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Mercenaries and Iraq. A Tale of Woe. November 17, 2008

Posted by Garibaldy in Capitalism, Iraq, The War On Terror.

A while back, I remember reading a post I think on this site about the mercenary army that was enabling the occupation of Iraq to continue by keeping the number of US combat deaths artificially low. I can’t find it now. Anyway, I wouldn’t usually cross-post, but I think this piece I just put up on my own blog will also be of interest to readers here. And perhaps the author of the other post can add a link to it.

The Guardian has an entertaining story on its front page with British mercenaries in Iraq and Afghanisatan complaining about being undercut by cheaper eastern European labour, with backgrounds in the special forces of those countries.

The National Association of Security Professionals (Nasp), an organisation for those working in the private security industry, said former British soldiers are being laid off by companies in Iraq who are turning to east Europeans instead. The number of Britons providing security in Iraq has fallen from a peak of about 5,000 in 2004-05 to nearer 2,000 this year.
Mark Shurben-Browne, a director of Nasp, said the market had reached saturation point, with companies receiving 10-20 CVs a day. But many firms were trying to reduce costs by hiring staff from eastern Europe, particularly Serbs and Croats.
“One company sacked half their British workforce and replaced them with cheaper guys with a special forces background from eastern Europe,” said Shurben-Browne.
“The companies are mixing the teams up, keeping two or three expat or British guys on in a team with the rest from eastern Europe.”

The National Association of Security Professionals. Talk about a misnomer. What this is is a gang of mercenaries, who have been getting fat and rich as an unaccountable special army that has a dreadful record of human rights abuses and killing civilians, often being spirited out of the country to avoid local courts – or any justice at all. Astoundingly, there is also an employers’ federation for these people:

Andy Bearpark, director general of the British Association of Private Security Companies (BAPSC), said: “There may be some blokes in Iraq earning £100,000 a year tax-free, but £50,000 tax-free is a much more likely figure now.”
Bearpark has heard of Fijians, Gurkhas, Ukrainians and Sierra Leoneans being employed, usually on much lower wages than British and US personnel. “There was a US firm which was not even paying Sierra Leoneans 10% of what they paid their US staff,” he said.

So mercenaries are the victims of the credit crunch as well as merchant bankers. Every cloud has a silver lining. We on the left are sympathetic to people who lose their jobs by inclination. And perhaps we could view becoming a mercenary as a rational choice by people to employ their particular type of skilled labour power. However, the fact that many are coming from Croatia and Seriba should raise questions, and a clear description of the character of many of the British people involved is provided by Bearpark:

“It’s not unusual for guys to go and buy shares in a Bangkok brothel and within three months they’ve lost it all and then they have to try to get another contract to pay off their debts. They’re not people used to handling a lot of money. The average guy is earning £40,000-£45,000 in Afghanistan, which is nothing like what people were earning in Iraq,” said Bearpark.

I think that says enough about the mercenaries. One other point – the language employed by The Guardian. What have we come to when a paper that is supposed to be the voice of progressive Britain unquestioningly adopts the language of the “private security industry”, and puts it on its front page?

Still More TV November 17, 2008

Posted by Garibaldy in Books, Culture, Economics, Film and Television, History.
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At the risk of seeming the laziest blogger in the land, or a paid advertiser for TV stations, I thought I’d flag up Niall Ferguson’s new six-part series The Ascent of Money starting tonight on Channel 4 at 8pm. I don’t know if I will watch it as I find the impeccably reactionary Ferguson sickenly smug and impossibly facile at the same time, but it is probably the sort of thing lefties should be watching. There is of course an accompanying book of the same name, of which there is a pleasingly snide review by the equally insufferable Tristam Hunt. Think I’ll definitely give the book a miss.

An end to civil war politics. Again. November 17, 2008

Posted by Garibaldy in Irish Politics, The Left.

Marc Coleman, “columnist with the Sunday Independent, Irish entrepreneur and Irish Catholic” has an interesting piece discussing possible future structural changes in the political system of the Republic of Ireland, arguing that

there is a very real prospect that within the next decade or two, the civil war party structure will join de Valera and Collins in that great political arena in the sky.

