, the Liberal Democrats are Britain’s historically insignificant third party. In its current incarnation, the party dates from the late 1980s, back when the Labor Party was a near-Marxist monolith, the Tories were the party of Margaret Thatcher, and there was a lot of space in between.

It bloody wouldn’t you know. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of the Liberal Democrats, and I’ve pointed here to some aspects of them that from first hand living in the UK I found troubling. But to compare them to the Tea Party movement is an absolute absurdity [as noted in the comments, Michael Tomasky of the Guardian dealt with this - unbeknowst to myself in a good piece - wbs].

Ideologically, sociologically and structurally there are no comparisons between the TPs and the Liberal Democrats. One is a centrist embedded political party, the other appears to be a semi-populist response to the Obama Presidency from more conservative Republicans. Unless Applebaum is arguing that every response to Gordon Brown is equivalent to the Tea Party then she’s not comparing like and like.

Curious thing is that if you think about it surely the Liberal Democrats make a much better fit with the US Democrats. Ideologically, sociologically – although blue collar isn’t a word that readily springs to mind with the Lib Dems, in many ways they’d appear a much more congenial partner. That is bar one thing that the Liberal Democrats have not possessed, well, since they were Liberals.

Power and access to power.

And it’s that that makes Applebaums piece, and a really overly complimentary piece on ForeignPolicy.com appear, so curiously detached. At best the Liberal Democrats look likely to come out of this with perhaps 100 MPs. At best they can hope to form a coalition government. That’s at absolute best.

But it’s interesting to me to see that Clegg’s appeal has stretched even that far across the Atlantic.

The General Election in Northern Ireland: A Look in CLR’s Crystal Ball April 28, 2010

Posted by Garibaldy in UK General Election 2010.
27 comments

The nominations closed last week, and we have 108 candidates for the 18 constituencies. In the absence of The Workers’ Party and other left groups like the Socialist Party, there is just one candidate unambiguously from the left, Eamonn McCann, standing for People Before Profit in Foyle. In terms of other candidates that identify as neither nationalist nor unionist, Alliance is running in every constituency, and the Green Party is running four candidates (and the areas in which the Greens are running suggest something about the class nature of their support). There is also 19 year old Martin McAuley (whose election agent easily has the greatest hair in Irish politics), who is running on a platform of cross-community and cross-class unity in north Belfast, and Ciarán McClean in West Tyrone, who comes from a left background, but who is running on a non-sectarian, enviromentalist platform. There is also John Stevenson in Fermanagh/South Tyrone, an independent candidate who states “Those with vested interests have never and will never succeed”, the founder of engineering firm Titanic Rebuilt 2010, said. “We are one people and we all have one future. It is a future equally shared. I am absolutely confident that our people will make the right decision on May 6.”

And that’s it. Less than a quarter of the candidates. None of these candidates, despite Alliance trying to talk up Naomi Long’s chances in east Belfast, has much chance of taking a seat, and many of their votes will be very low. The simple numbers tell us something about the weakness of those seeking to build a united community alternative, never mind a left alternative, to the tribal politics of unionism and nationalism. Even the numbers themselves are deceptive, over-representing the non-communal electorate, and the organisational strength of those involved. If you look at the Alliance candidate profiles, a lot of their candidates are standing in areas to which they have little connection. Although Alliance can get the required numbers in each constituency to sign the nomination papers, it seems that in some areas there is very little in the way of an organisation on the ground, and so candidates are being drafted in from areas in Belfast and parts of Antrim and Down where they are stronger. Next year’s elections for the Assembly and local government, where there are fewer than 10 members of the united community group, and no left members (the PUP’s Dawn Purvis probably being the most left-wing MLA), will see more candidates representative of non-sectarian and progressive politics, but without much hope of success. Eamonn McCann would be in with a strong chance of taking a council seat if Derry, but I’m not sure if he will stand for the council, and if the reform of local government goes ahead, cutting the number of councils to 11, the left’s task would become even more difficult. If the candidates committed to the united community group maintain their seats, that would probably be a good result, although the TUV’s presence may make it some gains more likely. We’ll have a better sense of that after the election.

