Equality as a Trojan Horse.

Northern Ireland 25 November 2014 1 lonely comment

CC Christof Bobzin

Gerry Adams’ bad luck catches up with him all at once, it seems. The towering intellectual collossus of militant republicanism (as we once thought of him) is undone by the sunlight that constitutional politics and an active, inquisitive press throws onto the man and his leadership – and in a sense, by the cherry-picking of quotes not entirely in context.

Allegations of gentle treatment of his brother (perhaps too much of a euphemism there), his shockingly inept performance giving evidence about the same thing and the dreadful handling of Mairia Cahill’s allegations of sexual assault at the hands of the IRA both speak to a leader incapacitated. He takes blow after blow of unguarded, self-inflicted injury, and draws the day of his removal as Sinn Féin president nearer.

His misfiring handling of his party’s position on Irish Water doesn’t bode well for the political future of his party – and his most recent intervention – telling a friendly audience that equality is the ‘trojan horse’ of the entire republican struggle, and the only way to ‘break the bastards’ – is a singularly wrong-headed and spectacularly unpleasant thing to emerge at this point.

The silence you hear is occasioned by gloves being taken off – the Curry My Yoghurt narrative – that the DUP will never allow for an Irish Language Act, has plunged relationships which were never particularly warm into a deep freeze. The latest Adamsian admission is likely to fill the freezer with liquid nitrogen – because it’s difficult to square the ‘trojan horse to break the bastards’ line with the ‘Ireland of equals’ one.

What Adams actually said in the discussion – as reported by that exceptional paper the Impartial Reporter, wasn’t actually all that bad – but someone having good luck wouldn’t have had the bad bit reported as widely.

Peter Robinson’s political squidginess, the reaching out, has given way to Gregory Campbell’s approach – get all up in their grill and see what they do. Nobody is quite sure where this takes us, if anywhere. The long, cold winter has begun in Northern Ireland. Whether it becomes a cold war remains to be seen.

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Nominative determinism in Rochester and Strood

Labour Leadership,politics 19 November 2014 3 incisive, intellectually engaged comments

A kitten in a pint glass.

A pint of kitten because I can’t stand Farage’s awful face on my blog and nobody wants to see Mark f**king Reckless.

Tomorrow, people in Rochester and Strood have an opportunity to free their former MP from membership of the reality-based community and make him the second, wobbly and flat-tyred parliamentary wheel of the bicycle of racists, misogynists, homophobes and anti-intellectual weirdos that is the United Kingdom Independence Party.

That Mark Reckless, the spectacularly ineffective former member of the Conservative Party and famous pre-vote drinker will be elected UKIP MP for Rochester and Strood is as much as a foregone conclusion as a Jammie Dodger eating contest between Eric Pickles and Maria Eagle.  That Labour will have to pretend that it marks a worse day for the Conservatives than Labour is also assumed.  The spin helicopter has already lifted off.  But this by-election means precisely nothing.

This by-election is the political equivalent of eating Celery for lunch – 100% guilt free.  It’s an election with no consequences.  People can use it to throw a punch at Labour and Conservatives – and to cock a snook at the Lib Dems, knowing that Reckless will be as deeply useless to them after the election as before, and that the country will continue to be governed by a Tory-led coalition, just like they opted for at the last General Election. The people of Rochester and Strood are quite right to use the leverage they unexpectedly have, to make the un-promotable Reckless some sort of national spokesperson.  That’ll be fun.

UKIP is an awful shower of shouty, showy buffons- the basement dwelling national weak, who feel the need to be ruled as if by a Fuehrer whilst pretending Uncle Nigel is really setting them free – people scared by their own shadows, who see the spectre of foreignness everywhere they go.  This is the crew of people who crave a full Sunday Roast while in Benidorm – who complain that the tea just isn’t the same away from home, and who can’t really bring themselves to like Dale Winton – all in the one conversation.  Theirs is a grubby party, a cowering party, a party in need of Uncle Nigel and his ABSOLUTELY BRITISH SURNAME to tell them that everything will be all better with a pint glass glued to our hand and a working knowledge of the second verse of the National Anthem.

If you are a UKIP voter, then, with the sincerest pity I greet you. You’re crazy, but you’ll get better. It might just be a 24 hour thing.


