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Finally. Finally… they give the man the job!
Gralton and Z Magazine on DCTV June 30, 2009Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish History, Irish Left Online Document Archive, Irish Politics, The Left.
Ah, nostalgia, how are you? I had a passing involvement in Z magazine and so I found the latest in the Looking Left series from DCTV of considerable personal interest. Again, well done to all those involved. Looks great and is an absolute key resource on Irish left history. Perhaps time to start lobbying them for more programmes.
Sinn Féin and its travails… part 2 June 30, 2009Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Northern Ireland, Sinn Féin, The Left.
A while ago Splintered Sunrise made what I thought was a pretty good point about Sinn Féin and dissident Republicanism and I quoted it then, and I’ll quote it now…
Here’s the thing. It’s often said in dissident circles that the Provisionals have given up on the goal of the 32-county socialist republic. But, while you can make some rhetorical hay around them sitting in the Stormont executive, it’s not true to say they’ve ditched the goal. It’s on the first page of their programme, after all. You can talk about people being corrupted, or institutionalised by a process they thought was going in another direction, or simply worn down by war-weariness, but you’re still, in the main, talking about people who want to be republicans on some level. That’s why the parades, and the tributes to past heroes; that’s why Martin McGuinness was talking just there about winning the republic by 2014.
I think that it’s also possible to say that they also – in the main – people who want, however widely drawn we offer that term as a definition, to be of the left… Now In some respects this is a cultural affiliation, one doesn’t spend decades knocking around with leftish liberation movements of various stripes without taking on some aspects of their approach. Nor is it possible in an Irish context to ignore the reality of an history, even if a rather weak strand in the broader context, of the left Republican approach that has almost instinctively pushed the bulk of Republicanism towards that widely drawn and of times ill-defined definition of leftism. And in purely pragmatic terms, where first mover status was gifted to Fianna Fáil, an appeal to a more narrowly drawn class constituency made a certain degree of sense – not least in that such a constituency delivered at least two political groupings, Clann na Poblachta and the WP, certain dividends during the 20th century.
With that in mind the fact that the SF vote has stabilised at about 7% is a little remarked oddity. That’s somewhat higher than the Workers’ Party at their best, lower – obviously, although not by a huge degree – than Labour. That they returned about the same number of Councillors as last local election (which saw them increase their numbers substantially on the previous one) equally so. After all, neither of those seem to presage total collapse, now do they? Indeed one could argue that simply to arrive at such a point is an achievement in itself all things considered.
On this matter Eoin Ó Broin’s recent piece in the Irish Times has some useful thoughts. It’s suitably chastened, and in fairness realistic – noting that Sinn Féin had actually, and contrary to some media reports, held its own other than the loss of the MEP (a near-foregone conclusion given the disposition of seats in Dublin this time out and a strong and strongly transfer friendly alternative left candidate). That said it seems a little thin on what precisely the way forward might be and curiously lacking in an ideological approach.
Ó Broin argues that…
We went into this latest election with 51 city and county council seats, and came out with 54. We made important breakthroughs in Limerick, Wicklow, Cork, Tipperary and Kilkenny. Our European vote was up overall, and up significantly in the South and East constituencies.
He doesn’t mention that the FPV at the local elections was marginally down. Still, he also notes that this was came…
IN 2004 … a major leap forward in the 26 counties by trebling its council representation, securing a Euro seat in Dublin, and coming very close to taking a second seat in the North West.
Crucially, our vote across the State, in real and percentage terms, was up on the poor performance in 2007.
However, on a number of councils, Dublin city in particular, our vote share was down. We lost three seats on the city council and one in Fingal.
He notes that despite:
…detailed proposals on job retention and creation, and on tackling the public finance deficit. We also outlined many positive alternatives on issues such as the banking crisis, housing, health, and local government service provision.
We called on voters to turn their anger towards the Government into positive action for change at local, national and European levels.
While many people heard this message, a significant number chose the Labour Party over Sinn Féin. In Dublin, a smaller but nonetheless significant number of voters chose other left-wing parties and individuals.