As for the mainstream, it’s an interesting election for several reasons. The scandals surrounding the DUP, the emergence of the TUV, and the Tory-Ulster Unionist alliance make this a much less predictable election for unionism than at any time since the 1970s. I highly recommend Splintered Sunrise’s Know Your Constituency series of posts, especially the one for North Antrim, where Ian Paisley’s seat may be lost by Ian Jr to the TUV leader Jim Allister. The Ulster Unionist Party, which for 50 years ran a one party-state in the north, is seriously faced with the possibility of having no MPs. Reg Empey may be in with a chance of unseating Willie McCrea in South Antrim, and they have some hopes for Trevor Ringland in East Belfast (Peter Robinson’s seat) and for Mike Nesbitt in Strangford (formerly Irish Robinson’s seat). The DUP, which cannot expect a repeat of its vote in 2005 due to the emergence of the TUV and increased signs of life in the UCUNF, will be seeking to hold all its seats while minimising the amount of voters who defect to the UUP and TUV. The UUP needs to win at least one seat, and beyond that will have an eye on consolidating for the Assembly elections. The TUV is pushing hard to take North Antrim, and to a lesser extent East Londonderry, where former UUP MP Willie Ross is battling the DUP’s Gregory Campbell, and again will have one eye on the Assembly elections.

The only nationalist seats in danger are those in Fermanagh/South Tyrone and South Belfast, which has raised the issue of electoral pacts once more. Although Gerry Kelly has been trying to talk up his chances in North Belfast, it is highly unlikely he can unseat the DUP’s Nigel Dodds, and I don’t really see any unionist seats being under threat from nationalists. His party’s joint priorities will be to hold on to Fermanagh/South Tyrone and to gain the most votes overall. The SDLP will be hoping to hold all three seats, with South Belfast the most difficult, and, as with the UUP, to gain back some ground across NI with the aim of securing their seats and possibly gaining in the next Assembly election.

So to stick my neck out, at a time where the balance of forces within unionism in particular might change, and make predictions. I think the SDLP will hold its three seats. I think the DUP will hold all its seats, though with sometimes greatly reduced majorities. South Antrim may fall to Reg Empey, but at the minute I think McCrea will narrowly hold on. It was a difficult seat for the DUP to win, and they have worked hard at trying to keep it, and the Tory link-up hasn’t had as transformative an impact as the UUP hoped. The TUV vote is again a difficult factor to judge, but I think their impact might be balanced by broadly pro-agreement unionists who shifted to the DUP between 2005 and 2007. Slyvia Hermon should hold North Down easily as an independent unionist. Which leaves us then with PSF. They should hold four out of their five seats easily. The vulnerable one is Fermanagh/South Tyrone, where I’m guessing that enough nationalists will be angry at the unionist pact to switch from the SDLP to push Gildernew over the top, and so save the seat for the incumbent. So basically, I’m predicting no change, apart from the UUP being wiped out by Herman’s resignation, which is the case now anyway. The predictions for South Antrim, South Belfast, and Fermanagh/South Tyrone are made without any great degree of confidence.

Whatever happens, this has been a bad election for the left, and a bad election for the prospect of removing sectarianism and creating what we now seem to be calling a shared future. Anybody who doubts that should have a look at the election manifestoes. With the exception of the SDLP, when it comes to the big four parties, the concept is conspicuous by its absence. What this election proves is the strategic necessity not only of left cooperation, but also that the left must be willing to work with those seeking to end communal politics, and create a new type of politics in NI based on commonality and active citizenship.

DUP Election Manifesto, SF Election Manifesto, SDLP Election Manifesto, UCUNF Election Manifesto, Alliance Manifesto, Green Party Manifesto, Eamonn McCann Manifesto

A union leader and social democracy. He forgot. They don’t. There’s the difference. April 28, 2010

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, European Politics, Irish Politics, The Left.
19 comments

I want to refer back to a quote that DublinDilettante fished out of the latest Union Post and which was cause for some consideration. It was from Blair Horan, who in a poignant cri de coeur said:

Mr Horan, right, pointed out he was a social democrat who had supported the Government on European Treaties over the past decade and “had taken on the militant left to do so”.