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Can Ed hold on?

Labour Leadership 7 November 2014 Tell me what you think

Anyone asking ‘can Ed hold on’ hasn’t been studying the form of the Labour front bench.  Of all the people who could take over in the event of a departure of the Dear Leader, those best qualified would also be the most man-marked politicians in the country. It’ll hurt very badly if they switch any time later than one month from now. Commentators also need to consider how Ed could leave – he’s consistently ahead in the polls even with awful personal numbers – the hoi polloi would, in the aftermath of a defenestration, wonder why Labour had felt he was worth keeping as a leader of the opposition but not as a leader of the country.  Labour would have a problem explaining that one.

John McTiernan pointed out on the BBC News Channel that, realistically, there are four months of political wriggle room between now and the general election. That’s wriggle room, not construction.  Any new leader would have to make bold positions the order of the day for weeks on end – potentially upsetting the apple cart of Labour loyalists (and Trade Unionists) who feel they today have a good platform for after a successful election.  Alternatively, changing leadership but leaving the policies as they stand would be worthless.

So, on balance, Labour is in a problem of its own making.  They  knew Ed wasn’t working.  They knew he wasn’t swinging the pendulum fast enough, and as a result, the chance of a majority government was slipping away with every passing week.  They should have knifed him immediately after Conference – forgetting the deficit was a pretty painfully poor show.  Now, however, they simply don’t have time to create a new leader, a new narrative, a new set of political asks.

The mistake Labour made was allowing a Presidential leadership to emerge, because traumas lead to bad presidential decisions.  Ed Miliband is simply not personally powerful enough to create a presidential presence – he is thoughtful when he needs to be direct.  Everything which would seem like a manly victory for Cameron fails for Miliband.  Does a speech without a teleprompter?  Forgets the basic economic challenge facing the country.

The narrative is now that Ed Miliband is a failure – and people, armed with a thick pencil in a polling booth, don’t like to vote for the person led by a failure.  In a presidency, the person in the electoral college doesn’t matter – so the candidate doesn’t matter. Labour dun goofed – and Conservatives must now pull themselves together to be more competent, united, on top of their briefs and efficient enough to give those same pencil wielding agents of change a reason to put an X in the box beside the tories.

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Some thoughts on curried yoghurt

Uncategorized 5 November 2014 Tell me what you think

Gregory Campbell, MP and MLA for Londonderry East, enjoys courting controversy on dog-whistle issues in Northern Ireland. He’s good at it – he’s got a lot of wit and can be genuinely funny, but there is a bite and a bitterness to his politics which could only ever have come from the complexity and tragedies of the troubles as they played out in his constituency.

Most recently, his performance at Stormont’s troubled assembly has raised hackles, when he used what might be called doggerel phonetic Irish to recognise (more accurately denigrate) the speaker, and the Minister for Culture, Cáral ní Chuilin, whose Question Time it was.

He rose to his feet and appeared to go briefly mad.

What he actually said appeared to sound like ‘Curry my yoghurt, a can coca coalyer’ – a ‘version’ of ‘Go raibh maith agat, a ceann chomhairle’ (essentially ‘Thank you, Mr Speaker’ in English), which should really sound more like ‘Guh ra mah-agat, a kyawn core-lyah’. Sinn Féin benches were aghast, in uproar. Mr Campbell looked very pleased with himself. His colleage Peter Weir MLA (North Down) seems to have almost wet himself. Campbell went on to ask what, on the face of it, was a perfectly logical question, wondering if an inclusive minority languages strategy might be more inclusive than an Irish language and Ulster Scots strategy.

Reaction to Mr Campbell’s intervention was swift. The minister refused to answer his question, and accused him of ‘pure ignorance’.

What Mr Campbell really seems to have been saying was ‘I think speaking a foreign language in our assembly is nonsense and political, and I am making fun of people who do it.’

Whether or not you consider Irish to be a foreign language in Northern Ireland, Mr Campbell’s political reasoning works for him and his party. He believes that Sinn Féin use the Irish language as a dog-whistle signifier of Irishness – that people speaking it in the chamber are doing so to Irish-up the place. In doing what he does, Mr Campbell achieves what seems to be a central approach of the DUP – pissing off non-unionists and being seen by unionists to piss off non-unionists. On this score, it has absolutely worked – an absolute direct hit has been scored, angering Sinn Féin, SDLP and others.

