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You say you want a revolution…but I want detail. June 18, 2006

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Marxism.

A discussion on Politics.ie (here) has set me thinking about just what is the left looking for, particularly the revolutionary left. After all, so much of leftism these days is defined by what it's against rather than what it's for… Mostly anti-war, generally anti-capitalist, broadly anti-racist/sexist etc. But what's the goal, the end-point? The withering away of the state? A goal shared by anarcho-capitalists as much as the most fervent Marxist. Entirely new social relationships? Well there I suspect the Catholic Church, or indeed many Southern Baptists would be in agreement. I'm not entirely sure of the end goal, and I'll bet most people aren't either.

There are good reasons for vagueness. Marx was rather good on Capital, but much less so on what came after. Historically revolutionary left regimes have when implemented tended to the worst rather than the best. Failed is another word one can use. And it's a bit like having someone over for a bite of food. Often it's best not to tell them what's on the table for fear of heightening expectations unreasonably. But the future shape of society isn't a meal, and it's also unreasonable not to tell us what the outcome is going to be…

First one has to consider the way in which our society has altered over the past quarter of a century or more. One doesn't have to be a techno-utopian to notice that personal autonomy and individualism has extended into new spheres of daily life. Partially this is on the back of new technologies which centre on the individual. This has led to some degree of dilution of hierarchy, and it's striking to me how rapidly workplaces have altered from entirely top down enterprises to more nuanced negotiated enterprises. Having said that there's no point in being starry eyed about these things. Owners own, directors direct, managers manage and workers work.

Secondly, if one considers the situation on the right there is a fairly clear outline of an optimal society, depending on which strand of the right. Social conservatives offer a traditional, hierarchical, conservative society, sometimes diluted by capitalism, often not. Libertarian conservatives offer a much more free-form society with little regulation of public or private spheres. Moderate conservatives tend towards caution in everything, although it's interesting to consider David Cameron and what the UK might be like under his administration.

By contrast, beyond the confines of social democracy it's difficult to envisage exactly what leftists want. It's a bit like a car where the driver has the foot down on the accelerator, as we leave the Social Democracyville we screech through Democratic Socialist Town, speed past Command Economy Heights and then onto…where? More regulation in the economic sphere? Or none at all as the society slides towards a left-libertarian utopia? Or on into Anarchism, but is it anarcho-syndicalism or autonomous collectivism?

Reading Paul Foot's The case for socialism: what the Socialist Workers Party stands for, many years ago, I was struck by how little was mentioned of the future society. Indeed something of a fetish has been made by the Trotskyite left of how this is a transitional period. Yeh, sure, but transition to what?
It's disturbing to think that the Communist Party of Great Britain's New Times project of the late 1980s might have been the last serious effort by an anglophone non-social democrat party to mark out the future, and while it was interesting, it was extremely flawed in that it came across largely as a paean to the market. No surprise then that the party collapsed within three years of it's publication.

I don't want to be unfair, it's difficult to envisage the transitions some would see as necessary. But envisage them they must.
One thinker who offered a better outline was French post-Marxist André Gorz whose Farewell to the Working Class depicted a future society informed by environmental and social concerns. I remember reading this around 1985 or so and being mightily impressed by the idea of…bus lanes, and thinking "that'll never catch on". But I was also mightily sceptical of his ideas for a television or radio studio in every tower block. And yet, although the collectivist impulse he to hasn't quite worked out it's certainly true that the internet has permitted a reflection of that to fold into our contemporary society, at least on an individual level. And let's be honest, that's down largely to market forces. But Gorz was writing for his time, the 1980s and the technological developments of the last quarter century have perhaps altered the emphasis again to one of tone rather than specific policy.

And this is important too, perhaps it's the general ethos which is most important, that a society is about society rather than simply the individual. However, the challenge now has to be that non-social democratic leftism stops talking in platitudes about democracy and social good and starts charting out a clear course. Because we've been here before with Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, the masters of tone over policy, or perhaps more accurately tone masking policy. Tone is great, but it's not enough.

