Monday, February 28, 2011

The third way

With coalition discussions due to begin soon in the south, the UNITE Regional Secretary Jimmy Kelly has made a few comments today that I found myself nodding along to while reading and which provide a very firm and coherent answer to those who will no doubt say that there is nothing to be gained for the left by Labour staying outside of government. If you are a member of the Labour Party in the Republic who feels a tad miffed at the prospect of your party's greatest ever general election result being utilised in order for Enda Kenny to become Taoiseach then take a moment to read a possible alternative strategy for the next five years:

This election was about change. Part of the change was unequivocal; the removal of Fianna Fáil from power, but the rest is now in the hands of the Labour Party leadership. The people did not vote for a Fine Gael overall majority. Their policies on privatisation, austerity and income cuts did not attract enough support and should not now be facilitated by the tired old fall-back of coalition with Labour.

The Labour Party has an historic opportunity to become the official opposition in the 31st Dáil, leading a greatly expanded Left wing coalition. The prospect of a Left-led government in the short-term has been greatly enhanced. We can now see the end of the old and outdated political divisions that dominated Irish politics since the 1930s. The political dividing line is no longer determined by Fianna Fáil. They have been totally rejected and must not be given the oxygen of being an unwanted official opposition. The dividing line is now between the Left and the Right.

If Labour grasps this opportunity, the party can lead an invigorated Left opposition in the Dáil. It will have 60 seats in the new Dáil, with Labour at the head, Sinn Féin, the United Left Alliance and other independents in support. Campaigning with civil society groups, we now have an opportunity to present the Irish people with a real choice, a real alternative to Fine Gael’s programme of austerity, privatisation, and income cuts. When Eamon Gilmore sits down with Enda Kenny he should explain that the old politics is over. Labour will not wait any longer. If Fine Gael wants to form a government, they shouldn't expect the Left to be a crutch or a mudguard. They should go to those of similar policy and psychology like Fianna Fáil or right-wing independents. Labour should look to the interests of the nation and working people, create new alliances with an expanded Left inside the Dail and social organisations outside. A Fine Gael-led government would only last two to three years. Then, finally, the goal of a Left-led government can become a reality. Labour should hold its nerve.

He didn't really say that, did he?

"The incoming government is not going to leave our people in the dark... Paddy likes to know what the story is."

Enda Kenny
Saturday, February 26, 2011

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Watch ya mouth

I don't normally do blog round-ups or give awards for post of the month but Owen Jones's handy cut-out-and-keep guide to being a leftist is certainly deserving of such an accolade. Useful tips include everything from raiding the language of the right to getting yourself a few non-lefty mates, but perhaps the best bit of advice can be found in the line "radical ideas, moderate words." It all sounds so easy, doesn't it?

Noo moozik alurt

Probably the best track from what is in my opinion the best album of the year so far (yes, I know, its only February). Its called Lammicken and its from the debut album Native Speaker by Canadian post-rock quartet Braids. Just thought I'd share it with you on this cold dank Sunday evening:

Pitchfork review here.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Change you can't possibly believe in

"Stupidity is doing the same things and expecting different results."

Roy Keane
Quoted in Fintan O'Toole's Enough is Enough

So, the most important election since partition has now reached its conclusion and, according to all the pundits, the smart money is on a Fine Gael-Labour coalition government to take power in the 31st Dail. I don't know about you but for an election that was supposedly meant to be about change I've been left feeling just a little bit underwhelmed by the prospect. While it is true that the state of the parties has been given its biggest shake up since the 1932 Free State election, the fact remains that such an occurrence will have all the significance of a game of musical chairs if it results in the sort of alignment we have seen on several other occasions - namely an FG-led coalition with Labour while Fianna Fail head the opposition. As the newly elected Socialist Party TD Clare Daly correctly remarked on Saturday night during the RTE results programme, if there is one thing we know from previous coalition governments in the Republic it is that the junior party almost always suffers at the hands of the electorate the next time they get their chance to pass judgement. So, my question to the Labour leadership would be simple: why?