He leaves the reasons he thinks that SF ‘failed to close the deal’ with voters frustratingly vague:
Why this was the case is a matter for discussion within the party. Issues of organisational capacity, access to and use of the media, and clarity and credibility of our policies and message will all be scrutinised in coming days.
Clearly, Sinn Féin has more work to do in convincing people that the need for a politics without Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael is in the best interests of all. Equally, we have more work to do in demonstrating that, in addition to sound principles, our party has the policies and the ability to deliver real change when elected.
Crucially, the positive reputation for hard work and honest representation which our party enjoys in many of the State’s most deprived communities has yet to be translated into a more general belief that Sinn Féin can and must be a party of government.
That last statement begs a question. Does he mean local government, or national government or both? I’m presuming the latter but… that begs yet further questions because the potential routes to national government are limited.
Indeed, looking at results in major urban centres such as Dublin and Cork, it is clear that there is an appetite for a political future without Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael. Dublin and Cork cities now have a clear left majority, and if others are willing to step up to the plate, real change on a broad range of social, economic and political fronts can be delivered.
The others, one presumes, would really be Labour. Problem is we’ve seen Fine Gael and Labour acting in tandem in various contexts these last two weeks. And it is hard to see Labour diverting itself from its current date with destiny to lend a fraternal hand to Sinn Féin.
And that’s ignoring the further issue that as it stands Labour isn’t in and of itself sufficiently strong to take power, even with Sinn Féin making up numbers, as a ‘left’ alternative. Or so the polls seem to indicate. So what precisely is the strategy? For years some of us at the CLR, and elsewhere, have been pushing the idea of some form of left unity, but… the last two years have been a hard education. At every point where such unity could develop we have seen parties resile, for a variety of reasons it has to be said. Some have gone into government. Others have eschewed it. Others still have made moves towards government through changing policies and so on. At no point have we seen any serious moves for coordination of the left. And I can’t see that changing in the near future.
Indeed paradoxically the only way some form of left unity might occur seems to be through that aforementioned ‘make up the numbers’ process whereby FG, or less feasibly FF, might need more than one other party of the left (in all its glory – depending upon your definition) to successfully take power. The last such shot-gun wedding of Labour and Democratic Left led to the subsuming of the latter by the former (which was a certain irony for those of us who recall how bitter were the relations between the two during the FF/Labour coalition). Now that’s a dynamic unlikely to be replicated by any other party plus Labour/Sinn Féin coalition, but since Labour, or at least parts of it, appear disdainful if not openly contemptuous of SF such a coalition seems unlikely to be constructed except in extremis.
Which oddly may be quite good news for Sinn Féin which can position itself to the left of Labour in advance of that party possibly going into government. Indeed one could argue that a holding position now is the best possible position to be going forward because they will be well sorted to attract support on the left that Labour sheds if it does tie the knot with FG. And five years further down the line? Well, we’ll all be five years older, but by then SF will – I suspect – be a much more congenial political partner for some.
What’s also striking is that Ó Broin – particularly in his Sinn Féin and the Politics of Left Republicanism – explicitly articulates a clearly left Republican viewpoint, and is clearly of the party as it now stands. For some that is merely a cosmetic facade, and yet such a position is deeply rooted in Republicanism. And for all the complaints about selling out and diluting their leftism thus far they still seem wedded to a position on the left of the political spectrum. Now, that can change. But one could wonder, even quite cynically, why they would seek to do so at this point when a little bit of patience might reap dividends in terms of further electoral support?
There’s also oddities about the position of SF in both parts of the island.
And this leads to a thought that has been nagging at me for quite some time. Because it seems to me that Sinn Féin has many of the characteristics of a regional party. Now, as Ó Broin notes, they now have representation in all but one of the 32 counties, but it’s impossible to consider the current state of Sinn Féin without noticing the remarkable imbalance in terms of support and power across the island. It is, as perhaps it always has been in the modern period, concentrated on the North and North East of the island. And beyond that its reach is limited. That said, let’s not underplay the reality of four TDs and the prospect that at the next election that number could be joined by at least one or two more. It’s purchase, as evidenced by the local elections remains tenacious. But that support is attenuated compared and contrasted with the North.
