tag: Fine Gael

Feb 2011

Vincent Browne for Taoiseach

No. Not really. Though he’d certainly do a better job than any of the main party leaders. Plus it’d almost certainly force Enda Kenny to flee the country, so it’d be worth it on that basis alone.

It’s less than week now until Ireland goes to the polls and elects a Fine Gael government to dig the nation further into the hole left to us by Fianna Fáil. It’s a mess of a situation and the only question left to be answered is whether or not Enda Kenny’s visionless crew will secure enough seats to win an absolute majority (heaven help us!) or will need to form a coalition. For most of the election campaign a Fine Gael Labour coalition looked certain, with Labour’s gains being significant enough to give them plenty of influence over policy. As February 25th approaches though, they’ve lost a lot of ground and — if current opinion polls are to be believed — Fine Gael could win a big enough share of the vote to form a majority government with the backing of a handful of independents.

The reason for Fine Gael’s meteoric rise in the polls is difficult to fathom. Or rather, it’s difficult to fathom if you assume an even vaguely sensible electorate. The consensus seems to be that a) Ireland has adopted a two-party mindset… because Fianna Fáil got us into this mess, Fine Gael will get us out, and b) the electorate wants a stable government… the compromise of coalition is undesirable at a time of national crisis such as this.

Of course, even a cursory examination of these two conclusions reveals them to be nonsense of the highest order.

a) Yes, Fianna Fáil got us into this mess. But they did so during a period when there were no significant policy differences between themselves and Fine Gael. In fact, while in opposition, Enda Kenny’s party were complaining that Fianna Fáil’s tax cuts and regulatory light-touch didn’t go far enough. Both parties are essentially centre-right adherents to free-market capitalism. If anything, Fine Gael are slightly further to the right than Fianna Fáil ever were and the criticism they have been levelling at Fianna Fáil during this election campaign should leave any sensible person with a taste of bile in their mouth. Certainly the disastrous government of the last decade and a half merits criticism, but when that criticism comes from a party that would have done exactly the same thing it’s just embarrassing.

b) If people think that what the country needs is a single-party stable majority government, they appear to be forgetting that it was a single-party stable majority government that created this mess in the first place. Well, in all but name. Yes, Fianna Fáil had the Progressive Democrats as junior partners for much of their recent rule. And they had the Greens for the past three years. But the PDs were mostly ex-Fianna Fáil who left the party due to a clash of personalities with a long gone leader. They were Fianna Fáil through-and-through, as demonstrated by Mary Harney’s return to the fold after the death of the PDs. As for the Greens? Well, in the three years they’ve spent at the top table, they failed to influence government policy in any significant way and — in fact — enthusiastically supported Fianna Fáil at pretty much every turn. Even refusing to rock the boat on issues like the Corrib gas field, or the motorway cutting a swathe through the Tara Valley (a project they described as “a monstrous act of cultural vandalism” just a few short months before taking office and supporting the government carrying out that monstrous act).

See, this is the problem. The people voting for Enda Kenny and his empty suits claim to be voting for change. When in fact they are voting for a clear continuation of the dreadful policies of the past 15 years.

The significant problems we have cannot be solved using the same kinds of thinking with which we created them – Albert Einstein (attrib)

Vincent Browne

Give them the eye Vincent!

My overseas readers may be a little confused by the title of this post. “Who the hell is Vincent Browne?” they wonder. “Is he some far-left politician, perhaps?” No, he’s not. Vincent Browne is the presenter of a nightly political discussion on TV3. I’ve heard him described as “the Irish Jeremy Paxman”, but while I understand the reasons some might say that (his tenacious insistence on getting people to answer the damn question draws the comparison), it’s a rather lazy comparison. I see him as being closer to Peter Falk’s Columbo. The way he paces his questions and the disarming self-deprecation he uses to confound the more combative panel members is straight out of Columbo.

Over the past few weeks, Tonight with Vincent Browne has become essential viewing in the Bliss household. The panel of four or five members is usually made up of a mix of politicians, academics, artists and journalists. The discussion is usually entertaining, occasionally informative but always worth watching. Whether it’s Fianna Fáil junior minister Conor Lenihan completely losing the plot and shouting at Browne to “back off Vincent, or I’ll come at you!” Or the eminently likeable independent candidate, Paul Sommerville, visibly seething while discussing the economic policies of the Fianna Fáil government. Or just the eclectic mix of opinions that he assembles, Browne’s programme is one of the few edifying things about this current election campaign… indeed about Irish politics in general right now.

Would I genuinely want him as Taoiseach? Of course not. Do I agree with everything he says? Not at all. But at a time when Ireland is sinking beneath the weight of bland corporate apologists dressed as representatives of the people, Vincent Browne — for all his faults, and all the controversies — is a beacon of light.

1 comment  |  Posted in: Opinion

Feb 2011

Heckling Enda Kenny

And so the General Election campaign gets into full swing. Lamp posts are festooned with posters of unlikeable and untrustworthy fools demanding the right to speak on my behalf. The news is filled with lies as they tell us how they’ll solve the economic crisis. And the abject farce of the TV debates leaves an all-pervasive stench of bullshit wafting across our political landscape.

Tonight was to be the first of the TV debates and the leaders of the three main parties were invited on to TV3 to discuss their plans for the next five years. Not only were none of the leaders of the smaller parties invited — so that it was to be a debate between three centre-right, pro-corporate parties without an ounce of genuine vision between them — but one of those centrist leaders refused to take part because he didn’t like the man chosen to chair the debate.

Enda Kenny: because Real Change is too much to expect

Enda Kenny, leader of Fine Gael and — if the polls are to be believed — our next Taoiseach, denied the Irish people a chance to see him challenged by those who would oppose him in what is one of the most petulant example of political cowardice I’ve ever witnessed. Unable to put aside his personal differences with the questioner for two hours in the name of open debate and transparent democracy, he instead fled to a Fine Gael stronghold where he took tame questions from an audience of his supporters in what was billed as a “Town Hall meeting”. If he honestly thinks it presented an adequate scrutiny of his ideas, then those ideas must be very shallow indeed.

The one moment of interest came when a lone heckler, “Bobby”, spoke truth to power for the only occasion all evening. Bobby told us he was unemployed, with a sick father he was unable to support and a sister emigrating to Hungary to find work. He demanded to know what Kenny would do about his situation… a situation being experienced by an increasingly large Irish underclass; marginalised during the Celtic Tiger and now shafted by politicians who see the forces of capitalism as their true constituency.

