Tuesday, July 22, 2014


Though you might not have realised it, a truly momentous event occurred at the weekend: I started using Twitter.  Well, maybe not 'started'.  That would be a tad inaccurate.  I had made an attempt to join the ranks of the Twitterati when I first registered an account back in August 2009 but, like an SWP front organisation or Nadine Coyle's solo career, it didn't quite work out the way it was meant to.  Nevertheless, I decided a few days back to give it a second chance.  All those millions of tweeters couldn't be wrong, could they?

One thing that certainly is clear is the fact that the blogosphere is not in the best of health at this moment in time.  I started this particular website in the mid-noughties, the peak of the blogging boom, but since around the start of this decade it is a phenomenon that has been in sharp decline.  Sites which five or ten years ago were being updated on a daily basis (or at the very least weekly) have now either disappeared completely or else are only getting new posts once in a blue moon.  There is also a third and somewhat tragic fate which may befall a blog; that is whereby the blog is left float around in the mists of cyberspace, long forgotten even by the person who used to write for it.

The blog you are looking at right now falls into the second of those categories.  Indeed, 'infrequent' would be a mild way to describe the level of activity around here in recent years.  But I'm not the only one.  It seems the vast majority of blogs that were around ten years ago on the Northern Irish blog scene have bitten the dust.  Much the same is true south of the border as well as in the GB, plus the bulk of my old list of favourite Stateside bloggers also seem to be missing in action.  It is probably fair to say that the reason for this lies largely with Twitter.

Now, please don't get me wrong on this, I am in no way whatsoever being critical of Twitter.  I find Twitter infinitely more useful than, say, that utterly vacuous creation of Mr Zuckerberg's (140 characters might not be a lot but it is preferable to 140 mundane photographs of someone's night out at the M Club).  I am merely noting that it surely cannot be a coincidence that the decline of blogosphere appears to have started around the same time as Twitter was beginning to take off.  I suppose what I am trying to say, in an admittedly verbose manner that could never be accommodated on Twitter, is this: can't our favourite microblog and those good old fashioned traditional blogs coexist peacefully and thrive together?  Only time will tell.

For now, I intend to open up a second front on Twitter.  We shall see if the war on this new front is fought with the same pathetic intensity as the campaign on this site has been waged in recent times.  My latest text message sized thoughts will be available for the world to see at the following: @yfitnblog

And now that I've embraced Twitter?  The possibilities are endless.  Perhaps an Instagram account full to the brim of photos of me doing duckface poses in my bathroom mirror is just around the corner.  How on earth I would ever link it to the struggle for democratic socialism though might prove problematic.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The lesser of ten evils

Five years ago I did something a bit silly: I voted for the SDLP in the European election.  I wrote a piece here at the time to try and justify my decision but looking back at that post five years on I can tell that my heart wasn't really in it when I was writing.  In fact, I knew that at the time.  Perhaps I thought that if wrote it all down in black and white that I would eventually convince myself that I was doing the right thing.  Never before had I taken the plunge and voted for one of the parties from the sectarian bloc and, all being well, I don't intend to ever again. 

My reasoning for giving Alban Maginness my first preference was twofold.  Whether those two reasons were any good or not I'll let others judge.  Reason one was my view that if the SDLP took a seat it would in the grand scheme of things be an extra bum on a chair for the Party of European Socialists in the European Parliament.  Secondly, the SDLP's vociferously pro-EU stance did at least set them apart in an election were most of the rest of the field ranged from soft Eurosceptics to all-out promoters of withdrawal from the union.  So, I meant well.  I hope.

Later today I'll leave my house and make the short journey to the local polling station where I'll give my first preference in the 2014 European election to the Green Party and their jolly young candidate Ross Brown.  I'll give a second preference to Anna Lo of Alliance, after which I'll vote along similar lines on the ballot paper for Belfast City Council and then I'll walk back home again.  Overflowing with enthusiasm in the aftermath?  Hardly. 

Whereas last time around I at least had some form of strategy in my head for why I was voting the way I was (namely assisting the centre-left parliamentary faction in Brussels and Strasbourg) this time my vote is a very simple and straightforward anti-sectarian one.  Of course, given the flag dispute and the various other ways in which sectarianism has continued to poison life over the past five years, an anti-sectarian vote is an honourable one but as a left-winger I still feel a little bitter at not having the option to vote for a proper democratic socialist party.