Now I’m not quite comparing SF to say a regional party like the Christian Social Union in Bavaria. The situation in Northern Ireland doesn’t allow for such pat comparisons – there is no clear-cut CDU like partner in the South (obviously due to ideological reasons that too doesn’t allow for pat comparisons). Nor is it true that Sinn Féin in the South is simply a creature of the Sinn Féin in the North. But there seem to be clear structural and cultural distinctions between its impacts North and South (and these presumably will increase as time progresses and if the institutions in the North remain extant). It has also been very clear that there are no great economies of scale operating in terms of increasing the vote South of the border. In part that may be due to the simple fact that the slow drudgery of government has pushed Sinn Féin from the headlines that it dominated in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Where this leaves Sinn Féin in the short term, though, is a different matter. There’s no doubting that the recent departure of a number of councillors has been – in terms of the optics – far from healthy. The loss of the European seat leaves them weakened on a very specific front, this at a time when Lisbon II would offer them a perfect opportunity to gain publicity in a leading role in the NO campaign. That that role will now be most likely taken by Joe Higgins won’t improve their position in any respect (although I’ve never been entirely convinced that Higgins is that interested in the EU, the SP line on that matter has always seemed to me to be a bit pro forma, not entirely surprising that since they never had any direct interaction with it… Having an MEP may tighten up their critique and who knows, Joe may begin to enjoy engaging with that larger stage). Their limited representation in the Dáil and Seanad has presented them with a mountain to climb simply to be able to articulate their individual position on a raft of issues in that forum. That’s hardly likely to change.
And yet, they remain in the Dáil and Seanad. They remain at a reasonably strong figure nationally. And, looking briefly at a specific issue, while there are often quite lazy comparisons between Sinn Féin and the Workers’ Party, if we are to take local government as a yardstick then it’s worth reflecting on the rather interesting fact that in 1991 the WP gained 7 seats across the 26 counties at the local elections bringing their total number to 24. This was at the time when the WP had its greatest Dáil representation of 7 TDs. The implication being that Sinn Féin has a broader and somewhat deeper pool of support and has managed to retain that from the relative good times of 2004 to the rather more difficult period it now is in.
Their biggest problem will simply be keeping the show on the road. They will have to be seen to do well at Lisbon II – a difficult proposition given the range of forces stacked against them, and the new status accorded to Joe Higgins. They have to demonstrate a clear alternative in the Dáil, tricky considering their current marginal status. They will have to increase their representation at the next election even if only marginally, a repeat of 2007 would be a dismal outcome. And beyond that they have to if not grow at least cohere.
Of course that future seems unknowable. Is Sinn Féin likely to pick up seats at the next election?
It’s seems clear that Sinn Féin may be reaching an upper limit to its growth in the South. It’s overall vote in the high single digits might be the best it can do. It’s problematic. Unlike Labour which for decades subsisted politically on not dissimilar figures, but had the advantage of a clear concentration of its vote in useful areas, Sinn Féin seems to depend upon rural redoubts and simply not be making the impact in urban areas that one might expect it would on paper. So it can continually gain 7% or even higher in national polls and yet only return one to – possibly – six or seven TDs.
Of course TDs aren’t the only game in town. But they are crucial to a party which has so clearly time and again articulated a vision of government as being central to promoting its agenda.
And there are other problems. 2016 is racing towards us. It would be a brave person who was confident that Sinn Féin could double its representation in the Dáil prior to that date, a doubling which would only result in eight seats. Better than the Workers’ Party in its heyday achieved, and certainly tailor made for coalition, but a long way from the decisive shift to a larger party size that is sought.
So far they’ve found a niche and adapted to it. Whether they can make more of it than they currently do is the question. It doesn’t seem likely that they’ll let go anytime soon.
A further addition to the Archive which underlines the convergence of interests between the Communist Party of Ireland and Sinn Féin in its Official incarnation during the late 1960s and early 1970s.
This is explicit in an article which strongly criticises the ‘official’ Labour movement and Conor Cruise O’Brien for an unwillingness to join cross party alliances against Paisleyism and also take Eamonn McCann and Bernadette Devlin to task for their unwillingness to ‘cooperate with forces who aren’t socialist’. And naturally the situation in the North remains paramount as a specific concern.
