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Obama, Clinton and the shadow of history… or a short guide on what not to say during a Presidential nomination campaign… May 26, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in US Politics.
20 comments

Emily Yoffe on Slate has an interesting take about the recent statement by Hillary Clinton about Robert Kennedy. For those who might have missed consider this,

Clinton was asked during a meeting with the editorial board of the Argus Leader newspaper in Sioux Falls, S.D., about continuing to run despite long odds of winning the nomination. She said that while the media and Obama’s campaign have urged her to withdraw, “historically, that makes no sense.”

“My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right?” she continued. “We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California.”

Hardly the happiest comparison, one might have thought. And as the import of her words struck home:

Her advisers quickly explained that Clinton merely intended to note that this was not the first primary campaign to stretch into the summer, not to suggest that Obama might be assassinated. Clinton later apologized to the Kennedy family while speaking to reporters, saying she did not mean to offend anyone.

I find that latter part odd. Fair enough to apologise to the Kennedy family, who as coincidence would have it were suddenly in the news again. Because she presumably wasn’t suggesting that she herself might be victim to such circumstances, which leaves only one implication. Which means that Obama and his family also deserve an apology.

And as Yoffe notes:

It’s chilling, the cool, uninflected way she casually brings up what she calls the “historic fact” that Bobby Kennedy was murdered in June—before the end of the primary season, so thank goodness Hubert Humphrey hadn’t withdrawn prematurely! Later, when forced to apologize, she explained that long primary seasons often run into June, as her own husband’s did, and anyway the Kennedys have been on her mind because of the brain tumor diagnosis of Ted Kennedy (take note: Voodoo dolls really do work).

Which might be fine, except it’s really not…

This is garbage both as history and self-explanation. In 1968 the presidential primaries started in March; and in his first presidential race, Bill Clinton had effectively won the nomination in April. As for the Kennedy-on-the-mind excuse, Hillary made the same assassination argument to Time magazine in March, before Sen. Kennedy’s diagnosis (isn’t it funny that this wasn’t picked up then).

As one poster on Slate noted, suddenly what seems like a gaffe becomes perilously close to a tactic designed to make an opponent seem vulnerable and weak. But then this is of a piece with the chutzpah of the Clinton camp asking for Michigan and Florida to be counted during the convention despite the fact that the two states refused to follow Democratic Party rules in holding their primaries and were censured by the DNC.

Indeed:

Obama and Clinton signed voluntary agreements not to campaign in Michigan and Florida. Clinton won Michigan, which held its primary on January 15 and which has 128 delegates, mainly because her name remained on the ballot while Obama removed his.

It’s grim stuff, whatever way one looks at it.

Yoffe continues, quite rightly that:

I don’t like the game of gotcha, in which every ill-phrased remark is grounds for ending a candidacy.

And Clinton and Obama (and now, interestingly enough McCain) have endured such gotcha moments throughout. Yet Yoffe also notes:

But recently Clinton has been making a string of offensive statements, from saying “hardworking white Americans” support her and not Obama, to comparing her effort to seat delegates from Florida and Michigan to the civil-rights marchers beaten in Selma, Ala. But calling forth the forces of madness to give her the presidency—please, let her end the madness of her campaign.

I think the problem isn’t her campaign which is entirely legitimate, but the manner it has descended to such rhetoric. It all sounds like dog whistle stuff, about white voters, about black voters, about assassination, about one thing or another, even if it’s not intended as such, or at least not entirely. And it plays to the overly dramatic, the populist (in a sense), the worst of intentions. So hold on, it is dog whistle stuff. In that respect, the damage it does, the win at all and any cost mentality it typifies, is so Clintonesque.

Perhaps she could take a leaf out of poor, almost forgotten, Mitt Romney who has ‘suspended’ his candidacy. But truth is, if Obama was indeed the nominee and the worst happened she would be the natural choice of the Democratic Party. As, perhaps, would be Romney in the event that McCain fell under a bus. So perhaps she protests too much… or perhaps finding a justification for remaining in the race is simply too difficult to do now considering the way the pledge delegates and the super-delegates are beginning to stack up.

Dangerous territory the past. Perhaps particularly so in the context of US Presidential campaigns. By comprehensively trashing Democratic Party support bases and – as bad – Democratic Party history it sets a seal on the tone of a campaign that has been near catastrophic.

Not so much ‘It takes a village’ as ‘to save the village we had to destroy it’. What a shambles.

The Left Archive: “The Irish Student”, from the Irish Student Movement, 1967 May 26, 2008

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

ISM

“Irish Students! We have waited long enough! The powers that be would have us irresponsible, indifferent and apathetic. We refute this charge and call upon all students to prove it false by taking a full part in the events which shape our destiny.”

And with that ringing declaration here’s a piece from the year before 1968, and the Irish Student Movement. It’s a bit of an oddity because I know nothing about the ISM at all. It makes a number of attacks on “Trotskyite factions”, and I was told by the person who donated it that it was Maoist. This would make sense, not least in terms of the references to ‘the imperialist powers, including the Soviet Union…’.

