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What is the nature of Labour’s dissent? January 18, 2012

Posted by Tomboktu in Minor Left Parties, Social Democracy, The Left.
7 comments

I’ve been wondering about the Labour Party’s dissenters. The public face of that dissent is Broughan and Nulty (I don’t count Penrose as dissent — he resigned the whip but he hasn’t inhaled, as his voting record shows), but there has also been the three councillors (now two with Nulty moving up), and more importantly, I would say, those members who are involved with the likes of Claiming Our Future and TASC, who have consistently critiqued current government policy (although not naming their analyses as attacks on the party to which they belong [belonged?]). Are we witnessing a period in which the Labour Party’s leadership has captured the party, relenting on woeful policies only on an issue-by-issue basis when the howls from backbenchers get too loud — e.g. DEIS cuts — or does the Labour leadership reflect the broader Labour membership, and had they (leadership and broad party membership) captured those “mid-Left” activists who have a harder edge to their analyses?

I don’t have an answer to my question, but I cannot see how the current set-up can continue, and I wonder what will give: will the dissenters walk or will they galvanise the party’s membership and call time on the leadership?

Minister White, here’s a better idea April 25, 2010

Posted by Tomboktu in Complete nonsense, Fianna Fáil, Human Rights, Minor Left Parties, Rights, Skepticism.
2 comments

I don’t know the motivation behind Minister Mary White’s first substantial decision since she was elevated: to commission assessments of three state bodies with responsibility for equality: the Equality Authority, the Equality Tribunal and the Human Rights Commission, which was reported in the Irish Times at the weekend.

Her motivation might be bad, in that it could be that she, a Green Party minister, rather than Fianna Fáil’s Dermot Ahern, has now taken up the cudgels that he was forced to quietly drop a little over a year ago when he cut the Equality Authority’s budget by 43% and announced ‘efficiencies’ would be introduced through sharing ‘back office functions’. (It would have been interesting to see how that could happen seeing as the Human Rights Commission has the colossal number of one staff who deals with administration and finance, and the Equality Tribunal and Equality Authority’s staff are civil servants in the Department of Justice (and Whatever it is These Days), and their pay-processing and other ‘back office functions’ are already pooled with the Department’s.)

Alternatively, it might be an attempt to kill that earlier plan by using a well-oiled civil service technique against itself: get a review done, but in Minister White’s case, it could be that she intends to stack the review to get the answer she wants rather then the one others have sought. What suggests that possibility is the report that the assessments are to be carried out by academics outside the civil service. However, the Irish Times report makes clear that the external assessments are simply to “prepare the ground for a full-scale review of the bodies”. Is it the case that ‘real’ Ministers or permanent government in the civil service (or both) want the irrelevant shenanigans these bodies get up to stopped, and have duped the knight on a horse from the Green Party to find out for them where the landmines are by sending her out to do the first sortie while they build a tank that will follow behind and trammel all in its path?

May I suggest an alternative, Minister, if you really want to see how we can improve the effectiveness of the equality and human rights systems in the State? Ask your academics from outside the civil service to do an assessment of how effectively each government department has implemented Appendix K of the Revised Regulatory Impact Assessment Guidelines for the proposals it has prepared for the Cabinet. As you and all the key officials will know, Appendix K sets out how a proposal is to be assessed for its impact on poverty.

And ask the academics from outside the civil service to establish how frequently each government department has, as recommended in paragraph 4.48 of the Revised Regulatory Impact Assessment Guidelines, contacted the Equality Division of the Department of Justice or the Equality Authority for assistance in carrying out an assessment of the equality impact of proposals they have placed before government, and how well the proposals have been amended to take account of concerns identified by the Equality Division or the Equality Authority.

Also, ask the academics from outside the civil service to establish how frequently each of the government departments have, as recommended in paragraph 4.58 of the Revised Regulatory Impact Assessment Guidelines, contacted the Human Rights Commission for assistance in carrying out an assessment of the human rights impact of proposals they have placed before government, and how well those issues raised in all of those human rights impact assessments have been dealt with in the final proposal. And ask how many ministers (other than Michael McDowell, who did use the system) have referred heads of bills or other proposals to the Human Rights Commission for observations before proceeding with it in the Oireachtas.

