Geoffrey Robertson today stated on television that the ruling on Julian Assange’s ‘detention’ was arrived at by five ‘distinguished judges’. In fact, the WGAD website indicates that none of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention is a judge in any sense. The chairman is a lecturer, a conciliator and a campaigner on human rights. If any of the members of the Working Group is a judge, it is not mentioned on the WGAD website.
Of the rest, one is a former civil servant and academic and three are essentially ‘just’ academics. I don’t seek to argue that they are not experts in the field, nor do I seek to argue against their judgment (I shall do that with an entirely different argument), but I do seek to draw attention to Geoffrey Robertson QC acting today as a PR agent and shill on national television whilst apparently not in possession of the facts. By inflating the qualifications of the panel, he seeks to establish in the minds of the viewer the idea that they cannot possibly be wrong. Perhaps they are not – but the use of a bare-faced lie is jury-baiting sophistry and can’t be allowed to go unchallenged by the BBC.
Perhaps Robertson was just rushed today. Hardly a diamond standard excuse.
In any case, argument from authority is a defining logical fallacy. I hold that the British Government is right to ignore the ‘ruling, and to consider if, really, the WGAD procedure is one to which it really ought be attached.
Incidentally, Joanna Gosling was brilliant in questioning Roberston today, quite excellent, but his bravado and bluster was so blatant as to possibly confuse any viewer.
And so it begins. Lampposts across Ireland are today festooned (or infested, depending on your preference) with the smiling and not-so-smiling faces of our modern day gladiators, vying for a connection with our ballot-booth pencils.
As usual, most look like they should be holding a number board, and as always, the men look worse than the women.
In most cases this year, at least in Dublin Bay South and Dublin South, most of the inhabitants of the corrie-boards look alive at the time the photo was taken, although Jim O’Callaghan for Fianna Fáil looks fairly disturbing against a foreboding Dublin sky. Posters of leaders have been spotted. Joan Burton, leader of the Labour Party, is smiling the smile only a Tánaiste can. Micheál Martin, leader of Fianna Fáil, leaves us wanting the wider shot, so we can see what his ventriloquist’s dummy looks like.
As usual, people will soon start giving off about people giving appraisals of the personal appearance of candidates – saying that personal appearance doesn’t matter and that we should focus on the policies and what they’re saying, not the photo on the poster.
In that case, gentle (and not so gentle – I know who reads this blog) reader, may I gently suggest that if they didn’t want to be appraised on how they look, they wouldn’t have spent so much time getting cleaned up for the photo, and they would put some policies on the posters too. I’ve seen Eoghan Murphy close up, and his photo on the poster is only semi-recognisable.
I’ll return to the theme of posters tomorrow when I’ve had a chance to properly appraise them.
Live footage from the dissolution of An Oireachtas. Expect this type of paddywhackery.
In the first of our unrivalled* coverage of the Irish General Election 2016, we cover the system. You don’t get this kind of coverage in the Irish Times **
Whilst I’m no Tim Roll Pickering, I am a constantly bemused observer of Irish politics, and I have come to a number of facts, conclusions and conjectures. Before we begin, however, note the peculiarity of Ireland’s native language. Ireland is overwhelmingly an English speaking country, but the instruments and apparatus of the state are in Irish. Where it would be disrespectful or confusing to use the English phrase instead of the Irish, I will explain the phrase once, give an inexpert pronunciation guide and persevere with the Irish version. Where that would be confusing in and of itself, I shall use the English version. 800 years and all that.
Dissolution of Parliament
An Oireachtas (Eh-rock-tas) is the Irish parliament, and it is divided into two parts – ‘an Dáil Éireann‘ (Dawl Ehrin) which is elected by the people in a general election and ‘an Seanad Éireann‘ (Shannad Eh-rin) which is elected through a public speaking competition, a discussion between farmers and Dumbledore’s Sorting Hat (only the Trinity Panel).