As regards the content, it is interesting to see how the events of the subsequent year were part of a dynamic that had already, and quite self-consciously emerged, for more consider the last page. The article on ‘Jargon’ by a Labour Party member makes some provocative statements, not the least of which is that ‘totalitarianism need not necessarily exist in a one-party state provided that fundamental human rights are respected’.

There is a reprint of “The Murder Machine” by Pearse, an article lauding the PAC in South Africa (“… it is futile to think that the U.K., U.S. or any West European country will apply sanctions…”), numerous digs at Kadar Asmal and the article on Q.U.B. is curiously indifferent to partition as against the requirement for foreign students to pay ‘their own bloody way’.

The focus is very much on student politics, perhaps inevitably, but the language (see S.R.C. Sell-out, page 4) is that of the left. Anyhow, I’d be very grateful if anyone knows who or what it represents. Any additional information will be posted up with this post.

Eurovision and camp… May 24, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture.
14 comments

Watching the Eurovision this evening – or at least the parts between Russia, the round up of the lucky lucky contestants who made it to the end, and the start of the voting it struck me just how pointless Ireland’s tilt against the windmills was when faced with the sheer brilliant madness of the show.

Russia, well kudos to them. It ain’t my cup of tea three men kneeling for most of the performance, lead singer – impassioned, violin player – impassioned, blond roller skater (roller skater?) – impassioned!

Bosnia and Herzegovina which I caught during the week. Genius like in their theatrical craziness.

Finland. Land of metal. Operatic, horrible horrible metal. Teeth-grinding for those of us who like the real thing. And yet… obviously hoping lightening would strike twice for them with rawk… lite.

Iceland. Techo-pop put through the camp filter. Difficult when techno-pop is already camper than a very camp thing indeed.

But here’s the thing. In that respect Ireland’s ‘knowing’ campness was always bound to crash against the rock of bonkersness that is the Eurovision. You can’t outcamp camp. It just doesn’t work. And switching briefly from Terry Wogan on BBC who as ever appears to forget he originated somewhat to the west of where he now works, who was on RTÉ but ‘Dustin’. Christmas time, methinks.

Fair dues to Serbia as well. I don’t know how they did the imagery on the screens directly behind the stage, projection of some sort I presume, but it looked remarkable for some of the acts.

And although I can’t stand much (all) of the music I came away sorry that I hadn’t seen the whole show this evening. That really can’t be good 🙂

For more on the political aspects of voting, and the carping tone of Wogan, see here at Splintered Sunrise.

Ciaran Cannon of the Progressive Democrats… in his own words… May 24, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.
8 comments

There are a number of rituals that every new leader of a small Irish political party must endure, even Senator Ciaran Cannon of the Progressive Democrats. There is the first speech in the Dáil (not an issue in his case), the inevitable photograph with the Oireachtas representation (not advisable in this instance, what with there only being four of them) and then… and then… there is the inevitable interview in Hot Press.

Hot Press continues to pursue it’s particular path. Music, cinema, a dash of politics mainly of the SWP strand. Liberal. Leftish. A middle of the road musical outlook – if by road we take the musical taste of the average third-level student as the baseline. A computer games section at the back. Only a page these days of ‘chat’ and ‘dating’ telephone lines… But they do love the political interview. Or rather the interview with a political figure, which is not, as shall be seen, necessarily the same thing.

In some respects this is the worst ritual for the newly elevated pol. Because Hot Press is always digging away at its own agenda, and a ‘yoof’ one at that. So we read the near inevitable:

Should soft drugs be legalised?

Answer?

Part of me says ‘yes’ and then the parent in me says ‘no’. That conundrum is there, you know…

You don’t say.

The inevitable:

Have you ever tried marijuana yourself?

Answer?

No, I wasn’t in any kind of environment where it wold be available to me. I take a few drinks. A few pints every now and again.

As it happens Cannon and myself are of an age. He spent a year in Trinity in 1984 studying computer science. I never darkened its door as a student (except blagging my way into their fairly good science fiction society for access to their library of battered 1970s novels, but that’s a different story). While there were pints aplenty, I’m also fairly sure I recall being in numerous environments where – had I been interested – it was available to me. Not being a middle class student stoner then or subsequently I declined.

Cannon runs a pub. He is a publican. He sells drink. So his answers to ‘Would you agree that there is an exaggerated hysteria about binge drinking and that it is a case of demonising teenagers’ are at least partially grounded in sense.

‘We all binged I suppose, to a certain extent… I do think it’s happening more now. Perhaps the reason is because young people have more money than I had 30 years ago’.

Yeah, perhaps.

He is pro-civil partnerships,‘I would be supportive of same sex marriages. Perhaps the phrase I would use is ‘civil partnership’.’

Perhaps not.

Do you think prostitution should be legalised?

I think it should… it’s the oldest profession in the world… it will always be thre and we should take the responsible approach and legalise it and bring the women involved in it into a safe environment…

Although…er… not yesterday he doesn’t…

In the Irish Times he wrote:

Last night, he qualified his comments by saying he wanted to see a greater involvement by the State in helping women involved in the sex industry.