Other notable aspects include an article by “The unmarried mother” by “one of them” and “Strong Girl Wanted for Light Work” which demonstrate how much, and how little, has changed in the last 39 years or so.
In terms of international outlook one will see pieces on Cambodia but the focus is very much on Ireland, from a piece on “How U.S. Big Business is taking over Ireland” by Michael O’Riordan to “These are the Monopolies Who Control Cement Ltd.”
All this and Lenin on the National Question.
What an o(l)dd Glastonbury… June 29, 2009Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
So old. So old they all seem. Springsteen. Young. The Specials. Madness. Fecks sake, Status Quo, Francis Rossi, pony tail gone. And the youngest member of them who joined sometime after I paid attention looking… well… old.
This is what it means to be young. The camera as it panned the crowd seemed only to pick up on the bizarre divergence between those on stage and those off.
And don’t get me wrong. My God, Neil Young could do the smash the guitar to shreds and leave it wailing feedback as if he’d invented it. The Specials looked… well, Terry Hall and Co. looked like men who’d just found ska rather than long-timers working away at it. Springsteen and the band were as compelling as ever.
They rocked. Sort of.
But then look at Blur, dragged out with young Damon Albarn (two years younger than me as it happens) looking oddly haggard, the rest of the band looking… well. I wouldn’t put too much into the solo careers guys. Let’s put it that way.
There were other bands. The Prodigy. No, wait, they didn’t look that young either.
Moving to younger bands…Pendulum, a sort of Prodigy redux, all bluster and keyboards and Green Day nonsense in terms of song writing, but without the depth… which can’t be right.
Kasabian. I have to admit to a soft spot for them. But what possessed them to decide to dress like 70s rockers?
This must be a weird time to be young. I mean really young. Under 20. At least. A world inhabited by the grey or the greying.
I know someone who can’t talk yet, and whose only conception of ‘music’ is jigging along to the sound on a stereo. I wonder what she makes of it all. And what she’ll make of it as time passes? What sense of ownership she will have as this culture ages.
I know I sure as hell don’t understand it.
An economic mis..interpretation can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes. June 28, 2009Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics.
The government will be accused of bailing out bankers while taking money off the poorest. Pleas that the economy must have functioning banks, and that Ireland’s welfare payments and public sector wages are higher than most other European countries, will be hard to hear in the racket.
Really? Which ones?
I’m indebted to Wednesday for pointing me towards the Able Tasmans, a band I’d never previously heard of. Pretty much all their stuff is deleted. Still, thanks to the wonders of the internet it’s now possible to make a half decent stab at collating their output. So. Who were they? From Auckland they were yet another Flying Nun band. In some respects only their early work sat comfortably within the Dunedin sound that typified FN bands.
For me their finest moment was “A Cuppa Tea and a Lie Down” which blended a strongly 1960s, almost Love-like sound with a harder FN style approach in songs such as “Sour Queen”.
Actually, I read on one blog that they were more like Split Enz – famed precursors of the much much more mainstream Crowded House – than any other of the Flying Nun stable. Not so sure about that although without doubt they brought a 1960s psychedelic and pop sensibility to the feast. But wait, wasn’t that what all the FN bands did in one way or another – warped or not?
Later albums such as “Hey Spinner” moved towards a less 1960s influenced sound and provided a broad range of styles from near-Go-Betweens style pop through My Bloody Valentine excursions to something approaching prog rock.
Anyhow, here are a couple of videos I’ve dug up – sadly none of which show anything from “A Cuppa Tea…”, starting with the rather fine Big Bang Theory, from their early Shape of Dolls EP…
This is Hold Me taken from a Flying Nun DVD, and perhaps typical of a maturing style, again not entirely dissimilar to the Go-Betweens.
And here’s something a bit scary, a more recent gig since they apparently reformed and have been gigging again. Perhaps they’ll come to Dublin. Perhaps they’ve been?
I think it tells us something about Flying Nun that even their more obscure signings were able to combine a level of experimentalism and quality that ‘indie’ elsewhere with one or two shining exceptions simply couldn’t match. What is it about New Zealand?