The Parliament is dissolved by the President of Ireland, whose Irish title is ‘an Uachtarán‘ (Ooktarawn) is advised on the matter by ‘an Taoiseach‘ (Teeshuck), who is the Prime Minister.
In any case, as I write this apparently it’s about to be done. An Taoiseach is driven to Áras an Uachtaráin (Awrus an Ooktarawn), which, amusingly, is the old Viceregal Lodge in the enormous and gorgeous Phoenix Park. He (it has always been a he) meets an Uachtarán, I presume they have a cup of tea, and an Taoiseach advises an Uachtarán to dissolve an Oireachtas.
By decree, an Oireachtas is dissolved and Leinster House (wherein an Oireachtas is situated) becomes 100% more useful.
The election period
This election will be the shortest in the history of the state (which was arguably formed in 1921, or more philosophically, 1937). The election was called on Wednesday 3 February 2016 and polling will take place on Friday 26 February. Three weeks and two days, yet something tells me it’s going to drag by.
The method of election
Ireland elects an Dáil Éireann through a multi-member constituency proportional representation system called Single Transferable Vote. This system is dull to its core, except to people who geek out on these things. Here are the details such people find interesting.
Le geek, c’est chic! Geek out!
A voter ranks the candidates in order of their preference with a pen or pencil on the ballot paper, where a number 1 signifies their political BFF and a high number (or no number at all) signifies the sort of support a right-thinking person gives to this hallion.
The vote is cast.
The vote is counted. In the first instance, first preference votes are sorted. This gives a ‘first count’, and a ‘total valid poll’. Invalid votes include funny faces (LOL), rants (LMAO), marks which could personally identify the voter (ROFL) and political statements against water charges (LOLCANO).
Once you have your ‘total valid poll’, you can calculate your quota for each seat.
Each constituency has between 3 and 5 seats. The quota is based on a simple formula:
Quota = (Number of Valid Votes / (Number of seats + 1)) rounded up to two decimal places.
If there was a three seat constituency with 1000 votes cast, the quota for a seat would be (1000/4), so – 250.45 votes. Since votes tend to occur as whole numbers (duh), the quota is really 251 votes, no matter what a mathematician tells you.
Surpluses, or why people with clipboards should be avoided
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE. Say in that election, the candidate receives more votes than they need. In that case their surplus is redistributed, if the redistribution of that surplus could in theory result in another candidate also being elected.
This is what’s dull about PR-STV elections and it’s why people who support the system should be treated with deep suspicion. When sensible people would sooner have a fast count of a single seat first-past-the-post election and get to the pub, Irish political geeks like to stand around speculating about outcomes with tea.
More disturbingly, some of these people stand about with clip boards, claiming to know how the election will pan out – and they are, by and large, lying, and probably trying to woo academics or party activists. Treat these people with disdain. In an Irish election, nobody knows what’s going to happen other than a sometimes pretty accurate prediction of first preferences and pattern of redistribution.
An Dáil Éireann will be smaller than before, because people have emigrated. Where last time there were 166 members, there will now be 158 members. I advocated for a long time that this could have meant the election be unnecessary, and the make-up of the next Dáil simply be decided by Musical Chairs. This is why I am not a member of the Dáil.
What happens next?
When the votes are counted and people are deemed elected, eventually the Dáil will return and elect from their number a person to serve as an Taoiseach. That’s the theory. In reality, there will be political horse-trading between the parties and a coalition will be formed. We expect a number of independents to be elected this year (as last year) and for Sinn Féin to gain some seats, whilst it’s expected the Labour Party will struggle. The big issue will be whether Micheal Martin, leader of Fianna Fáil (Feeanna Fawl) has done enough to decontaminate his party. They’re expected to gain a few.
Fine Gael (Finna Gale) will probably be the largest party, but will more than likely lose a few and will not be able to form a majority on their own. Their coalition party last time was Labour – this arithmetic may not on its own provide for a majority and we could see another ‘Rainbow Coalition’ made up of multiple parties and independents. Truly, Ireland’s cup of woe runneth over.
What happens next next?
