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A Few Tips….. January 31, 2017

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Might be useful ……..

Half right… January 31, 2017

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Justin Gest, Assistant Professor of Public Policy at George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government and the author of The New Minority: White Working Class Politics in an Age of Immigration and Inequality, writes in the Observer this weekend about the British Labour Party arguing that:

The Brexit debate has created an ideological crisis in the Labour party, driven by its inability to bridge Britain’s sociological crisis. Its leadership has been undermined by angry reaction to last week’s instruction to its MPs to trigger the process of leaving the EU. However, it had already lost the confidence of many of the party’s pragmatists, wary that Labour has found no way to transcend the toxic social divisions between north and south, city and suburbs, young and old that the referendum laid bare.

Faced with a rise in populist sentiment, such are the circumstances for the international left today. Here in the United States, downtrodden and perplexed Democrats are faced with a choice of seeking to win back a white, working-class constituency whose support for their party has dwindled in every presidential election cycle since 1992, or double-down on cultivating their coalition of ethnic minorities and white urban cosmopolitans.


However, unlike America’s Democrats, Labour does not have the luxury of reverting to such a coalition. (It’s not even clear that Democrats do.)

Whereas ethnic minorities of Latino, African and Asian descent comprise 40% of the American population and will pass 50% in due course, minority constituencies in Europe comprise no more than 20% in any one country, so parties of the left must be able to sustain their appeal to white, working-class voters if they are to have any chance of assembling ruling majorities.


The British – and American – left’s mistake was allowing themselves to think there was an “either, or” choice – that their pursuit of racial justice for minority groups was somehow incompatible with their pursuit of economic justice for all; that their celebration of immigration was incompatible with control of immigration; that their quest for meritocracy was incompatible with patriotism.

I wonder though. There’s certainly an element of truth that the British (and other European) social democratic left did move away from economic issues, or rather adopted more clearly neoliberal approaches in a remarkably uncritical fashion. But I think it is an exaggeration to suggest that the dynamic was quite as stark as he suggests. For example, Miliband offered a mixed approach – some unpleasant rhetoric on immigration, some shift leftwards, whatever, and yet that didn’t propel the BLP to victory some years back. Nor is it clear that eliding Brexit with the issues of the BLP, at least pre-Brexit is all that convincing as an argument. Consider that part of Labour’s weakness has been the loss of Scotland, not to the right but to a rival articulating at least in part a more clearly a ‘traditional’ social democratic approach. Tellingly Gest in the course of his long piece doesn’t mention Scotland at all.

Then there’s other points. Corbyn’s leadership has been variable but until Brexit there was at least a hope that the BLP might contest the next election reasonably strongly. Post-Brexit that hope is now gone. But to suggest that the weakness of the BLP was baked in is to overstate the reality of how tight the parliamentary arithmetic was and remains in this Parliament. The Tories won unexpectedly but not by a massively convincing margin.

Moreover it is possible to see Brexit going the other way at the referendum, or no referendum at all had Cameron played his cards better. And consequently the BLP doing better. Indeed some of what Gest says seems as if it is transposed from US rather than British political culture and as if he takes as read a primacy for identity politics in the pre-Brexit era which seems questionable.

Anti-racism has been an important concept for Labour and international leftists for a more than a generation. It has informed advances in anti-discrimination policies for housing, government and the workplace. It has cultivated cohesion and openness in neighbourhoods, schools, and universities. It has fostered greater sensitivity to our inherent biases in our social interactions, our media and in our own minds.

However, the label of racism has also been extended to characterise the views of people who seek a more managed immigration system, who are wary of globalising markets and, indeed, who support Britain’s opaque, ill-advised, but now inevitable departure from the European Union.

But hold on, one might say. Pro-immigration isn’t quite the badge one would pin on the BLP in the way Gest seems to. Indeed he doesn’t mention that until very very recently UKIP pushed the sovereignty line much more strongly than anti-immigration. And what of a press that whipped up anti-immigrant feeling and sustained it. What of a political class, as with Cameron et al, unwilling to articulate a positive case for open borders? And what of the inconvenience that it was a minority of LP voters who voted Leave (31% according to YouGov exit poll)?

This isn’t to say that longer deeper rooted dynamics did not exist, some date from the 2000s, some from much earlier than that. But again the sense that this is a transposing of US concerns onto the British polity in a half-digested way is quite strong. And what of the solution to this?

The party must empathise again, listen again, recognise the plight of its white, working-class constituents before judgment and build a social vision and economic future that transcends ethnic divisions, not reinforces them.

What exactly does that mean?

The Left in the RoI. What is to be done? Redux. January 31, 2017

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The Phoenix, as noted in comments last week has a lavish spread on Brendan Ogle. And given how mixed opinions are on him his efforts to bring a certain unity to the Irish left are bound to be…er… controversial. The Phoenix more or less says that the variegated nature of the left, spread across a range of alliances and formations predicates against unity. But how to unify them, how to bring ‘a unified brand, common structure or strategy’? Or indeed to see them move away from ‘pursuing their own electoral goals’? Plug some names into a putative ‘left alliance’ that incorporated a good number of those the Phoenix references ‘SF with 23 TDs, AAA/PBP’s six, left Inds another six or so and two SDs’ and one can see how a ‘unified brand’ or a common electoral strategy is… unlikely.