Why does he think such change is possible? Firstly, he points to the dissatisfaction with the main party leaders in recent polls, which also show only Gilmore and Adams with decent approval ratings (though Adams’ are of course well down on his peak, and Rabitte’s didn’t do him much good). At the same time, the 2004 local elections saw the share of the vote of FF and FG fall below 60% for the first time since 1927. Coleman predicted then the end of civil war politics, although he had to admit he was proven wrong. Today, opinion polls put their combined support at 61%, and FF’s back at its 1927 levels of support.

In addition, he argues that the urbanisation of the country, and an electorate a decade younger than it was in the 1980s, means that a style of politics evolved for rural Ireland has a less than rosy future. In Dublin, he points out, FF and FG have less than 40% support, and he argues that where Dublin leads, the rest of the country follows.

What is needed for a profound change in the political party system?

For the party political structure of a nation to change radically, three things need to happen. The first, profound social change, has come about — in a generation — through a rise of one million in our population, urbanisation, a huge rise in living standards and a dramatic rise in our expectations.
The second prerequisite for change is an inability on the part of the main parties to keep up with these changes. The third is a catalytic event, such as a serious economic downturn.

Coleman argues that the civil war parties were saved from disaster at the last election only because of favourable economic circumstances including cheap personal credit, government spending, and the maturing of SSIAs putting extra money in people’s pockets. Now that those circumstances are gone for the foreseeable future, he argues that the vote share of FF and FG will return to the high twenties and low thirties, and that consequently they may opt to form a unity government or never be able to force through the reforms he feels are necessary due to opposition from special interest groups.

If they do, they might as well merge. If they do coalesce, Fine Gael will lose its social democratic voters to Labour and Fianna Fail’s working class vote will go to Sinn Fein. Shorn of these wings — Fine Gael and Fianna Fail would be stronger together than apart. The left, with two stronger parties to represent it, would have to wait no longer.

So the vision Coleman offers then is of the development at last of some form left/right politics in the Irish state. I have to say I am deeply unconvinced.

Firstly, we should remember that a vote share of “only” 60% is enough to ensure that either of these parties will be the dominant group in any coalition, so it is a little early to be predicting an alternative politics. And besides that, local elections are different beasts to Dáil ones, so it is to some extent comparing apples and oranges. Secondly, the Republic has been urbanised for quite some time, both in terms of the number of people living in towns, and in terms of the occupation structure. Agriculture has not been the dominant source of income for most rural dwellers for decades. That has not heralded an end to civil war politics. Thirdly, and linked to this point, his argument that FF and FG are still operating to a rural agenda strikes me as wrong. FF in particular is extremely well attuned to local circumstances, and I don’t see much evidence that it is fundamentally out of touch over much of urban southern Ireland. Fourthly, his argument about urban voters’ choices seems to me to be very wrong

With 60pc of our electorate now urban, the way voters choose increasingly depends on policy relevance, consistency, and its coherence with some kind of philosophy.

Surely the very nature of politics in the Republic – almost completely freed from any sense of ideology or consistency – makes a nonsense of this. Fifthly, and this is something that I expect many readers will disagree with me about, I think he misunderstands the nature of the Labour Party and Provisional Sinn Féin, and grossly overestimates the extent to which they are likely to pursue radically different policies from either civil war party. We know Labour has a history of coalition with both civil war parties, and while it seems fairly clear that PSF would prefer to be in coalition with FF than FG, I cannot see them turning down the chance to become part of a modern version of the rainbow coalition should the chance come up after the next election. Both parties clearly moved towards the centre before the last election, and neither party is moving radically leftward. Neither party has shown the ability to pull the voters Coleman is talking about away from FG and FF in the past, and I don’t see that any merged party would be any more right-wing and alienating of them than the current entities. The one thing I think he has got right about voters’ choices is policy relevance, and I doubt that FF and FG as they stand or in any merger would cut their own throats by ignoring the concerns of voters in pursuit of an ideologically pure right wing politics. We’ve seen where that got the PDs (remember them?).

And most of all, there is just no chance of FF and FG merging even within the next two decades, so this is all kind of a moot point anyway. It tells us more about Coleman’s ideal scenario than it does about politics in the Republic.