(If you want to see evidence of this, check out the politics.ie thread or the video below:

(Look at his face.  Loving it.)

I suspect, however, that this direct hit may open up other political logics which had been heretofore only dreams for the DUP. I suspect Mr Campbell has punctured the language-issue consensus, which has held together with extremely slow progress for sixteen years until this week.

The language-issue détente argument goes something like this: in the lead up to the Belfast Agreement, the Irish language was en-route to be recognised in Northern Ireland, but only if the Ulster-Scots language was recognised and resourced alongside it. This was a feel-good measure, on the basis of ‘parity of esteem’ and written into the actual Belfast Agreement as “the importance of respect, understanding and tolerance in relation to linguistic diversity”.

The DUP did not sign the Agreement, but nonetheless, the basis of Northern Ireland’s political and governmental system is based on it. There is an argument to be made that the DUP isn’t bound politically to abide by the terms of the document, but that government is – in that sense, an MLA speaking at Stormont is under no obligation to pay even lip service to the agreement.

People getting upset at Gregory Campbell therefore need to calm down – this is his ‘they haven’t gone away, you know’ moment – something being said which solidifies his base and angers the other side. It’s boorish, ostensibly unsophisticated and infuriating, but it’s genuinely brilliant politics; also, it says something about Northern Ireland’s current settlement; there isn’t a united people there; the desire to beggar the neighbour is alive and well there.

Sinn Féin’s full response was as prickly as it was unimaginative – Rosie McCorley MLA, Sinn Féin Irish language spokesperson, said: “Unfortunately this is nothing new from the DUP who have blocked the development on an Irish language act, and whose representatives have a long history of insults to the Irish-speaking community.

“While this might be funny in Gregory’s little closed world, it is hugely insulting to all of those who promote the huge benefits of endorsing and enhancing bilingualism in our society.”

The DUP line is now fairly clear – they can continue to score with skirmishes like this and shut down the possibility of an Irish Language Act, because they can fairly convincingly argue that a Minority Languages Act is the more inclusive solution.  It’s not nice, but it’ll work.

Full disclosure: tá cúpla focal gaeilge agam, ach níl mé eireannach. Is ás Tuaisceart Éireann mé, agus tá mé Saoránach na Breataine bródúil. Ní raibh mé riamh a vótáladh i gcóir an DUP.

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Ed Miliband’s Conference Speech

politics 23 September 2014 Tell me what you think


I am so delighted to be here with you in Manchester, the constantly shifting capital of our changing Britain. I want to discuss an important issue today – change. Change for the better. Change for prosperity. Change for our country’s well off, change for our country’s national health service and change of the very nature of change itself.

Our economy must adapt to a new reality if we are to change the fortunes of our nation’s urban poor. Friends, we must turn around our national discourse, amending the very transitions through which change is achieved. We will improve our country through a modification of the very engine of evolution. We must convert the society we have now to an improved one, where change is harnessed to power future change.

Here in the North of England, as we, as friends, watch the seasons switch from summer to autumn, we bind ourselves together to revise our social contract and modify the terms we use to describe the changes we seek.

In so doing, we will recast our relationhip with a changing world; we must reform our relationship with the state – refashioning the country destroyed by people who fear change into a restyled, revamped nation full of people not afraid of progress. We must rework our schools and remould our universities. The national health service must be reorganised in order to reorder the relationship between healthcare professionals and patients. Quite frankly, friends, we must redo the reforms of the past to reconstruct the nation foreseen by Bevan and Wilson. As the planet turns, our world is constantly changing, and we must reorient our priorities, transfiguring our nation into a place where a real, profound metamorphosis can occur.

I set out today to change change – to transmute the lethargy of this government into one positively seething with desire for adjustment; Friends, I speak of bringing fresh blood and a tidal shift to our willingness to adapt the very adaptivity of adaption itself.

We need big adjustments. Seismic shifts. Enormous changes.

And when I am done in ten years time, friends, there will be fuck all but small change in your pocket.

Photo Attrib: Christian Guthier.  Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

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UK to EU – Can we still be friends?