An Seanad Éireann will be elected in the month or so following the General Election. The upper house is a debating society for people with ideas and enough time to make tray-bakes, so don’t expect it to be too exciting.
* piss poor
** Worthy, beautifully written, excellent but boring
The catastrophe of the death by suicide of a young conservative activist earlier this year has opened the Conservative Party to some disbelief and ridicule, particularly in the party’s handling of an investigation into the circumstances surrounding both the conduct of a person in contact with vulnerable young people and the conduct of the party in handling complaints. The objective of this entirely subjective and personal post is not to dig into the circumstances of the tragedy, nor to point fingers of blame against any individuals, but to consider the issues made public, rightly or wrongly, accurately or inaccurately, in the press and in social media. As a result, I shall not use any names in the post, other than those who retain positions of authority.
First of all, the holy grail of any investigative reporter or social media commentator, is the idea that a malfeasance or misdemeanour inside a political machine goes ‘right to the top’. Articles featured on Guido Fawkes blog suggesting that ‘PM had [Alleged Culprit] to tea at Chequers’ are intended to create the impression that the [Alleged Culprit] performed his misdeeds at the behest of the PM, or with the PM’s knowledge. We are intended to conclude that ‘they’re up to their necks in it’ as a cover-up. Hence stories about prominent members of the House of Lords, members of Parliament etc, etc, are all intended to create an air of collective complicity.
This is of course bollocks. Politics at a high level is a close quarters activity, and it is entirely likely and normal that the PM would have the leader of the highly effective Roadtrip operation to tea; the PM is the leader of a political party which vied for power, and meeting the infantry, and the infantry commanders in a general election, and afterwards, is a completely normal activity. In this case, however, there is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that the party, when fully clued in on the alleged activities of [Alleged Culprit] took action against him.
The query around what the chairman of the party knew and when is essentially a canard as well, because it’s only possible to draw conclusions on the basis of what was known at the time through disclosure to the chairman of the party. It has been well reported, summarised and asserted that [Alleged Culprit] was a manipulator with an high degree of acuity and capability. It has been alleged that [Alleged Culprit] committed acts of blackmail, distortion, lies and threats.
In those circumstances it is not unlikely that the truth and [Alleged Culprit’s] involvment in the tragic incidents were obscured, most likely by [Alleged Culprit] himself. It is unlikely, from what has been reported, that he needed any help to seek to muddy those waters. By reputation he had every reason and capability to do so himself.
It has been clear to me for many years that CF has not taken the protection of vulnerable young people seriously enough. There are some obvious reasons for this – it’s a youth wing of a political party which prizes self-reliance and independence very highly, and interventions of the ‘touchy-feely’ sort are not likely to be welcomed. Nevertheless, when we seek to engage young people in the very knockabout world of UK politics, we need to take safeguarding extremely seriously. Young conservatives are competitive, self promoting and serious about their politics. Whilst there is banter, there is also, I can recall only too well, bullying, one-upmanship and grief.
CF is enormously popular and Roadtrip was deeply impressive. CFers all over the country got to see other constituencies, better understand their country and whet their appetite for canvassing, politics and the party. It has serious flaws, however, which must be addressed, to avoid exposing more young people to the risks we’re finding out about now.
There are answers to all the problems extant in CF. A well-developed membership welfare plan, a considered safeguarding strategy and an effective whistleblowing protocol could all be developed under efficient staff supervision to bring it about in time for the next general election. We owe it to our members to protect them.
Some quixotic souls in the republican movement must last night have been sitting, breath bated, in Arran sweater and Celtic jersey wearing clusters. They were waiting, no doubt with poitín in hand, for RTÉ’s ‘Ireland’s Call’ PrimeTime Special, seeking to discover just how much more they need to do to convince the people of Ireland that an end to ‘partition’ is worthwhile or worth working towards. Some probably tried to calculate how many more fathers, sons, brothers, sisters, daughters and grand-daughters they would have to murder, how many department stores to burn down, how many Enterprise train services to delay, to bring it about. Had they tried too hard? Had they not tried hard enough?