Finally, ask the external academics to examine the (public) records on cases taken before the Equality Tribunal to establish the proportion of those cases in which a state body has been found to be in breach of the equality legislation, and how many of those have been Government Departments.

I wonder what ‘back office efficiencies’ that exercise would suggest are needed.

Party rejection of treaty ‘a mandate to support it’, says Gormley as EU Treaty divide firms up. January 20, 2008

Posted by franklittle in European Politics, European Union, Green Party, Greens, Irish Politics, Media and Journalism, Minor Left Parties, Sinn Féin, Socialist Workers' Party, The Left.
26 comments

It’s a great headline to the story that yesterday’s Green Party conference failed to agree a position of either opposing or supporting the forthcoming Lisbon Treaty. It is pretty clear that the majority of Green Party delegates decided to back the party leadership’s call for a Yes vote. Whether it was because they felt that as a party in government they had to do so, or because they had a road to Damascus conversion on the issue like the previously vehemently EU-critical Deirdre de Burca (She wasn’t a Senator then of course), or simply because that always substantial section of the party that supported both Nice referendums and was generally more in line with the European Green movement, now commands a majority.

The Greens are calling for plaudits for the fact that they had an open debate and reached a decision democratically. Leaving aside Gormley’s imaginative interpretation of that vote I suppose, grudgingly, one must acknowledge as much though frankly attempting to lecture other political parties for not doing the same kind of misses the point. No left-wing party would need to debate opposition to Lisbon any more than it would need to debate support for public services or opposition to privatisation. Basic left principles such as support for democracy, opposition to neo-liberalism, opposition to centralisation of unaccountable power and so on make opposing the Treaty a bit of a no-brainer.

It will be interesting to see the practical implications of this for the party though. Since the Green Party does not have a position, can Green Party staff issue press releases in support of the Treaty when they’re supposed to be working for a party that has no position on it? Can the Green Party TDs and Senators use Green Party premises to conduct their Yes campaigning? And as for the No campaign, what organisation or vehicle will they use to advance their arguments? A number are involved already on a personal level in the Campaign Against the EU Constitution, which I am told will be changing its name because the EU has decided to change the name of the document, does this mean they will now move into that structure or will they established a Greens Against Lisbon grouping of some sort?

There might be some suggestion that the Yes side has been undermined by the failure of the Green leadership to get two-third on Saturday, but I’m not so sure. It’s pretty clear that the Green leadership, for whatever reason, carried the bulk of their membership with them and are likely to carry the bulk of Green voters come the referendum. The loss of the Green Party’s organisational muscle is a negligible one. The Greens don’t have the money at the minute to run a major campaign and in both Nice referendums their work on the ground was pretty weak. Where they were key in previous referendums was that in Gormley especially, but also De Burca and McKenna, they had articulate, experienced and educated debaters to be rolled out on the media who could argue for a No vote without being republicans, socialists or working class and scaring middle Ireland too much.

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Meanwhile, among the anti-Treaty campaigns, there has been some frustration that the SWP has established another front entity to campaign against the Lisbon Treaty while aleady being affiliated to the Campaign Against the EU Constitution, established a couple of years ago when the EU Constitution was first being put forward. Happily, in a remarkable display of honesty for one of the most duplicitous political entities in Ireland, the SWP has altered the site since it was first put up to acknowledge that the people identified behind it, Kieran Allen and Sinead Kennedy, are both members of the Socialist Workers Party. Still, there is some ill-feeling that they went ahead off their own bat without consulting other people in the CAEUC.

Also of interest is that it is the SWP that has both established the website and it affiliated to the CAEUC. Firstly, the SWP’s affiliation to the CAEUC is quite a recent one, and as late as early last year a prominent member of the SWP told me they honestly didn’t see the EU Constitution/Lisbon Treaty issue as a priority. Certainly SWP activists were noticeable by their absence from early CAEUC meetings. Yet here we have them setting up a website, publishing a pamphlet outlining he reasons for a No vote, describing it as a key priority in their New Year’s message and affiliating to the CAEUC. Curiously, there is no reference to People Before Profit, their previous electoral front group. The PBP website has not been updated for several months and seems to have no position, good, bad or indifferent, on the Lisbon Treaty. Considering the use that could be made by the SWP out of Lisbon for attracting people to the organisation, it’s a slight surprise to me they’re being upfront about who they are in the campaign and not using the PBP brand.