There’s also mention of Michael Taft and the claim he faces a disciplinary procedure from Unite in part due to blog posts that suggest that an ‘economic recovery [is] taking place and that FF in particular was benefiting int he polls. At the same time, Taft argued, the left is still fighting last years’s protest battles and failing to create an alternative vision’.

Putting aside whether that is an accurate summation of the issues it is difficult to find fault with that broad analysis, that indeed a sort of patchy recovery is taking place, that FF’s vote is solidifying – at least to some extent, and that some of the energy and steam has gone out of the protests, not least because the government and FF have gone to great lengths to take those issues off the table for the time being.

All that could change, but then a government that is taking defeat after defeat in the Dáil in terms of votes and staggering on doesn’t seem to me to be too likely to try to up the ante any time soon.

Anyhow, returning to the broader issue, if unity wasn’t hugely present at the height of the crisis now as the aftershocks recede, albeit the grievous impacts remain in some form or another, difficult to see how matters would be much improved now.

CLR Book Club – Week 5, January 2017 January 31, 2017

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And here we are again!

Trump times… January 31, 2017

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The events of last night in relation to Acting US Attorney General Sally Yates are telling in a number of ways. She clearly had the right to demur from his executive order, the administration seem to have the right to fire her. Whether this was the place for her to make a stand is a different matter but her successors clearly won’t. It is instructive in terms of showing up the manner in which the incoming administration will brook no criticism from within or without. But above all the sheer petulance of the White House statement on her firing is something else. That perhaps is the key indicator of the underlying dynamics where those who dissent will be attacked as well as pushed aside rather than just being pushed aside. How that plays out across the next four years…

And this links neatly into this, here where if even a quarter of what Maureen O’Dowd – and I’m no fan of hers – writes is accurate in relation to Trump’s response to the inauguration crowd we’re in much more severe trouble than we’d thought. And I suspect most of us figure we’re in quite a lot of trouble. It’s not so much the sheer pettiness of the issue as the sense that the new President is uncontrolled and uncontrollable, those around him unable to contain his seeming pathological desire to shape the world around him.

Of course if it were limited to that sort of stuff the next four years wouldn’t be a problem, but it’s not. Nowhere near limited to that. Already we have the chaos of the vicious immigration and refugee controls brought in – the seeming indifference to their economic effects (we’re way beyond this administration caring about human rights and what is it day nine?).

What’s fascinating, though, is how opportunistic all this is. There is no real Trump programme, the sheer incoherence of those around him points to the fact that different groups have grabbed his coat tails as he has swept (albeit not in an entirely commanding way) to power. What there is is a single man’s ambition to be President and what appears in retrospect to have been a disbelief on almost all those around him that he would make it (though one has to doubt he shared that disbelief). That’s kind of it and the alliances he made were all shaped to that end. Small wonder they’re so variegated given he was not naturally a Republican (and there’s a part of me that wonders could one run a counterfactual where he took a different path and became a Democrat nominee? Unlikely, but not absolutely so). Those of us who, however hesitantly still consider Marxist analysis of some utility, may find the sheer power of an individual, their ability to wrest events, troubling. Absent Trump, replace with Clinton and little or none of this would be happening. Absent Trump and replace with Cruz, some of this might be happening. But not in such a pointed way. But Trump is Trump. This is happening.

A deeper question remains. Does he represent a genuine rupture with all that has come before – the post-1945/post- 1991 dispensation or will matters return largely to that status quo ante when he (fingers crossed) leaves the White House in four, or God forbid eight, years? How resilient are the various global systems, or US democracy, or the US state and deep state? Part of me wonders why we haven’t seen his like in the recent past, he surely is not entirely dissimilar to some of the post-Soviet leaders in the former Soviet Republics (or would it be fair to say he is a Yeltsin like figure? ). But US democracy, with wobbles, has managed to at least propel relatively uncontentious people into the Presidency – sure, Nixon was Nixon but his flaws seem different to those of Trump. GW Bush likewise. Or is it that Trump, strangely, was just the right candidate for a social media inflected US?

First Anniversary of Bloody Sunday January 31, 2017

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As today is the Anniversary an interesting piece from The Irish Republican & Marxist History Project
The first anniversary of Derry’s Bloody Sunday when Garda brutally attacked the Dublin commemoration.

