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The Assembly Elections February 23, 2017

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Just a week away and whatever happens there will be 18 seats lost, due to the reduction of MLAs from 108 to 90, with each constituency now returning 5 rather than 6 MLAs.
For the Left Gerry Carroll of PBP looks safe in West Belfast and even has a running mate, although it would be a shock if they were to win a second seat here. Eamonn McCann in Foyle is their other sitting MLA and on paper should be in severe danger as he only scraped in the last time. However talking to a few people I know in Derry they reckon he will be safe especially as Martin McGuinness is not standing.
Elsewhere it’s hard to see PBP, The Workers’ Party or Cross Community Labour Alliance winning a seat although there may be some gains and an advance to winning Council seats in 2019.
With RHI it was assumed that the DUP may not fare too well, that was until UUP leader Mike Nesbitt called for transfers to the SDLP rather than the DUP! It later emerged that he hadn’t discussed it with his party or indeed The SDLP! It was music to the DUP who to relegate the RHI scandal have gone on their traditional sectarian campaign. The DUP will still lose seats but anything over 33 seats (they won 38 last year) can be described as a good day for them.
The UUP seem to have messed up by forgetting the Unionist part in their name. They could have capitalised on RHI but ended up not doing so. Nesbitt will be in trouble if they get less than 13 seats.
Sinn Fein will lose a few seats , at least 3. Again it will be interesting to see if the RHI scandal rubs off on them and of course how they do under new leader Michelle O’Neill.
The SDLP should hold most of their 12 seats , Big battles with Sinn Fein in Foyle and South Down and other tight ones like Fermanagh South Tyrone. Any more than 1 lost seat won’t be good news for them.
The Alliance should hold their 8 seats but holding the second in East Belfast may be a struggle.
Elsewhere the TUV will be hoping to make gains at the DUPs expense over RHI, although it’s hard to see exactly where they may be. The Greens will be hoping to hold on to their 2 seats. UKIP could be in with a shout of their first seat in East Antrim too.
Most parties will be hoping that apathy isn’t the winner and that turnout is decent.

Unequal relationships February 23, 2017

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Alan Dukes, who I’m no fan of at all, still manages to make a point in the SBP at the weekend on Brexit and indeed Irexit which is well worth reiterating when arguing that even in the event of an ‘hard exit’ of the UK from the EU it would still make sense for Ireland to remain as a member of the EU for the moment.

The alternative would be to exist in order effectively to enter into a new bilateral realationship with Britain. trade agreements with Britain in 1948 and 1963 were heavily weighted in Britain’s favour because of the relative sizes of the two partners. Notwithstanding the huge improvement in Anglo-Irish relations since 1973, any future relationship would continue to be uneven and unequal.

It’s an obvious element of the mix but one that sometimes seems to escape discussion. And:

A substantial part of the reason for joining the EEC with Britain and Denmark in 1973 was to escape from the difficulties of such an unequal relationship.

And he continues that an exit by this state would immediately require an exit from the euro, and subsequent to that…

A new correct would have to be constructed, raising the question of the relationship with sterling; independence or common currency area?

And so it would begin, the not so slow re-orientation of this state towards Britain.

As to the financial chaos that would likely ensue…

Men of the people? February 23, 2017

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Arron Banks [the UKIP donor] told BBC Radio 5 Live that he stuck by what he said on Twitter when he defended Nuttall, a candidate in the Stoke-on-Trent byelection this week.“It’s a Labour smear campaign,” Banks said. “Yes, I am sick to death of hearing about Hillsborough. The politicisation of it by the Labour party is atrocious. I know the people up in Liverpool probably get hot under the collar for those comments, but as far as I’m concerned, I stick by what I said.”Of Hillsborough, Banks said it was “wrong it was covered up … but for the Labour party to politicise it was a disgrace”.

Yeah. But no. If Nuttall is going to make an issue of it, to use it as a token of something, having reference to it on his own website then he’s the one who is politicising it from the get go.

Signs of Hope – A continuing series, Week 8, February 2017 February 23, 2017

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Gewerkschaftler suggested this recently:

I suggest this blog should have a regular (weekly) slot where people can post happenings at the personal or political level that gives them hope that we’re perhaps not going to hell in a handbasket as quickly as we thought. Or as the phlegmatic Germans put it “hope dies last”.

Any contributions this week?

Vague February 23, 2017

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Meanwhile, just on Enda Kenny, did anyone else think this habitual master at kicking things to touch might just have pulled it off once more. The meeting at which he is supposed to resolve all last night hears him in ‘respectful’ silence as he announces all will be revealed the far side of March! Cue ovation. And he is gone.

He told his party he was committed to meeting Brexit and other challenges and that he was dedicated to avoiding any course of action that might damage the party or the country.

And:

He said he intended to address the issue of his leadership shortly after his return from Washington for St Patrick’s Day celebrations next month and would deal with it effectively and conclusively.