But more frustrating than the SWP playing ‘silly buggers’ has been the annoyance felt by many, and ably pointed out by Daily Mail columnist Joe Higgins in last Thursday’s Irish Times, about the media’s appointment of Dermot Ganley as head of the anti-Treaty movement in Ireland. Ganley, and his Libertas movement, with no track record on Europe at all, has come from almost nowhere at the start of December to being seen as a key played in the Lisbon Treaty debate. Libertas certainly has money, but no actual organisation as such, though it’s clearly got some smart people doing the media. But Higgins rightly points out that the media, and the Irish Times in particular, has been doing what it can to portray the anti-Treaty campaigns and groups, predominantly left-wing or progressive in Ireland, as right-wing or even fascist. It’s what the media tried to do in both Nice referendums, successfully in the latter case.

But the reason for the Dermot Ganley love-fest has two other aspects. Firstly, if Ganley is the leader of the No campaign, then no other organisation or individual can be leader. With Sinn Féin the only substantial political party to be opposing the Treaty and, at this point in time, the only serious political organisation to be opposing it, the media would find it difficult to avoid handing the mantle of leadership of the No side to Sinn Féin if Ganley wasn’t there. Considering that party’s weakened position, the last thing the Irish media establishment wants to do is give it the shot in the arm of portraying it as leading anything. With Ganley on the chessboard, he can be appointed figurehead, sparing the need to pay attention to what the Shinners are doing.

Secondly, Ganley is a businessman, and a successful one. Most other opponents of the Treaty in Ireland are left-wing, they wear beards, many of them are in trade unions and some have stood on the side of the road holding placards. The Irish media worships business and successful businessmen. A successful businessperson can have his or her opinion taken seriously on any topic in Irish society, whether he or she knows anything about it or not and it’s clear Ganley has some understanding of the Treaty, simply by virtue of the fact that he or she has made a success at business. Ganley is credible in a way that people like Patricia McKenna or Mick O’Reilly, people with far vaster experience of anti-EU Treaty campaigns and a much better understanding of the Treaty than Ganley, can never be.

Get ‘Round Town… The Pastels and Scottish drone pop… December 8, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Minor Left Parties.
18 comments

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I probably can’t convey the enthusiasm I felt some weeks ago when I discovered that the Pastels album ‘Up for a Bit with the Pastels’ from – gulp! – 1987 was available for download. That enthusiasm was only very slightly dented by the discovery that it had been remixed and it returned once I had a chance to listen to the album.

The Pastels were one of those strange breed of Scottish pop bands which appeared during the 1980s. I hesitate to suggest that they were in some respect a point on a line drawn between Orange Juice and the Jesus and Mary Chain. But in their shambolic, jangly, noisy and sweetly melodic post-punk style they certainly were everything that was hinted at by the essential disintegration and slow reworking of traditional 1960s pop into something that was hardly recognisable in its formal attributes but at conceptual core retained all the vitality of the original.

Stephen Pastel – the frontman (and yes, it’s a pseudonym) – was, and remains, a key individual in Scottish music and his label 53 and 3rd was instrumental in bringing an array of luminaries to an unsuspecting world including The Vaselines, the Soup Dragons, the aforementioned Mary Chain and BMX Bandits. Unsurprisingly some of Teenage Fanclub later turned up sort of in, sort of out, of the group.

Remarkably they managed to entice Shop Assistants keyboardist Aggi Wright on board in the mid-1980s and subsequently ‘Up for a bit…’ appeared.

So, what’s it like?