On Politics.ie I had a discussion with a member of the Socialist Party (Ireland) about democracy and the party (here). I was assured that democracy was a key component. And why was this? Because Lenin had apparently mentioned it in the State and Revolution. Very true, Lenin did mention it, in a couple of sentences, a rather aspirational piece which frankly would be laughed out of if were it presented in a contemporary party manifesto. That's simply not good enough. If one seeks the transformation of our economic, political and social relationships the very least that can be done is to tell us exactly what are the mechanisms that will constitute the new situation. In the US and the UK there are serious public policy think-tanks of right left and centre working away on these issues. Documents are produced, positions put out in the public domain. But that sort of serious thinking on the – shall we term it – 'further left' is absent. We need information, because we already have a society, and for all it's faults, flaws and imperfections we have a reasonably good idea how it works and how it's going to work in the future.
Provide us with proper detailed information and then maybe it'll will be easier to convince the rest of us who are hoping there might be something better ahead…

Bread and circuses and me … June 16, 2006

Posted by smiffy in Uncategorized.

No po-faced lefty blog would be complete without the obligatory post denouncing the World Cup for its pernicious influence on society. So, with all the scorn which paid-up members of the Dublin 4 (mind-set, not postal district) Liberal Elite reserve for the interests of the working-classes, I present mine.

I could start by looking at the tournament in terms of Chomsky's analysis of professional sport, the corporate media and power structures in society:

(The media) tries to entertain (the population) through means which will intensify attitudes that support the interest of elites. For example . . . let me give some cases. Take the emphasis on professional sports. It sounds harmless but it really isn't. Professional sports are a way of building up jingoist fanaticism. You're supposed to cheer for your home team. Just to mention something from personal experience – I remember, very well, when I was I guess, a high school student – a sudden revelation when I asked myself why am I cheering for my high school football team. I don't know anybody on it, if I met anybody on it we'd probably hate each other. You know, why do I care if they win or if some guy a couple blocks away wins. And then you can say the same thing about the baseball team or whatever else it is. This idea of cheering for your home team -which you mentioned before – that's a way of building into people irrational submissiveness to power. And it's a very dangerous thing. And I think it's one of the reasons it gets such a huge play.

Yes, it's an interesting and not unattractive thesis: these big 'plebdazzle' events are held to ensure that ordinary people spend their free time and intellectual powers analysing one arbitrary groups of men's prospect at beating another arbitrary group of men at an essentially pointless activity. It does seem a little optimistic, though. If there was less football on the television, would people really be rushing in their masses, desperate to get hold of a copy of The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists?

Equally, it's a somewhat patronising view of people, denying them any agency and seeing them as little more than mindless automatons, happy to accept without question whatever the idiot-box in the corner churns out at them.And given that I'm a little disappointed that Grace, rather than Nikki, was evicted from Big Brother tonight, I doubt I'd be on very sure footing if I attempted to make such an argument.

An alternative line of attack might be to point out how the World Cup, perhaps more than any other international sporting event, tends to enflame national feeling in participating states, often creating an almost hysterical jingoistic fervour (which, as every good internationalist socialist knows, serves only to elide class difference and serve the interests of the ruling elites).

On the other hand, though, maybe there's a positive aspect to the whipping up of 'national pride', in terms of promoting multiculturalism (whatever that actually is, rather than the strawman version racists, fascists and other assorted crackpots would like it to be) and tolerance. If members of a minority ethnic group are visibly part of a country's football team, might that make it easier for others to see the ethnic group as part of the 'nation', rather than as immigrants or outsiders, loosening the grip ethnicity can hold over national identity, if not entirely breaking the link between the two.

To make this argument, though, one would have to (a) have some evidence to support it and (b) actually know something about football, and the makeup of different teams. I fail on both counts.

It seems, therefore, that my only alternative is to release my inner Roisin Ingle, and come up with some kind of generalised moan about how boring and ubiquitous the whole thing is, and the terrible suffering endured by the minority of football-averse men every time the tournament comes along. Admittedly it's not the greatest adversity man has ever faced, but it can get somewhat grating having to explain (almost apologise for, at times) the fact that you're really not interested when someone tries to make small-talk by inviting your opinion on 'the game'.

There are the small mercies to be thankful for, such as Ireland's absence from the current tournament. Four years ago, suggesting that you had little or no interest in the person of Roy Keane, or that you wouldn't actually be watching the match anywhere, was tantamount to suggesting that your questioner's mother was a poorly-paid, though highly experienced, streetwalker.

