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Promises made, promises broken… June 2, 2020

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A very sound point by Gary Murphy, Professor of Politics at Dublin City University, in the Examiner a while back. He writes about government formation and the dangers/threat of a second election, one that as he notes would be run against the background of the pandemic. He notes that the current government is composed of people who lost seats or didn’t run, something he reasonably enough finds problematic – and he notes that ‘a view seems to have emerged amongst all parties, bar SF, that there is no real rush to starting any kind of talks never mind concluding them’ – something that was evident by some TDs statements over the weekend in regard to the latter part of that quote.

But he also notes that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael…

…now urge the smaller parties to enter government for the good of the country yet refused to countenance even any discussion with Sinn Féin even though they received the most votes in the election.

Sinn Féin didn’t win the election but it surely received a mandate to have the other parties at least talk to it.

Micheál Martin was as insistent before the election that he wouldn’t enter government with Fine Gael as he was about Sinn Féin.

I’ve had the discussion with numerous people offline in recent times (well, everything is online but you know what I mean) that the media and political trope that somehow the LP, SDs and GP are ‘letting everyone down’ by not immediately acquiescing to go into government with FF and FG is not some national betrayal since those latter two parties aren’t willing to at least negotiate with SF. They have every right not to negotiate, but it is a bit much to claim that others have to negotiate with them.

And what of that point re Martin and his insistence he wouldn’t enter government with FG? All changed utterly? And perhaps Martin’s luck is just now manifesting as he likely enters government as Taoiseach despite his party receiving the sort of level of support in polls that was previously reserved for the ILP back in the 1970s and after.

Attitudes to the lockdown June 2, 2020

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If one were to believe columnists across a range of news media the public is desperately keen for restrictions to be lifted. And yet, and yet. Look at actual polling on this matter, most recently the RedC/SBP poll this last weekend and there are two responses that are of particular significance.

To the question whether people were concerned about a second peak only 20% were not and a full 77% were. Even more tellingly, on the question of whether they wanted to see restrictions lifted more quickly 31% did and 66% did not and more importantly were ‘happy with the current government roadmap’.

Given the near constant diet of vested interests and conservative columnists arguing for a lifting of the restrictions this has to count as a triumph of sorts. Yet it is backed up by other attitudinal polling throughout the crisis. To the extent that the risible argument by Mark Paul in the IT last week arrived at the conclusion that such attitudes were driven by fear and consequently (implicit to his line) they should be ignored. Of course there will be concern and indeed anxiety about this. But perhaps people having invested two months or so in the lockdown recognise that all this could be utterly wasted by removing restrictions too early. And perhaps people also aren’t quite as impressed by the faux-argument that life is so full of risk they just have to get out there for the sake of the economy.

And indeed yesterday came there this:

Meanwhile, a survey shows high levels of people who remain uncomfortable with returning to everyday activities like going to the cinema, travelling on public transport or even shopping.
The EY Future Consumer Index, which tracks consumer sentiment, found 78 per cent of people would be uncomfortable going to the cinema, 76 per cent with exercising in a gym and 74 per cent going to a bar.
Almost three out of every four people polled feel uncomfortable about travelling on public transport, while a majority of respondents also remain uncomfortable with the prospect of eating in restaurants, trying on clothes in a shop or going to a hairdresser.

People are naturally wary in the extreme of going back into those contexts without a real assurance that there is minimal risk (by the way, I was much taken by Michael O’Leary – incorrectly – asserting that face masks cut transmission by 98.5%. The actual estimated figure is 10-15% or so. But take that 98.5%. Would O’Leary be sanguine about a 98.5% likelihood that an aircraft would safely reach its destination? And although that’s a slightly distorted argument on my part, though arguably much less so than his distortion, it does point up the issue of ‘risk’ in these things. Easy to beat the chest and state one is ready for risk. But how much risk? If one were flying what is the risk one will accommodate… 1%, .1%, .01% etc? It’s worth considering the actual chances of such an accident to see how little risk is accommodated).

