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Tag Archives: election

People are frequently asked to choose between two things neither of which they particularly like. Sensibly they think about preferences and make a decision. That’s what happened in the USA. Millions of voters preferred Trump to Clinton and the other candidates. There are commentators – and unfortunately some are leftists – who try to create not merely a bogus equivalence between two candidates but an absolute equivalence. They want to say that in choosing between Trump and Clinton, one might as well toss a coin. Well, coins weren’t tossed. Citizens thought about it and expressed their preference. Millions of them preferred Trump and there is no way of whitewashing their choice.

Don’t patronise Trump voters. They are not deluded fools, victims of a trick or even misguided. His voters prefer his views, his policies and him.

Those who reckon the result is down to Clinton’s candidacy are trying to avoid facing up to the fact that just less than half of the US citizens who voted preferred a man of this calibre. When people decide to do something truly awful, it’s best to face it.

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Before reading watch and listen to Yanis Varoufakis in this Youtube clip. He’s not talking revolution. He’s not even talking socialism. Indeed he’s on about that most liberal of fashions, value free, “evidence based” policies. How this could lead to a crisis requires explanation.

Ok, that was the former Greek Finance Minister making a persuasive case for old fashioned, liberal Keynesianism. This was a view that was growing in popularity in the public press and on-line in the months before the Greek election. Reading and listening to Syriza before the election it seemed that they were just doing the routine, familiar, populist anti-austerity pitch for votes. After the election they changed to an emphasis on negotiation and the sort of position outlined in this video. It was a very encouraging development and it raised the hope that Syriza might strengthen or lead the emerging consensus. That consensus was certainly not socialist or even mildly egalitarian but rather the creation of a functioning liberal economy – yes, ripe for leftward reforms but the left would defer that until a reasonably stable and prosperous liberal economy had developed. Clearly it would be difficult if not impossible to get a liberal deal of this kind through the Greek parliament without the support of the older centre-right and centre-left parties. However, somewhere during the months of negotiation the Keynesian position disappeared. Towards the end the German Chancellor insisted that any deal would have to be approved by the Greek Parliament. In doing so she inadvertently hastened the end of negotiations and saved Syriza’s unity. In the week before the IMF payment was due there were two sets of proposals: the creditors’ ultimatum and Syriza’s.  As the Greek Finance Minister insisted, there was nothing much between them. Then the P.M. decided on a referendum to accept or reject the ultimatum. There needs to be an enquiry into these negotiations because it is simply not plausible that the argument advanced by Yanis Varoufakis in this video caused a crisis.

I was talking to a T.D.* recently, a leftist one. He said that his basic function was to serve his constituents and that if he is re-elected to the Dáil, it will justify his political decisions. I disagreed, saying that his was a perfect statement of populism. The function of a leftist is neither to schmooze nor to patronise but to argue honestly and plausibly.

Now, Ireland is a society in which the overwhelming majority is comprised of liberals, conservatives and believers in the infantile notion that the “political class” is the ruling class. In this society honest and plausible argument would seem the road to electoral failure because it means opposing and possibly offending that overwhelming majority. That is why leftist parties seeking electoral success employ researchers who i) try to keep policy and statements in line with those of a majority or ii) try to be both vague and appealing to those receptive to facile slogans.

It’s a real dilemma: how to get elected while opposing (trying to persuade) the majority? The situation is made worse by a realisation that slogans and implausibility will drive away the thoughtful voter.

The good news in Ireland is that the leftist doesn’t have to appeal to the majority or convince a majority in order to win. In Ireland we have PR-STV ** and election can be achieved by way of a minority vote. This offers the freedom to argue, to oppose consensus, to offend, to break icons but it’s far from an easy option. It’s difficult and lonely to decide to be unpopular. It is however the only way for a leftist to win on a leftist platform in Ireland.

There are of course implications for participation in coalition government but that’s work for another day.
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* Teachta Dála, a member of the Irish parliament.
** Proportional Representation by means of the Single Transferable Vote.

Yesterday I listened to a media debate on the Sinn Fein TD, Aonghus O’Snodaigh’s use of ink cartridges: €50k’s worth in two years. The media coverage was so limited as to border on completely daft. It was presented entirely as an issue of credibility. One side says basically that no one could possibly print and distribute that many leaflets and the TD must be up to something else. The other side says that the shifting of millions of leaflets is testimony to the service offered by this TD to his constituents.

The worst scenario and the one ignored by commentators is that Aonghus O’Snodaigh is telling the truth! Almost all of the leaflets that I receive are non-political. They market the idea that the candidate/TD is “active on the ground”, “serving the community”, “offering advice and information”. One TD of my acquaintance has never had a political thought in his life and he sees this as a virtue which enables him to support whatever constituents seem to want.

Perhaps we could do away with elections and decide who becomes a TD by weighing the total of non-political leaflets delivered by each candidate. Oh no, that wouldn’t be fair because it wouldn’t take into account other non-political activities “in the community” and “on the ground”!

Now, I’m well aware that if I became a candidate, I’d have to play this game of pretend because it’s become the norm. However, when a case emerges that illustrates quite how bizarre this “non-political” form of campaigning actually is, it might be expected that our media would shape public discourse to talk about a basic problem.

Regardless of the number of seats won, coalition will mean negotiation.

By definition, a precondition would not strengthen Labour’s hand in negotiation as it would have to be conceded before negotiations could begin. Indeed, it might – if one were not skillful – weaken the negotiating position in that something would already have been given and one’s antagonists/future partners would try constantly to bend negotiations in their favour by referring to it.

I’m not arguing for preconditions as such; I’m arguing for a tiny number – even one – of socialist preconditions. (My suggestion can be found here: https://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2011/01/04/labour-in-government-a-radical-but-modest-proposal-to-reduce-inequality/ )

There are a number of reasons for going down this path. Here are a few and in NO sense are they in order of importance:

i) The lie that the Labour Party is the same as every party or at least not particularly different to a humane liberal party, or – as even some of our own members allege – is not socialist at all, needs to be addressed. This can be done by laying down one or two fundamental demands/preconditions which a liberal party by virtue of its principles or ideology cannot concede without doing itself damage.

ii) It gives voters who are serious about changing the very direction of Irish development something for which to vote.

 iii) It puts a leftist demand right at the heart of public controversy in the run up to the election. (Without this the media will of necessity be attracted to liberal controversies like, say, abortion law.) 

iv) It delivers a basic return for coalition no matter how bad circumstances are or become.

v) It steals a march on the fantasists who need to injure Labour as the voice of Socialism. They know that they must undermine socialism as a contemporary hope and ambition so that their “religion” can be THE left. Their “project” necessarily is about defining socialism in terms of the unachievable or – similar, really – the 19th century.