Irish Left Archive: Marxism Today, Communist Party of Great Britain, Special Irish Number, June 1973 – Part 2 November 17, 2008

Posted by irishonlineleftarchive in Communist Party of Great Britain, Communist Party of Ireland, Irish Left Online Document Archive.


As promised last week, here is Part 2 of Marxism Today: Special Irish Number.

Two files, pages 18 – 36 and the full version.



Etiquette and Protocol November 17, 2008

Posted by Wu Ming in European Politics, European Union, Lisbon Treaty, Media and Journalism.


“Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!”.  I had hoped to retire gracefully after the Lisbon referendum, and leave the blogging to others, but phone-tappee, dinner guest and sometime journalist Bruce Arnold’s piece in today’s Sunday Independent shouldn’t go unnoticed.  Writing about the week’s visit of Czech President Vaclav Klaus, Arnold writes:

Let me tell the minister in this sensitive, vital department of State, what protocol means. Protocol is diplomatic etiquette. Etiquette consists of the conventional rules of personal behaviour in polite society. It embraces ceremonial for State visits. It consists of a largely unwritten code restricting professional men in what concerns the interests of their brethren or the dignity of their profession. To be diplomatic is to be uncandidly subtle. It includes, politically, being an adroit negotiator.

For those who care about such things, Arnold is spot on.  There were serious breaches of protocol on Klaus’ part over the past week, specifically his comments to the media on the Lisbon Treaty and, most particularly, his attendance at the dinner hosted by Declan Ganley (or is it Libertas, or is it Rivada) at the Shelbourne.  Arnold, of course, was a guest at the meal and was able to witness the diplomatic aberrations at first hand.

Oh, wait … what’s that?  It seems that Arnold’s ire on lack of etiquette isn’t directed at Klaus at all, but rather at Micheál Martin.  In fact, he says nothing at all about Klaus’ complete disregard for diplomatic protocol, simply noting that Klaus himself was “highly intelligent, truthful and diplomatic” (whatever they were serving at that dinner, it must have been strong).  How odd.  Odder still that Arnold fails to instance a single specific example of the breaches he accuses Martin of committing (apparently of such ‘enormity’ that they merit dismissal from Cabinet).

The simple truth is that Klaus’ behaviour in the course of the trip was bizarre, by any standard.  Unlike the Sarkozy visit in July to which Arnold refers, this was a bilateral state visit to Ireland.  Strict rules apply on such visits regarding what can and can’t be said, and who can and can’t be met by the incoming Head of State.  In the case of Sarkozy, it wasn’t a state visit and he was here in his capacity as President of the European Council.  Different rules apply, and if Arnold had any awareness of the most basic aspects of diplomatic protocol, he should have known that.

Speaking of the President of the European Council, though, there’s a very telling little slip revealed in the article.  Arnold quotes Ganley as saying:

“When the current president, Nicolas Sarkozy, visited Ireland in the summer, after our referendum, he was outspokenly on the minority losing side. Yet we ensured he talked freely to those he wanted to meet, including those who had won and represented the majority.” Addressing his main guest he went on: “You, Mr President, as the next president of Europe, from January, have had more difficulty, but happily you join us for this event tonight which is immensely important for my guests and for myself.”

Let’s leave aside the fact that Ganley appears to have dropped his objection to an ‘unelected’ President of Europe in this case.  Let’s even leave aside the fact that no such position actually exists.  Assuming Ganley, and Arnold, who describes Klaus as ‘Sarkozy’s successor’, are talking about President of the European Council, it’s not the case that Klaus will hold that position in January.  Rather, the job will go to Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek, just as it was held by Bertie Ahern in the first half of 2004, and not Mary McAleese.

Perhaps Arnold should be forgiven by expounding on a subject on which he is ignorant.  He’d hardly be a Sunday Independent journalist otherwise and, as Smiffy demonstrated previously, it’s a mistake that others have made.  Perhaps we might even forgive poor Ganley, who likely feels that his complete ignorance of the institutions of the EU did him no harm in the summer, and that there’s no need to get his facts right now.

I wonder, though, if Klaus corrected him.