The show was trumpeted as an opportunity to take the pulse of Ireland’s patriotism and desire for a unification and end to partition. It will have gone down today with the Tiochaídh Brothers like a cup of cold sick.
66% of people in the republic of Ireland would like to see a United Ireland in the short or medium term. Not exactly the sort of nationalistic fever one might have expected, but enough to win a referendum in a pinch.
When the idea of paying more tax (the experience of all ‘unified’ nations after partition) was brought into the thought process, patriotic fervour dies down a lot – 31% still think casting out perfidious Albion is worth the bother. Only our rivers run free; toll roads everywhere else.
In Northern Ireland, the society isn’t as deeply divided as all that. Fewer people there (unsurprisingly) would like to join an Éire Núa, with only 30% of the surveyed participants favouring a United Ireland in the medium or short term. 27% are undecided and 43% would sooner stick needles in their (too close together) eyes. Absolutely no prospect for a united Ireland by border poll.
This chimes well with the attitudes I have encountered among people I meet in Ireland – they mostly say ‘yeah’ to the idea of a united Ireland, but when pressed on the matter, most people in the South are content for there to be peace and prosperity on a binary island. The Belfast Agreement has created a scenario whereby peoples’ identities are recognised and respected, whilst their political views are tamely tolerated.
Thoughts in the Free State have already turned to a rather more proximal and important referendum – with the realisation that a UK departure from the EU would result in economic turmoil for the twenty six counties. I shall turn to the constitutional implications of provincial disparity with the mainland response to a Brexit in due course.
When Jeremy Corbyn was elected to lead the Labour Party, Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ) launched an impressive and apparently effective campaign to seize the initial narrative and establish him as a threat to the national security of the UK. The main argument then was that he met with terrorists and seemed to be at least not discouraging of Hezbollah and Hamas.
Sweep all that aside – that stuff only makes someone a threat to citizens’ security and endangers our international diplomatic existence – it doesn’t really pose a threat to the existence of the nation. When he said that, as Prime Minister, he would not give the order for a nuclear missile launch however, he became a real and extant threat to the whole nation. Jeremy Corbyn is in danger of comparison to Robert Lundy, the Governor of Londonderry who sought to hand over the city to Catholic forces during its storied siege.
The entire UK nuclear weapons system is referred to as Trident – a system comprising four Vanguard class submarines, their Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles and their warheads. They are an intensely powerful tool of international diplomacy and defence, patrolling undetected beneath the waves, occasionally popping up to check Northwood is still broadcasting and that Women’s Hour on Radio 4 is still there. They are our citadel’s walls.
The Prime Minister can, in consultation with the armed forces, decide whether or not to launch nuclear missiles. In the event that the UK is wiped out, it is understood that a submarine commander will open a safe and extract a secret letter written by the Prime Minister, giving instructions to the Trident fleet. It is understood that the instructions will fall into the range:
Launch at predetermined targets
Do not launch and surrender to enemy forces
Seek to join up with the US Navy and receive orders from there
Seek to join up with the navies of Canada, Australia or New Zealand and receive orders from there
The principle of the secrecy and uncertainty approach is designed to reinforce the idea of Mutually Assured Destruction – the idea that any nation seeking to do ours harm can expect the harm to be repaid – if you wipe out London, you lose Moscow, etc – and there’s nothing you can do about it.
But if you have a potential Prime Minister whose approach is to rule out ‘Launch’, then you have a very peculiar and abrupt end to the principle of Mutually Assured Destruction. You in effect have a clear run to invade or simply destroy. Without the nuclear risk there is practically no risk to any nation strong enough to take on our armed forces.
Further to this comes the political risk. If an enemy power could find a way to develop political influence in the UK, they would have to be quite literally mad not to seek now to support Jeremy Corbyn, the chap who decided he wouldn’t use the tools of defence at his command.