While I would still hope to see a Labour Party fighting elections in Northern Ireland at some stage in the future, reality suggests that it won't be happening any time soon.  For now, if there is hope it lies in the Greens.  They might not be the answer to all our problems but their presence on the local political scene does shake things up a little.  One has to admire their total refusal to play politics in the conventional Northern Irish sense.  Sectarianism simply does not feature in their world.  Unlike Alliance who put non-sectarianism at the heart of their politics, Steven Agnew and friends simply treat Northern Ireland as though it were normal (which it most certainly is not).  Naïve?  Maybe.  Refreshing?  Undoubtedly.

Yet for some reason I just cannot see support for the Green Party breaking out of areas like north Down or south Belfast.  At times they appear to be the private property of nice, quirky, liberal-minded middle-class people that enjoy posting their backing for equal marriage on Twitter and were big supporters of the campaign to free Pussy Riot when it was in full swing.  Not that there's anything wrong with that type of person - give me them before Jim Allister any day of the week.  But attracting the support of a slightly leftish section of the middle-class who have probably never been all that sectarian is one thing; making a breakthrough in working-class communities that are riven with bigotry is quite another and it is in places like this where an impact is essential.  Winning seats solely in the Ulster equivalent of Baden-Württemberg is not good enough.

Despite my reservations about their long-term prospects, the Greens are at least a worthy first preference in today's elections.  Pro-European, internationalist in outlook, organised right across the continent and the most left-wing option on the ballot paper - in comparison to the other candidates a vote for Ross Brown almost feels like chucking a hand grenade into the middle of our stale political arena.  In the coming years, however, we leftists and progressives are going to require a vehicle that will have the potential to attract a much wider range of support than the Greens are capable of.  We'll revisit that topic on another day.

Right.  Time to vote.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The silent majority

The sooner we have the in/out referendum that Farage and people of his ilk want, the sooner we shut them up.  Bring it on, I say:

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Something's Broughan

Tommy Broughan, the somewhat insignificant TD for Dublin North–East and former member of the increasingly pointless Irish Labour Party, has in recent weeks set up a brand new irrelevant organisation of the left on this island that will bear the name Social Democratic Union.  To date the existence of this grouping has passed pretty much unnoticed, save for an article in the Irish Independent and a short report on The Cedar Lounge Revolution blog.  It is difficult to imagine such an announcement being greeted with anything other than indifference though if it had managed to trigger mass attention there would have been surprisingly little for the masses to get their teeth into.

Exactly what this 'union' is and where it intends to go in the future seems unclear, even to the man behind it.  According to Jason Kennedy's piece in the Indo, Broughan has stated that in his view "there is no social democratic party currently operating in the Dáil" but that Ireland "doesn't need another nice political party."  He has also remarked that the SDU is "a framework I have for myself and my supporters" yet added that he would contemplate joining a movement "which pursued egalitarian and cooperative policies."  And that is about as much as we know.

If Tommy has a grand plan to rehabilitate centre-left politics in the Republic he is doing a remarkable job of keeping it a secret.  The new group has no online presence.  On Tommy's constituency site the SDU name is featured just below his own but there is no other reference to it.  His Twitter account doesn't mention it at all.  No other TDs, trade unionists or prominent figures on the Irish left appear to have spoken about it.  Perhaps, as the item regarding this on The Cedar Lounge Revolution suggested, this curious little creature is nothing more than a pre-election branding exercise, although the choice of name does suggest something a tad grander.  There has been talk in recent times about Broughan and some of his pals in Leinster House (Halligan, Murphy, Pringle) welding themselves together into some sort of new formation but those rumours have yet to develop into anything tangible.

I do have some sympathy for Tommy.  In 2011 the Labour Party had the opportunity to form a strong centre-left opposition on the back of the best election result in their history.  Instead, they opted to squander it by entering a coalition government in which they play second fiddle to Fine Gael.  No amount of clichéd claptrap about 'putting the country before the party' should excuse the foolishness of their decision.  This strategy has always proved disastrous for Labour in the past and, as the polls would presently suggest, it will prove so again.  It is easy to understand why many supporters would be feeling disheartened and frustrated at the moment.

However, is going back to square one and starting a new movement really the way forward?  History is certainly not on the side of those advocating it.  Previous groups that set out to challenge Labour, such as Democratic Left or the National Progressive Democrats, ended up merging with it.  Others, like the Socialist Labour Party, simply went extinct after a short period of time.  Of course, while none of this means that the failure of another such vehicle is guaranteed, I don't sense a great public appetite for a 'Labour Party Mark 2'.  I recognise that the idea of remaining in the party and attempting to turn it around will no doubt be viewed by many as an equally worn-out old tactic.  Yet with a new social democratic entity unlikely to be a success, the far left ULA project an embarrassing mess and no gap in the market (to borrow a capitalist phrase) for anything in between, a long term strategy of breathing new life into the old beast seems the best and most realistic option open.