For those football-haters who seek a quiet life, it's probably best to avoid most pubs (apart from those honorable exceptions which don't have a television), don't get your hair cut (particularly if you haven't booked a holiday this year – you'll have nothing at all to talk about) and whatever you do, don't get a taxi. There's no silence more awkward the journey home after telling the taxi driver that you don't follow football (no, not the G.A.A. either) especially if you feel he's a bit hostile to the gay, or student, or gay student you so obviously must be.

However, one can only avoid the subject for so long. If pressed to give some kind of opinion, therefore, one could do worse than look to Gary Younge's 'Ethical World Cup' column, running daily in the G2 section of the Guardian. Younge selects a match taking place on a given day and, with tongue nudging against cheeck, suggests which team might be the ethical choice to support. Today's piece gives a nice flavour of what the concept's about:

The impact of international football on nationalism is clear; it inflames it. Its impact on domestic politics is less so. Victory should favour the incumbents. But in Mexico, where the incumbent is resigning and leftwing presidential candidate Luis Obrador leads in the polls, it is difficult to predict whom a Mexican victory would benefit. As members of the UN security council both Mexico and Angola stood firm against US pressure to endorse the war. Safest, then, to back the Angolans, emerging from years of civil war with a life expectancy of 41 – just a year older than the tournament's oldest player.

If that doesn't sate your appetite for a middle-class, Arts graduate, bobo opinion on football, you might want to check out Dave Eggers' by turns bizarre and fascinating piece on 'The True Story of American Soccer'. In it Eggers informs us that, among others thing, the reason why so many Americans lose interest in soccer when they give up playing it at the age of twelve or so is because 'people of influence in America long believed that soccer was the chosen sport of Communists.'.

The essay is taken from The Thinking Fan's Guide to the World Cup, which looks from the table of contents to almost be interesting enough to buy.

Almost, however, but not quite. Thinking? Maybe. Fan? Definitely not.

Doh! #1 June 16, 2006

Posted by smiffy in Irish Politics.
1 comment so far

The slogan accompanying the picture (below) currently up on the Labour Party site doesn't seem to have been thought through very carefully.


Note the look of fear on the little girl's face.

Are you thinking what we're thinking?

Pre-emption – the knife that cuts both ways June 16, 2006

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Iraq.

The Guardian had an intriguing book review last weekend by Louise Christian (who has acted as lawyer to Guantánamo Bay detainees) of Preemption: A Knife That Cuts Both Ways by Alan M. Dershowitz, Harvard law professor, and neo-con bien-pensant which you can read here. Not unexpectedly she gave the Dershowitz thesis (of the justification of pre-emptive action which he contemplates as being of a piece with that taken by the Israeli state against Hamas and others) short shrift, but most interesting are the comments she makes at the end of the review. Here one sees the outlines of an impressively nuanced approach to future international law and state led pre-emptive actions.

She notes that "Most good international lawyers (such as Philippe Sands, the author of the excellent Lawless World) would agree that there is a legitimate debate to be had about the legal justification for pre-emptive wars, although most would want it to buttress, not to dismiss (as Dershowitz does), the authority of the UN". But even more pointedly notes one of the central paradoxes at the heart of the contemporary debate about pre-emption and intervention "that while "hawks" want preemptive wars to justify preventive strikes against states with WMDs, "doves" want humanitaritan intervention to stop genocide".

And this is a real conundrum. She metaphorically lashes Dershowitz, noting 'the real agenda of those to whom [he] is a cheerleader. There are a lot of hawks in this book and little sign of the doves'.

There is more than a little something in what she says. One doesn't need to have had doubts about the wisdom of the Iraq war, in it's execution if not it's stated objective, to believe that there is an unsatisfactory aspect to the contemporary framework of international law. This framework appears to reinforce sovereignty as a means of imprisoning some populations under authoritarian leaders, or permit monstrous crimes against groups within national borders.