Well, how to describe the vocals… monotonic, drone-like, fey, hesitant would all cover them – here’s an example…

To say they were underproduced would be overly kind. Set them then against a background of strummed guitars, slightly wonky drumming, rudimentary keyboards, some kind of found noises and you have a sound which combines a certain strand of sixties pop with the sonic excess of the Jesus and Mary Chain. Except, the dial is tipped closer to the former than the latter. I see they’re referred in various places as ‘drone-pop’ in this phase of their career, and that is as good away as putting it as any.

To suggest that some of the lyrics were simple-minded beyond belief is to be both accurate and simultaneously to do them a disservice. As we know (and if you don’t why are you still reading this?), when you’re 21 there is a depth of meaning in even the most throwaway phrase, and even their lurches towards what one presumes was a sort of irony…

‘…you can get around town in a bus… you can get around town in a train… you can get around town in a taxi… but you can’t get around in an aeroplane…’ seemed more wittily profound than any phrase which rhymes train and aeroplane has any right to be…

They weren’t all like that. They referenced sex and S&M and owed no small debt to the Velvet Underground.

The fast songs were fast… and noisy… and sounded just like pop should in 1986, which is to say nothing like what pop actually sounded like in 1986. I’m Alright with You, Get ‘Round Town and Baby Honey (close to the JAMC in sound and thought, but filtered through a warmer somewhat less misanthropic conceptual filter – this wasn’t just the Velvet Underground redux, more like something from the blissed out and happy west coast mixed with the hint of the Beatles and classic pop) were sufficiently melodic to stick in the memory for years afterwards. Supposedly they influenced both Sonic Youth and Nirvana. Perhaps.

And there was a real sense of heartache and longing in the slower compositions, like the opening Ride which has a monolithic wall of sound, and the softer If I Could Tell You (which in the remix version has unnecessary orchestral additions and a slight diminishing of the keyboard sound). What is interesting is that whereas in the JAMC it was the guitars which constructed the wall of sound in the Pastels much of it was assembled from keyboards. Yet due to the shambling aspect they remained entirely organic…

Here, for your viewing and listening pleasure is the video to Crawl Babies from the album – a song which encapsulates the jangly guitars, the Shadows-like lines, the spoken sung vocals and the sheer lunacy of the project. Twee? Well, yes, of course. But with a bit of grit in there. Note the sexual and S&M undertones of the video:

The Pastels, perhaps unfortunately, were featured on the C-86 Collection issued by New Musical Express, a collection which some suggest promptly killed off a promising scene. Certainly the ‘anorak’ aspect of the bands, including the Pastel’s was pilloried afterwards – not helped one suspects by the feyer than a very fey thing indeed antics of Bobby Gillespie and the earliest incarnation of Primal Scream (admission, I love that first album of theirs too)…

In the early 1990s they released an album, whose name I have forgotten, which somehow wasn’t as good (although this mid 1990s track is pretty good with that odd mixture of innocence and knowing that typifies them… ). For a start Mr. Pastel’s vocals had deepened. A small thing you might say – and perhaps odd since my own musical taste tends towards bands that have deep-voiced singers and away from the likes of Radiohead with their reedy tenors… But somehow it seemed to symbolise a sense that they had ‘grown up’, as it were, and that ineffable sense of expectation that comes in the late teens and early twenties had gone for good. Or perhaps that was me… (and perhaps anyone who writes ‘ineffable’ in a piece on The Pastels deserves whatever he gets…)

Which leads to some more thoughts. There’s a lot of nonsense written about a Celtic fringe and its cultural prowess. If true one wonders what’s our excuse in Ireland (bar – curiously the pop gems from the North)? But looking at Scotland in the mid 1980s there was a remarkable flourishing of groups which really had something, and this lasted well into the 1990s (with the Creation label). And where as Irish rock tended during that period to have a leaden quality to it – perhaps unconsciously influenced by that trans-Atlantic sound I referenced last weekend – there was a much lighter touch to the Glasgow bands, despite their being noisier and more experimental than their Irish counterparts [and lest it seem I’m dismissing all Irish groups I’d refer you to Dublin Opinions great run through of the best of Irish].