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It’s taken a while, hasn’t it? But it is better that it happens than otherwise. Still, isn’t there a sense of ‘we’ll all jump together lads’ on this one, given that the UVF, the UDA and the RHC (still extant – who’d have think it?) decided to move as one?
Populism… shallow or otherwise. Charlie McCreevy speaks… June 27, 2009Posted by WorldbyStorm in European Politics, Irish Politics.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, as the saying goes, but many years ago I happened to be in Kildare House across the road from Leinster House at a DL meeting. Coincidentally a certain Charlie McCreevy was speaking during some debate or another. One of our number, and I hesitate to categories but let’s just say it was someone from a middle class background (and hey, who am I to speak?), was – I thought and still do – incredibly dismissive of him parodying his Kildare accent and making out that that somehow reflected on the mans intellect.
Now, I’ve never had much time for McCreevy then or now, but I didn’t much like the response which struck me as not merely prejudiced, not particularly funny and also – and this is a cardinal error – massively underestimating a political opponent on the basis of the most wrong-headed and cosmetic appraisal.
There was little joy to discover that the latter fear wasn’t entirely misplaced as McCreevy went from the Minister for Social Welfare (sigh) to Minister for Finance (slaps forehead) and then onto European Commissioner (*!!@???!***).
Anyhow, my main gripe about McCreevy has been his populist stance (and splintered sunrise has had some, in my opinion, sensible things to say about populism when it isn’t particularly popular which might have a certain relevance in this instance). And what better exemplar of same than his comments reported today that…
When Irish people rejected the Lisbon Treaty a year ago, the initial reaction ranged from shock to horror to temper to vexation. That would be the view of a lot of the people who live in the Brussels beltway.
“On the other hand, all of the [political leaders] know quite well that if the similar question was put to their electorate by a referendum the answer in 95 per cent of the countries would probably have been No as well . . .
“I have always divided the reaction between those two forces: those within the beltway, the ‘fonctionnaires’, those who gasp with horror [on the one hand] and the heads of state, who are far more realistic. They are glad they didn’t have to put the question themselves to their people.”
You might think that that indicated some profound sense on his part that there was a problem with Lisbon. You might think wrong.
He also said the second referendum would be intensely debated, but expressed his hope that the Yes side would win.
I entirely respect anyone who has a view on Lisbon, and indeed the EU project, whatever their stance as long as it is at least slightly coherent. But this running with the fox and hunting with the hounds stuff drives me mad. It’s typical having your cake and eat it. Here is a man, part of a most select crew let us be clear, who simultaneously argues that…
Irish people had now had a period of time to reflect about Lisbon. Many would consider being members of the euro zone had been a great benefit to Ireland during the economic crisis
And yet also suggests that:
Asked after the event by Today FM had he read the treaty since admitting during last year’s campaign that he had not read it from cover to cover, he replied: “I am going to stay up every night during every day of the summer reading chapters.
“I will put questions to every journalist I meet asking them what different subsections mean. A lot of that is political nonsense.”
Terrible terrible stuff. So let’s not bother being informed. Let’s avoid engaging with this, because… who’d bother? Whatever about the European elites, whoever they may be, we don’t have to wander too far to see a very individual form of arrogance at work.
Science fiction and literary fiction… June 27, 2009Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture.
Thinking about J.G. Ballard it struck me, and it’s far from an original thought, that he, like so many writers who have written what is vaguely termed science fiction, really sits on the border between literary fiction and science fiction. Ballard was to my mind always closer to the literary side of that border, however one defines it, than others.
There’s a bit of a cottage industry of books made up of these lists these days but I’ve never quite seen the appeal. In part because they seem so subjective, in part because there sometimes seems to be a displacement aspect to them. In other words, read the list and don’t worry the books! You’ll know the plot, you’ll know how good they are thought to be and so on. And I remain sceptical in part too because they short circuit what should be a long process of engagement, reducing that which is irreducible into an truncated paragraph or two.
So I completely ignored the other similar lists which were published that week but I did look at the one entitled Science Fiction and Fantasy Books.