The Security Council of the United Nations is a blunt instrument, too caught up in the competing demands of the constituent elements to operate as a clear means of determining what and where demands international action. However, the UN has, in the form of the "In Larger Freedom: Towards Development, Security and Human Rights for All" report begun to work towards this very goal. One annex of that report is very interesting indeed, and here it is…

(h) Request the Security Council to adopt a resolution on the use of force that sets out principles for the use of force and expresses its intention to be guided by them when deciding whether to authorize or mandate the use of force; such principles should include: a reaffirmation of the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations with respect to the use of force, including those of Article 51; a reaffirmation of the central role of the Security Council in the area of peace and security; a reaffirmation of the right of the Security Council to use military force, including preventively, to preserve international peace and security, including in cases of genocide, ethnic cleansing and other such crimes against humanity; and the need to consider — when contemplating whether to authorize or endorse the use of force — the seriousness of the threat, the proper purpose of the proposed military action, whether means short of the use of force might reasonably succeed in stopping the threat, whether the military option is proportional to the threat at hand and whether there is a reasonable chance of success; (full document here)

The last part is perhaps atypically pragmatic, but it will be telling to note how long it takes for the Security Council to come to terms with this concept because this paragraph distills all the core elements that were fought over on the path to the Iraq war. Whether this actually flies is a different issue. And herein is the core problem. Much of the Security Council, heck, much of the UN General Assembly, doesn't want to see the bar on intervention or pre-emption lowered. There are too many little domestic problems in certain states that given any due consideration would fall within the definition of cases of 'ethnic cleansing and other such crimes against humanity'. Whether the members would ultimately agree with such conditions is questionable, and it's difficult to envisage what sort of quid pro quo might tempt them to agree. And perhaps this is pure cynicism, but would the US be entirely comfortable with a system which might trammel it in some fashion, or worse, demand it commit military assets to global conflicts far beyond it's regional or security concerns?

And yet, one notable shift in US foreign policy relations in the last month or so has been an unusual willingness to engage diplomatically on the Iran issue. With the likely Presidential candidates from both Republican and Democrat side likely to be somewhat more cautious in their dealings with the international community it seems that there is a window of opportunity for a reworked UN mandate for dealing with the broad array of issues described in the annex. The differing concerns of hawks and doves could potentially be addressed to some extent. Whether that extent will be sufficient, or even close to sufficient, when applied to real world issues remains to be seen. But if the best is not always to be the enemy of the better then even slight movement towards a more truly global agreed security system would be a start.

The knife that cut's both ways…indeed it does…

What is the point of Ann Coulter? Why Ann Coulter of course! June 15, 2006

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

An interesting discussion on Politics.ie

Ann Coulter is no conservative. Why so? Because she's not the rentaquote liberal-basher she projects herself as, but is instead an astute and manipulative business person who has cornered a market in mock-outrageous hyperbole which presumably brings the money rolling in.
Some time ago I was listening to David Brock on an Air America podcast. Brock was a Republican activist before 'seeing the light' and turning liberal to the extent of being a cofounder of media watchdog, Media Matters (he also wrote a book 'Blinded by the Right' as I recall detailing his experiences). In any event, he was asked by the interviewer how many of those working within the US administration and beyond that the media cheerleaders in Fox et al were 'true believers', and he replied that in his experience there was a significant tranche who were careerists who had found this a good way to make money.

Lest anyone think that I'm insulting those of conservative beliefs, I'm not. There is little better IMHO that a cogent and sincere conservative argument and such beliefs have had a significant impact upon my own brand of libertarian socialism.

But it's where such beliefs meet the interface between the media, populism and money that they take a turn for the worse, becoming bloated and extreme for the sake of extremism (Indeed a similar situation, if marginally less noxious, can be seen I think in relation to Michael Moore on the left). Coulter seems to be one of those for whom principle is not the main motive force in her life.

I was hugely amused to see on her website a link to a fairly favourable Guardian interview. So it seems if you're kind to Ann you'll get brownie points. Well, I'll be kind for a moment.
She's a reasonably good writer (and in truth who am I to judge?), and a fantastic purveyor of soundbites. She's feisty and argumentative. I enjoy what she says enormously.
Moment over.

However, unfortunately her purchase on fact appears tenuous and her inability to moderate her tone is self-defeating.