All that said the framing of the poll results itself is notable in the SBP. For example. their political editor Michael Brennan wrote:

…business groups have called for the relaxing of the two-metre social distancing rule and the end of the 14-day quarantine for those entering the country, the government is expected to hold firm on these measures for now.
It is …examining the possibility of easing other restrictions that would benefit the public at large. It comes as a Red C poll for the Business Post shows that 31 per cent of people want to see the lifting of restrictions happening more quickly.

And 66% do not. But again:

[This] comes as the latest Business/Post Red C poll shows that public opinion is starting to shift on the issue of how fast the Covid-19 restrictions should be lifted to reopen the economy.
Around 66 per cent of people say they are happy with the current government road map for reopening businesses and social activity. However, 31 per cent of people want to see the lifting of restrictions happening more quickly.

Amazing how that solid majority is rhetorically softened.

Similarly in the SBP’s editorial where under the headline ‘The Country is Ready to Reopen, Let’s get on with it’ it manages to question the findings of its own poll (and note the almost identical language with that in the report above).

There has been considerable public buy-in, so far, but it cannot be taken for granted. The latest … poll shows there is still a silent majority in favour of the current approach. Around 66 % of people say they are happy with the current government road map for reopening businesses and social activity.
However, 31 % of people want to see the lifting of restrictions happen more quickly. It is clear that people need to believe that the precautionary measures that remain in place for the months ahead are credible and have been engineered to ensure the best for all, including the economy and the businesses and workers who power it.

In fairness the editorial does attempt to apply some nuance, asking if there are alternatives to quarantine. And yet it does put its thumb on the scales as in the following where;

If the government is insisting on [the two-metre rule] remaining for now, then businesses need to know when that is going to change and what exactly they would need to have in place to convince public health officials that a more workable distance can still maximise safety.

If the science says two metres then perhaps it is up to business to live with that until a safer situation is arrived at.

Perhaps slightly comforting to read in the same report:

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has privately warned ministers to stop questioning the two-metre social distancing limit, which is not expected to be changed when the cabinet meets this Friday to confirm the move to phase two of the road map.
Varadkar delivered his rebuke at cabinet last Friday after Minister for Rural Development Michael Ring and Minister of State Finian McGrath had publicly broken ranks with Dr Tony Holohan, the state’s chief medical officer, by calling for the two-metre social distancing rule to be changed.
“Not much point in seeking expert advice if it’s to be ignored,” one minister said.

But amazing that we need an FG government to hold the line.

Government formation… slowing… June 2, 2020

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The IT was filled with reporting yesterday that things had gone a bit sour on government formation.

Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Greens have lowered expectations of agreeing a programme for government within the next seven days because of serious pinchpoints which have emerged in negotiations including over agricultural emissions.
Sources close to the talks say there was slower-than-anticipated progress over the weekend with no resolution on key areas in finance and social protection such as how to handle the growing State deficit, the distribution of carbon tax, and the State pension age.

That’s a lot of areas where there is lack of agreement, isn’t it? You’d wonder if some in FF and FG are wondering just what is going on here…

British Trotskyist Archive June 1, 2020

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This is good, an archive of British Trotskyist publications. I went there looking up the Revolutionary Communist Group – and it was surprising that there’s a number of formations like the RCG that started out as Trotskyist but eventually shifted away, often due to support for the Cuban Revolution and suchlike.

Ireland’s Wars June 1, 2020

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Anyone who hasn’t read this from NFB really should. An index of posts they’ve put up on… well… Ireland’s Wars, from the mythic to the very very real. A very specific but informative take on Irish history which has currently reached the War of Independence.

Unfit for purpose June 1, 2020

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Discussed how unfit for purpose right populists have been proven to be by the pandemic last week. And it’s key to keep in mind that the virus is subject to political, social and economic contexts. Pre-existing dynamics fed into the spread and the response. Some very very perniciously.

For example, read this in the Guardian about the situation in Lombardy and one has to think that this goes beyond ineptness and into the core of their ideological approach. One which has a cosmetic veneer of concern about the working class but in practical terms cleaves to the same old same old approach economically as used by the centre right and onwards.