The lonely passion of the Irish Times… for Richard Bruton. November 16, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Uncategorized.

There’s something a bit unlovely about the current enthusiasm for Richard Bruton at the Irish Times. Those of you who missed the front page of the paper yesterday are probably in blissful ignorance that Stephen Collins wrote:

A MAJORITY of people believe that the deputy leader of Fine Gael, Richard Bruton, would make a better leader than Enda Kenny in the current economic downturn, according to the latest Irish Times/ TNS mrbi poll.

And continued:

When asked which of the two Fine Gael senior figures would be a better leader in this economic downturn 46 per cent opted for Richard Bruton, while 28 per cent said Enda Kenny and 26 per cent had no opinion.

Among Fine Gael voters opinion was evenly split with 46 per cent for each man. Among the supporters of other parties, Sinn Féin voters were the most positive about Mr Kenny, while Fianna Fáil voters were the most negative.

Mr Kenny was most popular in Dublin but there was no significant difference in his rating across the regional divide. In age terms the Fine Gael leader was strongest among 35- to 49-year-olds and in class terms he was strongest among lower-income DE voters.

By contrast, Mr Bruton was strongest among the better-off AB voters where he had a rating of 50 per cent. In age terms he was the clear favourite among the over-65s where he attracted 67 per cent support.

Mr Kenny got marginally more support from women than from men but Mr Bruton was significantly more popular with men. Women and working-class DE voters provided his lowest ratings

Perhaps it’s my imagination but note the concentration on Bruton’s polling amongst AB voters. Yes. That has to be important. To the Irish Times at least.

Anyhow, as it happens I have some respect for Bruton having seen him in the early 1980s actually have the courage of his convictions to face a meeting in Finglas with his own peculiar spin on what would later be known as neo-liberalism. Didn’t, and don’t, agree with him mind, but he took the word to the people.

But look, isn’t there something a tad unseemly about this casting around by the IT for someone to give their heart to? For the editorial is only trotting after it…

IT IS impossible to ignore Enda Kenny’s consistently poor showing in the opinion polls. Fine Gael’s recent and spectacular resurgence at the expense of Fianna Fáil, because of the economic recession and the Government’s uncertain responses, has been accompanied by a slow decline in its leader’s public satisfaction rating. This dichotomy has to be a worrying trend for party supporters and Oireachtas members as they prepare for a general election and the prospect of forming a government.

And also…

Mr Kenny has done a good job in rebuilding Fine Gael, following its extremely poor showing in the 2002 general election. But he has failed to inspire confidence in his capabilities in the wider electorate.

Respondents in the latest Irish Times /TNS mrbi opinion poll took the view that finance spokesman Richard Bruton, rather than Mr Kenny, would make a better leader in the current economic downturn. An eighteen point margin of support dividing the two men was emphatic although, within Fine Gael, backing for the two men was evenly balanced. Mr Kenny held an advantage with the youngest group of voters. But he trailed the deputy leader by a margin of four-to-one among the over-65’s. Perhaps more importantly, Mr Bruton was more highly rated among supporters of possible coalition partners, Labour and the Green Party.

Hmmm…. I’m dubious about that last bit there. One of the big – perhaps insurmountable – problems facing the opposition, and Labour in particular, is that they’ve fairly comprehensively turned their face to the current strictures introduced in the Budget. Unfortunately I have little doubt but that if they want to they’ll find a way back, but it might mean that dealing with more overtly right inclined FG politicians should a coalition become a serious possibility may be more difficult, and that consequently might make Bruton’s future career a little less exalted than the IT might like to propose.

Still, spare a thought for Cowen, now given the following brush off by the IT…

Public opinion is fickle. In the 1980s, Charles Haughey consistently under-performed Fianna Fáil in terms of public popularity and yet was elected taoiseach. And while Garret FitzGerald was personally popular, that did not always transfer to Fine Gael. What is consistent is the public’s demand for strong leadership.

Meanwhile, talking of Garret FitzGerald he made an interesting point in the paper yesterday when he noted about the PDs that:

The last thing we needed during the past decade was a party which, on the one hand, increased the burden of current spending and, on the other, advocated that taxation be reduced to the kind of level that has now pushed us into a crisis.