Having “the talk” ….. January 30, 2017

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My son asked to go to the Anti Trump Protest on Thursday…. his mother had already declined but it is currently under review and with homework done etc etc he may be allowed go on Thursday…..
I was at the protest in Dublin at The Central Bank when Trump was being inaugurated. A fluid crowd of a few hundred. Elsewhere people watched the Inauguration , maybe pronounced what a fuckin lunatic Trump was or just ignored it all.
Well we thought Trump was going to be bad, but this bad… so quick? We wonder what is next ? and then after that and after that!! It’s hard to imagine him not using the nuclear bombs at some stage over his term, why? ……… because he can.
Some poor Country somewhere is going to be obliterated.
It has obviously alarmed an awful lot of people and whilst my son wouldn’t be political, he would be aware that his father goes to demos etc…. I really think that there will be a massive crowd there on Thursday, despite the slightly awkward location. Genuine alarm at what Trump is doing has the possibility of bringing out a new wave of people unfamiliar with protests and needless to say the dislike of Trump is being used and exploited by all sorts of parties ….


I got an email today from Ivana Bacik and Labour about Trump and urging me to go to the demo organised by United Against Racism at The American Embassy on Thursday. I was amused , it takes Trump for Labour to be seen in a favourable light! … and also that United Against Racism are an SWP front.
Now we’ve done the sit downs to tell my son the facts of life, how to respect women and so on …..None of which prepared me for having “the talk”…. explaining to him what an SWP front was…..

That ‘frictionless’ border… and more on the RoI and Brexit January 30, 2017

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Still a lot of aspirational language being spoken this evening in relation to the Border after Brexit. For example…

She said there will be no return to a hard border and reaffirmed her commitment to the Good Friday Agreement.

Mrs May said she fully respects that Ireland will remain a member state of the EU.

She said both governments want a “seamless, frictionless border” to continue to see trade and the continuation of the Common Travel Area.

How can one square the certainty of the ‘no return to a hard border’ and the more contingent language in relation to a ‘seamless, frictionless border’? Truth is one can’t.

Meanwhile I wonder if this piece was written with half an eye towards criticisms of the government for not seemingly being involved sufficiently in engaging with the reality of Brexit. For it suggests that there’s been a lot of activity under the radar since last year by ‘a diplomatic, political and official campaign’.

And what of the Border?

Officials are satisfied that the Government appears to be making good progress on the retention of the Common Travel Area.
Word has reached Irish Embassies around the continent that Michel Barnier speaks about it as an early priority in the negotiations when he is speaking to other governments.
However, the question of EU-UK relations – and, therefore, British-Irish trade and the role of customs at the Border – remains deeply uncertain.
Senior sources say that the pretty broad EU view is that trade is an EU competence, and if and when the British do exit the customs union then the arrangements with Ireland will be the same as the arrangements with the rest of the EU. If that involves tariffs, it involves tariffs.
There will be, officials expect, some EU understanding about how the Border should work in the future, with other countries understanding the Irish position that it should be as soft or invisible as possible.

And how soft or invisible will that be because – truly – anything not invisible is going to be…well… visible.

This next may give comfort or it may not.

There may even be some local arrangements for agricultural products that cross and re-cross the Border, speculates one source.
But a special arrangement for Ireland on trade seems very unlikely.

Well that’s okay then… January 30, 2017

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Boris Johnson says Washington says ‘all British passport holders’ welcome in US

A partial and patchy ‘recovery’ and more… January 30, 2017

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Not sure if anyone followed the interviews with twenty-somethings in the IT recently. Not uninteresting at all. But this struck me as particularly useful:

Ciara Walsh (26) finds it’s difficult to believe political claims of economic recovery when she goes home to Limerick.
“Everything outside Dublin just feels underfunded, underdeveloped and forgotten.”
She feels a sense of loyalty to her home city and hates how Limerick is “misrepresented” by the media.
“It’s just gangland and drug issues but that’s not all we have to offer. There’s a massive community spirit and sense of pride. With very little resources they’ve created so many events.”
However, the “mass exodus” of school and college graduates to Dublin and abroad has left a notable gap in the city and surrounding areas, she says.


TJ Butler (23) [from Lucan originally] agrees that the economy’s “magical recovery” has only touched the lives of those in the cities, while many living in rural areas and smaller towns continue to struggle.
“There’s a huge distinction between Dublin and the rest of the country in terms of the recovery. The only place that’s really felt is the major cities and even then it’s only in Dublin.”

Meanwhile, what of this reference to a near Zelig-like figure in contemporary Irish politics…

“I remember Councillor Gary Gannon from the north inner city saying that we’re not apathetic, it’s just that we don’t like the politicians in power. We’re not connected to what they’re doing and saying.”
Following the results of the 2016 general election, TJ Butler decided to turn this disillusionment with the Irish political system into action, by joining Labour Youth. To his dismay, he discovered he was one of only a tiny number of students involved with the centre-left party.
“People our age are constantly giving out about what’s right and wrong with this country and how we think it should change. But very few people actually get involved with the system.
“I originally would have joined the Social Democrats but that party hasn’t really come to anything so I joined Labour Youth. We’re constantly giving out that this old man’s club is setting the rules but none of us actually try to get in.”

Out of the frying pan into the fire.

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