Europe,politics 3 June 2014 Tell me what you think

A treaty being broken, yesterday

The European Commission has finally realised that the long-term sexless relationship between the UK and the federalist project is over.  We’re still meeting for coffee but not ordering cake anymore.  We’re returning each other’s messages but there are no more smileys or winks in the texts.  The endgame is in sight, and it may soon be time to put the bits and pieces we left in Brussels over the years into a cardboard box and prepare for the moment when the Prime Minister pops over to get his hoodie back and ask if we can still be friends.  Friends (well, Der Spiegel) have begun to notice the cracks in the relationship.

The Todd Rundgren song, “Can we still be friends?” whose lyrics are ridiculously apropos for this moment in the UK’s relationship with the European Union, asks in this context a relatively important question – can the UK still be friendly with the countries it seems likely to divorce?  And does the EU really care?

Today the European Commission told the UK that its council tax and housing system needs overhaul.  Not perhaps the best timing for a ‘you need to make some changes’ message from the Commission, who might reasonably have seen May’s election as a bit of a kicking.  The end of the affair is in sight, and it is beginning to look more mutual than ever.



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UKIP if you want to…

Conservatives,Europe,politics 2 June 2014 Tell me what you think

“What is one to make of the rise of UKIP?” – asked nobody with any commonsense, ever.

That having been said, there are plenty of people with no commonsense desperate to shrinkwrap a simple answer to the problem of the purple and yellow party (by remarkable coincidence the colour of a particularly nasty looking bruise). “The UKIP vote is a vote against the mainstream political parties who to varying degrees run the politics of the UK”, claim some.

“A resounding vote against Europe, or austerity, or immigration”, claim others. “A vote against the Lib Dems”, opine still others, In fact, there are a number of political and mechanical reasons for the outcomes in local and European elections,

The mechanics of the UKIP victory, to my mind, needs a reminder of why 2009 went so differently. Except in Tower Hamlets, political medium-term memory is foggy. People seem to be interpreting this year’s shift in European Parliament elections in line with the national share calculations from the 2010 general election – which makes no sense, psephologically or in context of history. 2009 was a weird election. It went like this:

Why did Labour get shafted in 2009?
During the expenses scandal, because there were many more Labour MPs than Tory MPs, Labour were disproportionately fingered. That, plus the incredible unpopularity of Gordon Brown, the Brown denial of the seriousness of the economic crash in the UK and the ‘Brown Bottle’ – the election there never was, led to Labour getting a serious shafting at the 2009 European Parliament elections.

Why did the Conservatives do so well in 2009?
Tories stood in 2009 on a ‘my goodness, Labour really are useless and we’re going to win next year anyway’ ticket. Cameron said there was a repatriation of powers debate ahead. Those resonated pretty well. Also, Gordon Brown said ‘don’t vote Conservative’, which helped.

Why didn’t UKIP do better in 2009?
UKIP was in disarray in 2009 after all sorts of crazy internal political crises, and they were seen as a bit too close in theory to the BNP. They were in no fit state to take on anyone, and as a result their election in 2009 was very nearly the end for the party.

Why did Lib Dems do well in 2009?
Actually, they did OK in 2009, but the campaign wasn’t particularly good, since they were in preparation for the general election. This was pre ‘I agree with Nick’ and the incredible growth of Lib Dems hadn’t occurred yet – we had to wait a year for that.

So what was the context of this election?

People seem a bit confused that they don’t like Ed Miliband a little bit more – but there is no doubt at all that this election shows a clear majority still eludes the red team. Yes – they came 2nd and beat the Conservatives into 3rd place for the first time in recent electoral history – but only in extraordinary circumstances where people first cast a vote in favour of a referendum on membership of the EU.

A referendum on membership is now a fixture on the political horizon, whether Ed loves it or not. He should now do his best to neutralise the issue by at least matching David Cameron’s commitment to a renegotiation and referendum, but he won’t – he isn’t convinced that anything needs renegotiated and isn’t convinced that a referendum is a good idea.

As a result, he’s now in an awful position – if he agrees to include a referendum in his manifesto the election becomes entirely a referendum on him vs Cameron – and he absolutely consistently loses on that metric in every poll.

So there.

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How do you solve a problem like gobshites?