Perhaps he’ll tell them he wants to stay a few months longer. Or a few months longer again. But that’s okay. It’s Fine Gael! And…

Those present said he spoke with seriousness and authority and drew applause from the 70 or so present.

So that’s alright so!

The struggle of the age February 23, 2017

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Hilarious efforts to paint Varadkar and Coveney as interesting political figures in the Irish Times this week. And if they are uninteresting, I suppose one could point to some fascinating assumptions in the articles about them:

As a politician he is incredibly shrewd, as a person Varadkar is a deeply private man. When he made the decision to come out as a gay man he was greeted with instant respect and affection.
Within the party it gave a rare insight into a man who has earned a reputation as being uncomfortable in large social situations and evasive. His decision endeared Varadkar and the Fine Gael party to a new legion of supporters.

Really? Does that ring true?

And even if there’s something about the following, I wonder if it’s not a bit overstated:

His name is instantly recognisable, even to those who pay little or no interest to the world in which he operates. That ability has made him irresistible to some within Fine Gael. TDs often remark on how Varadkar’s face on a poster will instantly secure them more votes.

And as to his rival. Wait, that’s it on Varadkar? What does he believe in? What does he represent? There’s nothing there, is there?

Coveney by contrast is:

…by all accounts, sincere in all of his endeavours. He rarely shirks from a challenge, and asked for the Minister for Housing portfolio.
He is often classified as aloof and restrained because he does not schmooze well. Coveney keeps his distance.
He wants to stand on merit based on his policies. He, however, is the safe bet – a conservative who fails to excite in the same way as his nearest rival.

Okay, he’s conservative. He’s… er… sincere. He’s… What is he again? Is Varadkar not conservative?

Coveney:

…has a small number of close allies in Leinster House. His supporters have been dubbed the “Coveney Committee”, and have been less glaring in their backing. They favour a longer campaign, believing it will benefit them most.
They also do not want to push Kenny. They know he and his supporters will play a significant role in who wins the leadership.

Jesus wept. This is the struggle of our times. This is the great choice before us. Or the FG party and subsequently likely to be ‘our’ Taoiseach.
But wait, another piece from Kevin Cunningham, former strategist for the BLP and pollster with ‘Ireland Thinks’ suggests that:

For a long time there has been a casual disregard of ideological differences between supporters of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. However, a fissure has emerged between the two camps that might widen considerably with a Varadkar leadership.

Go on.

Fianna Fáil’s revival in 2016 was predominantly in rural towns that had been left behind. Voters in 2016 responded to significant differences between the Dublin recovery and the recovery of the rest of the country. The party’s support increased in Dublin by 3 per cent compared with 8 per cent in all other parts of the country.
While the two tribes are inseparable in respect of perceptions of left and right, small differences emerge along elitist-populist or global- local dimension, similar to the US and UK.

And:

The postelection surveys by Red C and B&A show that Fianna Fáil supporters are less likely to have a third-level education. They are also older, significantly more working class, and more likely to live in a rural town. Most intriguingly, clear ideological differences emerge when voters are also asked for the probability that they would vote for either of the two parties.
In this straight choice, those more likely to favour Fianna Fáil are also more likely to favour restrictive measures in respect of immigration from non-EU countries (62per cent to 53 per cent in agreement). They are more likely to value the importance of a local TD (67 to 58), and less likely to believe that ordinary people get their fair share (66 to 55).

And the candidates? Well candidate actually, for Coveney doesn’t get a look in.

While significant, these differences are small, though it is undoubtedly the case that a Varadkar leadership would magnify these differences.
In his words, the future of Fine Gael is “Liberalism, globalism, equality of opportunity, enterprise and greater personal liberty and responsibility” (Sunday Independent, February 12th).
This classical liberal philosophy is diametrically opposed to what Fianna Fáil advocates under Micheál Martin. Varadkar laments this social democratic approach as being defined by higher taxes, more government, more spending, government intervention and leaning towards policies of nationalism and protectionism.

And:

This is reinforced by recent evidence from the December Ireland Thinks poll, which showed that a Leo Varadkar leadership increases support for Fine Gael by 7 per cent. In this scenario, large numbers of younger, middle-class, university-educated voters switch allegiance from Fianna Fáil, with the party losing roughly a quarter of its under-40 voters in direct transfers to Fine Gael.
Most pertinent, though, Fianna Fáil also loses its liberal wing. We estimate their appetite for classical liberalism by asking whether a respondent agrees with the statement: “People should be free to do as they wish.”

Wow.

Curiously though some of that loss is, or so Cunningham argues, mitigated by ‘the acquisition of Stephen Donnelly’. All this seems a bit spit-balling to me, but hey, what do I know? And what of this parting shot?

The one remaining aspect of this is where it leaves Sinn Féin. It is strategically sensible for Fianna Fáil to amplify its elite views, given that its primary opposition to leading the next government is Fine Gael. However, this leaves an opening for Sinn Féin, which is left with a free run to appeal to working-class voters – those “losers” of globalisation.