It’s a good piece, not least because it points up the vacuity of any analyses which talk about the ‘courage’ of the PDs. They were in government essentially during the good times when the only courage they had to exercise was getting across the plinth at Leinster House to their cars on a rainy day without getting wet. And when they did try to exercise some muscle, as with Harney’s near ludicrous attack on single mothers in 1997 and McDowell’s disturbingly excessive rhetoric during the last administration they demonstrated that they were politically tone-deaf.

FitzGerald also notes that:

The tax policies adopted by these FF/PD governments between 1997 and 2006 reduced the proportion of tax revenue derived from income tax from 37 per cent to 27 per cent of GNP. I believe that no modern western European state can be run properly with such a very low level of income taxation.

I think he’s right, although his emphasis appears to be more on standard rates rather than the higher one.

Curiously the Collins front page piece is no longer under Irish news – one has to exercise the search function to find it. Perhaps it’s just a little too strong in it’s push for Bruton.

Mind you, talk about unintended consequence. I’ll bet there’s some wailing and gnashing of teeth amongst certain parties at the Irish Times (again that’d by Stephen Collins) at the news that the public expects Mary Harney to do the decent thing when (not should as the poll has it) the PDs expire – 63% of it no less. It would take a heart of stone not to smile at the outcome of all the portentious rhetoric in the media about how the PDs had no future and how they should thrown in the towel has led to the prospect of her departure. I’ll bet that wasn’t part of the plan. And an ignominious exit for her whatever way one cuts it.

Palin redux redux… November 15, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in US Politics.

Like any addict I’m suffering withdrawal symptoms from the US Election… but hey, why should I seeing as the principals remain in the public eye. Well, more or less. At least Obama had the sense to keep somewhat out of it as the economy collapses still further. That line that there ‘can only be one US President’ is both true, and extremely helpful.

Meanwhile Sarah Palin spoke. And spoke again. Now there’s a person keen to make her mark in … oh, four years, or so. Whether she can do it is a different issue.

That said…an interesting debate this week over at The Slate XX Factor, which is, broadly speaking, Slate’s blog written by and for women – I guess the clue is in the name. They’re discussing the flood of stories emanating from the McCain campaign staffers about Sarah Palin and her supposed diva-like ways (although is there a male version of diva – and if not what does that tell us about our perception of women in positions of authority? Nothing good, I fear).

The thing is that we simply don’t know how accurate these stories are (and the Africa story seems to have been debunked), and being the person I am I tend to believe that without evidence we’re better off treating them with a degree of scepticism. Not least because those paragons of truth in the news, Fox, are the ones running with them. There is, to put it mildly, something distasteful about this orgy of recrimination and finger-pointing. After all, who, as Irish Eagle noted the other day, was the person who selected Palin? Why that’s right, one John McCain. And I say this as someone who has no sympathy whatsoever with her politics.

Let’s be serious, even if Palin spent a gargantuan sum on clothing this alone did not lose McCain the election. The idea that she and her family are ‘rednecks’ plays to some quarters, but is an annoying distraction from the actual political issues surrounding her candidacy. In other words her unvarnished right-wing viewpoints.

Granted her presentation in interviews left a considerable amount to be desired and her unreadiness for a campaign for high public office was palpable. But these are, in a sense, technical issues. Most of us reading this will have assisted in one campaign or another with people who are utterly unsuited both in terms of intellect and temperament for public office, not to mention ideological position. We know how those rough edges are either smoother or lodge in such a way with the electorate so that the candidate moves no further.

And I can’t be the only one who when Palin was presented to an expectant world thought that perhaps, just perhaps, McCain had something and here was a formidable figure who might sweep all before her. Of course it wasn’t to be. She was quite simply too obviously of the Republican right to resonate with those vital centrist or moderate voters who assisted Obama to the Presidency. She energised a constituency, but it was the wrong one, those Republicans who were falling off the edge of the political map because McCain was insufficiently conservative for them. But she has four years to rework that image, should that be necessary. And it may well be. I certainly wouldn’t be entirely surprised if she reemerged in some new guise, a softer, kinder Sarah Palin for 2012.