There are many curiosities about the virus, oddities that should make anyone hesitant about hard and fast determinations as to how it will spread and so on. But, the course it took in Italy appears in no small part to have been driven by ideological and political approaches by the right and far-right – and with an uneasy echo of dynamics closer to home at present, business demands. Lombardy, for example, is surrounded by regions that had many many fewer cases and deaths. Again the virus itself may in part be at fault, and there’s the issue of population density too, but there’s also another factor.

Michele Usuelli, a doctor and regional councillor for the small, leftwing party, Più Europa, pins much of the blame on politics and healthcare mismanagement. He said Lombardy’s fate began to be charted out in the late 1990s when the Italian government decentralised healthcare, giving regions more autonomy.

At the same time, the privatisation of healthcare became more prevalent. Although other regions continued to mostly maintain the public health system, a succession of Lombardy governors, including Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia between 1995 and 2013, and Matteo Salvini’s far-right League since then, allowed the private and public systems to compete for funds based on efficiency.


Even though Lombardy developed one of the most enviable healthcare systems in Italy, the strategy left private firms free to invest in areas of care that made more money, inevitably leading to a reduction of beds in the public system and leaving the region less equipped to meet all types of health needs.

And the political effect of this?

With the enormity of what the region has endured in recent months starting to sink in, anger has been mounting towards the League’s regional president, Attilio Fontana, so much so he said he now needed a police escort. Fontana and Giulio Gallera, Lombardy’s health councillor, are to be questioned by prosecutors in Bergamo, the Italian province worst affected by the virus, amid an investigation into criminal negligence that focuses in particular on the failure to immediately close a hospital where an outbreak occurred and care home deaths.

And business?

Lombardy authorities also delayed closing Bergamo, partly because they were under pressure by business associations to keep things going. “Across Lombardy, production never completely stopped,” said Arnaldo Caruso, a professor at Brescia University and president of the Italian Society for Virology. “People continued to work during the lockdown and without all the precautions that came later.”

Left Archive: The Worker, Socialist Workers Movement, July/August (1977) June 1, 2020

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To download the above please click on the following link. the-worker-swm.pdf

Please click here to go the Left Archive.

Many thanks to the person who forwarded this to the Archive.

This edition of The Worker, from the Socialist Workers’ Movement, dating from July/August 1977 has a lead article about international financiers and speculators, arguing that ‘they talk about sacrifice but They Kill For Money’. Other pieces examine how ‘Trade Unionists Fight Repression’. A longer pieces looks at Independent Labour’s Noel Browne and Matt Merrigan and their envisaged alternative to the Labour Party.

In the letter’s column there is an exchange on the nature of the Provisionals between a ‘Belfast Socialist’ and The Worker. Other pieces look at emigration, and the historical efforts to fight it.

International issues are covered in pieces on Spain and Portugal.

Please note: If files have been posted for or to other online archives previously we would appreciate if we could be informed of that. We always wish to credit same where applicable or simply provide links.

Fan fiction? May 31, 2020

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Mixed reviews of Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld, a novel that posits a world where Hillary Clinton did not marry Bill Clinton and somehow winds up as US President. Slate.com did like it. Anne Enright in the Guardian half-liked it. Jason O’Toole on RT did not!

Statements in the media… good, bad and indifferent… May 31, 2020

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All contributions welcome…but let’s start with the lead headline from The Sunday Independent which indicates an interesting set of priorities. ‘Saving Summer’?

EH fulminates about how ‘Fine Gael no longer looks after the private sector donkey’ and refuses to unlock the lock-down (behind the pay wall natch!). And yet FG’s polling support remains rock solid while his chosen horse of FF…

Meanwhile a short piece from Dominic Cummings statement worth noting…

After I started to recover, one day in the second week, I tried to walk outside the house.At one point the three of us walked into woods owned by my father, next to the cottage that I was staying in. Some people saw us in these woods from a distance, but we had no interaction with them. We had not left the property. We were on private land. B

Truly, the rich are different.