He’s anti-abortion, sort of. ‘I have huge sympathy for women who find themselves in a position where they feel there is no other option than an abortion…but if you’re asking me if I’d support the full legalisation on demand in this country, I wouldn’t.’

He likes Brian Cowen ‘about to enter a pretty difficult time economically… and to have Brian Cowen with his economic experience… is going to be very beneficial’

Did he see corruption in his days in Dublin Corporation planning department?

Weeellll….. ‘You did have a sense that something was not quite right’.

Not quite right – eh?

But what is astounding about the interview is that after reading it I have absolutely no sense of what the PDs stand for with him at the ‘helm’. There are kind words for Michael McDowell, his predecessor… ‘left a lucrative career… gave an awful lot of himself…media wanted to portray him as this kind of Rottweiller, Hitler like persona… which he wasn’t’. Glad he clears that up then, McDowelll – not Hitler-like. Better? Worse? We’re not told (and while we’re at it, are Rottweillers Hitler-like? If so, in what way?).

And no sense as to why McDowell became a lightening rod for such antagonism, to the point that on election day his unpopularity was sufficient to all but eviscerate his party.

Indeed his defence of Mary Harney in Health goes like this…

Mary Harney was the first politician to ask for the job of Minister of Health… it was put about that Mary Harney was trying to privatise the health system and feather the beds of private health care in this country.

Indeed…

That was never what she’s about.

Really?

She’s trying to put in place a public health system where you and I and every other person – irrespective of their means – will have access to world-class public health care…

Now hold on just a minute, that doesn’t sound right.

Or continuing on from that piece of missing the point entirely… there is no sense of the PD political agenda. Perhaps that is because they no longer have one. Perhaps, as with Harney, from Cannon’s point of view it’s more important to be seen as ‘brave’ and taking on challenges than what that means in practice. Which is of course intensely political by introducing co-location. But no hint of ideology, other than a sort of bootstrap solipsism informs these quotes…

Is this a function of the interview which is clearly much more interested in social issues than economics – an old fault of Hot Press? Perhaps, but it seems odd that there is no effort to convey something, anything about the vision of the PDs.

Indeed his mention of policy is in the following context:

With Brian Cowen at the helm… the sort of links they (FF) had with the whole Haughey era [are] gone… it’s going to be refreshing because we are now going back to talking about actual policy and actual progress and moving forward collectively.

Collectively?

And while he touches on the possible demise of the PDs should the local elections go against them he argues ‘well, we’ll need to sit back and take stock and ask ourselves, internally, is there still a place for us in Irish politics?’.

But what is that place? What is the niche? What is the purpose of the exercise, other than sitting in Health? And that’s what I mean about the distinction between an interview with a politician and a political interview. We learn something of Cannon’s hinterland (a Prefab Sprout fan, or at least he was in 1984 – good on him). But why we should care overly much one way or another merely hinges on his leadership of a political party, which simply isn’t explored sufficiently.

Still, he does admit to uncertainty.

He states that “I would be bordering on the agnostic.”

Whether that is a sensible admission politically is open to question. The Irish Times picked up on this yesterday:

THE NEW leader of the Progressive Democrats Ciarán Cannon has said that he does not see a contradiction between his agnosticism and his former position as chief executive of the Irish Pilgrimage Church, which brings children to the Catholic shrine in Lourdes.

Ooops…

He told The Irish Times last night that he did not see it as a major issue. In the magazine he responded to the question put by the interviewer: “I do not go around wearing a badge saying I do or do not believe in God,” he said.

Mr Cannon said that, like anyone else growing up as a Catholic in Ireland, he was raised with a certain set of beliefs.

“Anybody with any kind of analytical mind would question that set of beliefs,” he said. “I have a very analytical and logical mind. I came to the conclusion that I am not certain whether God exists or not.”

I kind of like that. A bit of uncertainty in these matters is nice to hear.

And the Lourdes thing?

He went on to say that humans have an innate ability to be loved and to love. “It’s no more apparent [than] when you go to Lourdes and see. Some people believe that it is God working through us. I do not see that.

“What is more than apparent in Lourdes is that there is a huge outpouring of love, generosity and caring,” he said.

Deftly handled.

Still, next time I’d like to hear about what sort of party he leads. Perhaps the rest of the electorate might like that too.

Regretfully, Yes May 22, 2008

Posted by Wu Ming in European Union, Irish Politics, Lisbon Treaty.
60 comments

 

 The posters are up, opinion is shifting (or solidifying) and the campaign is entering its final stages.  It seems opportune therefore to move on from simple criticism of Libertas (which seems to antagonise some of our more swashbuckling comrades) and other elements of the No campaign, and look the Treaty itself.  Consider it a kind of ‘cards on the table’ moment.