Kenny, bizarrely, responded by citing utterly irrelevant statistics as though they actually meant something. Fine Gael would set up 20 thousand internships for graduates who couldn’t find paying work, he told Bobby (who had lost his job as a road-sweeper). The idea that an unemployed road-sweeper, trying and failing to support his ailing father, is going to be helped by a promise of 20,000 unpaid positions for graduates was as clear an example of the deep disconnect between mainstream politicians and the people they claim to represent as you will ever see. 17,000 apprentices who were unable to complete their courses due to the collapse of the construction sector will be provided with the opportunity to finish those apprenticeships. “So at least they’ll have a piece of paper”. He actually said that! “So at least they’ll have a piece of paper”.

Here is an unemployed man, sinking beneath a mess created by the unholy alliance of politicians, bankers and developers who ran this nation into the ground, desperate for some sliver of hope. And Enda Kenny responds with promises of unpaid work for graduates and a piece of paper for out-of-work apprentices. When Bobby, having listened to Kenny’s response with the vain expectation that it might actually contain something relevant to him, responded with perfectly reasonable disgust… “I can smell it from here!” (a line that should become the unofficial motto of these elections), he was booed and shouted down by the vast majority of those present. A demonstration of the pathetically tame nature of Kenny’s audience. Laughingly, Bobby’s question was sandwiched between questions from two Fine Gael councillors.

Bobby gives Enda Kenny a piece of his mind.
Sadly the applause close to the end isn’t for Bobby, but is in response to Enda Kenny saying “Bobby, you’ve been very welcome to our meeting, but you’ve made your point”. Our meeting.

The safe bubble of sycophancy in which Enda Kenny has sought refuge has clearly insulated him from the realisation that there are a thousand Bobbys out there for every Fine Gael councillor.

That said… the capacity for people to vote against their best interests should never be underestimated, and our politicians are counting on just that. Enda Kenny will be our next Taoiseach because our political system is heavily insured against genuine change. People want change. At least, they say they do. Yet they’ll vote for a party which is, to all intents and purposes, identical to the one that spent the past 12 years in power. The faces will be different, but the policies will remain the same. The pro-capitalist, corporatist agenda that is ripping Ireland to shreds — and indeed the rest of the world — will be maintained whichever of the three main parties gets into power. The obscene transfer of wealth from the poor and middle class to the rich and greedy will continue unabated. Hospitals and schools will close, our pension fund and remaining national assets will, along with a hefty chunk of our taxes, be efficiently funnelled into the coffers of private investors and financial institutions who have rigged the system so that any risk associated with the decisions they make will be borne by a public without any say in those decisions.

The gap between the rich and the rest is widening. And the process is being helped along by Enda Kenny and his unsavoury ilk.

UPDATE: There’s some speculation that “Bobby” may not have been an unemployed street-sweeper, but an actor planted in the audience by a political opponent. Or that he is indeed an unemployed street-sweeper but was invited to the meeting by a political opponent specifically in order to heckle. As discussed in the comments below, I don’t actually think this invalidates the things he said; because there are tens of thousands — perhaps hundreds of thousands — of Irish people in exactly the situation he claimed to be in, and Enda Kenny’s response was frankly embarrassing, and would have remained embarrassing had “Bobby” been genuine. I suspect this fact will now be lost as the media get obsessed with the story of Bobby being a fraud, as opposed to the shameful performance of Kenny. One can only sigh in frustration.

11 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion

Nov 2010

National Demonstration, Saturday Nov 27

November 27th demo poster

Click image for more info

A minor observation about the current chaos in Irish political and financial circles. The opposition parties; specifically Fine Gael and Labour; are demanding an immediate general election. The government insists that it needs to hang on for another month or two in order to pass the budget measures required to secure the IMF / EU bailout. To this, the opposition parties respond with indignant bluster but little else. They profess outrage at Fianna Fáil hanging on to power. They portray it as a denial of the electorate’s right to be heard on this uniquely important issue. And they promise to vote against the budget from a minority position.

Fine Gael and Labour are engaged in the politics of cowardice and dishonesty. They are cowering beneath the onslaught of the IMF, using Fianna Fáil and The Greens as increasingly fragile barricades. Let’s be 100% clear about this… if either party really wanted to trigger an instant election, they could do so at the drop of a hat. Fact is, they don’t have an alternative plan and are completely devoid of ideas and vision. These parties — our next government if polls are to be believed — are desperate for Fianna Fáil to sell us out to the IMF and absolve them from responsibility for the shitstorm being visited upon us by The Markets. If there were an election before the budget they’d be exposed as charlatans, forced to tread the same weary path as the current discredited lot. Ideologically incapable of considering radical alternatives.

And make no mistake, they could trigger an election. All it would take would be for Enda Kenny (Fine Gael) and Eamon Gilmore (Labour) to call a Press Conference and announce that they will not be bound by the impending Fianna Fáil four year plan and budget. Pledge to revisit both immediately after the next election. It would pull the rug out from under Cowen and force him to hold an election as soon as possible.

But Kenny and Gilmore are unwilling to force the issue. They’re hiding in their minority position. Condemning the actions of the government while steadfastly refusing to intervene, despite having the means to do so. They’ll watch as Fianna Fáil kick the crap out of the poor then take office and lament. All the while complaining about their hands being tied. About how they don’t have the power to change things.

Bullshit. They do have the power, they don’t have the wit. And so, they will watch this country get bled dry.

The European Banks gave out billions in loans to the Irish banks. The Irish banks were badly run, lost all the money and are functionally bankrupt. So the IMF is now insisting that the Irish taxpayer borrows the equivalent amount (from those same institutions!) and bails out the Irish banks with it. Then the Irish banks will pay back the loans they took from the European Banks. Leaving just the newly imposed Irish sovereign debt to the European banks remaining. To add insult to injury, the imposed loan is at a far higher interest rate than most of the original bad loans were.

Still angry and getting angrier about all this. This monstrous nationalisation of private debt shouldn’t be permitted. It is fundamentally unjust and the system that demands it is corrupt and immoral. There’ll be a march in Dublin this Saturday (click the image above for more details). It’s being organised by ICTU (the Irish Congress of Trade Unions) but is completely non-aligned and aims to give voice to public discontent rather than being a message specifically from the Unions. I urge my Irish readers to attend.

And I urge my overseas readers to take note. Because what’s happening in Ireland is the new face of international finance capital, and it’s not stopping with us.

3 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion

Jul 2007

Election 2007: Was that it?

Election 2007

So we’ve got a new government. Kind of. In truth it looks suspiciously like the old one. Like someone you know who suddenly looks different, and it takes you a few moments to realise they’ve got a new pair of glasses.

Bertie’s still in charge. Fianna Fáil are still the party of power. And the Progressive Democrats are still ruining the health service. Did I say “ruining”? I’m sorry; I meant “running” of course.