And anyone following the contortions of the Alaska Senate race will know that there is one possible route into Washington for her.

Unlikelier things have happened.

An interesting analysis in the Irish Times of the latest TNS/MRBI Poll released today. November 14, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

Okay, there’s a lot of food for thought in the results of the latest poll. Fianna Fáil’s comprehensive collapse in support continues apace. Not great figures for the Green Party. Sinn Féin and Labour there or thereabouts, but parsing those figures is the work of another day. Fine Gael picks up considerable support. But look, look at the figures for the Independents. I’ll bet that’s the temporary home of a chunk of FF support unwilling to admit to such support in the current climate. Because there certainly isn’t 13% support for Independents (although if they maintained even a couple of the extra percentage points that could have disastrous consequences for FF). Well, that and the collapse in their percentages, and the strength of Labour, and Fine Gael.

No, what is most interesting to me is the analysis by Damien Loscher, MD of TNS mrbi.

He commences with the idea that:

The poll data reveals high earners to be the most disappointed with Fianna Fáil.

The professional classes (ABs) have practically deserted the party, with just 19 per cent of ABs supporting Fianna Fáil in this November poll compared with 56 per cent in June.

He argues uncontroversially that:

While the Budget is not the only significant political event to have occurred in the past five months, it is reasonable to assume that the Budget is the key driver of recent and dramatic shifts in voter preferences.

And that:

The seeds of this middle-class disappointment with Fianna Fáil were sown in the days leading up to the 2007 general election, when the Fianna Fáil vote surged.

Floating voters, when faced with a choice between a Fianna Fáil and a Fine Gael-Labour government, put their trust in Fianna Fáil because Fianna Fáil would, they reckoned, put the economy first and take the tough decisions.

By all accounts, Taoiseach Brian Cowen and Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan did not grasp the nettle in the October Budget.

Now hold on a second. Note the elision of middle-class with ‘professional’ and ‘high earner’. Note also that we are not told by him of the numbers in those groups relative to the population. I guess we all have to go out and buy the paper version of the newspaper to get them. But most importantly, consider that the concentration is on those ‘middle-classes’, ‘professionals’ and ‘high-earners’.

And while you’re thinking about that, think about this…

Vested interests were not challenged. Buckshot was used when a bullet was needed.

High earners were particularly sensitive to this failure to take tough decisions.

Rumours of a removal of the PRSI ceiling and a cut in child benefit meant they feared the worst.

Now, who on earth could Damien be talking about as regards ‘vested interests’. Well, seeing as the public sector has been front and centre in such critiques, I’m guessing it’s them. But hold on. The ‘high-earners’ are upset because they were simultaneously ‘particularly sensitive to a failure to take tough decisions’ (why? they surely are best positioned to ride out such decisions – particularly in the context of near laughable 2% levies on their ‘high’ incomes) and yet were also fearing the ‘worst’ over PRSI and ‘child benefit’. Are we to take it they want it both ways? A state that takes lower taxes from them and gives them – in one ‘particular’ instance – a highish benefit?

And then he argues:

On Budget day, the more affluent in our society were disbelieving. They watched the coverage and read the small print, but they couldn’t find the grenade.

Instead of being pleasantly surprised, high earners were annoyed because the economic savvy and political steel they had hoped for and voted for in May 2007 was missing.

Am I alone in seeing this as a bizarrely contradictory argument? The ‘more affluent’, note how the language changes – who are these people when they’re at home? – ‘were disbelieving’, they ‘couldn’t find the grenade’… instead of being ‘pleasantly surprised’ they were upset because the government didn’t impose swinging cuts. ‘Pleasantly surprised’? While simultaneously being afraid of the ‘worst’ as regards cuts in child benefit?