Before exploring the pros and cons of Lisbon, it’s first necessary to dispel a couple of myths that have built up around it.  Firstly,  there’s a widespread belief that this Treaty is unreadable, impossible to understand (and deliberately designed to be so, if we are to lend credence to some of its more paranoid opponents).  It really isn’t.  Certainly, it’s no pageturner and is unlikely to find a place on airport bookshelves between the Tom Clancy and the Marian Keyes.  However, it’s really no more complicated than any substantial piece of primary legislation, and the changes proposed are reasonably straightforward.  What is true is that it’s impossible to understand what the Treaty changes without a copy of both the Treaty and the consolidated versions of the current Treaties in front of you.  This, while irritating, is unavoidable and actually more transparent that voting on a single, consolidated document.  It’s no different (other than in scale) to looking at what the Irish Constitution currently says when considering whether support any proposed amendment.

The other widespread myth, perpetuated by both the Yes and No campaigns is that the Lisbon Treaty makes substantial and far-reaching changes (for better or worse) to the operation of the European Union.  It doesn’t.  It’s not that significant at all. The changes introduced under Maastricht, Amsterdam and even Nice were far more radical than the limited amendments to operations currently being proposed.  It introduces no new competences to the Union and is just the institutional cleaning-up exercise that some have described it as, resolving a number of outstanding issues which should have been resolved under Nice but on which it wasn’t possible to reach agreement in time for the 2004 Enlargement.

What is required to understand the Lisbon Treaty and its significance, however, is a basic grasp of the institutions of the European Union and how they operate.  Given that it’s not a particularly interesting subject, it’s hardly surprising that it’s a subject on which quite a number of  people (including some who might be expected to know better) are quite ignorant.  This state of affairs is not new and, until recently, caused no difficulty for supporters of EU integration.  They could simply point to the money rolling in and tell people vote for whichever Treaty was being ratified at the time.  The problem now, of course, is that having fostered this kind of ignorance for so long, they’re unable to rely on a basic background knowledge on the part of the electorate which would allow it to distinguish a valid argument from a nonsensical one during the campaign.  As you sow, etc.

So why a Yes vote, then?  Simply put, I’m voting for the Lisbon Treaty because it represents an improvement, broadly, on the current institutional arrangements and enhances democratic accountability within the Union.  It increases the power of the European Parliament in its ability to assent to or reject legislation prepared by the Commission.  It gives effect to the Charter of Fundamental Rights which, while not as substantial as it’s sometimes presented (it only applies to the institutions of the EU, or to the national implementation of EU legislation – not going to give us gay marriage, for example) is still a positive move in enshrining the fundamental rights of the individual in the Treaties.  The Citizens’ Initiative which Lisbon introduces is a particularly interesting development; not only does it enhance the power of European citizens to hold the institutions of the Union to account, it also has the potential to begin to create a genuine transnational European political identity, as only a campaign on that scale and with that scope could mobilise the numbers necessary to have any petition recognised under the Initiative.

Much time and energy has been given over to the discussion of the relative voting strength of Ireland under the proposed revised QMV system, with quite a bit of heat but very little light.  Reverting for the moment to the point about knowledge of how the Union works being important in this debate, the fact that so much focus has been given to the QMV issue does show a complete overestimation of the extent to which any decision would go to a vote under the present rules, including in situations where QMV currently applies.  That said, however, there does appear to be something of a disconnect between the demands for great democratic accountability within the Union and opposition to changes to the QMV system.  Once the principle that certain decisions be taken by QMV is conceded – and it has – then it’s difficult to see how one can object to moves towards a system where equal consideration is given to all EU citizens, and where votes in Council are weighted accordingly.  If one was to introduce QMV now and was developing the system from behind a Rawlsian veil of ignorance I would suggest that the system emerging from the process would resemble the Lisbon proposals far more than it would the current arrangement.

I do remain unconvinced of the merits of some aspects of the Treaty, the permanent President of the European Council being a case in point.  Leaving aside the fact that this isn’t quite the new position that some like Libertas seem to think it is (Nicolas Sarkozy will be the President of that body in about six weeks), it’s not at all clear what added value a permanent (well, semi-permanent) independent President would bring.  The role of the European Council itself is rather limited, certainly in legislative terms, and the President doesn’t currently wield any significant power other than political clout (this being as much a function of their domestic position – depending on the incumbent – as of the fact that they chair two meetings in a six-month period).  Additionally, given the fact that the rotation of Presidencies between Member States is being retained in the Council of the European Union (apart from the Foreign Affairs formation) the new position of President could potentially prove to be an obstacle to the smooth running of the Union at its highest levels, as opposed to providing the continuity and consistency that’s often suggested.  It might, therefore, have been best if this proposal had been dropped at the same time as they did away with the flag and the anthem from the Constitution; like those it’s just another hangover from Vichy collaborationist Giscard d’Estaing’s dreams of Convention glory.  However, it’s still not quite strong enough a flaw to swing me towards a ‘No’ position.