They’re still at it along with running a record shop and label. I see that they released a couple of albums in the last few years. There’s something about a soundtrack… I fully intend to get around to to listening to them someday. Perhaps in a bus… but probably not in an aeroplane…

The long war? December 5, 2007

Posted by franklittle in Environment, Irish Politics, Local Politics, Minor Left Parties, Socialist Party, Socialist Workers' Party, The Further Left, The Left, Trotskyism.
7 comments

I was slightly surprised to read on Indymedia today that the Galway Bin Charges Campaign held a picket outside Galway City Council as part of a laudable, and it should be noted successful, campaign against an initiative from the City Manager to remove the waiver on bin charges for bin lifts. Protestors accurately pointed out that this would have a substantial impact on the worst off in Galway.

My surprise was not because Galway Alliance Against War felt it necessary to turn up in a credulity stretching interpretation of its mandate, but in the continued existence, however chimera like of the anti-bin tax campaign in places around the country and the continued lack of anything like a strategy to get rid of the charges.

Drimnagh, where I live, was home to one of the strongest anti-bin charges campaigns in Ireland. Joan Collins, former SP, successfully rode the campaign into the Council chamber and Bríd Smith of the SWP/PBP wasn’t a million miles away from doing the same in Ballyfermot. Like most households in our area, the Littles refused to pay the bin charges, attended the meetings and a couple of marches and protests and quizzed candidates in 2002 and 2004 on where they stood on the issue.

Now, again like most of our neighbours, we pay the charge. Grudgingly certainly, but we pay it nonetheless. Yet, as a search on Indymedia for bin tax related stories will reveal, there are still occasional protests and campaign work in parts of Drimnagh, in Ringsend, and there was a small protest outside Dublin City Council when the Estimates were debated at the end of November and where, for the first time in Dublin City, Sinn Féin councillors backed the Estimates containing bin charges.

But here’s the thing. The campaign is, to all intents and purposes, over. Non-payment, as a means to ‘axe the tax’ has failed. I don’t, by the way, think it failed because it was the wrong strategy. I think it was the right one. It failed because the unions, Labour and Sinn Féin wouldn’t back it and they should not be allowed to forget that. Non-payment levels in the Dublin local authorities are not worrying the City Manager and outside of Dublin it was never really a political issue. The extended family in the rural homeland of the Littles was paying bin charges for several years without complaint before it blew up as an issue in Dublin.

Power to bring in and set the level of the Bin Tax has been taken from the councillors and put in the hands of the City and County Managers. Regardless of how a councillor votes, he or she cannot alter the rate at which the charge is set. In theory, a majority of councillors could refuse to bring in the Estimates and collapse the Council, but this would need to happen in several different areas before the Government would be forced to act in any way other than simply appointing Commissioners to run the City or County.

But there is no sign of such a majority on any Council, and every indication from the recent elections that the working class are not rising from their chairs with a ballot paper in one hand and a burning Bin Charges bill in the other. Indeed the most prominent anti-bin charges campaigner in the country, whose constituency was home to one of the stronger anti-bin charges campaign, lost his seat. If anything, with the inclusion of the always pro-bin charges Greens, the prospect of their abolition has become even more unlikely. Councillors in Dublin City who voted against the Estimates because of the charges have had their positions misrepresented as having votes against the new playground for the area, or the new litter warden because they were also contained in the Estimates. Clearly, supporters of bin charges are no longer afraid, and many opponents no longer see political capital in it.

So, why do the protests and the anti-bin charges campaign continue? In part, one supposes it is because of the still outstanding legal issues around the charges, but I can’t help but wonder if certain individuals and parties are happy to keep the campaign ticking over in order to maintain their profiles ahead of the next election.

This is not a debate about the rights and wrongs of double taxation. The bin charges are wrong and should be opposed. But is it the best use of the limited resources the left in Ireland has available to it to fight a battle that has been lost for a couple of years? There is, in my opinion, no shame in accepting that, for now, a battle is lost and preparing to fight a new one until the opportunity to refight the charges comes again. There is and was shame in not fighting at all, or in supporting the charges in the first place.

At what point do you accept that a campaign is over? At what point do you acknowledge defeat or claim victory? And when does the maintenance of a campaign become more of an exercise in political manipulation and candidate profiling and less of a genuine attempt to right a wrong and correct an injustice?

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