Is Loscher entirely serious here? And why doesn’t he posit any other interpretations, perhaps that the Medical Cards and the Education cuts are regarded as a step too far by the broader mass of the ‘middle classes’ who are only too well aware of their entitlements from the state and fully intend to utilise them (small anecdote, I know someone who was at a series of meetings of new mothers and babies in the inner city held at a health centre recently. I enquired as to the demographic mix. I was told that those in attendance were almost exclusively from what we laughably define as the ‘middle class’… this despite the fact the health centre is surrounded by flats complexes. I think that’s a pity on many levels, but I think it tells us something about how social provision is taken up, at least in some instances). Or is this just another addition to the chorus of voices who continue to tell us that there is only one cure, that the state of our public finances is disastrous – as the front page of the Business section of the Sunday Business Post did at the weekend issuing dark warnings about the size of the government deficit (tell that to the Germans). But above and beyond that is the concentration on the thoughts and feelings of those who, as I note above, are best positioned to ride out this economic situation and the attitude that in the end only their interests are of any great consequence.

That’s right a chairde, remember for the vast majority of us who are not ‘high earners’ we simply do not register on the radar of either TNS mrbi (how I love that modish lower case mrbi – or not) or the Irish Times. And note how our economy is organised for their benefit and in such a way as to ‘pleasantly surprise’ them… not us, not the large majority who have already been asked – no, demanded and hectored by the commentariat – to do the decent, the patriotic, thing for our country.

War of the Three Kingdoms or English Revolution? November 14, 2008

Posted by Garibaldy in History, Ireland, Media and Journalism.

A rather surprising article from Ronan Bennett in the Guardian. Bennett is both someone who possesses a Phd in the history of the mid-seventeenth century (“Enforcing the Law in Revolutionary England: Yorkshire, c.1640-1660”) and a supporter of Gerry Adams, who often comments on his experience as a prisoner in Long Kesh (see here, here, and here for examples) though somehow his keen historical mind neglects to mention that he was in the Offical and not the Provisional IRA cages. Naturally, anything he says relevant to the events of the period that saw the execution of Charles I and the establishment of a British Republic, religious war in Ireland and the Cromwellite invasion and land settlement will be of interest. See his review of Micheál Ó Siochrú’s recent study of Cromwell’s conquest of Ireland for example.

All of which makes his article from today’s Guardian all the more strange. The article is an analysis of Channel Four’s new series The Devil’s Whore, and a comment on the absence of this period in British popular memory. Bennett notes

Charles Stuart was beheaded shortly before 2pm on Tuesday, January 30 1649. A week later, the parliament voted to abolish the House of Lords, and the following day it decided that, having done away with the monarch, it might as well dispense with the institution of monarchy itself. The necessary legislation was enacted within a month and England became officially a republic. The unthinkable had happened: it was, in a phrase from the time and much used since, “the world turned upside down”.

Bennett is impresed with the programme.

But The Devil’s Whore has a great deal to commend it, in particular Flannery’s focus on the radical spirits who flourished as the old order faltered, before they were themselves crushed as the new regime under Cromwell turned against the very militancy that had propelled it to power. It would have been easier – and probably more crowd-pleasing – to have retold the already familiar story of cavaliers and roundheads, avoiding politics for a dashing romp among the young blades and buxom lasses of merry old England. Instead, Flannery does us all a great service in reminding us of a revolutionary past of which the English often seem embarrassed, ignorant or in denial.

All of which seems fair enough, although the programme hasn’t been on yet so we’ll have to take his word for it on the quality for now. Why then am I writing this piece? For three decades now, since J.G.A. Pocock’s article British History: A Plea for a New Subject (1974 and reprinted in his The Discovery of Islands from 2005), the early modern history of the Atlantic Archipelago/British Isles/these islands has undergone great change. Pocock called for a new type of history, Three Kingdoms history, which would no longer be the history of England with stray references to events elsewhere but an integrated history of both islands.

Nowhere has this call been better answered than in the history of what used to be known as the English Revolution or Civil War, and which has now become – especially among Irish historians – The Wars of the Three Kingdoms. Events in Ireland and especially Scotland were absolutely crucial to the struggle between the monarch and Westminster, and to some extent shaped them, and it is impossible to write the history of this period as simply a history of England any longer – and in fact, some historians are replacing the term Three Kingdoms with four nations instead lest the Welsh feel discriminated against (much to the jealousy of Cornish nationalists no doubt). Although Bennett’s article does question why there is no reference to Scotland during what he calls the civil wars, he fails to mention Ireland. Which for someone with his background is, frankly, bizarre. Perhaps his message that English people needed to reclaim their radical heritage was more important to him in this piece than voicing any Irish nationalist sense of exclusion and grievance, unlike in his review of Ó Siochrú’s book.