Speaking of which, it would be refreshing if a little more honesty was employed in discussions about the consequences of a No vote.  It has been said that the cases of France and Holland are useful comparisons here: they voted No to the Constitution, and nothing happened to them.  True, to a extent, but to labour a rather obvious point, Ireland is neither France nor Holland and, from the perspective of national interests (if one actually cares about such things) Ireland is far more dependent on the goodwill of other Member States than France or Holland are.  On this point, Brian Cowen is actually correct.  If Ireland votes No to this Treaty, and blocks the implementation of its provisions in the face of overwhelming support from the administrations of virtually all other Member States, it would seriously affect the ability of Irish officials to gain sympathy for the Irish position in a host of other fora, discussions on the future of the CAP being an obvious example.

This is not, in itself, a particularly strong reason for voting Yes and it’s certainly not a pretty or principled one.  It is, however, an honest one.  It’s a nonsense to suggest, as Sinn Féin does, for example, that voting No would allow for the negotiation of a ‘better deal’ for Ireland.  On what basis do they think that other Member States would be in any mood to bend over backwards to appease the electorate of this country – a country which needs the EU far more than the EU needs it?  What would happen is simply what happened with the Nice referenda:  a few declarations here and there adding essentially nothing and a rerun of the campaign.  To those who suggest that a rejection of the Treaty would not only not damage Ireland’s standing within the Union but would, in fact, enhance it I would simply say the following.  Get real.

Finally, questions about the primacy given to competition and free markets, about transparency of decision-making or about the disbursement of EU funding are, to a great extent, valid ones and deserve to be addressed.  However, they are not questions that are relevant to this particular debate.  There is no better or improved EU on offer if the Lisbon Treaty is rejected.  We don’t have a choice between Lisbon and Lisbon Plus, between Lisbon and the Programme of the Left Opposition or between Lisbon and the Democratic Programme of the First Dáil.  It’s a flat choice between Lisbon and the current institutional framework.  For the reasons I’ve argued above Lisbon is, in my view, an improvement on the only alternative currently on the table.  A slight improvement, perhaps, but an improvement nonetheless.  And it’s for that reason, above all, that I will be voting, regretfully, Yes.

“In God’s Name” – Dispatches on fundamentalist Christians… May 22, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
10 comments

Briefly, what an unlovely and unloving bunch they turn out to be. It’s rarely enough that a warning preceding a documentary about the offensive potential of its contents has any particular significance, but this time… it certainly was offensive.

Homophobia, anti-Islamic sentiments, ill-digested creationism, an unpleasantly warped view of human sexuality. Tick, tick, tick, tick the boxes. It was all there. From the celibate and virginal 29 year old – on the brink of marrying (hmmm… that’s great…), to the revoltingly provocative Alan Partridge soundalike talking about civil war with ‘repressive’ Muslims in the UK in the future, and the fundamentalist activist who called Islam a ‘false’ religion even as she cosied up to a Tory MP – who if she didn’t before the documentary, really should have made it her business to know better, but just didn’t seem to care – during the run-up to the Human Fertilisation and Embryo Bill.

And underlying it all, for all the cant about God, precious little empathy, human fellow feeling or compassion, just a procession of faintly absurd, but entirely serious people who seemed to have something a bit more fundamental missing in their make up than an over-emphasis on their religious dedication (or zealotry).

It’s an old line of argument, but surely a God who has some hand or part in a universe that contains galaxies and quantum foam is unlikely to be too pushed about such matters in the way they propose. But then, it isn’t about God at all, or so it seems much of the time – and hence the aversion, if not indeed fear of the rational or scientific. It’s about pulling the walls closer, trying to pretend it isn’t a big big world and universe out there, but a little little mental horizon where all difference is eradicated and reductionism is the order of the day.

And for those of us from this state a recognition of much the same sort of behaviour patterns which sort of underscored a point Emmanuel Kehoe made in his television column in the Sunday Business Post when he wrote…

Watching the [Irish] nation tying itself in a Gordian knot over abortion was a major spectator sport throughout the last three decades of the 20th century. The ferocity of the debate, with its lunatic fringe on both sides and its persistent refusal to go away – because, largely, t he anti faction was alarmed that the constitutional change it had wished upon the country might actually facilitate abortion – was ultimately exhausting.

Exhausting yes, but that febrile energy hasn’t dissipated, is – if anything – perhaps increasing in the UK with a tranche of activists much more clearly savvy about the media (entertaining, but telling how they pushed BNP members away during the protests outside Parliament). And add in the noxious element of a Conservative party that for all its purported ‘newness’ and openness is still the same old same old, as noted by the Guardian today…

MPs at Westminster voted largely along party lines during Tuesday’s free votes on abortion, with 83% of Conservatives voting for 22 weeks and 80% of Labour members opposing a reduction.

And crucially:

Opponents of abortion said the figures showed it may be possible to bring the issue back to the Commons if the Tories win the next election, and the science on the viability of unborn children develops.

An hours worth of disturbing and watchable television viewing. It’s stayed with me right through today.

Catastrophic poll ratings for British Labour… er… what took so long? May 22, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Labour Party, British Politics, Irish Politics.
6 comments

I can’t help thinking that Simon Hoggart, a more perceptive analyst of contemporary politics than some give him credit, was correct in the Guardian when he wrote recently…

I suppose the point about Gordon Brown is that he has always regarded himself as Tony Blair’s intellectual superior – and he is probably right. He thought: “If Blair can do it, how hard can it be?”

