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Monthly Archives: January 2020

In Ireland there are two groups with quite different reasons for returning to familiar right wing parties.


1. The conservatives and their rider
The majority of Irish people seem to want a universal health service, greater equality etc. etc. but there’s a fundamentally important catch: they want these things to happen without any other change, i.e. without their lives being otherwise affected. In recent times the welfare of the planet was added to the list of things that can “change as long as there’s no change”.

Too many Leftists take comfort in polls that show Irish support for all sorts of progressive reforms. Then when votes are counted, they express themselves surprised – even hurt and betrayed – by the outcome. They reckon – with an enormous degree of arrogance – that voters have behaved stupidly. The reality is that there is nothing actually stupid in a selfish conservatism that defends one’s place in the structure of inequality, while saying that apart from this progressive reform is fine. It’s not even a contradictory position. Indeed it is a position encouraged by leftists who sell the notion that this is precisely what can be achieved by dispossessing the top 1% or big business while leaving the rest of the rich and privileged untouched.*

A useful and descriptive term for it is “left conservatism”. It’s rooted in a bizarre understanding of fairness: that the whole structure of inequality must remain unchanged until the ludicrously wealthy are reduced, while the ludicrously wealthy see that as … wait for it … unfair. Very little happens. Nice people express support for reforms and the protest marches can be a fun way to let off steam and pose as anti-establishment. The structure of inequality is secured.


2. Seekers of a plausible alternative
There’s an under-researched group of voters – very likely a small group – who probably think differently. They are not wedded to short term self interest. Neither are they interested in disorderly or unqualified change, never mind revolution. Short of that, they are open to plausible argument about their republic changing its course. That they don’t hear such argument is because the left tends to ignore them.

What they hear constantly is a right-wing but plausible argument that is shared by electoral rivals; these rivals compete on the basis of claims to be better managers of a stable, fair and unequal society. It’s hardly surprising then that citizens who are amenable to argument vote for plausible managers over those implausibly and constantly “calling on” the government/ political class/establishment for concessions that are not arranged in any order of priority. If the left wants to win the votes of thinking people, a plausible argument will have to be presented. However, there’s a problem: opting to present a coherent, plausible argument for change means abandoning the “calling-on” which is for a different and wholly incompatible audience.


If the UK Conservative Party and others like them are successful in destroying the real democratic and welfare gains of the past century, it is likely because opponents – both liberal and socialist – seem to lack the wit or the nerve to challenge. It’s as blunt as this: no one is pro-establishment.

The genius of what is happening lies in occupying the term “anti-establishment”. The stupidity lies with opponents who can’t see what is happening or are either so in thrall to their traditions or fear the contumely of their comrades that they fall back on safe familiarity.

When Dominic Cummings announced that he was recruiting outsiders, wreckers, to smash the traditions and expertise of the UK civil service, “pro-business” liberals lined up to offer mindless support. They had to; to do otherwise might seem like changing sides. After everything they had said about inefficiency and lack of enterprise, they couldn’t manage now to say anything remotely supportive of the established civil service. Many of them know that the Cummings wrecker, devoted exclusively to science and maths, is a parody of real science graduates, and yet they felt acquiescence to nonsense was the best course. Being seen as anti-establishment was more attractive than revealing the truth.

Because both Dominic Cummings and Steve Bannon, Trump’s onetime advisor, have explicitly said that they are plundering socialist tradition, the tacit support of socialists is more sad and culpable. Instead of hurrying to the defence of parliament and the whole range of hard-won institutions on which future reforms depend, the majority of socialists want to do the opposite. They want to remain true to their revolutionary tradition and they want to avoid the criticism of fellow socialists. They want to do as they’ve done before: to mobilise the people against parliament, the judiciary, the civil service, i.e. the establishment. They therefore argue for getting among the people, agitating, setting up counter structures: being anti-establishment.

The progressive position now and certainly the socialist position should be to defend the establishment so as to resist the right wing project to roll back the state and destroy so many gains on which decent living depends.