So no change there then.

But that’s not the whole story. There’s the new pair of glasses… Bertie invited The Greens to the cabinet table and after a week of negotiations (which seems like a long time to insert the words “and Green Party” into the Fianna Fáil manifesto) they accepted. However, despite having voted Green myself (at the very least implying I wanted them to be part of a governing coalition), I’m fairly worried about this development. My own analysis of the election result is that the electorate essentially voted with its wallet. It voted for the continuation of the economic boom of the past decade (I know, I know, don’t get me started). Fianna Fáil were returned to power because people didn’t want to upset the economic applecart. And what frustrations they did have with the government; they took out on the coalition partners — the PDs — who were given a serious kicking.

If the Greens aren’t careful, they’ll end up as little more than Fianna Fáil’s new scapegoat. And that has the potential not only to discredit them as a political party, but to do serious damage to the wider environmental movement in Ireland. Careful now.

The Results

The first word that sprung to mind when the counts started to come in was “unimaginative”. Fianna Fáil’s share of the vote remained almost steady, losing only 4 seats; remarkable for a party that’s held power for the past ten years. Meanwhile the other large centre-right party — Fine Gael — recovered from its disastrous showing last time and gained 20 seats. A significant comeback that not only secures Enda Kenny as party leader for the foreseeable future, but also demolished the smaller parties. Labour, meanwhile, were down one seat against all media predictions which had suggested they’d pick up seats as part of Fine Gael’s Alliance For Change. In the event, their static performance probably means it will be Pat Rabbitte’s last election as party leader. Look for them to change leadership within a year.

In the run up to the election it had been the smaller parties who had been predicted to do well. I believe that this expectation ended up driving support away from them. The people got freaked out by the possibility that they might actually change something… challenge the established system… and they voted safe instead. So the genuinely popular leader of the Irish Socialist Party lost his seat in one of the shocks of the election, leaving the Dáil without any traditional hammer’n’anvil old-style Socialist TDs. This will be to the detriment of Irish political life in my view.

Sinn Féin had been predicted to make serious inroads, to become a real force in Irish politics. Instead they lost one of their five seats. People have been asking whether it was their politics or their history that put the voters off. I don’t think it was either. I just think they suffered, along with every other alternative to the Big Two, in the headlong rush to the centre-right.

The PDs though. That was an odd one. From 8 seats down to 2, and party leader and Minister for Justice Michael McDowell losing his. That was the closest we came this election to a “Portillo moment”… McDowell resigning from public life and buggering off home leaving the PDs leaderless on what was already a dire night for them. Oh how I grinned. Though I suspect my grin wasn’t half as wide as the one on the face of Gerry Adams. His party may not have been doing so well, but he could at least console himself with the knowledge that his bitterest political rival south of the border was doing so much worse.

The trouble is, of course, that just like the original Portillo moment, the demise of the PDs isn’t about The Fall of The Right. Sadly it’s merely the result of someone else successfully occupying that territory. Back in the 80s when the PDs emerged, they were all about pushing Ireland away from thoughts of socialism and towards the beckoning Celtic Tiger. They like to take credit for that, but that’s because they misunderstand the complexities of social and cultural evolution. The PDs were merely a symptom of a global change. Teenage spots, or menopausal hot-flushes. And now that the change has occurred, they’re pretty much cleared up. Sorry, irrelevant.

But, as Mary Harney reminds us, even adults get the occasional pimple once in a while.

Despite the resurgence of Fine Gael, the decimation of the PDs and the loss of four Fianna Fáil seats wasn’t enough to push Bertie’s Team out (thanks in no small part to the underwhelming performance by Labour). He was only six short of an overall majority. The two PDs could be counted on, which left him only needing four. Of the five remaining independents (down from 13), four of them were either ex-Fianna Fáil or known to be broadly in support of the party. So he had his government, and he let everyone know it. He didn’t need another coalition partner, but because it was such a slender majority, he acknowledged that another partner would certainly make the government more stable.

Enter: The Greens

The Green Party had — like Sinn Féin — been expected to gain a bunch of seats. They had 6 seats and conservative predictions saw them picking up at least four more. Some even suggested they could end up with as many as 14 or 15 TDs in the new Dáil. In the end they stayed steady; lost a couple of seats, but picked up a couple elsewhere (it was a Green who pushed McDowell out in Dublin South-East). All the same, despite the (against predictions) poor showing, they had enough seats to turn Bertie’s slender majority into a workable one.

For Fianna Fáil it meant they didn’t have to contemplate getting into bed with Sinn Féin — for Bertie to invite Sinn Féin to form part of the Irish government would be an incredibly controversial, and very risky, move. He’s happy to leave that particular nettle to be grasped by some future leader of Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael. And talking to The Greens also meant that Fianna Fáil didn’t need to engage with Labour. Pat Rabbitte’s 20 TDs would have demanded far more influence at the cabinet table than the 6 Greens could realistically expect.

And so the negotiations began. A friend of mine insisted that “Shannon will be the sticking point”. By this she meant that the Greens couldn’t possibly be part of a government that allowed the US military to use Shannon airport. Then the newspapers revealed that they’d caved on Shannon. They were prepared to be part of a government that actively supported the US military. My friend was disgusted. “That’s the last time they get my vote. What was the fucking point of their manifesto anyway?” Elsewhere… “Tara will be the sticking point”. In other words, the Greens couldn’t possibly be part of a government that drove a motorway through the Tara Valley. That would be just silly, right?

Well… it turns out the final act of the outgoing Fianna Fáil Environment and Heritage Minister, Dick Roche, was to sign the go-ahead for the M3. I guess at least it lifts the burden of responsibility from the incoming Green Environment and Heritage Minister, John Gormley. He’ll merely have to oversee this “act of cultural and historic vandalism” (Green Party Environment spokesperson, Ciarán Cuffe TD, 31st March 2005) rather than approve it. Just imagine if the Greens are not part of the next government. Just imagine if this turns out to be their one shot at power for a generation. What a legacy, eh?

TV Quiz Show Host, 2019: When The Green Party enjoyed their one period in office during the troubled government of 2007-10, what is acknowledged to have been their primary achievement?
Contestant: Was it supervising the destruction of Ireland’s most important Heritage Site, the Tara Valley, Alan?
TV Quiz Show Host (Alan): Yes it was Joan! And that brings your total up to… a staggering… 14.75 litres of fuel oil!!!
[Wild applause]
Contestant (Joan): Thankyou.

Also, when the Green Party asked the question (as they did), with respect to the M3, “How much of Ireland’s history is this Government prepared to sacrifice on the altar of economic growth?” I wonder did they imagine they’d be in a position to answer it too?