Michael McDowell in the IT:

At some point our political system will probably have grasped that being led by the “science” of public health must increasingly be balanced by applying the precautionary principle to our economic survival and sustainability, and pushing out the boundaries of risk-taking in pursuit of getting all our people economically active again.

Too many questions? One firm prediction – if we have any sense of humour left, we will laugh at the puritanism of the 2m “advice”, the flip-flopping on face masks, the warnings against “dickeying up” your home during lockdown and the so-called experts who feared opening garden centres.
Let’s hope it’s not too hollow a laugh.

You go first Michael.

Pat Leahy not wrong here:

You wouldn’t have to be the sharpest political analyst in the world to figure out that this has the potential to turn our politics upside-down. If the next government manages the adjustments cleverly, fairly, with purpose and honesty (though every one of those will be contested territory), if it practices good government against all the odds, its constituent parts can prosper politically. If not, opposition parties – especially Sinn Féin, assuming it leads it – will be presented with an unparalleled opportunity to crush the old firm of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael and utterly remake the Irish politics landscape. Either way, our politics will be transformed.

Here, though?

That is another reason why the country needs to be reopened as quickly as is sensible. This will be among the first decisions of the new government. It will make few more important ones. Reopening – and restarting economic activity – will involve risk. But so does every other course of action. If economic activity doesn’t restart sooner rather than later, we might not have much of a country to reopen.

Define ‘as quickly as is sensible’ and ‘risk’.

Fergal Bowers by contrast on RTÉ makes a solid point:

Covid-19 has brought a big stop to the world’s gallop. In some ways, it has becalmed the planet.

Polls May 31, 2020

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Two polls, one in the ROI, the other in the UK show fascinating divergences. The first from RedC for the SBP show support for Fine Gael holding steady at 35%. SF at 27%, again no change. Fianna Fáil on an abysmal, and ironic given who is likely to be the next Taoiseach, 15% (+1). The GP is at 6% (-1). The SDs are 4% (+2). Labour is on 3% (NC), with no bounce from a new leader. SOL-PBP is at 2%. Aontú at 1% and for some reason Renua is polled and polls at 0%. Independents are 7% which is -1. RTÉ frames this as follows ‘A new opinion poll suggests that Fine Gael has retained its support, despite the continuing Covid-19 pandemic’. I’m not so sure it’s a huge surprise. For all the myriad flaws in the response to the virus FG is blessed as was noted in comments BTL here by having the UK to the east and the US to the west. And at least it seems to be driven by the science in way others have not been. Moreover this doesn’t suggest a massive groundswell of antagonism to the current approach to the lock-down. FF was road-testing some lock-down sceptic rhetoric in the Dáil this week. One wonders whether they will consider that politically profitable from here on out. Perhaps not to judge from these figures.

In the UK, by contrast, there’s no good news for the Tory government. As reported in the Observer Opinium has the Tories just 4% ahead of the BLP, 43% to 39%. Moreover as this indicates the genuinely massive Tory lead as recently as April has collapsed. I’m no great fan of Starmer but without question matters have stabilised. As significantly as the Observer notes the self-inflicted damage from the Cummings affair continues apace.

Boris Johnson is under fresh pressure to sack Dominic Cummings as a new poll shows that more than two-thirds of voters – including more than half of Tories – want him thrown out of Downing Street for breaching lockdown rules.

And the ebbing of support for the Tories can be traced in large part to that affair:

In the past week alone, the Tory lead has fallen by eight points, the largest weekly drop Opinium has recorded since 2017.

And this has to have ramifications for the future:

Opinium conducted its survey on Thursday and Friday after Johnson said he believed it was time for the country to “move on” from the the controversy: 41% agreed that the country should now “move on”, but a large minority (37%) said it should not – including almost a fifth (18%) of 2019 Conservative voters. Two-thirds (65%) said they believed Johnson was wrong to be still supporting Cummings – including almost half (48%) of 2019 Conservative voters. Just over two in five (43%) UK adults said they had lost respect for the government over its backing of Cummings – of which 45% voted Conservative in 2019.

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