Now he knows. Blair was limited in many ways, and his relationship with the truth was … well, it was like a bloke who has a girlfriend he’s happy to spend time with, but unwilling to commit to because it might turn out to be inconvenient. But Blair was a great politician, and that has little to do with brain power…

Of course it’s trivial. But you need a cushion of public affection, and Brown doesn’t have it. Right now every pundit and Labour MP is telling him to adopt their view and pursue it relentlessly. He may as well ignore them all. If the economy perks up in two years, he might win. If it doesn’t, he won’t.

It’s brief, it’s cruel, but it’s mighty accurate.

And I’m fairly certain that Polly Toynbee was right when she wrote in Tuesday’s Guardian under the heading ‘The dam’s burst. Now voters just want to wallop Labour’ that:

It would be a miracle if Labour won the Crewe byelection this week, and miracles will be hard to come by when today’s ICM poll shows Labour dropped by some 7% in the course of a month.

And she continues:

A witlessly patronising anti-toff campaign will not be to blame so much as the desperate emptiness of Labour’s message. It’s not where you’re from but who you’re for that matters, and that’s the question Labour has ducked and dodged for years. Nothing Tamsin Dunwoody’s team did could have made a shred of difference – though accusing the Tories of being soft on immigration stank. Labour needs to learn from this campaign that for long-term survival, there’s a lot to be said for going down gracefully, with convictions flying, not scratching at the inevitable with your finger nails.

And there you have it. “Convictions” flying. But what, pray tell, precisely are the convictions of the current incarnation of the Labour Party, or at least those who lead it? For as she notes, there is a ‘desperate emptiness’ at the heart of the Labour message and has been for years.

The Crewe Tory candidate is no picture, but for Labour, and for New Labour at that, to pretend that as a party it somehow is a bulwark against privilege and reaction is simply nonsensical. And for those of us with long memories its not as if there isn’t privilege and reaction in them thar hills, for look here at this blast from the past:

Eric Pickles, the shadow local government minister, is running the Tory campaign well.

Toynbee makes this even clearer when she writes later: without a political message to glorify the public realm, even these [achievements of Labour over the past 10 years] don’t translate into votes.

There it is. The relentless indifference, if not indeed often naked hostility, to the very concept of public service. An equal indifference to the core Labour base, a courting of the middle classes in the most cack-handed way, as if policy could somehow trump their natural political inclinations every time – particularly when even the most casual reading of history would demonstrate that simply running on being ‘efficient’ managers of the economy and the polity would eventually hit the buffers of circumstances. Those middle classes are now swayed by a media with no sense of loyalty to Labour and by their own self-interest. As they always would be – and adding insult to injury swayed by a Blair simulacrum. Only without the war, and without the baggage of ten years in power, and with none of the hard edged unpleasantness (so far) that formerly characterised the ‘nasty party’.

And memories of that are – unfortunately – all too quick to fade. Toynbee points to Cameron being:

.

..only new to those too young to remember “sharing the proceeds of growth” and “living within our means” – the shabbiness, the peeling paint, the seedy parks and squalid buildings, museums charging £8 a go and crime figures tracking unemployment upwards.

Well, many remember. There have been some improvements, and not all are cosmetic.

But that begs the question, what has been achieved over the decade of serious consequence that will endure if we are now to see everything handed back to the Tories? It has been survival, not development. And although Cameron, should he win, will be hard pressed to change too much too soon much depends on the scale of any victory he might have and how long in office he might sit.

Still, far from the super-heated hyperbole about a new ‘progressive’ century we used to be treated to by Blair et al we see instead the disintegration of the Labour party as a political vehicle in a manner that is as distressing as it is comprehensive.

And much of this seeming to be inexplicable, after all, why Brown and not Blair? Why now and not in the immediate aftermath of the Iraq War or at the last election? In part it is a media construct. A media delighted to put the boot into Brown as substitute for Blair, representation of the hollowness of New Labour and, paradoxically, echo (however distant) of dismal times when Labour was in power in the 1970s. Add to that a British public opinion which seems to swing almost unhinged, perhaps in the sort of sudden shift in sentiment that we saw after the death of Diana. It doesn’t mean much, because the sins of omission that Brown is charged with are in reality quite minimal. Toynbee asks this too…

Why this 10p issue, over and over again? After all, the money is mostly restored, giving 22 million an unexpected bonus. Abolishing the 10p tax band doesn’t symbolise Labour, who have redirected more money to poor pensioners and children than anyone since Lloyd George. Nor is it the worst thing Labour has done: we are still mired in the Iraq war, but nobody mentioned that. Yet that 10p is the dambuster, giving people permission to say, Right, if Labour isn’t even for the poor, I have no reason left to restrain my indignation.

But Brown is not the man for the job – he represents in microcosm a bad faith that has dogged New Labour in its philosophies and its dealings – perhaps most egregiously in the run up to the Iraq War. And the 10p tax, a handy hook for the media to hang an attack upon, is merely indicative of that bad faith. Particularly when it can be seen as an attack on those who Labour are meant to protect most. Which leaves an electorate, keen to give a kicking, running towards the nearest available option (and trampling over the Liberal Democrats in the process – no change there then despite their 22% in the polls).