Sad? Not very. February 22, 2017

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To read the release by Pew Research on early public attitudes to Donald Trump. Let’s just say it is not the splendid endorsement that he himself will no doubt tell the world he considers it to be at a press conference soon.

Overall, 39% say they approve of how Trump is handling his job as president, while 56% say they disapprove and 6% do not offer a view. Job ratings for Trump are more negative than for other recent presidents at similar points in their first terms.

Nor is it a case of indifference either…

An overwhelming share of the public (94%) offers a job rating for Trump; just 6% say they don’t know whether they approve or disapprove of him. By contrast, about two-in-ten or more declined to offer an early view of prior presidents dating back to Reagan in 1981.

And:

Among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, 84% say they approve of the job Trump is doing. This is in line with early levels of support seen among members of the president’s own party in recent administrations. However, just 8% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents say they approve of the job Trump is doing. This is by far the lowest early approval rating among members of the party not in control of the White House over the last six administrations. Early presidential approval among out-party members has been no lower than 30% in prior administrations dating to Reagan.

I can’t help but wonder. How is he going to claw back support from those groups in the future? I find it near inconceivable that someone who didn’t vote for him in 2016 is going to be convinced in 2020. And the sheer leaden weight of those poll numbers referenced above suggest not just a President who has a particular knack to polarise US citizens but one whose support base is actually much much narrower than might be expected. Note the last in the following:

Trump’s image is much more negative across a range of other characteristics. Majorities say that Trump is not even tempered (68%), is not a good communicator (63%), is not trustworthy (59%), is not well-informed (57%) and does not care about “people like me” (56%).

No surprise I suppose that he is trying to pull away support from the press. But even then… so many of his woes appear self-inflicted. This may not impact with the core base support but one has to imagine that over time it may do so with the margins. The key of course will be none-delivery. Healthcare alone should be a most interesting case.

What do others think?

Make us victorious Lord, but not yet… February 22, 2017

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I kind of admire – if that’s the right word – the way Noel Whelan lays it on the line in terms of the potential collapse of the government and the implications for FF, in the IT last week. He argues that:
 

Constructed as it was on three fault lines, the current Government was always going to be susceptible to dramatic shifts in the political landscape. This week’s policing and political earthquakes caused the Government to wobble violently. The aftershocks may yet cause it to collapse.
The three vulnerable relationships on which the Government depends have all come under severe strain in the last seven days.

And:

Fine Gael’s relationship with the Independent Ministers has been badly damaged. Katherine Zappone has been among those most loyal to Enda Kenny in the current Government. The Taoiseach did her a great disservice in her absence last weekend when he claimed that she had not apprised him of the fact that she had spoken to Maurice McCabe about a Tusla file.

And:

The weakness of Fine Gael’s relationship with other Independent Ministers in the Coalition was further exposed when the Government had to agree to something called “an external independent audit of An Garda Síochána”. This allowed Shane Ross and his Independent Alliance to claim some influence. It is not clear how this “external audit” will line up in the squadron of outside bodies that already exist to oversee policing.

And (one suspects most importantly!):

The relationship between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael is also damaged. Fianna Fáil is the author of the uncomfortable position it found itself in this week. Straddling Opposition and Government in the way the confidence and supply relationship requires it to do was always going to get sore.
This week it was particularly painful for Fianna Fáil frontbenchers to have to explain how the party would not vote no confidence in the Government while at the same time strongly criticising the same Government for its shambolic handling of the McCabe fallout. The Government had enough support from Independents to enable Fianna Fáil to abstain rather than having to actually vote confidence on the motion.

And Whelan points to an interesting paradox on foot of the events of the last week and more:

Fianna Fáil’s hold over the minority Government may now actually have loosened. Having saved it on the McCabe issue this week, it will be more difficult for the party to threaten to pull the plug on a less significant crisis in future.

In other words this has upped the ante significantly… for Fianna Fáil to withdraw support will require something considerably worse again. I suppose one key aspect of the issue was that Fine Gael and the government was able to
contain its impact on them. Yes, the timeline of comments made, who said what and when, was problematic, but stories aligned sharply enough to fend of criticism and the requirements of FF and the IA and others in relation to the ultimate shape of the dispensation were arrived at in such a way that they couldn’t – whatever faith one holds in the eventual outcomes – complain too much.

What you want to say – 22nd February, Week 8, 2017 February 22, 2017

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As always, following on Dr. X’s suggestion, it’s all yours, “announcements, general discussion, whatever you choose”, feel free.

Peter Graham Commemoration video February 21, 2017

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On Saturday 18th February, an interesting commemoration for Trotskyist and Saor Eire activist Peter Graham took place in the Cobblestone Pub Dublin.

A large crowd with standing room only, packed into the Cobblestone event room.

The commemoration was introduced and chaired Alan MacSimoin from the Stoneybatter & Smithfield People’s History Project.

The speaker was long time Trotskyist activist Rayner O’Connor Lysaght.

Comrades who knew Peter Graham contributions in a lively Q&A session.

Thanks to The Irish Republican Marxist History Project  for sending this on

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