The big questions now will take a Corbynologist to answer. Does Jeremy Corbyn simply dislike the idea of using nuclear weapons, or is he, in the manner of Robert Lundy, intent on subjecting the nation to the will of its enemies. Is Jeremy Corbyn now not just a danger to the nation, but an enemy of it? And which will be the first bonfire to burn him in effigy?
The latest book by Lord Ashcroft, former non-dom donor to the Conservative Party, has been recalled after serialization of the tome was found to exceed emissions standards for personally held gripes and axe-grinding instruments.
The book “Call Me Dave”, in which the former member of the House of Lords details all the reasons he doesn’t like Prime Minister David Cameron in between snippets of biography trawled by former journalist Isabel Oakeshott from the minds of single sources, was allegedly partially funded by David ‘David’ Davis, the former almost-nearly-could-be leader of the Conservative Party, famously defeated by Cameron in a leadership election in 2005.
Defending the book, Ashcroft did some light tweeting, cut up a DVD of “How to Lose Friends and Alienate People” and went for a nap in a hammock.
Originally conceived as a self-help therapy project with crayon-friendly inside covers for people not given jobs by David Cameron, the book has more recently been presented as a ‘balanced’ biography of the Prime Minister, at least by Isabel Oakeshott.
Speaking after the failure of the emissions test, the chief regulator for revenge books said:
“Not only is there a load of fairly noxious stuff inside the book, there’s a strong whiff of hubris, sour grapes and rotten eggs. In addition, there seems to be a weak but diminishing scent of journalistic reputation. It’s not really fit for consumption either by humans or pigs.”
Jeremy Corbyn has gotten a Government Car Service car and a pay increase. Why people on my side of the house are going on about it is entirely beyond me. The leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition has important responsibilities and functions additional to the job of just leading his party.
He must attend important events with his shirt unbuttoned and his tie undone, for instance. He must attend vigorous question-crowdsourcing meetings. He must travel to media interviews to passive-aggressively convey his friendship for terrorists and his hankering after policies which will destroy our economy, our national defence, our way of life and the institutions of our society.
And of course, he must travel without let or hindrance to Westminster, to ask those crowdsourced questions and thank the Prime Minister for answering them. Not at all, Jeremy. The pleasure was all his.
That can’t be done on a backbench MP’s salary and it’s stupid to think of his ‘accepting’ the pay rise and car as hypocrisy. He got himself elected leader of the second largest party. He has to attend a lot more obligatory meetings and he has to manage a busy political life, constituency office and an expansive social engagements list which are the bain of an opposition leader’s life. He’ll have his ear bent by every person he bumps into – and I understand he’s a fairly gregarious chap already.
I may not be a fan of the Labour Party or Jeremy Corbyn’s politics, but I am a fan of the human spirit. He saw a Labour Party which had lost its soul and offered to help them find it – and those of that stripe overwhelmingly endorsed it. When I see him being questioned about why he didn’t sing God Save the Queen, he has the look of someone beaten down by the insignificance of politics-as-practiced. He’s right to reject the bullshit, but he should, rather than saying ‘I will fully take part in all events’, have the courage of his convictions to say:
“You know what? I didn’t sing ‘God Save the Queen’ or implore God to pour his choicest gifts upon her, because I don’t believe that’s important. Neither in my singing nor in my speech do I say things I don’t mean. I have principles to which I don’t expect anybody else to adhere, and because this is a tolerant and respectful society ruled by law and reason I have a right to live by my principles.”
Ironically, this would place Jeremy Corbyn in the role of Howard Roarke and Hank Rearden. Good luck undoing that comparison in your head.
When did the IRA say it was going away? When did the ‘Ra announce it was dissolving and disappearing and not being a thing anymore? I couldn’t remember, but surely the DUP must remember it happening, otherwise why would it appear to be surprised that the IRA continues to exist in its Veterans Club guise?