I recall reading an article by Proinsias de Rossa written around the time of the Labour-Democratic Left merger in which he outlined his goal of a left-led government. At the time it seemed a far-fetched prospect. A little more than a decade on and Labour has firmly established themselves as the second largest party in the 26 counties, leap-frogging the once dominant Fianna Fail in the process. The posters in this election campaign bearing the slogan 'Gilmore for Taoiseach', though always a remote possibility even when Labour was riding highest in the polls, displayed a new found confidence in a party which was at last looking beyond just playing its traditional role as a prop for a right-wing administration.

While at the time of writing only about half of the seats for the next Dail have been filled, it now seems likely that Labour will run the risk of squandering the best election result in their history in order to play second fiddle to Enda Kenny's party. There are a number of reasons why I dislike this. Firstly, both FG and Labour are going to be by far the two largest parties in the next Dail with well over 100 of the 166 seats in Leinster House. The main opposition force, most likely to be Fianna Fail, is probably going to have somewhere in the region of 20 to 25 seats - by far the smallest grouping of TDs ever to lead the opposition. Also, paltry number of seats aside, just what quality of opposition will FF be able to provide in the next Dail? As anyone who witnessed The Frontline debate on the economy on RTE just a couple of weeks before the election would be able to testify, there wasn't a world of policy difference between Brian Lenihan on Michael Noonan. Can we expect an ideological chasm to open up between both parties in the coming months and years? Don't hold your breath.

With the exception of the brief few years when Labour by default formed the first ever parliamentary opposition in Saorstat Eireann during that tumultuous period when the anti-Treatyite TDs were still sticking to their abstentionist guns, the history of Dail Eireann has been the story of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael essentially swapping seats in Leinster House. All those years of having right-wing Taoisigh facing right-wing leaders of the opposition has not been healthy. It would, in my opinion, be far better for Irish democracy and make for a much more interesting 31st Dáil were we to have for the first time a proper left-right battle between the two largest parties in the state.

The second reason I do not like the idea of a coalition is from an unashamedly selfish pro-Labour perspective. I believe that not only would a few years with Eamon Gilmore as leader of the opposition be good for a state whose politics has been shaped for the past eight decades by two ideologically indistinguishable remnants of the Civil War, it may also be of benefit to Labour when the elections for the 32nd Dail come around. As Enda Kenny said during the five-way leaders debate, "everyone's going to suffer." Once the euphoria of Fianna Fail's electoral obliteration subsides, Gilmore and co could very quickly find themselves being part of a government that is as unpopular as the one they replaced. If that is the case then all that hard work that went into securing the most Dail seats in Labour's history could very quickly be undone. Expect to hear much bluster in the coming days from pro-coalition Labourites about how going into power with the Blueshirts will help 'keep Fine Gael in check'. I may have been prepared to swallow such a line in the past but as the Green Party displayed in the last administration, and as the Lib Dems are showing us in Britain at the present time, junior coalition partners rarely perform such a useful function.

Now, don't get me wrong, I am not someone who fears seeing Labour in power or believes that their rightful place is in eternal opposition. Far from it. What I fear is that they are about to make the same mistake as they did following the Spring Tide election of 1992 when they followed up winning 33 seats that year by going into government with Fianna Fail and then subsequently losing half of those seats five years later. That said, even with the 33 seats they won back then, Labour remained the third largest party in Dail Eireann so entering government was to some extent understandable. The state they find themselves in after this general election is somewhat different and leaves them with a new and radical path open to them of left-led opposition, one which could put the party in a perfect position to build on the number of seats won this time around.

Nevertheless, if Labour does opt to go down the road of choosing to be the smaller party in a coalition government then I wish them well, even if my expectations are extremely low for what that might bring. Whatever happens, the next few years will make for an intriguing period in Irish politics. In the meantime I suggest somebody out there drives a stake through the heart of Fianna Fail when you have the chance. Mark my words - they'll be back.