If Brown represented a genuinely enthusiastic project seeking to improve peoples lives rather than merely provide a dull managerial conservatism there is some chance that the situation would be different to that where:

Labour support is in freefall, according to a Guardian/ICM poll published today. It shows that the party’s position – 14 points behind the Conservatives – is worse than at any time since May 1987, just before Margaret Thatcher won her third election by a landslide…..the Conservatives, on 41%, two points up on last month’s Guardian/ICM poll.

Labour support, at 27%, has fallen seven points in the space of a month and is the lowest ever recorded in the Guardian/ICM series, which began in 1984.

Prudence, which for many of us seemed to be close to reactionary arrogance, finally runs out of steam. Because prudence isn’t of any great efficacy when attempting to retain state power with a failing project. But for a genuine enthusiasm more would be required. Much more, and it isn’t there.

Toynbee concludes;

I hope I’ll have to eat my hat with a side order of humble pie if Labour wins. But I fear the morning after Crewe, the question will be: how does Labour get stampeding voters to stop and think rationally about the long-term difference between a Labour and a Conservative future? It would help if Labour made that difference crystal clear.

Too late?

And while you’re thinking about that, think about this. Anyone notice just how unlucky our own version of Brown and his government has suddenly become? Pat Carey’s travails have already been noted here and here, but what of Mary Coughlan’s apparent inability to remember some sort of kind of pertinent details of EU structures, you know, minor stuff about numbers of Commissioners, during a referendum campaign. And then what of yesterday’s larks with Cowen himself caught on microphone saying something fairly unparliamentary in the Dáil chamber. That there is a degree of utter hypocrisy as regards the way the issue was played by segments of the opposition does not detract from a whiff of things being slightly out of control. Just slightly, mind. There’s plenty of time to calm unsteady nerves.

For now.

Welcome to our fun new politics… The Green Party and Fianna Fáil have an… ahem…interesting… time dealing with ethics and coalition. May 21, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.
6 comments

Reading the Irish Independent yesterday, something I don’t often do for a variety of reasons, the story by Senan Moloney, Deputy Political Editor certainly caught the attention.

Under the heading: Coalition row brewing over gifts, it noted:

DRAFT legislation to extend secrecy for politicians accepting gifts and taking major shareholdings is threatening to spark a row between the Coalition partners.

Green party chief whip Ciaran Cuffe will today tell his parliamentary party colleagues of his concerns over a Bill that would raise the disclosure thresholds for a gift received by a politician from €650 to €2,000.

That’s a remarkable jump upwards and while €2,000 may not be big bucks in some peoples estimation, it’s not peanuts either. Collect a mere ten or so donations of that magnitude and we’re at €20,000. What is irritating is the sense that this is somehow seen as ‘reasonable’ and beyond question.

In reality a better yardstick would be to demand that all donations of three figures or over require noting and publication. Difficult to assess or keep tabs on? Hardly, in an age of Microsoft Excel. When every corner shop can manage to do same it seems unreasonable that politicians are unable (or more likely unwilling) to take that route.

But, it’s not just the donations issue which is irritating. For one also reads the following:

At the same time the privacy limit for shareholdings would jump from €13,000 to €20,000.

€20,000. Now think about that for a moment. Someone somewhere has decided that shareholdings owned by politicians and not subject to public notification equal to a significant portion of the average industrial wage – €31080.40 in 2007 – are somehow reasonable.

And it is this sense of ‘reasonableness’ which has led to the farce of €38,000 wage increases for Bertie Ahern being viewed as fine by him but with some degree of incredulity by the public.

Ciaran Cuffe has said that: “We want to see greater disclosure. We’re not enthusiastic about raising limits,”

I genuinely wish him well in this endeavour. But while his lack of ‘enthusiasm’ may well be a function of the political diplomacy necessary to coalition maintenance, the Independent points to a degree of game playing that undercuts the intent of his words.

The controversial Bill was placed on this week’s Dail order paper late last week — only to be mysteriously withdrawn and replaced within hours.

The tabling of the Ethics in Public Office (Amendment) Bill came after Mr Cuffe missed a meeting of party whips to discuss the scheduling of legislation. “Sometimes things slip through,” said Mr Cuffe yesterday. The Dun Laoghaire TD admitted no-one else had substituted for him at the meeting.

Mistake? The aftermath of the transition? Well perhaps, for a familiar face pops up…

Party chief whip Pat Carey said “purely logistical” difficulties had arisen with taking the Bill because three senior officials from its sponsoring Department of Finance were due to be away at an EU meeting in Brussels.

He appears to be having a very bad seven or eight days… Yet in fairness he makes a good point…

Mr Carey said there had been no representations from the Greens on the issue, although he presumed there was agreement for the proposed new limits.

And Ciaran Cuffe, unfortunately, supports this…

However, Mr Cuffe said the Bill was a “curate’s egg” that was good in parts. “Clearly it contains limits that we weren’t over the moon about,” he added.