Conservatives,politics 6 April 2014 Tell me what you think

That the newspapers have been keen to hoist Maria Miller, the minister responsible for the shepherding the press regulation legislation from a lamppost for continuing to claim a level of expenses on a mortgage after a favourable change in the lending interest rate is not surprising.

That the affair has been so badly managed by the professional party and the MPs so close to an election should probably raise some eyebrows.

That the PM still reckons he doesn’t have a woman in the party good enough to promote into her place is lamentable. I reckon he’s also wrong.

The Conservative Party’s elected women are a remarkable bunch with real substance – they should be presenting the PM with an embarrassment of promotable riches – but the bias in the party at the last election towards creating good constituency MPs at the expense of the executive has created a pool of talent with outspokenness and principle in abundance, loyalty and ambition in short supply.

That’s good for constituencies but fucking awful for the executive whose job must be appointing people of competence to positions of consequence.

Politics, red in tooth and claw is the reality for the PM today. He wanted to keep Maria Miller in position – she is obviously competent and capable, but her judgment in her dealing with IPSA was evidently flawed.

Truculence is the correct response to a stupid and incapable bureaucracy, but not if you’re in the cabinet.

The PM should take the opportunity to appoint at least two more women to the cabinet – this would disabuse backbenchers of the notion that they can be in Parliament without the risk of government and would send the message that there is no women problem in the Conservative Party.

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Sometimes a view is just a view

this blog 1 January 2014 Tell me what you think

Every so often I reboot this blog, and every so often someone comes along to give me a reason why I should constrain my blogging. I already do.

I work for an organisation which has Political views in many areas, and which is led by democratically elected people. Those people speak on behalf of the organisation and I do not.  Nothing I say purports to be the position of the organisation for which I work and I am very happy to establish that fact publicly.  I don’t (and won’t) speak at all for the organisation, though a million years ago, I was elected to lead it.  Those days are long gone.  Today I am retained and paid to do the work of managing the affairs of the place so that the political leadership doesn’t have to concern itself with stamps, plumbers and rent.

I have no ‘office’ and therefore I have no official view on the positions held by that organisation (except that I am often astounded by the frequency with which I privately agree with them) and I have no input whatsoever into the formulation of those positions. I’m a civil servant. People get paid, rooms get booked, trucks get sent to the right places.

I am well aware that some people, particularly on the left of politics, don’t like what they think are my views on the politics of the day.  I don’t particularly care – because we think what we think and we believe what we believe.  In particular I don’t care because I assiduously do not express any disagreement with the leadership of the organisation for which I work – because policies and their public expression are not my job – in any case I would not be capable of doing it as effectively as the leadership, because they reflect the position of the electors. 90% of the time any view I express publicly has no bearing at all on the positions or affairs of the country in which I live, let alone the organisation I work for.

Those of us who work in non-political jobs inside political organisations often experience similar problems.  We’re hired to do jobs, not determine or interpret the policies of the organisation we work for. We have lives outside the political organisations we work for – and how we live those lives are, frankly, none of the organisation’s business so long as confidentiality and the law of the land are respected.

My request is this -if you dislike my views, then challenge me on them.  They’re only views – and believe me, the chance to chat ‘outside’ politics with someone outside the policy debates which occur inside my workplace would be rather lovely.

I’d leave the rugby though.  I’m Wasps and England till I die.

A happy, healthy and fulfilling 2014 to you.

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We’ve failed humanity.

syria 29 August 2013 Tell me what you think

Tonight the UK Parliament voted in favour of dictators gassing their people. I’ve never ever felt ashamed to be British before, but this is a terrible decision. When soman, tabun and cyclosarin starts being dropped on innocents and protesters, the regimes will use tonight’s vote to give them comfort that one of the few nations which could make them answer for their crimes against humanity hasn’t the guts any more.

The only good thing to come out from tonight is the proof that our Parliament works, just as it failed to do in 2003, and we now have a PM who isn’t afraid to suffer political knocks and get on with the job. But if Assad uses these weapons again, let those who voted against action do the honourable thing and take the Hundreds.  After they’ve learned the names of each victim.

This vote was not about taking sides – it was about protecting those people powerless to even take a side.  This vote was about taking the action in principle to warn the world that rule-of-law nations will act to prevent lawless and murderous regimes from simply wiping out their oppositions.

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