Friday, February 18, 2011

How bizarre

The Progressive London conference 2011 takes place tomorrow at Congress House in London, a meeting which aims to contribute to the building of a broad-based coalition against the Tory-led government's planned cutbacks. Nothing wrong with that concept although it is a bit hard to see how a motley crew of SWPers (Weyman Bennett), Stalinists (Kate Hudson and Andrew Murray) and Islamists (Ismail Patel and Dilwar H Khan) can, with some help from Ken Livingstone and Jeremy Corbyn, construct an alliance capable of giving Cameron and Osbrone sleepless nights. I could be proved completely wrong, though I seriously doubt it.

However, what really grabbed my attention was the inclusion in this meeting of another individual who would not exactly spring to the front of my mind when one would mention the word 'progressive'. His name? Mitchel McLaughlin. Yes, that's right. Mitchel McLaughlin, the Sinn Fein MLA for South Antrim. Progressive London states on its website that it is an organisation that exists to promote the kinds of progressive policies which have made London such a success. It lists the protection of the environment, the improvement of life for young Londoners and keeping the city safe from crime as three of its main concerns. How odd then to invite a man who was a spokesperson for the Provisional republican movement at a time when its military wing considered the bombing of horses in Hyde Park, the firing of mortars at Heathrow Airport and the slaughter of Christmas shoppers at Harrods to be 'progressive' contributions to life in London. Of course, Mitchel McLaughlin had no personal involvement in any acts of violence during the conflict. As Cedric Wilson once remarked in a rare moment of wit, Mitchel has a reputation as a sort of draft dodger within the republican community.

But let us not dwell on the past. Regardless of whatever massacres in London the Mitchel of yesteryear would have been willing to defend, the Mitchel of the present day can hardly be considered the man to advise the British left on fighting the cuts. As the Socialist Party's Joe Higgins observed a while back, the Shinners have something of a partitionist policy on cutbacks – against them in the south, implementing them in the north. Indeed, one really has to question just how serious they are about opposing cuts in the Republic. Sinn Fein representatives have spoken openly in the past about their willingness to go into coalition with conservative parties in the 26 counties. If they can stomach taking harsh decisions in a coalition administration with the right-wing DUP you can sure as hell bet your bottom dollar that they would not hesitate to make similarly harsh decisions were they to be in power with Fine Gael or Fianna Fail.

I suppose when you're speaking at event alongside people who are members of organisations like the Friends of Al-Aqsa, the Islamic Forum of Europe, the ambassador of Stalinist Cuba and a couple of folks who reckon North Korea is a fine example of actually existing socialism it is not all that difficult to see how Mitchel McLaughlin could suddenly appear to be a shining symbol of radical progressive politics. Then again, that could also tell you something about just what a tragic mess a section of the British 'left' finds itself in.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The battle for Spain

In the days before Big Brother, Eurotrash and Alan Carr, the television station Channel 4 used to show programmes that were worth watching. One such example was an excellent six-part documentary series broadcast in 1983 about the Spanish Civil War, a series simply entitled The Spanish Civil War (still, much better than the My Big Fat Spanish Civil War that would have no doubt been narrated by Russell Brand had such a show been commissioned in more recent times). Anyhow, it is a truly fantastic series with a lot of great archive footage and some fascinating interviews with people from both sides of the divide who lived through the conflict. Episode one - Prelude to Tragedy - is embedded below. The other five episodes can be found through the YouTube links in the video. Give it a watch. It's much better than a gypsy wedding:

Sunday, February 13, 2011


If this doesn't make you angry nothing will:

The former Egyptian president is accused of amassing a fortune of more than £3 billion - although some suggest it could be as much as £40 billion - during his 30 years in power. It is claimed his wealth was tied up in foreign banks, investments, bullion and properties in London, New York, Paris and Beverly Hills. In the knowledge his downfall was imminent, Mr Mubarak is understood to have attempted to place his assets out of reach of potential investigators.