The article serves as a reminder, then, of the political uses of history, and the faddish nature of it. Given that over the last few days, we have been discussing politics and the writing of history here and here it is refreshing to see that even the ancient grievances that motivate much of our hatreds and fuel a great deal of our rhetoric can be set aside in the interest of other axes to grind. But of course, history is an objective profession. Honest.

For what it’s worth, I think that basically the period in question was at heart an English Revolution, albeit influenced by events outside England. So in that sense, I find myself agreeing with Bennett. Can’t say that happens a great deal. I also plan to watch The Devil’s Whore – with that title, how could one not?

What a swell party this… might be… More on the Libertas Dinner. November 13, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in European Politics, European Union, Irish Politics.

Well, the full list of names is in, Patricia McKenna herself admits that

“I would have very different views on quite a lot of issues [from Libertas], but everybody is entitled to their opinion. I would be on the left, Libertas wouldn’t be, but the one thing everybody has in common is that the people’s verdict on Lisbon should be respected and that there is a lack of accountability within the EU.”

One wonders what her rumoured prospective Euro election home, People B4 Profit feel about her hob-nobbing with the great and the good.

And I had to smile when she said:

“Clearly, there is an attempt by the political establishment to keep the Irish people in the dark about the fact that there are people out in Europe who agree with their rejection of the Lisbon Treaty,” she added.

Read the list of guests and you’ll see that she is dining with an alternative ‘political establishment’, one which is hard right in Irish terms and in some respects the cheerleaders or architects of our current economic dire straits.

There are those who take the anti-Lisbon line who are of the left. I may disagree with them on that issue, but I recognise their sincerity. But this crowd?


And I can’t help but feel that the Irish Times fascination with all this, right up to and including printing the names of all 100 or so guests, is because many of these people are but a shade away from the old PD economic liberal consensus. I mean, Constantin Gurdgiev, the ubiquitous Waghorne… a bunch of people from the Catholic right.

No wonder the Irish Times is in a tizzy. This is cognitive dissonance on an epic scale. But it is also, and I use the word purposefully, reactionary. This is reaction in our society writ large. Explicit wealth underwriting a campaign, and disparate groups from the social and economic right sniffing something new and invigorating are rushing to be part of it.

Above and beyond the issue of Lisbon itself, however that pans out (and who would argue that the events of the recent path make a second referendum very likely in the short to medium term?), this is – to my mind – a fairly disturbing development.

Because we’re looking at a very new sort of political manifestation in the Irish polity. Hitherto these groups were at best represented by the PD – although that party was constrained by coalition government and the necessity to engage with interests on the ground in a way which blunted their most egregious fantasies. Otherwise they had no political vehicle and tended to remain cloistered in their think-tanks and media outlets. And these are people who – to my mind – don’t want to put in the hard work on the ground developing a political formation but seek one that is, as it were ready made.

And the European electoral context is perfect for that because it simply doesn’t matter in the way that either the loudest cheerleaders for Brussels or their greatest detractors would propose. Whether, though, it is plausible that Libertas could have candidates elected at the next European elections is a different matter. I keep looking at the constituencies and I can’t see any serious opening for them.

There are other logical problems here. For example, while the Mouvement pour la France (MPF) of Philippe de Villiers may be willing to move in under an Libertas umbrella (although I’ll bet they run as Libertas/MPF) it seems much less likely that the highly euro-sceptic parties of the UK would do likewise, and that means attempting to develop Libertas from the ground up there and elsewhere. I genuinely wonder how that will work. Does it seem entirely likely that a pan-European ‘movement’ could take hold like this across the language, culture and political divides that already manifest in Europe? I’m dubious, not least because we’ve seen how the already existing political movements, social and Christian democracy have not operated in that way. The central paradox of the EU, the national set within the supra-national, is evident once more.

Of course all this supposes that Ganley et al are in this for the long-haul. Again I wonder.

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