The party I voted for has been given two seats at the new cabinet table. John Gormley (expected to be the new party leader after Trevor Sargent stepped down post-election in order to keep his promise of not leading them into government with Fianna Fáil) gets Environment and Heritage, while Eamon Ryan was given the Ministry of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. These are clearly key departments from the perspective of implementing more sustainable national policies. So why am I so unhappy?

Well, because I didn’t actually vote for the people. I voted for their damn policies. I voted for a party that pledged to end US military flights in and out of Shannon. I voted for a party that called the routing of the M3 an “act of cultural and historic vandalism”. I voted for a manifesto that pledged to stop that vandalism. Instead we have Greens in government and US military aircraft still fly in and out. And I can’t even say “Well, at least I wouldn’t vote for a party that would allow such a thing.” Wrong! Turns out the people I voted for are happy to allow it — in my name, no less — in return for the chance to influence policy at some unspecified point in the future. And who knows when that point will be? After all, those two ministers are going to have their hands full implementing Bertie’s vision for the next while.

I don’t know… I do hear the arguments… yes Bertie would still have been Taoiseach if the Greens hadn’t jumped on board. Maybe he’d have done a deal with Labour. Maybe he’d have tried to go it alone with the PDs and independents. But by staying out of government, The Greens would not have been preventing Bush refuelling his planes here or stopping the M3 from being built. And that’s a fact. These things would happen with or without Green involvement, and maybe — just maybe — they’ll have a chance to influence things for the better from the inside.

The trouble is, I just don’t believe it. I’d have preferred they stuck to the policies they campaigned on, even if that meant opposing from without rather than influencing from within. Because when all’s said and done, you have to take responsibility for what you do and not what you promised to do. Right now the Greens are helping to govern this country, so every time a CIA plane lands in Shannon it is doing so with Green Party approval… and thanks to representative democracy… with my approval. There’s a line in the TV show Angel… Fred insists “we’re not evil, we’re changing the system from within”. Gunn replies wearily, “y’know, it sounds really naive when you actually say it out loud”.

5 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion

May 2007

Election 2007: A crash course in Irish politics

Election 2007

So the election is tomorrow. I had intended writing more about the whole thing, but life got in the way. I had other things to do, and getting enthusiastic about this turgid mess of a campaign would have taken a lot of time and effort. But I tell you something; if politicians could run our public services with the same level of efficiency they erect campaign posters, I’d vote for all of them! Within moments of Bertie and The President signing the document dissolving the Dáil, every lamp-post in the nation became a temporary billboard with three or four awkwardly smiling mugshots on each. Suddenly it’s impossible to walk to the village without being stared-at by a half-dozen unlikeable buffoons demanding my vote.

But who are those buffoons? And what do they stand for? Well, after a bit of googling, a bit of manifesto-reading and a handful of encounters with my local candidates, I think I’m in a position to summarise the choice on offer to the Irish people this coming Thursday. And it’s a grim choice indeed. I should point out that — having lived overseas for most of my life — I have very little knowledge of recent Irish politics. This has drawbacks: I can’t, for example, place a manifesto commitment into an historical context… is it a U-Turn or a long-standing policy? All I know is that it’s what they claim to stand for now. But there are benefits to a fresh perspective too, and I take no political baggage or long-standing party loyalty to my analysis.

The Big Two

As with many multi-party democracies, there are two big parties that dominate the political landscape. They are Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. Unlike most multi-party democracies though, these two parties don’t represent a neat right:left opposition. In fact, both occupy almost identical centre-right positions on economic and social policy issues. The real difference is history.

The birth of the Irish Republic was no simple affair. It was complicated, it was messy, it was violent and it took decades to happen. But there’s one date to which you can anchor the narrative… Easter 1916. It was then that The Proclamation of The Republic was read from the steps of the General Post Office on O’Connell Street. The Irish people had attempted to gain independence on many previous occasions, but Easter 1916 signifies the start of the final attempt. By 1920 Britain had been dealing with an ever-escalating insurgency for four long years, and decided to cut their losses. In early 1921 the Irish Free State was born.

But the story didn’t end there. The movement that coordinated the rebellion split into two factions. And the Irish Civil War began. The political parties, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, are the modern remnants of those two revolutionary groups. But their reasons for opposing one another are long gone. They haven’t had a genuine ideological difference since Fianna Fáil dropped their commitment to a united Ireland (the Good Friday Agreement — and subsequent referendum — saw that commitment removed from the Irish constitution). They’re like feuding families who’ve long since forgotten the source of the original dispute and now spend their time inventing new reasons to hate each other.

Let me give you an example… one of the “burning issues” of this campaign has been law and order. The official crime figures are down, but people report feeling more vulnerable to crime than ever before (note: there are very simple psychological reasons for this, but explaining to people why some of their fears may be unfounded never won votes, right?) As a result, both main parties have been talking tough. And that tends to translate to “putting more police on the streets”. Now, one of Fine Gael‘s Big Ideas is “2,000 more police on the streets”. The line is on half their posters and leaflets and is a mantra constantly being repeated in the mass-media. So during a televised debate between Enda Kenny (leader of Fine Gael) and Bertie Ahern (leader of Fianna Fáil and current Taoiseach), Bertie pressed the Fine Gael leader on the issue. Given that there were already almost a thousand new police in training, was Fine Gael promising an extra 2,000 on top of that? Or were those trainees already included in the number?

Fair enough. Fair question. And it turns out that the answer is that “the 2,000 more” does include current trainees. No big deal really, but Enda fluffed it a bit and didn’t give a straight answer. So the two leaders of the main parties — the two men seeking to become the next leader of the country — then spent ten minutes arguing the point ferociously and talking over one another. And since then I’ve seen three separate current affairs programmes become completely bogged down on this issue.

And that there. Right there. Whether or not Fine Gael are providing extra funding for one or two thousand police in their budget. That’s what they’ve decided to argue about. I accept that there are many who don’t view sustainability or climate change or peak oil as The Big Issues I believe them to be. But I think we can all agree that whether or not Fine Gael are providing extra funding for one or two thousand police in their budget, can’t possibly be one of the most significant issues facing our nation as we set out to choose our government for the next five years. It just can’t.

Both parties offer broadly centre-right economic policies and are socially conservative. Fine Gael have an image of being slightly more socially liberal, but in reality you couldn’t slide a cigarette-paper between them. They both set their moral compasses by the Catholic Church and rarely — if ever — take a stance that might be seen to be in opposition to it. This fact alone should focus the mind of any genuine social liberal. Abortion and gay rights are just two areas where this conservative religious tendency has had a major impact on policy.