I was actually surprised to learn that Mubarak was as disorganised as this. It has always been a trait of dictators from all parts of the world to prepare for the day they would have to flee from a risen people by stashing their cash off safely in foreign bank accounts. In the case of the Egyptian tyrant he appears to have spent the past month trying to make sure that his ill-gotten gains are secure. The Swiss have acted swiftly and froze the assets of Mubarak. Let us hope that other countries follow suit. However, regardless of whether it is £3 billion or £40 billion or even just a few million pounds, Hosni Mubarak is not exactly going to suffer for his three decades of dictatorship. If ever there was a man that deserved a Ceauşescu-style exit it is surely him.

Incidentally, Vince Cable was asked on the Andrew Marr Show on BBC One earlier this morning if he knew anything about Mubarak's hidden funds in the UK. He said he didn't and that he wasn't "aware that the banks had done anything improper." Do some people ever learn anything?

Monday, February 07, 2011

Better late than never

So, after a disgracefully unacceptable 22 years, the Socialist International has finally taken the decision to expel Hosni Mubarak's Egyptian NDP. I know the heading to this item states 'better late than never' but perhaps 'too little too late' would be an equally accurate headline. The letter from the SI's general secretary Luis Ayala does nothing to improve the situation.

The expulsion document states that admitting the National Democratic Party to the Socialist International was done because the organisation "wanted to encourage the development of multi-party democracy in Egypt by expanding relationships in that part of the world." Such naive thinking could be excused had the NDP been expelled in, say for instance, 1993. I use 1993 as an example because in that year Mubarak recieved 96.3% of the vote in a presidential election - a level of support that Saddam Hussein or Joseph Stalin would have been proud of. As that preposterous election took place after four years of the NDP being a full member of the SI surely it would have been clear at that stage that it was time to give them the boot. If not, the 93.8% 'support' won by our old pal Hosni in the 1999 presidential election should have proved that he and his party had no interest in following any sort of democratic path, SI membership or no SI membership.

However, instead of expelling the party at an early stage, Luis Ayala and co have decided to wait until their move to kick out the NDP looks about as principled as the Berlin citizen who decided to burn their Nazi party membership card in April 1945. That the SI has waited 22 years to expel an organisation that should never have been allowed membership in the first place should be a source of shame for every party connected to the international. Why do I get the feeling though that, even as Mubarak's regime sits on death row, very few people in the parties connected to the Socialist International will have sleepless nights over their two decades long affiliation with one of north Africa's more unsavoury regimes.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Which side are we on, boys?

I was pleased to see the Socialist International issue a statement a few days back announcing that it and it's members would stand "alongside the democratic forces and people in Egypt in pursuit of a common vision of a world which is more free and fair, and where humane, inclusive and democratic societies can flourish." Well said, but no less than one would expect from what is after all the largest left-wing international on the planet. Isn't it?

All is not as clear as it should be. You see, among the full member parties of the Socialist International is Hosni Mubarak's National Democratic Party. Yes, that's correct, the global body to which everyone from Ed Miliband to Eamon Gilmore and from Julia Gillard to Margaret Ritchie are members of has had within it's fold for quite some time now the Egyptian NDP. How an authoritarian party that has shown no signs in recent years of being moderately socialist or mildly social democratic has been allowed to hold down full membership of the SI is quite frankly a disgrace and no amount of carefully worded statements from our good comrades should be allowed to get them off the hook so easily.

Over the years the SI has played an admirable role in acting as the voice of the worldwide democratic left. Members of the international were staunch opponents of the Stalinist tyrannies in eastern Europe and whenever those regimes fell in 1989 the SI welcomed into its ranks many groups and individuals who would have been involved in the various Communist Parties in the Warsaw Pact states. However, at least in those cases the people concerned had ditched their old commitments to Marxism-Leninism and had began to embrace social democracy (even if it did appear a little awkward sometimes). With the Egyptian NDP there has been no such process of change. It remains a party controlled largely by one man heading what is to all intents and purposes a one-party state. The organisation had no place, has no place and nothing like it should ever again have a place in our proud organisation.

As Mubarak's Ceauşescu moment edges ever closer let us hope that the international forces of democratic socialism choose their allies in the new Egypt a lot better than they picked them in the old one.