So, what’s to like? Well, it’s an interesting read. Astoundingly Ballard isn’t there. No entry at all. And although that omission is odd one suspects that for a traditional science fiction fan, and in particular those who are fond of hard SF, there’s a lot to dislike in the list. Dislike because the selection of those is a curious blend of classics and then certain books that are – frankly – too recent to be described as the best examples of a particular authors work. For example, let’s consider contemporary writers. Is Stephen Baxters’s the Timeships (a sort of sequel to The Time Machine by Wells) actually superior to any of his alternate NASA books, or indeed his Xeelee books? And it seems like an inexplicable choice when one considers that The Time Machine is included further down the list.
Ken MacLeod’s Night Sessions makes the cut. It’s a fascinating book, but having been only published in the last two years one might have expected they might select an earlier work, perhaps The Sky Road or the remarkable Stone Canal. That said Alastair Reynolds’ excellent Revelation Space is referenced. What though of Peter F. Hamilton, who – although his politics isn’t mine – is certainly a leading light in contemporary SF (I’ve been struggling through the Dreaming Void. Good, but not as good as his previous works). M. John Harrison makes an appearance which is fair enough.
And US writers? The list is a little thin on that score. Sure there is Greg Bear’s Darwin’s Radio. Darwin’s Radio? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Eon or Eternity would be more appropriate I’d have thought. Heinlein and Herbert make appearances, as do Niven, Walter M. Miller Jr. and Kim Stanley Robinson. But the selections feel odd, a bit forced as if they knew they had to make up numbers. Or, alternatively, that they had to keep the numbers down. As for Russian or Eastern European writers. Thin on the ground. Lem is there, but no Strugatsky’s.
There’s surprisingly little reference to New Wave, a section of the genre which I’ve always enjoyed almost equally with so-called ‘hard’ science fiction – even if initially its adherents were none too complimentary of the genre as a whole – although time mellowed many of them. So what of Zelazny (to an extent), Ellison, Le Guin, Brunner (in parts), Bayley, Disch, Watson (at least in the mid period of his career), and perhaps to some degree James Tiptree Jr./aka Alice Sheldon (whose Screwfly Solution remains for me one of the most potent and chilling examples of feminist SF there is). After all these were near-contemporaries of Ballard. But again no Ballard, so perhaps the New Wave has crashed. That’s a pity. So much of that was so important in infusing science fiction that came after with a new experimentalism that it seems as odd to disregard it as to ignore those like Algis Budrys (whose remarkable 1970s novel Michaelmas, about a media saturated world where one individual and his computer system might just control everything, seems prescient) who were its inspiration.
Moving back in time John Wyndham has two slots, one for Day of the Triffids and the other for The Midwich Cuckoos. No problem with one or the other. But both? Returning briefly to H.G. Wells… he gets two slots as well. And so on and so forth.
And after that the list shifts to fantasy, although few enough of the sword and sorcery genre and my knowledge of which is severely limited (although the interesting Richard Morgan has written an epic in that vein with a gay protagonist that sounds as if it is worth reading). China Miéville’s The Scar is there, which certainly makes the grade.
But here’s the interesting thing for me. I like to think I’m reasonably well read. But surveying the list of names on this time and again there appear what I would consider to be more mainstream non-science fiction and/or fantasy novels. And these appear to be corralled within the boundaries of the genre.
But with that in mind it is with no great pleasure that I see the following included… Margaret Atwood, Paul Auster, Poppy Z Brite, Mikhail Bulgakov, Anthony Burgess, William Burroughs, Italo Calvino, Angela Carter, Douglas Coupland, Umberto Eco, John Fowles, Russell Hoban… skipping on to Patrick McCabe, Salman Rushdie, Will Self, Rupert Thomson… I’ll stop there. You get the idea. It’s not that their inclusion is wrong. It’s not that I haven’t enjoyed more or less each and every one. It’s certainly not that many of the works aren’t either fantasy or science fiction tinged. Nor is it that I think that genre boundaries should be drawn tightly. It’s great that they’re regarded as being suitable for inclusion in such a list. Nah, it’s none of those, just the dawning realisation that if they sit within those genre boundaries them the scope of my reading beyond SF is clearly a lot more limited than I though…
And if they’re the official wing of SF/fantasy, as it were…
Perhaps it’s just as well I didn’t pick up any of the other lists.