I noted that this was a ‘category error’ and that Horan seemed to misunderstand the nature of the exercise.
And while I don’t for a second doubt that Horan considers himself to be a social democrat nor would I attempt to second guess what that means for him, it does appear in that statement that he’s forgotten that interactions, socio-political interactions in particular, tend to the adversarial.

It didn’t matter a whit that social democrats, myself to some degree amongst them – although that turned a bit sour at the end, were often in favour of Lisbon in both iterations. It didn’t matter that they lined up with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael and the Progressive Democrats (that wing which wasn’t sneaking off to have fun and frolics with Chairman Ganley – God bless him, I never thought I’d miss him, but I do). It didn’t matter that the unions and IFA, IBEC, ISME and the SFA (albeit with untypical wobbles from elements within them) agreed – in serious tones and with due deliberation – that this was a strategic national interest and that all would line up – however odd that exercise might prove to be – on the same side.

But that’s not the same thing as being on the same side or expecting that others will operate as if one is on the same side.

It’s fine for any union leader to assert that he or she is a social democrat. In fact it’s laudable. But it’s rather unwise to do so in the expectation that Fianna Fáil are social democrats, or that social democracy represents some sort of ‘moderation’ that will be its own reward. More unwise still to believe that when Fianna Fáil are in government with a party of the liberal economic right, the Progressive Democrats for much of the past decade and a half and remains in government with their remnants.

And what’s also galling about the piece is that in this instance Horan knows this… for he continues:

“Minister Dempsey has in the past blamed bankers and developers for the mess that the country is in, and now criticises the unions, but conveniently neglects to accept that it wasthe reckless domestic economic policies of the past decade that has wrecked the Irish economy.
“It is the minister’s own Government that is in denial, attacking lower paid public servants while pretending that the low tax model is sustainable.”

Bingo! That’s it precisely. So what need to pretend that we’re all in this together, we’re all singing off the same hymn sheet, that somehow moderation is a virtue?

Worse again, is the reference to facing off militant union members on Lisbon. It’s not that I suggest that inter-union differences of opinion should be ignored, but there is a tendency of much of the left that when criticised or confronted by the right the immediate response appears to be to throw some element or another of leftist policy or thinking away or to set oneself up in opposition within the left. I’m not pretending that doesn’t work both ways, or that granted Lisbon, and the broader EU issue, was arguably something that conflicted many on the left, but that too in a way makes this in some respects worse. Are the union leadership truly so naive that they believed that this would store up good will with a right of centre government?

Thing is not that there is no room for negotiations and engagement in any context. That’s a pointless approach from almost any standpoint – although there are circumstances where no engagement is better than engagement – not least because that’s not where most union members are and bringing them with one is an important part of the process but also because the power of labour while not as constrained as it might seem to think remains constrained, particularly within a hugely complex society.

It is however crucial that that process is based upon a recognition of what and where people stand. And that is true of all players in this…

We can be as radical as we damn well like but it’s completely futile if we can’t mobilise people to come with us.

But that’s not the same thing as saying one doesn’t make the effort according to ones lights, or – and as importantly – that one doesn’t recognise the power relations at work here. There are different, and arguably varying, levels of power in the relationship between labour and state and labour and capital. But those relationships, which we see are more rather than less similar in both cases, are not, can not, be ones where we pretend that there is no difference of interests, or worse again delude ourselves that somehow state and capital will smile munificently on the instances where some brief confluence of interests for a time makes joint action necessary.

I genuinely don’t want to personalise this. But it strikes me that if former members of the Workers’ Party don’t get this, indeed get to the point that they seem like men (or women) whose sense of the way the world works has been dealt a crushing blow, you’d really have to wonder about what social partnership (something by the way I’ve never been instinctively antagonistic to as long as it was seen through on our terms) was about, and indeed where this leaves us for the future.