They both take identical prohibitionist positions on drug policy; believing that criminal gangs are the best people to be producing and distributing often dangerous and addictive substances. And they’re both very serious about enforcing that prohibitionist policy; criminalising addicts in need of help while simultaneously maximising both the harm caused by the drugs and the profit being made by those selling them. Both main parties appear to honestly believe that filling our jails with pot-heads is a good idea.

Economically, as I mentioned, they’re both centre-right. Back in the early 90s Ireland’s economy began to flourish. A conducive international environment coupled with significant inward investment from the EU allowed the government to begin a period of market liberalisation and reap the inevitable short-term benefits. Privatisation, low corporate tax rates and a willingness to sell anything that wasn’t nailed down led to The Celtic Tiger… a period of extraordinary economic growth. The current government; in fact Bertie himself, has pretty much claimed responsibility for this. But in truth, there’s no real difference between the economic policies of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. They might want to spend an additional 2% of GDP on this rather than that, and perhaps one wants to reduce taxation for first-time house-buyers while the other wants to increase the pension slightly. But essentially they both sing from the same hymn sheet…

“Economic growth is a good thing. It is desirable beyond pretty much all other things and we need to structure our society to this end”. This means the privatisation of state-owned assets: both parties believe that public transport should be sold to private investors and competition introduced. I have news for them both… nobody wants to compete for the Rathcoole bus route. There’s sod-all profit in it. I want a public transport system run for the benefit of the public, not the shareholders. Both main parties have as much as admitted that’s beyond their capabilities.

It’s a little indecent to watch the eagerness with which both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael prostrate themselves before the altar of Big Business. Indeed, The Market is the one institution they revere above The Church. I’m pretty certain if pro-Choice activists could just work out some way of making abortion profitable

But then again, I knew it was all over for this election when I saw Trevor Sargent — leader of The Irish Green Party — herald his party as “truly business-friendly”. It seems economic growth is king, whatever your political hue. Which brings us neatly to:

The Other Four

This — theoretically at least — is where Irish politics starts to get interesting. Although Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are the big two; barring a miracle, neither of them will get enough of the vote to command an overall majority. Right now Fianna Fáil look certain to be the largest single party, with perhaps as much as 40% of the seats. Fine Gael have been hovering at just below the 30% mark.

The next Dáil will feature TDs from a number of smaller parties, as well as a handful of independents. Of the smaller parties, the ones that should gain enough support to play a part in the post-election deal-making are:

Labour. Currently around 10% in the polls. The Irish Labour Party aren’t quite as far from their socialist roots as Tony Blair’s New Labour, but they’re pretty damn close. Led by the jovial, though somewhat blustering, Pat Rabbitte they have tied their colours fairly closely to the Fine Gael mast. So when the privatisation of Aer Lingus was discussed on a political TV show, the Labour TD could only object to “the manner” in which it was being done and seemed to have no objection to the principle of our transportation infrastructure being run according to the dictates of the free-market.

Indeed, if you look at Labour‘s 5 Commitments for Change, you’ll notice that three of them are just calls for “more” of something we’ve already got… hospital beds, police and people buying homes. Clearly Labour believe that Ireland is pretty much fine; it just needs ‘a bit more of the same’. Certainly they don’t have any radical proposals that would warrant more than two paragraphs of anyone’s time.

Sinn Féin. Currently around 8% in the polls. The dark horse of Irish politics. For years the party was synonymous with bombs and hunger-strikes. It had a leftist slant, but was essentially a single-issue Republican pressure group. And whether or not you like their policies, it’s a credit to Sinn Féin that they are being taken seriously as a multi-issue party in this election. Indeed, as the issue of “The North” begins — hopefully — to fade into history, Sinn Féin are likely to be taken more seriously in the Republic. Most Irish people have strong opinions about Northern Ireland, but it hasn’t traditionally been a major influence on voting patterns. So long as Sinn Féin remained first and foremost “the political wing of the provisional IRA”, they were never likely to gain significant electoral ground south of the border.

What has impressed people, however, is the way in which Sinn Féin has successfully (fingers crossed) made the transition away from armed struggle and brought almost the entire Republican movement with them. They demonstrated that they’re capable of strength of purpose but also of understanding when a new direction is required. And people admire Gerry Adams for that. Of course, despite being president of the party, Adams can’t stand for election here in the Republic what with being Deputy First Minister in The North. Nonetheless his face is on every second Sinn Féin election poster. He’s the one “character” in this election who can challenge Bertie in both face-recognition and political charisma.

Unfortunately Sinn Féin‘s manifesto is a bit of a mish-mash. On the one hand they call for massive expansion of public transport, but on the other they seek to paint themselves as car-friendly (build more roads, reduce motoring costs, etc.) They talk about environmental responsibility and sustainability but also seek to abolish the bin tax (any erosion of the idea that individuals should bear responsibility for the waste they generate would be a disaster in my view). All the same, they are offering a genuine alternative to the centre-right corporatists and I applaud them for it. They are committed to retaining public ownership of those few assets we’ve still got left, and I tip my hat to this line from their manifesto (4MB PDF file)… “[We shall] Prohibit use of Irish airports, airspace, seaports, or territorial waters for preparation for war or other armed conflict by foreign powers or to facilitate any aspect of illegal acts such as the US Government’s programme of ‘extraordinary rendition’.”

The Greens. Currently around 6% in the polls. There’s no question that the Irish Green Party are compromised by the need to appear unwilling to rock the boat. If you are committed to a genuinely sustainable society, then you must accept an end to economic growth. Acknowledgement of this fact is still heresy in the mainstream, however, and consequently the Greens talk themselves up as a business-friendly party who offer a route to environmental protection that is sensitive to the needs of profit and industry.

Nonetheless, for anyone who genuinely feels that climate change and sustainability are Big Issues that require immediate action, The Greens are the only game in town. They would implement policies to reduce Irish carbon emissions by 3% annually. They talk about a “distributed energy grid” incorporating numerous small-scale renewable sources, and have a manifesto promise to “set a target for 5% of national acreage to be organically converted by 2012” (seems low to me, but it’s 5% more than anyone else promises). They’re also very very quiet on the issue of drug policy, but I’m extremely happy to see it gets listed under “Health” rather than “Crime” in their manifesto. And I’m also glad to see a commitment to “remove all gender specific terms from current legislation and regulations governing the granting of marriages to allow same-sex couples enjoy the rights and responsibilities of civil marriage”.

Along with Sinn Féin, the Greens are positioned significantly to the left of the mainstream in Irish politics. In addition, they are by far the most socially liberal of the six big parties.