To be surprised that the IRA still exists, you would have to be oblivious to the statement made by the IRA in2005 and helpfully posted by Sinn Féin (as a matter of passing interest, I guess) on their website. They speak of standing down but not disbanding. In recent months and years they’ve had tshirts printed as an ‘undefeated army’. It’s simply not possible to have even a mild curiosity for NI politics and not know that the IRA itself had continued to exist.
As I have argued before, the Provisional IRA needs to continue to exist as a form of demobbed legion, in order to ensure that the former volunteers are able to be kept informed and mollified by Sinn Féin. Only this way can they not be discouraged by the uneasy peace and slow progress toward democracy we have in Northern Ireland.
I don’t like the existence of the IRA any more than I like the existence of the UVF and UDA and others of their ilk. I don’t like their petty criminality and vicious fascistic control over ‘their’ communities (again, I hate that construct). I despise the fact that, despite a statement in 2005 confirming that ‘all’ of their arms had been put beyond use, they appear to be able to shoot people. I don’t like having to refer to a group of murderers who killed more of ‘their own’ community than all their ‘enemy’ forces put together as an ‘army’, because it clearly was not.
I say give credit where it’s due – the IRA is on a permanent cessation of the violence it had hoped would bring about a united Ireland, and it understands that the political route is the only one in town. Its members, however, appear to be involved in criminality and murder – and that’s as incompatible with ‘purely peaceful means’ as the idea that Sinn Féin and the IRA are not two sides of the one coin.
The idea of ‘peace at any cost’ doesn’t apply here – for the families of the murdered, both in the conflict (which I accept ended for the IRA in 2005) or in its aftermath, there is no peace.
The query I have is simpler than the ‘does the IRA exist?’ question posed by the Commissioner of An Garda Síochána and NI’s politicians. I want to know if the UK government, the DUP and others think it’s okay for the second party in the power sharing executive to be so closely associated with the crime of murder – and whether there are questions to be answered on the same basis by the DUP and UUP for their associations with loyalist paramilitaries.
In 1998, we wanted an end to this shit and we voted for it. A whole generation of voters will have been born and brought up since we did. Time to put the past to bed.
The decision of the Ulster Unionist Party to seek to withdraw from the piss-weak simulacrum of government in Northern Ireland is not an indication of a party having finally rediscovered its moral and political purpose – or if it is, it’s an indication of a party finding its purpose by accident. Nevertheless, better late than never.
The sham of a political settlement in Northern Ireland has been apparent for any student of politics for the last eight years. A system which entrenches the sectarian headcount, which encases the problems of the society in a sickly aspic and which demands that everybody ‘just wait’ for democracy is not worthy of the western world, let alone worthy of the speck of land between the UK and Ireland. Being forced into the coalition of the unwilling-to-govern was a poor hand to be dealt to the UUP, and it’s interesting that the timing has allowed for this catharsis now.
The issue of whether the IRA exists or not is, as far as the issue of democracy is concerned, a canard; a non-issue. The provisional republican movement stopped trying to bomb the UK out of Northern Ireland and moved to the much more effective and legitimate political process to seek change. That’s a recognised fact and we’re all glad of it.
That they have a structure still in place to engage with former paramilitaries is entirely logical – better for them to have a direct line to the politicos than to be left hanging in the wind to be gobbled up by dissidents. But when identifiable members of that structure begin murdering inside the community (let’s stop calling it ‘their’ community, for we all live in this shared society), there is a legitimate cause for concern – but it’s a policing concern, or ought to be, rather than a reason to bring down Stormont.
Even if the IRA had disbanded and distanced itself from its past, the fetid failure of the DUP and Sinn Féin to actually progress government in Northern Ireland would have continued. They just aren’t up to the job – the thing that should have brought down Stormont should have been the observation that 108 politicians, their SPADs and their woefully unimaginative politics managed to do no better and frequently worse than Direct Rule.
The departure of the UUP should not bring down Stormont, but it should trigger D’Hondt again – and allow the SDLP and Alliance to consider whether, in the interests of democracy, a proper parliament with a proper opposition might achieve more for Northern Ireland than the current circle-jerk of whataboutery and abject failure.