Eamonn McCann in Spat over Election Material at Free Derry Corner April 27, 2010

Posted by Garibaldy in UK General Election 2010.
10 comments

People Before Profit candidate Eamonn McCann has claimed that Sinn Féin have told him to take down by tomorrow afternoon an election mural at the back of Free Derry Corner on the Lecky Road.
However, Sinn Féin have said it had already booked the space in agreement with a committee who look after the wall in order to erect its own election poster.

Saw this story from the Derry Journal via Mick at Sluggerotoole.

Mr McCann said he was unaware of any formal booking procedures, and claimed that his election workers had agreed with people usually involved with the wall that his banner could go up. He said that no political party controls Free Derry Corner and he won’t be taking the banner down.
“I received a text telling me to take down the poster by Wednesday lunchtime or it would be taken down It is a community facility. It is not their wall or their area. They have claimed more public space than any other party and now they want the wall as well,”

Committee member Tony Doherty, a member of Sinn Fein, who sent the text to Mr McCann, told the ‘Journal'; “I have been in contact with both sides and I am hoping for an amicable solution. There is a long-standing protocol and I hope that everyone adheres to that protocol.”

As Mick Fealty points out, the situation is particularly ironic given that McCann’s involvement in the original Free Derry in January 1969 (you can read McCann’s account of the period here). It’s hard to know what has happened here. The Derry Journal reports that there is a specially constructed frame for groups to hang banners, so presumably there is some sort of booking process for deciding who can hang what when, so that claim seems credible. Having said that, it’s not inconceivable that an organisation used to hanging its banners there had just assumed that it would have the space, and that McCann has stolen a march on them. Clearly McCann at least feels that there is an issue here of one party seeking to squeeze out dissenting voices. In an election where the left is represented solely by McCann, it would be a shame if his voice were to be drowned out.

EDIT: It seems that elsewhere in county Derry, a more direct approach might have been adopted.

Christopher Hitchens on the Euro, Ireland, the Border… whatever. April 27, 2010

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Northern Ireland, The Left, US Politics.
28 comments

One of the curiosities of Slate.com is the fact they retain Christopher Hitchens as a commentator extraordinaire. No harm there you may say, and you could be right. But it’s just that Hitchens comes out with some odd stuff. Nothing surprising there you may say, and you’d be entirely right.

But, given his political background, even in the context of a discussion of the Euro (under the heading, natch, ‘Is the Euro Doomed?’) this is… unusual.

First up we must applaud ChristopherHitchensWatch getting here first on the issue of the great man’s precognitive abilities. Precognitive abilities you ask, adding that to a lengthy list of his marvels. Why yes… for a man who is, to borrow a phrase from David Cameron, as immodest (his words – not mine) as he is ambitious, the following is mighty stuff…

Sometimes, sheer immodesty compels me to ask, of my long record of prescience, what did I know, and when and how did I know it? In the summer of 2005, Foreign Policy magazine asked its contributors to name one taken-for-granted thing that they thought was overrated or would not last. After a brief interval of reflection, I chose the euro.

But this belief springs not from too little affection for the European project, no, one could argue that it comes from an excess of love.

I can be absolutely certain that I did not do this because I wanted to be right. On the contrary, I would much have preferred to be mistaken. When I still lived in Europe, I was one of the few on the left to advocate an enlargement of the community and to identify it with the progressive element in politics. This was mainly because I had seen the positive effect that Europeanism had exerted on the periphery of the continent, especially in Spain, Portugal, and Greece. Until the middle of the 1970s, these countries had been ruled by backward-looking dictatorships, generally religious and military in character and dependent on military aid from the more conservative circles in the United States. Because the European community allowed only parliamentary democracies to join, the exclusion from the continent’s heartland gave a huge incentive to the middle class in these countries to support the overthrow of despotism.

Now let me say that that sounds plausible enough. Until, that is you read the following.