Progressive Democrats (the PDs). Currently around 3% in the polls. This is the smallest of the Big Six, but has punched above its weight for the past decade as coalition partners of Fianna Fáil, providing them with enough seats to form a majority government. They have two main campaign slogans. Firstly; “Left-Wing Government? NO THANKS!” and secondly “Don’t Throw it All Away”.

They are economically on the far right, essentially free-market corporatists who split from the mainstream of Irish politics in the 1980s because nobody was right wing enough for them. They see themselves as an essential factor in driving recent economic policy and the “Don’t Throw It All Away” line is clearly aimed at those who have benefited materially from the economic anarchy of the past ten years and would like to see it continue.

Because of the Single Transferable Vote system, it’s possible to vote for more than one candidate on election day, listing them in order of preference. Every candidate wants to be Number One on your ballot, but they can reveal a lot when asked who they recommend for second and third preference. When Gerry Adams was asked the question, he replied that he obviously wanted everyone to vote Sinn Féin Number One, and that he honestly didn’t mind who got the voter’s second preference. But then he added; “of course, no thinking person would ever vote for the PDs”.

Although Michael McDowell is the leader of the PDs, it’s Mary Harney that most people associate with the party. She’s been minister for health for the past few years and there are major differences in opinion as to her performance. Indeed, according to the media, health is possibly the single biggest issue for the electorate with Enda Kenny of Fine Gael going so far as to instruct voters to treat the election as “a referendum on the health service” (I do so hate it when politicians tell me what issues I should be voting on). Both the nurses and the medical consultants are involved in industrial disputes with the Health Service Executive (the public body through which the health service is managed) and half the country sees Mary Harney as a crusader pushing through vital but unpopular reforms, while the other half sees her as a free-market zealot more concerned with “extracting value” than with providing a service that actually works.

The Issues

Health. It tops every opinion poll when people are surveyed about the issues they’ll be voting on this year. There’s a perception that the health service has actually got worse despite the unprecedented prosperity of the times. We hear news stories of full hospitals and people spending days on trolleys until beds became free. Stories of people showing up injured at A&E and having to wait hours to see a doctor. And stories of MRSI and other hospital super-bugs claiming lives. Meanwhile the nurses are on strike (they’re on a work-to-rule action, combined with targeted stoppages) and the medical consultants organisation is refusing to cooperate with the government on new contract negotiations meaning that no new consultants can be hired by the state.

It seems to be one crisis after another, and while I have to say that my own experience of the Irish health system has been very positive, there’s nonetheless a lot of dissatisfaction about. Definitely an issue working against the present government, despite the opposition not offering any actual solutions.

The Economy & Taxation. This is the big one for the current government. Irish people — on average — have seen a significant rise in living standards over the past ten years. It’s debatable as to how much of that is due to Fianna Fáil / Progressive Democrat management and how much is due to a confluence of factors beyond their control. But that doesn’t matter. If the economy appears strong and taxes are relatively low, there’s a tendency for people to avoid voting for change. Obviously it’s just one tendency and it can be outweighed by other factors. All the same it’s a powerful one and so long as the housing bubble doesn’t burst over the next 48 hours, it’ll definitely work in the government’s favour.

Law & Order / Crime / Justice. This encompasses two separate but connected issues. Firstly there’s a debate going on in Ireland right now regarding substantial reform of the police service (An Garda Síochána). There’s a growing view that the organisation is too parochial… “too much of a boy’s club”… as well as more sinister allegations of corruption. All of the parties talk about introducing “much needed reform” but stop short of suggesting details, lest they upset anyone.

Secondly, there’s the ever-present spectre of crime that inhabits far more of our collective psyche than the statistics suggest it warrants. But as alluded to earlier, there are understandable psychological reasons for this. The solution, of course, would be to instigate a radical restructuring of society aimed at dismantling consumer culture. Needless to say, that’s not a phrase I encountered in any of the manifestos. Instead we have a “more of the same” approach from all of the major parties with the occasional soundbite about tackling the causes of crime in amongst the tough rhetoric. In truth, none of them have anything original to say on the subject. So just like with health and the economy, this may be an issue the Irish consider important but we’re fooling ourselves if we think we’re being offered a genuine choice on it.

The Environment / Sustainability. Don’t even get me started. There should be a legal obligation, that every time a political candidate or corporate spokesperson uses the word “sustainable”, a big neon sign stating “I am a liar” flashes above their head. They. Just. Don’t. Get. It. “Sustainable” isn’t just a buzzword to bandy about; tagging it onto whatever you’re in favour of (growth, economic development, competitiveness strategy, whatever) in the hope that it’ll seem more wholesome to bothersome hippies. It actually means something.

So when all of the parties aside from the Greens promise “sustainable growth and economic development”, you realise that none of them actually get it. They don’t realise the importance of dealing with the fact that we live in an absurdly unsustainable society and this presents problems that require immediate action. The Greens at least seem to grasp the problem but fall short of proposing the sort of radical solutions required for fear of scaring away voters.

Immigration, Multi-Culturalism and Race. I bring these up simply to point out that they are not major electoral issues in 2007. Ireland’s booming economy has seen the demand for labour skyrocket and there’s been a massive influx of East Europeans to meet that demand. So far this has been a rather smooth process. Infrastructure planning has struggled to keep up with the population rise, but that’s been the worst of it. Any significant economic slowdown could change all that however. How long do you spend at the unemployment office before the Polish worker stops “fulfilling a need” and begins “stealing your job”? Sadly I believe this will be a far bigger issue in 2012 than it is this time around, and I don’t believe that whoever gets into power this week will be handling it very well.

Fingers crossed I’m proven wrong on this one.

Foreign Policy. I took an active interest in both British and American politics when I lived in those countries and they differ significantly from Irish politics in one way in particular. They both have foreign policies worthy of interest (and usually condemnation). In general Ireland doesn’t. We’re officially neutral, and are not a member of any military organisations such as NATO. We even have all manner of complicated get-out clauses with regards to any future European fighting force. That said, Ireland sends a disproportionate (to population) number of soldiers on United Nations peace-keeping operations. Historically we have been very pro-UN, pro-EU, indeed in favour of multilateralism in general.

On the other hand, Ireland is very clearly part of “The West” and we provide facilities for the United States military to refuel and restock. We don’t make the same offer to anyone else who might fancy using us as an aircraft carrier, so while we may not be a member of NATO there’s an obvious “nod and a wink” thing going on. The Greens and Sinn Féin want to do something about that. The others are happy to introduce “grey areas” into our neutrality. Ultimately though, foreign policy isn’t a big electoral issue.

The “personalities”

There aren’t many. People talk nostalgically about a time when Irish politics was full of interesting characters. Politicians with Great Ideals but without the resources — or often the competence — to follow through on them. These days we’ve got a bunch of empty suits who view politics as a lucrative career rather than a stint in public service. People without a Great Ideal between them and whose competence is largely irrelevant as they spend their time working out the best way to do nothing, at great expense.