But the old Marxist in me often wonders just how she thinks she's assisting the right in the US? It can't be strategic, because there's no evidence of long term thinking there. And it's hardly tactical because she generates controversy at inopportune moments like this. Even, no particularly, amongst the base her brand of pejorative ranting has it's limits. When she makes Limbaugh look reasonable then you know we're not in Kansas anymore.

And that's why I don't really think of her as a conservative, because what she does is entirely antagonistic to the conservative project.

She undermines the many viewpoints from the right that she purports to represent. But hey, that's business, as I'm sure she'd agree.

Without overstating her influence, whether the administration and her friends on the right will see it in just such terms as the project seems to be faltering I wonder…

Revision time June 13, 2006

Posted by smiffy in Irish Politics.

In the inevitable outpouring of analysis, op-eds and obituaries of Haughey we have to look forward to, it's hard to imagine a more bizarre piece (well, apart from what's published by Independent News and Media) than this, quick-off-the-mark, article by Jason Walsh in the Guardian's Comment is Free section.

Walsh begins with the kind of sentiment we can expect to see repeated ad nauseam over the next few days, but which remains broadly true: Haughey is, or was, a very divisive figure; for all the criticism he attracted, he still retained a good many devotees; whatever his personal failings, he had some remarkable achievements; history will judge him etc. 

However, the writer seems to be a little out of touch with the reality of public sentiment in contemporary Ireland:

More important, though, is what the people of the Republic of Ireland make of him. For now Haughey remains popular. He is credited with lifting Ireland out of the doldrums, laying the foundations for its current economic boom and his pensioner-friendly policies such as free travel guarantee his passing will be mourned by the over 65s.

Again, this is true, but only to an extent. Haughey is popular among some, but to say that he 'remains popular' is surely an exaggeration. There are very few who retain their admiration for him without qualification, and even those who credit him with the economic boom of recent years, or with laying the seeds of the Peace Process, will tend to acknowledge the less savoury parts of his history, albeit just to stress that (in their view) his influence, on balance, has been a positive one.

Walsh, however, doesn't seem to acknowledge, or realise, that Haughey might actually have had any flaws at all, or that a significant number of Irish people absolutely despised him (and not without cause). No, Walsh invokes the favorite confrontation of the lazy hack: the 'ordinary people' vs. the 'establishment'. It's the ordinary people (apparently representative of what Walsh terms 'the Irish psyche') who admired Haughey because he was a bit of a chancer. And obviously, there's nothing the 'establishment' hates more than ordinary people.

For many in the media and the academy, as well as on the opposition benches – and even for a few on the government benches – in the Dáil, this is exactly why Haughey must be cut down to size and if it must be done after his death, all the better. At least he won't be popping up to remind the public why they liked him in the first place.

Again, Walsh seems oblivious to the fact that Haughey's been massively villified for the past ten years. He did have serious questions to answer (and, due to his more recent ill-health, he didn't face quite as much scrutiny as he possibly should have). Still, if 'the media and the academy' (which 'academy' exactly is he talking about here, or is it just 'Class of Political Correctness Gone Mad 2006' again) say something, obviously it must be wrong.

Towards the end, though, it becomes pretty clear why Walsh seems so intent, not, perhaps, on defending Haughey, but on attacking his critics:

No doubt in forthcoming work by some celebrated commentators, Haughey's personal failings will be exaggerated in order to stomp on the republican consciousness of ordinary Irish citizens. His foibles will be held aloft as conclusive proof of the double-dealing and untrustworthiness of republicans, even of the soft variety found in Fianna Fáil. In death he will become an easy target for smears and attack stories. For Ireland's growing band of revisionists, Haughey represents the latent republicanism of the citizenry. At the very least he must be portrayed as outmoded.

This, to me, seems one of the most bizarre things I've ever read on Haughey, alive or dead. Apparently Walsh believes that criticism of Haughey is synonymous with an anti-republican position, or that critics of Haughey are motivated by anti-republicanism. 