The same attraction had a solvent effect on other countries, too. Once the Irish Republic became a member and was thus part of the same customs union as the United Kingdom, the border with Northern Ireland became an irrelevance, and it was only a matter of time before the sectarian war would begin to seem irrelevant. In Cyprus, the wish of both Greek and Turkish Cypriots to become European was a potent element in setting the stage for negotiations to end that post-colonial partition. The modernization and opening of Turkey, highly uneven as it is, has a great deal to do with the same pull toward a common European system. And it goes without saying that the people of Eastern Europe, even while the Berlin Wall still stood, measured their aspirations by how swiftly they, too, could meet the criteria for membership and escape the dreary, wasteful Comecon system that was the Soviet Union’s own parody of a supranational agreement.

To which one could ask, he’s got to be kidding right? And to which one could add, no, probably not. Let’s push aside, if that were possible, the fact that the partition of Cyprus is as yet unresolved. Let’s try to ignore the problem that Turkey seems – if anything – to be shifting away from the EU, and in no small part due to unrequited love… unrequited by the EU that is.

Let’s just examine the example most of us are probably most reasonably familiar with. Now I’m a pedant over this issue, but truth is Irish Republic is not the name of the state I live in. It’s Republic of Ireland. And there’s the point that this isn’t just pedantry because in the late 1940s under pressure in part from Stormont the UK government made some effort to try to push the IR appellation in order not to reify the Republic of Ireland title which seemed to concede ownership, in rhetorical terms at least, of the entirety of the island. As it happens in almost all international fora I can think of Republic of Ireland is the name used. And, for the record, I’m pretty unworried by Northern Ireland as a name. [my pedantry let me down slightly, although Ireland is the name of the state under the Constitution, RoI is the description of the state under the Republic of Ireland Act 1948- wbs ]

But on what possible reading of the history of the past forty odd years or so does the ‘membership of the same customs union’ – not by the way strictly accurate, where membership dated from four years after the conflict broke out again, lead us to a position where it took another two and a half decades to move to permanent cessations give credibility to his assertion?

Even the term sectarian seems to me to beg too much. As has been discussed on the CLR previously, yes there were clearly sectarian aspects to the conflict, but… to characterise it as ‘sectarian’ in its totality is to ignore the socio-political nature of much of it.

But it’s the idea that the border became an irrelevancy because of the EU which I find most strikingly incorrect. No, the border has become [largely] an irrelevancy due to the workings of the peace process. Not the other way around. Anyone crossing it, as I did, often on a weekly basis in parts of the late 1980s will know that it very much existed then. And that at a time when Ireland and the UK had been both partners within the EEC for well over a decade and a half.

This isn’t to say that the European context had no effect. I think it did as part of many other elements, not least in introducing a slightly more even field wherein the Irish and British governments could interact and where a much more profound pooling of sovereignty and the establishment of cross border executive entities, while profoundly innovative due to their executive function, could be sold as somewhat less innovative given the range of competencies devolved to the EU.

But Hitchens ignores one salient point. The UK remains aloof from the Euro. And yet he then argues that:

The logic of this seemed to necessitate a single currency, which in turn meant that a unified Germany, instead of dominating Europe, as the British and French reactionaries had always feared, would become a Europeanized Germany.

But truth is that somehow we’re managing quite well, albeit with the use of the euro in the North as well as the pound Sterling. So maybe that logic isn’t quite as flawless as he might think.

Further on, though, it is interesting how Hitchens argues:

How tragic it is that the euro system has already, in effect, become a two-tier one and that the bottom tier is occupied by the very countries—Greece, Portugal, Spain, and Ireland—that benefited most from their accession to the European Union.

And…

“PIGS” is the unlovely acronym for the nations—Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain—that constitute the shiftless out-group within the in-group. (Italy is sometimes included in the club.) It’s very improbable that nations that haven’t yet signed up to the euro—Britain and many Scandinavian states among them—will now do so. And that being the case, with the euro just another bill you have to exchange when moving around within Europe—then what becomes of the dream?

I don’t know. But I think his argument begs the question as to whether Europe, inverted comma’s or not, has ever been purely about the economic structure, albeit that is embedded in its heart, as the conceptual or myth. Of course to whom that appears like a dream is a further interesting question.

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