Nonetheless, a handful do stand out. Towering above them all is Bertie of course. Leader of the nation for the past ten years, Bertie has managed to project an image that amounts to a bizarre blend of “international statesman” and “bloke on the street”. Despite Ireland’s limited unilateral foreign policy, we play a very active role in the EU. Bertie used Ireland’s presidency of that organisation to host a bunch of high-profile conferences which saw him rub shoulders with just about every major world leader you care to mention, and look at ease doing so. Then there’s also his genuinely praiseworthy contribution to the Northern Ireland peace process. I believe that when the history of The Troubles is finally written, Gerry Adams will emerge as the man who played the most crucial role (simply because it was thrust upon him to make the single largest concession, and to convince his followers that it needed to be made). But Bertie will be more than just a footnote. If the government of the Republic hadn’t struck exactly the right note throughout the process, it would have been scuppered.

(And credit where it’s due, the same can be said of Tony Blair. Monkeys and typewriters and what have you).

And yet Bertie Ahern appears to retain his home-spun charm. For all his photo-ops with Clinton and Bush and Blair and Koizumi and Annan, he can still press the flesh with his constituents and give the impression of being just another one of the lads. One of us. His face appears on more election posters than any other, while every Fianna Fáil candidate has the party slogan emblazoned across their ads… “Bertie’s Team”. He’s the dominating personality in modern Irish politics and — paradoxically — he’ll almost certainly be the primary factor in how Fianna Fáil fare in the election. Whatever the outcome.

In marked contrast, there’s Enda Kenny. Let’s just say that if neither were politicians, you’d definitely gravitate towards Bertie at a party and hope you didn’t get stuck with that Enda Kenny bloke who keeps wanting to talk about mortgages. The Fine Gael leader seems to personify The Bureaucrat. He’s serious and sober — and would insist, quite rightly, that politics is a serious and sober business. But he gives the impression that he might just enjoy that about it, rather than see it as a necessary evil. So although he seems to be a competent guy (you’d have no trouble trusting him to take care of your dog while you were on holiday for instance), he doesn’t have the ability to connect with people through the media that can make or break a politician.

There’s an old saw about success being 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. The difference between Bertie and Enda Kenny isn’t that they’re proposing anything different; simply that Bertie manages to focus your attention on the 1% while Kenny keeps emphasising the other 99.

I don’t know if that image quite works, but it’s close enough.

I also think Enda Kenny has suffered significantly from “the Blair factor”. A few days ago Bertie gave a speech to the combined Houses of Parliament in the UK. The first time an Irish leader has done so. The occasion was the return to power-sharing in Northern Ireland and it proved to be yet another great photo-op for Bertie. The statesman with a twinkle in his eye. Everyone in Ireland saw the news footage of his historic speech in Westminster. The news item included mention that Enda Kenny was a guest at the occasion, and the cameras deftly picked him out sitting a few rows back. Where Bertie looked completely at ease while commanding the attention of all present, Kenny looked strangely out of place. Like a member of the press corps who’d much rather be somewhere else.

And of course, as already mentioned, there’s also Gerry Adams. Sinn Féin are an all-Ireland political party with Gerry Adams as president of that party. So even though legally — if not, in his eyes at least, rightfully — he’s a resident and elected politician in a separate nation, Adams has nonetheless played a significant role in the Sinn Féin campaign here in the Republic. He’s admired by a hell of a lot of people (many of them grudgingly, but that’s sometimes the best kind of admiration), and although his party is significantly to the left of the mainstream in Ireland, and although The North hasn’t traditionally played a significant role in Republic politics, the Gerry Adams factor will doubtlessly boost the Sinn Féin vote.

Coalition shenanigans… The Next Irish Government

So them’s the parties… either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael (both centre-right conservative) will form the core of the next government. The question is all about which of them can attract coalition partners to give them an overall majority.

Right now we have a Fianna Fáil / PD government. The polls suggest that Fianna Fáil will lose enough seats to rule out forming a coalition with the PDs. The main opposition is an “Alliance for Change” featuring Fine Gael and Labour. Should they secure an overall majority between them, then they’ll form the next government with Enda Kenny as Taoiseach.

However, the polls also suggest that it won’t be quite that simple either. Right now neither of the centre blocs are attracting enough support to gain an overall majority. And that would make things very interesting indeed. There’s talk of a rainbow coalition; Fine Gael, Labour and The Greens. Meanwhile Bertie hasn’t ruled out an alliance with Sinn Féin (despite recent history, still a very controversial idea). This would certainly exclude the PDs from government and — I suspect — see them die out as a political force. On the other hand, it has been mooted that Labour might switch to the other side of the fence in a bid to prevent Sinn Féin becoming part of the government. This probably wouldn’t work if both parties maintain their current leadership (Bertie and Pat don’t like one another) so the question becomes whether or not Bertie’s team might ditch Bertie at the last minute in order to do a deal with Labour and prevent Sinn Féin having an influence on policy.

If either of the centre-right blocs gain support enough for an overall majority then nothing much will change. But the tantalising prospect of either Sinn Féin or The Greens holding the balance of power and tempering the inevitable centre-right corporatist government with something marginally less insane, is just enough to get me out to the polling booth tomorrow. My vote? 1- The Greens. 2- Sinn Féin. 3- The Workers Party (traditional unreconstructed socialists… they’ll get a tiny percentage of the vote, but I think there’s nothing wrong at all with having one or two old-style fire’n’brimstone lefties in the Dáil. They’re good at dissent.)

As for you? If you’ve got the vote and don’t plan on using it then I urge you to at least show up and spoil your ballot. A high turnout with a high spoilt-ballot count is a much better indication of general political dissatisfaction than a low turnout. And if you’re still undecided at this late stage, here’s my reluctant pitch for the Green vote. It’s a protest vote. It’s not saying that you believe the Green Party are the best people to run the country. Or that they have all the answers to global warming and peak oil and the death of our oceans. Instead your vote is saying that you want those issues addressed. Not talked about. Not stuck away in some underfunded minor department. But placed right at the centre of our agenda and informing policy in all areas.

3 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion

Feb 2007

David Cameron and cannabis

There’s an essay by Robin Fishwick called In Defence of Hypocrisy which everyone should read. It’s very short but wonderfully perceptive, and it makes a point that should probably be made more often. In fact, I’m a walking illustrative example of Fishwick’s point. As mentioned recently, I was a strict vegetarian for most of my life; I did some hunt-sabbing in my late teens and I’ve been on a bunch of anti-vivisection or anti-whaling or anti-bloodsports demonstrations. I’d even put myself in the philosophically difficult position of believing that animals have certain ‘rights’ and that our behaviour towards them is in the sphere of ‘morality’.