That’s a very interesting phrase (and in fairness to Cuffe he found himself on the sharp end of a shareholding dispute), and beyond that I hear that there is considerable disquiet in the Green Party about this very matter.

And the Labour Party has – entirely rightly – sought to make political hay…

Labour Party finance spokeswoman Joan Burton said there was no case for increasing the limits — which in some cases would jump by more than 200pc.

She said the new limits would significantly reduce the information available to the public about gifts and a TD’s personal interests.

Ms Burton said she was astonished that the Green Party “which has repeatedly called for more openness in regard to the financial and business interests of politicians” was prepared to go along with the plan.

It is astonishing, but more astonishing is the fact that Fianna Fáil are willing – despite everything that has happened over the past two years – to underwrite this. Have they simply not learned? Or do they simply not care? Because while Brian Cowen’s point during the 2007 Election campaign that he didn’t need to take instruction on ethics (and I paraphrase) is fine in the specific, in the general, as we keep seeing, it tends to be problematic.

Ironically, as reported in the Independent:

The original Bill arose out of a move to placate the Progressive Democrats in the immediate wake of the Bertiegate scandal in late 2006.

Then-PD leader Michael McDowell secured agreement that politicians in future would have to check proposed gifts — including “dig-outs” — with the Standards Commission, which would rule on whether they could be accepted.

But after the change of government, Fianna Fail introduced new elements to the Bill which would hide substantial areas of a politician’s financial dealings from public scrutiny.

This last, even if the characterisation is overblown, points to a dismal disconnect between elements of the political class and the rest of us. There are simply no good reasons for politician’s financial dealings not to be subject to public scrutiny. We have seen our politics and our polity damaged time and again by a sense that somehow the financial is sacrosanct, that what a man or a woman does with their money is beyond question, whatever the office that they hold now or in the future. That the sums involved are irrelevant, when clearly they are not. That the gross disparities in income which these not merely point up, but actually sustain, are fine rather than disgraceful.

And the disconnect is so great that they simply do not see that walking yet another generation into potential scandals and disputes about this is a pointless endeavour.

Whatever the decisions that led to the Green Party in government, they are there now. In some respects that is a very good thing, in others – clearly not. But while not asking them to be the conscience of the Government – at least in the sort of wooly rhetorical Irish Times fashion that so many seemed to demand across the last year – when presented with an actual opportunity to engage strongly with shaping ethics in public office it seems reasonable that they should focus considerable energy on ensuring that the next twenty years aren’t simply a reprise of the last twenty years. Otherwise, what is the point?

French to have referendum on Europe…..the Turkish bit May 20, 2008

Posted by franklittle in European Politics, European Union.
2 comments

Among the arguments the No campaign have been able to deploy on Lisbon the undemocratic nature of the EU project has been one of the strongest. Supporters of the EU project make no bones about denying that their opposition to referendums on EU Treaties is based in large part on their belief that the people might vote against them. Figure out ways to avoid letting the people have their say, and we’re half-way to the neo-liberal Fortress Europe that the EU Commission has been moving us towards for a number of years.

But the French are considering a plan that would have them hold a referendum in a very unique set of circumstances. According to the EU Observer this Thursday the French Parliament will debate an amendment that would require a referendum to approve the accession of any country that might join the EU which has a population that surpasses five percent of the existing EU population. In other words, a country with a population of over 25 million people.

Turkey, who have been hovering around EU entry for years despite their appalling human rights record, has a population of 71 million people. Most of the leading candidate countries of the moment like Bosnia or Croatia come well under the line. Although the limit would also cause a problem for the Ukranians, they’re a little further away. The French Socialist Party has opposed the proposal on the grounds that it’s a clear swipe at the Turks but according to the Observer piece Sarkozy, who is strongly opposed to the entry of our Turlish friends, has given his blessing to the project.

Interesting isn’t it? The possibility of letting Turks into Europe requires a referendum. But no such vote is required to overturn the French Non of 2005.

A recession approaches, but can porn save us? May 20, 2008

Posted by franklittle in media, Media and Journalism, United States, US Media, US Politics.
4 comments

Quirky little story from the US. According to CNN imaginative ways are being considered to deal with California’s budget crisis. Despite roles in Kindergarten Cop and Twins, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger finds himself presiding over a budget deficit of $17 billion and growing.

The solution, proposed by one of those notorious tax and spend Democrats, is to target the adult entertainment industry with what can only be described as a vicious 25% tax rate. Adult entertainment, claims Dem Assemblyman Charles Calderon, has a greater revenue than ABC, NBC and CBC combined. Such a tax could bring in upwards of $700 million every year.

The porn industry, calling itself the Free Speech Coalition, has pledged to fight the proposal.

Leaving me with only three questions. If the recession starts to bite here in Ireland, could we see Revenue agents going after the adult shops on Capel Street? How many pictures of scantily clad women can CNN get into a piece on the California budget crisis? And is this the best I can do as first story back after two months away?

The answer to the last question is clear enough.

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