When Tommy Broughan says that there is no social democratic party in Ireland right now he is only partially correct.  Yes, the path being pursued by Labour at present might not be a social democratic one but the blame for that does not lie with the organisational model of the party; rather the fault exists with the absence of any discernible centre-left vision, not just amongst the leadership but also with those discontent with it.  To be fair, this is not merely a problem faced by the Irish Labour Party.  Their comrades right across Europe all seem to be endeavouring to produce a 'big idea' (John Harris's piece in the Guardian earlier this month is one small example of this ongoing ideological self-analysis).  The challenge then should not be to throw the baby out with the bath water and start anew but to provide Labour with a coherent democratic socialist philosophy, something which it has been lacking for some time.

While the party might have achieved significant electoral gains under Eamon Gilmore, those advances were made largely at the expense of a historic collapse in support for Fianna Fáil as opposed to the public being won over to a new radical vision of how Irish society should be (their outlook in this period is probably best summed up by the appalling slogan used in 2009, "We are neither Fianna Fáil, nor Fine Gael. We are Labour").  Unfortunately those gains made in 2011 are likely to evaporate next time around.  That said, recent opinion polls have repeatedly put support for Labour somewhere in the 10% region which if replicated in a Dáil election would leave them more or less back at the point they were at the end of the Pat Rabbitte era in 2007.  Not good, but not catastrophic.  What activists need to do now is to start to consider what exactly is it that they want their party to represent in the coming years.  If they do not then it is likely that their Groundhog Day political existence in which they achieve a good election result which is then followed by a period of being the prop for a right-led government that is subsequently followed by a poor election result will continue for the foreseeable future.

As for Tommy Broughan's SDU party/project/thingamajig, it appears doomed regardless of whatever path it takes.  Even in a best case scenario for the group that would see it develop into a proper political party that could actually attract widespread electoral support, such a development would have negative consequences for the left as a whole and would lead to the splintering of the progressive vote in a country where the two dominant parties have traditionally come from the right.  This is unlikely to happen though.  Like the previous initiatives mentioned above, it seems destined to drift off into obscurity.

Monday, April 21, 2014

A brief thought at Eastertide

As tends to be the case with any utterance from the leader of the one true church, Jorge Mario Bergoglio achieved headlines yesterday with a fairly banal call for peace in which he asked Jesus (for He is the go-to man on such affairs) to "put an end to all war and every conflict, whether great or small, ancient or recent."  I am sure this is a very honourable and indeed sincere declaration from the Pope, though in truth not all that different from anything articulated by his predecessor at previous Easter Masses. 

This time of year has not always been marked with a desire for harmony.  Sunday’s edition of Haaretz carried a piece about a much more malevolent historical flipside known as the Rintfleisch massacres, a series of pogroms against Jews which occurred in late thirteenth century Bavaria.  In what would be neither the first nor the last time paranoid antisemitic propaganda would be utilised as a way of fomenting bloodshed in Europe, Jews were accused of stealing and purchasing "Eucharist wafers in order to abuse and torture them."  David B. Green, author of the piece, states:
The Jews of Roettingen were charged with pulverizing the wafer until it began to bleed, and then they "split him and hung him on a frame." In Roettingen, 21 Jews are said to have been killed on this day by Rintfleisch and his banner-waving mob. They then moved on to other towns in the Tauber River Valley on the way to Nuremberg. Even after King Albert returned to his throne and called for peace, the killings did not immediately subside.  The Nuremberg Chronicle lists 146 individual communities where pogroms took place and names some 5,000 Jews who were killed.

The mention of Nuremburg in the article carries some added relevance as it was with pogroms such as these that lay the roots of a movement whose name has unfortunately become synonymous with that quaint Franconian city.  And following a week in which pro-Russian nationalists in the Ukrainian city of Donetsk decided to display their Christian love by calling for the compulsory registration of all Jews over the age of sixteen, one wonders whether our continent still harbours unsavoury individuals who aspire to emulating the deeds of Herr Rintfleisch.  Let us hope (and, if you are so inclined, pray) that if there are they do not have the ability to fire up the passions of barbaric mobs in the same manner that others of their ilk have done.  The repetition of history is, sadly, not always farcical.