However, since my early twenties, my footwear of choice has been the classic 7-eye, ankle-length Doc Martin black leather boot. And you wouldn’t believe the number of times I’ve been hassled about this fact. Confirmed carnivores, fresh from stuffing their faces in MacDonalds somehow feel justified in pointing out my ethical failing. “How can you wear leather boots”, they demand, “and yet still call yourself a vegetarian?” Of course by now I’ve developed a full repertoire of responses depending upon the person challenging me. My personal favourite is “The same way you can have shit for brains and still call yourself a human being”.

Thing is, my reasons for wearing leather Docs wouldn’t pass the ethical tests against which I judge the food I eat. I don’t have some great moral justification… it’s just that I really really like the boots, they’re very comfortable, and they work out quite cheap (despite not being cheap to buy) as they only need replacing every five years or so. I guess I’m simply failing to meet the ethical standards I have set for myself. I’m a hypocrite.

But I’m in good company. The vast majority of the people I truly admire have stuggled and continue to struggle to reach the standards they have set for themselves. If you’re reading this and thinking “Bah! I always achieve the standards I set”, then I humbly suggest you’ve not set them high enough. Albert Einstein, a great thinker and a profoundly moral man, was a strong proponent of vegetarianism for most of his life. But Einstein was also a human being with human failings and a real taste for German sausage. In letters to friends he wrote about his “terribly guilty conscience” every time he gave into temptation and ate his favourite food.

Should we deride the man for saying that “Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet” and then occasionally succumbing to the temptation of a smoked sausage sarnie? Or should we celebrate him for recognising a truth and doing his best to live his life accordingly, even if he failed from time to time? If it’s flawless heroes you want, then the human race probably isn’t the best place to look for them. We are imperfect creatures, and those of us who strive to overcome those imperfections – despite knowing that battle can never be completely won – shouldn’t be berated for each stumble.

Passive Vs. Aggressive Hypocrisy

But that’s hardly the whole story. There’s a hypocrisy that can’t be defended. One that is not the passive failure of individuals to meet the standards they set for themselves, but the aggressive insistence of others that we all meet standards they themselves fail to achieve. This form of hypocrisy can usually be seen in the three ‘P’s (parents, priests and politicians). So a child is threatened with a grounding if they get caught with a cigarette, despite the father smoking 40 a day. The congregation is threatened with eternal damnation if they steal, by a priest pilfering cash from the poor-box. And the public get threatened with a criminal record and imprisonment if they possess cannabis, by a politician who was an occasional toker for several years of his life.

All three of those are utterly indefensible. If a father wishes to punish his child for smoking a cigarette (not an unreasonable thing to do by any means) then he needs to give them up first. If a priest wishes to be a moral leader; to proscribe a standard of behaviour and threaten punishment for those who fail to achieve it; then that priest needs to live to that standard. And if a politician wants to enforce a law under which cannabis smokers are jailed or receive a criminal record (along with the various restrictions that places on the rest of your life), then that politician better not have been a toker himself.

Here’s an interesting question… does anyone believe it would have been possible for David Cameron to become leader of the British Conservative Party if he had a criminal record? Oh come on Tories! Be honest, there’s just no fricking way he’d even have gotten selected as an election candidate. Yet Mr. Cameron and his party have a policy that states clearly that Mr. Cameron should have been criminalised for his earlier actions. I love the description of the punishment Cameron received when his cannabis-smoking was discovered at Eton…

Eton launched an investigation into reports that some boys were buying drugs in the nearby town. During the course of the inquiry, Cameron and a number of other pupils admitted smoking pot…

Cameron was ‘gated’- meaning that he was deprived of school privileges and barred from leaving the premises or being visited by friends or family. His punishment lasted for about a week.

An Eton contemporary said the punishment had been particularly humiliating for the future Leader of the Opposition because it had come shortly before the annual ‘Fourth of June’ gala day, when the college is thrown open to pupils’ parents, relatives and friends who are invited to enjoy exhibitions, speeches, sports events and the traditional ‘Procession of Boats’.

‘Cameron was gated just beforehand, so his parents, who had been looking forward to spending the day with him, had to apologise to their friends,’ the student said. ‘It was all painfully embarrassing. But after that he pulled himself together and became an exemplary pupil.’

Awwww… poor lickle David… gated for a full week! And all that embarrassment. Meanwhile the latest Tory policy statement I can find on the subject of cannabis demands that the government reclassify cannabis as a Class B drug (rather than Class C as it’s currently classified). This means the Tory Party believe that anyone caught in possession of cannabis should be jailed for between 3 months and 5 years, receive a minimum fine of GBP2,500 and have a criminal record for the rest of their lives.

The Tories are prepared to forgive Cameron his youthful indiscretions of course. They’ve just spent over a decade in the wilderness with one unelectable leader after another; political expediency demands that they turn a blind eye to Cameron’s pot-smoking (and coke-snorting allegedly) days. But that’s just not good enough. The only reason David Cameron is within touching distance of power is because the policy he proposes regarding cannabis possession doesn’t apply to him.

Careful with that Vote

I was talking about the upcoming Irish elections with a friend recently. He was advocating a vote for Fine Gael for tactical reasons (a classic ‘anyone but the incumbent’ strategy that involves voting for the strongest opposition even if you don’t like them). “But D,” I argued, “you can’t vote for Fine Gael… you’re a pot head!” He dismissed this initially by pointing out that he didn’t vote on single issues. “Yeah, but this is one hell of a single issue D. You’re electing someone who wants to put you in prison. Who wants to take your family, your home and your job away from you. It’s sheer insanity for you to want that person in power.”

He’s reconsidering his position.

And I damn well hope David Cameron is reconsidering his. I’d love to ask him whether he believes his life would be better had his cannabis possession been subjected to the punishment he advocates for others? Would Mr. Cameron be a better, more-productive member of society if he’d been expelled from school, spent three months in a juvenile detention centre, and received a criminal record barring him from numerous positions (as well as travel to several countries)? Would society be better off to have one more half-educated ex-con with a chip on his shoulder?

We are all of us hypocrites from time to time, but David Cameron is guilty of an aggressive hypocrisy that makes him dangerous and untrustworthy and – I sincerely hope – entirely unelectable.

UPDATE: It strikes me that being “a half-educated ex-con with a chip on his shoulder” probably qualifies as “a better, more-productive member of society” than does Leader of the Conservative Party. However I suspect Mr. Cameron doesn’t think that.

23 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion