That riveting election to our East… April 20, 2010Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Labour Party, British Politics.
Deaglán de Bréadún writes in the Irish Times after the Labour Conference that:
THE BIG talking point after Eamon Gilmore’s main speech to the Labour conference in Galway was the party’s demand for a place in the televised debate between party leaders in the next general election.
The fact that our nearest neighbours have now adopted this practice greatly increases the pressure to include the Labour leader. It’s not a prospect calculated to delight Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael, whatever public protestations they might make to the contrary.
Not an effin’ chance, I’d have thought after last week’s events. The very last thing either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael (“Ireland’s largest party” – copyright Stephen Collins) would want is Eamon Gilmore sneaking in, Nick Clegg style, to swipe votes from them. And where would the pressure be coming from otherwise? Of course, Gilmore could pressurise Kenny, but to what extent? Gilmore knows that short of FG the only other coalition deal in town would be FF. And he’s unlikely to go for that.
Perhaps I’m wrong and there’ll be a huge groundswell of support for Gilmore as the man of the moment. But I’d be extremely surprised.
Meanwhile, what to add to the discussion as regards that debate last week. I’d half sketched out a post on how dull the campaign in the UK was, but that was trashed in the wake of said debate. Although let’s not get ahead of ourselves. It’s still pretty dull.
Got to admit I tried initially to watch the debate an hour or two afterwards and simply couldn’t do so. What I found most off-putting was Brown and Cameron. The former is almost painful to watch, one can see that this is a very particular form of torture for him and while he is a man lacking in almost all charisma somehow it’s difficult – for me at least – not to feel some empathic pain at his plight. And, as is customary in the best television drama’s, one could say that he exudes a certain sadness (Toby Ziegler on the West Wing comes to mind) – but not in a good way. The latter? The Tigger of the British upper middle classes, bouncing in with an air of earnest entitlement that is frankly awful to see. Somebody – with the initials DWDC is going to be very upset if they don’t become PM. Very very upset indeed. So, three or four minutes of that and it was onto something else.
Later I managed to get half way through it. Which was no improvement on three or four moments. It wasn’t good. And neither if we’re honest was Nick Clegg. But… somehow against the dour and rather lifeless Brown and the overly prepared Cameron he came across as a near normal human being. The Cameron issue is curious. It was mentioned some weeks back in the Guardian, and I’ve lost the link, that if anything demonstrates the failure of his ‘projekt’ (as we so grandly term these things these days) it was the simple fact that a Labour party now reviled almost as much as it was heralded a short decade ago and led by an unlovable leader is still more or less standing.
So perhaps Clegg is more a function of that failure than of much else. Of course, it’s easy for him. He’s able to scale up the traditional Liberal trick of being different – often only indefinably – from the other two. Those of us with even a nodding acquaintance of them on the ground in the UK will be aware of the pitfalls and error that that particular political line can lead to. But he’s certainly leveraged this to his advantage, aided and abetted by a media more than a little in love with yet another exponent of the ‘fresh’ and the ‘new’, and God knows let’s not even mention the Obama playbook. Sure, Obama’s a centrist too, but one could at least argue with some degree of credibility that his candidacy had at least one or two innovative features to it.
Clegg? Don’t think so. But let’s allow him his moment in the sun. It’s possible, just barely, that that few minutes of debate has turned the election towards the Liberals. I’m sceptical, but… there’s little doubt that the dullness of the contest to this point has left it ripe for some irruption.
That ‘freshness’ and ‘newness’ is of interest too. As Cameron once put it to Blair, ‘once you were the future’. Indeed and it was telling how Blair found that difficult to laugh off. But… there’s a terrible staleness about Cameron, as if his arrival was just a little bit too soon and that the Tories would have been more astute to keep the wraps on the ‘projekt’ just a little longer so as not to dull the impact. He’s over schooled, over studied and too familiar by half. And that familiarity isn’t just him, but rather the now entirely tarnished Blair brand continued in this living manifestation into a new era. What a wheeze that must have seemed in picking Cameron, a sort of Blair redux. And pitted against Brown it might just work. But, little did they realise that stepping out of the shadows would come someone who embodied much of that sort of persona, but in a subtly different mix.
So any wonder that someone who the public really haven’t had much of a look at at all, but happens to be youngish, presentable-ish, reasonably sane and able to hold a thought for more than a few seconds at a time is able to make an impression. Quite entertaining is the way in which the Clegg meme has proliferated apparently far beyond those who actually saw the debate.
Bottom line is, they’re all pretty grim and there’s little for us to be happy about.
God alone knows how this will play out, and even he would be tested by British party politics, but at least, for the moment, we can admit that it’s actually reasonably interesting.
I purchased the Guardian print edition the day it was announced to read their pull out section on the election and half way through gave up. Enough of useless information as regards the spouses of the party leaders. No more individual candidate profiles. And let’s pass on the huge chart of policy distinctions between all the parties, oh yes, UKIP and the BNP included.
This puzzles me because on paper it’s not just in Northern Ireland where it is of profound significance but in Scotland, England and Wales. And God knows redux, it’s not that I want the Conservative Party to win. Call it atavistic, but however deep a sense of disillusionment with Labour the idea of the Tories, or some Tory/Lib Dem lash-up, is beyond unpalatable.
I also fundamentally disagree with the idea aired in the Business Post ‘Backroom’ column the weekend before last that this election ‘may have little impact on our own domestic politics, but the British election promises to be hugely entertaining’.
The election of a Conservative government that has in no way been shy about a linkage with the Ulster Unionists is of profound concern. Splintered Sunrise has had an illuminating series of posts analysing the impacts at local level in the North (and Garibaldy asks a most pertinent question here), but in purely constitutional terms it is self-evident that the Conservatives would operate from a radically different place than the Labour Party.
Would that be sufficient to engender a collapse of the GFA? Perhaps not, but given their halting, at best, approach to the nuances of politics in Northern Ireland one would be hesitant as regards any certainty on that score. Indeed the now clearly partisan aspect to their interventions in the North should cause concern much more widely than amongst Republicans and Nationalists. The irony that Labour can look to the support of Sylvia Hermon is near irrelevant in that larger picture. The further irony that the DUP is pushed further towards a sharper ‘Ulster’ identity, by dint of the largely (but not entirely) cosmetic civic unionism that Ulster Conservatives and Unionists – New Force seek to promote, and in doing so oddly may find Sinn Féin more congenial partners in government might well be equally irrelevant in a larger picture. And in all this, as splintered has noted, the contradictions implicit in any movement by a UK political party into Northern Ireland become clear. By asserting a civic unionist stance they merely demonstrate the gulf between rhetoric and reality. By pitching rightwards they lose the only UUP MP. And in doing so they paradoxically allow the DUP to present itself – in a minor key fashion – as more of a working class party than their old enemies in the UUP.
Then there is the issue of how this directly impacts on our own polity. Does it reinforce the current right of centre trends economically and socially? Truth is that it’s difficult to envisage this Government taking measures that were any more right wing. And the small matter of the likelihood of Labour being in coalition with Fine Gael after the next election here probably reins in the more Toryphiliac elements inside Fine Gael. Although, no doubt many of them will be chomping at the bit to be allowed to run free of the dour old semi-semi-statists of the LP. But… it would take remarkable figures for that eventuality to pass.
And what of relationships between this state and the UK? Weirdly, just as many Irish identify with Democrats while voting right of centre here (okay, not perhaps entirely weirdly, but… ) so it is that many Irish have a rather glib identification with Labour over the Conservatives. As the article in the SBP puts it…
Despite the broad affinity of much of Ireland’s electorate with some conservative policies, the Conservative Party remains unloved here, not least because of Margaret Thatcher’s polarising and turbulent involvement in Northern Ireland through the 1980s and 1990s.Their entry into the European Parliament caused consternation for Fine Gael, who tried for years to keep them out of their natural home in the European People’s Party, for fear that being allied with the Tories would be used against them in Ireland by Fianna Fáil.
I don’t think it’s simply the situation in the North during the 1980s and 1990s. I think it goes considerably deeper than that. But it is true that the friction appears to increase during periods of Conservative rule. That’s not the most important issue in the world, but nor is the least. And with a Conservative party already explicitly saying that on the EU, as so many other areas, a sort of negative laissez-faire will rule the day, at least in terms of policy activism, we’re in for even more difficult times.
All told it adds an unwelcome potential for instability, which is not necessarily a good thing.
I can’t therefore agree with the idea that none of this matters. I think any election matters. It may not matter hugely though, but even within the British polity there will always be distinct impacts on ordinary workers in the wake of any Conservative victory. Labour, however appallingly – and let’s use the phrase cloth-eared again because it fits – in its approach and motivations is fractionally, and sometimes considerably, better.
But the curious drabness of this contest initially might well be a function of just about 13 years of a Labour party in power which was so fundamentally afraid to pitch left during that period that now – faced with a Conservative party willing to emulate its every move – it has found itself with no room to triangulate any further. They’ve quite simply run out of room.
And added to that a leadership whose bland managerialism lacked every ounce of personality, charisma or often even an overt interest in what they were doing. It’s not even the triumph of personality politics, for the truth is that there is precious little personality involved. But precious few of us – I suspect – thought that there was something worse again than personality politics.
Latest news? That the Liberal Democrats have ‘surged’ 10 points in the polls and Labour is now in third place. Interesting, but most useful is the diagram further down the page which gives estimated (very very estimated but instructive nonetheless) seat totals on the current polling figures. If I were the Tories I’d be getting them out into the streets and making clear what they mean as fast as I possibly could.