What utter rubbish. Certainly many of Haughey's harshest critics were also critics of the Provisional movement, but it's quite a stretch to see the two as linked. There's no need to dwell on the darker aspects of the Haughey era right now; no doubt that'll be thrashed out in the weeks, months and years ahead. But we're still living with the consequences of the poisoning of the Irish political landscape , which must be seen as a significant part of Haughey's legacy (time will tell if it will be seen as the dominant part).  This isn't a figment of the imagination of 'the media' or 'academics' or even the dreaded 'revisionists' (a shadowy group of ne'er-do-wells which Walsh decries but never defines or names, content in the belief that anyone who challenges an accepted view – well, accepted by him – must automatically be suspect).

Never once in the piece does Walsh mention corruption, or Ansbacher, or the Moriarty tribunal.  Indeed, there's little to indicate that he's even aware of them. Instead, all he can bring himself to say is:

Whether Haughey made, on balance, a positive or negative contribution to Irish history, I have no idea.

In that case, perhaps he might do well to save his hysterical 'republican' paranoia, and his denunciations of the dread 'revisionists' and leave the analysis of Haughey's legacy to those even vaguely familiar with the facts.

Modernity and Charles Haughey. June 13, 2006

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
1 comment so far

Odd isn't it to put the word modernity in the same sentence as Charles Haughey, and yet, I can't help but feel that he was one of Ireland's truly modern politicians, someone who but for an accident of birth would have fitted as well into the British Conservatives or New Labour.

He was someone who achieved Ministerial power in the 1960s, who immediately saw how political power and influence can be entwined for the personal, although in fairness that wasn't unknown in this state on any side prior to that. He had an appreciation of the glamour of power (quite an achievement if the photo's from the time do him anything approaching justice) and an ability to project it. In his private relationships he shunned the conventions that middle Ireland held up as the standard. He assumed many of the trappings of wealth in a display which was nouveau riche, and yet was carried off with a wink. The late lamented Scrap Saturday had an entire sketch based on the fact he appeared to claim at least two and possibly more locations as his birthplace…but that was typical, all things to all men…

Does this sound like a eulogy? I certainly hope not.

Yet, I have two friends, both in their late forties or early fifties who knew him well. One was a long-time member of the Labour Party and it was perhaps the way in which they were able to maintain a friendship with Haughey that taught me something about the necessity to look beyond the partisan political at the personal.

However, while looking beyond the partisan political to the personal is good, it is sometimes necessary to look beyond the personal and consider the broader public good. On that score serious questions remain. Yet he remains a man of his time with all the vices and virtues that came with that.

In a way he was a sort of anti-Enoch Powell, a politician of rigorous principle who on one particular occasion allowed that principle to go to his head and allow him say something utterly reprehensible. Haughey was not, I suspect, a man who even his closest friends would have claimed was a man of rigorous principle. Yet, in broad terms his populism was remarkably restrained. So much of what he projected was a facade, a facade of nationalism, a facade of populism, a facade of gentrification. In a more real sense he was the personification of the old jibe about Irish independence being little more than a thin coat of green paint applied to the post boxes. No more or less meaningful than that.

However, if there is one thing I think he contributed to this society, and something that I suspect was no facade, it was in the late 1980s when the country was far from recovery. I think his approach to the issue of heritage and the arts was as important, perhaps more important than the IFSC (and I've often wondered was that a little dig at Tony Gregory seeing as it was sited in the same constituency – or was it indeed yet another element of the Gregory deal?). This developed from a genuine appreciation of these areas on his part. I'd argue that it was the support he gave to the state, and state cultural institutions and arts institutions which in part mitigated the more right-ward drift of his economic policies and perhaps demonstrated that the state wasn't merely something to be cut away but could become an enabler – that we could at least to some degree have our entrepreneurial cake and eat it with a side order of a relatively vibrant state supported sector. That indeed the state had a duty to provide such support as it disengaged from the nostrums of Keynesian support for the traditional semi-state sector. The contemporary economy, one built less on the old concept of industrialisation and more on services owes something to that.

That was a very modern lesson to teach – however short term it proves ultimately to be. And one that, perhaps far more than the man, has served us well in the intervening years…

…Regarding the Dáil eulogies. I thought Enda Kenny gave a measured and and balanced piece. The same is true of Trevor Sargent. However that given by Pat Rabitte appeared fractious and divisive, with the customary 'not the day for discussing the dark side' followed by 'on the other hand I would be a hypocrite'. One wonders is this yet another attempt to mark out a unique spot on the Irish political terrain. If so it's a bitter place…

Lefties fail to exult in death of terrorist June 12, 2006

Posted by joemomma in Iraq.
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In yesterday’s Observer, Nick Cohen takes the liberal left to task for failing to jubilate at the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi:

Outside the international jihadi movement, ‘there will be few people shedding any tears for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi,’ said the Guardian. Strictly speaking, this is true. Most of the world’s liberal-Left aren’t like George Galloway. They haven’t ‘saluted’ fascistic tyrants or gushingly described the ‘insurgents’ from the Baath party and al-Qaeda as ‘ragged people, with their sandals, with their Kalashnikovs’. Rather, they have pretended that the struggle for democracy in Iraq has nothing to do with them. They have concentrated all their energy on hating Bush and turned their backs on Iraq’s liberals and democrats. They don’t support fascism, but they don’t oppose it, either. Frankly, I prefer Galloway; at least he makes a commitment.

The real question is not why so few people cried on the news of Zarqawi’s death, but why so few cheered. The answer will take the liberal-left a long time to live down.

I must admit that upon hearing of Zarqawi’s death I failed to pump the air vigorously with my fist. This will take me a long time to live down. In my defence, however, what may have inhibited me from pulling my shirt over my face and wheeling around the room with arms outstretched is the guilty thought that perhaps Zarqawi’s elimination does not represent the final victory over the illiberal forces of insurgency in Iraq, let alone the wider Al Qaeda franchise.

I know it’s wrong of me, but for some reason I find it hard to cut loose when news reaches me of the death of individual islamist or Ba’athist figureheads. I’m not proud of it, but part of me would rather wait for some other positive indicator from Iraq before I allow a hearty “boo-ya!” to escape. You know, some sort of marked reduction in insurgent activity, fewer people being blown up or shot, a material improvement in the lot of ordinary Iraqis, removal of the threats to the country’s fledgling democracy. Stuff like that. I know, it’s a typically petty leftist attitude.

If this were 1945, I’m sure I would be the one spoiling everybody’s fun at the Mussolini execution street parties by mentioning the minor matter of the ongoing World War.

The elephant in the room June 11, 2006

Posted by smiffy in Irish Politics.
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(via politics.ie)

According to the Sunday Business Post, former national organiser for Labour Pat Magner is predicting that the party with enter into coalition with Fianna Fáil after the next election, posing some obvious difficulties for Pat Rabbitte.

This is hardly surprising, of course, and it's well known that there are members of the Labour Party who'd be happier in coalition with FF than with their current buddies, Fine Gael. Similarly, there are people in Labour who have an interest in making life as uncomfortable as possible for Rabbitte and, given the corner he (Rabbitte) has painted himself into with his pre-electoral pledge, Magner's comments must be read with that in mind.

Still, what we do see in Magner's comments is perhaps the first utterance of what will likely become a recurring theme over the next twelve months: the need for Labour to act in the 'national interest' when it comes to forming a government.

Magner, who served under four Labour Party leaders, said that it was still the duty of the Dail to elect a taoiseach and ‘‘Pat Rabbitte has to play his part in that’’.

‘‘Firstly because it is not his decision whether or not the Labour Party will enter government with Fianna Fail, that decision is a matter for the Labour Party. Labour Party members have been called upon to form governments when the country was on its knees.

‘‘In this case, we’re being asked to forgo government in a country that’s awash with money, and which we’re saying is being badly spent.”

We've heard this before, and we'll hear it again. In the event of Labour and Fine Gael (and, possibly, the Greens, although they seem to be playing a smarter game than their Labour colleagues) not having the numbers to form a government, Labour will have a duty to go in with Fianna Fáil. The country needs a government after all, and surely you don't want the Shinners at the Cabinet table!

Of course, there is the other alternative: the coalition that dare not speak its name. Labour could always stand aloof from both the larger parties, and let them go into government together. Surely if Labour has a duty to hold its nose and vote for Ahern (or whoever) as Taoiseach, the same duty applies no less to Fine Gael. And would the policies of such a coalition be so much worse than what Labour could achieve in government to justify deferring any longer term electoral advantage Labour might gain by staying in opposition?

Let's not be naive about this. It's long been a bit of a dream of the Irish left to force such a coalition, the thinking being that this would show the electorate that Civil War differences were fundamentally meaningless, and would force the famous realignment of Irish politics into left and right. That's not going to happen. Irish politics has already realigned, but everyone's moved to the centre. Labour isn't going to start proposing the nationalisation of the banks just because it's the largest party in opposition. And Fianna Fáil isn't going to hold a seminar on Hayek (or, indeed, develop any kind of coherent political philosophy) during their getaway on Inchydoney just because Labour's sitting opposite.

However, Labour does have a lot to lose by entering coalition with either FF or FG at the moment. They're already vulnerable on the left from Sinn Féin (although the current extent of this threat is often overstated). If SF manages to, at the very least, consolidate its vote (if not increase it) at the next election, it could be rather nasty thorn in the side of Labour in government.

Magner talks about 'a government that's awash with money'. Can he be quite sure that the money will still be there in five years time? Or that, for example, a Labour Minister for Health would be so effective that any criticism would be empty? Remember, any coalition with Fianna Fáil will inevitably have a Fianna Fáil Minister for Finance. As long as that's the case, any scope Labour might have for any kind of serious improvement in public services or redistribution of wealth will be extremely limited. And we can be sure that SF will take full advantage.

Of course, when it comes to weighing up short-term gains in office with longer term drawbacks, you don't have to be psychic to guess how the decision is likely to go.Still, as long as an FF/FG coalition isn't seriously considered, Labour can always plead that they had no choice but to go into government, 'for the good of the country'.

Interesting times… June 11, 2006

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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I don't claim to have any insight into the inner workings of Ulster Unionism, but the news today that an UUP councillor (the brilliantly named) Peter Bowles has jumped ship to the Northern Ireland Conservative Party over the current liaison between the UUP and the PUP has been fairly intriguing BBC News. What's most interesting is the fault lines it has exposed within the 'moderate' unionist bloc between their single MP, Lady Sylvia Hermon, and the Reg Empey leadership. I would always have considered Hermon to be a pragmatist on a par with Empey, but she's clearly spitting mad about the links in the assembly.

On paper it was a brilliant coup for Reg Empey. Should the power-sharing executive be formed the UUP would get an extra ministerial seat at the expense of Sinn Féin. Quite a wheeze for a party which has been on the back foot since it's Westminster contingent was eviscerated by the DUP. And perhaps clever politics too if the DUP appears just a little too staunch and steadfast come the Autumn and refuses to do the deal with SF. A moderate UUP with a significant cohort of Ministers might be just the sweetner to mask the bitterness of yet another administration with SF participation. However, it presumably turned to ashes for Empey following the shooting of Mark Haddock hardly a week or two after the ink was dry on the agreement between the PUP and the UUP. And it's hard not to see a considerable degree of hypocrisy on the part of the UUP considering the merry dance of the last eight years as executives came and went over links between SF and PIRA. On the other hand, Trimble had a hell of a job convincing his own base to move with him, so perhaps the hypocrisy was well warranted, or at least understandable. And Empey has been eloquent in his admission about the manner in which Unionism used the paramilitaries in the past.

No, in some respects the most curious aspect is the direction of the defection. The NI Conservative Party is hardly the biggest political player on the field, yet this is the new home for the most moderate of the 'moderates'. Yet it makes sense. For those who detest the DUP, but have no wish to move towards Alliance, the purity (as some would see it) of the NICP might be just the ticket. That the NICP is effectively a stalled political vehicle, with no prospect of popular support is irrelevant – principle has been maintained.

Yet it also points up a solid immovable fact. Pragmatism is becoming the order of the day within the North. Outside of the environment the Good Friday Agreement has engendered (as distinct from the GFA itself which may or may not have a future) there is no serious political existence, within it even the UUP and the PUP can be cosy. And a similar dynamic is evident on the other side of the political equation where the wailing and gnashing of teeth of 'dissident' Republicans only serves to highlight the dominance of Sinn Féin as the voice of Northern Nationalism and Republicanism.

Somehow I don't think Empey will be too worried about this particular straw in the wind, but unless the deal can be seen to deliver in the short to medium term he too might discover that pragmatism also has it's price…

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