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In Ireland it is rare that particular classes of wrongdoers pay a penalty for their actions or inaction. When crime from dodgy dealing to hideous violence is dragged into the light, the clichés begin; establishment voices call for a line to be drawn under it and for new regulation to ensure that it can’t happen in the future. The anodyne call to forgetfulness is, “We are where we are.” Less popular are, “We must avoid the blame game”, “It was the culture of the time”, “Everyone was at it” or “We must avoid a tendency to demonise”.

What this nonsense means is that with a handful of sacrificial exceptions the elite in Ireland can avoid being held accountable. The political party responsible for the building scam which brought the country close to ruin is once again popular. Those in education, media and management who lacked the ability to see the property/lending folly or lacked the integrity to speak out at the time are still in place. The c.e.o. of Allied Irish Banks considers it a firing offence for managers to take out loans for speculation but no one who did it in the past will be fired. There’s a gunrunner sitting in the Dáil surrounded by colleagues who supported civilian slaughter for years but it is now considered “not done” to scoff at their concerns about inequality and suffering. Indeed looking to recent violent history is considered detrimental to the “peace process”. It would appear that no one guilty of assault or keeping slaves in laundries will face prosecution. Likewise teachers who ignored the rules in regard to corporal punishment can enjoy retirement. Then there are the auditors and board members …

The list can seem endless but around it is the protective, “We are where we are.” It suggests a new verb: “to go wawa”.* Like so many things, going wawa is not a method of escape for everyone. It’s reserved to protect the pillars of our establishment. While citizens will be asked to go wawa when it comes to managers, politicians, teachers, journalists etc., hell will freeze over before a judge says to a car thief, “I’ve agreed to go wawa on your offences. You may leave.” ___________________________________________________________________ * http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Wawa&defid=6964261

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The rise of Fianna Fáil in opinion polls has come as a great shock to some. If comments on Facebook are any indication, the people who now favour FF have at best lost their memories and at worst have gone mad. The revival of FF, however, is neither mad nor surprising but entirely understandable and predictable.

Firstly, the overwhelming majority of those voters who abandoned FF at the last election most certainly did not act because they had been persuaded to change their political views. They abandoned FF because FF had provided extraordinarily poor management and FG was offering better management. (The Labour Party was quite similar, offering better management but with a more caring approach.)

Without encroaching very far into the realm of theory, it is clear that a citizen who believes that we live in a post-political age and that elections are about choosing managers, would be acting sensibly in supporting FF as soon as the worst managers had been purged. This – together with portraying the FG/Labour government as poor managers – is what has happened.

Secondly, the overriding political perspective offered by the media eases the rehabilitation of management under the FF brand. While this perspective can be viewed as a variation on the managerial or post-political approach, at the very least the two are perfectly compatible. The dominant media perspective sees the political system in terms of a “political class” ruling over supplicants and groups who seek concessions.* A citizen who adopts this perspective might compare the present government with FF’s record and conclude that FF had granted more or better concessions in the past.
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* https://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2013/02/03/conservative-journalism-and-the-victims-of-austerity/

Journalists have become far too prone to cooperation in the development of  Orwellian Newspeak. An example is the use of “political class” in public discourse about Ireland’s economic crisis. Firstly, talk of a “political class” is an evasion of a responsibility to take sides. It is support for an old, old FF stance: “Sure, we’re all rogues and you may as well vote for us because we’re affable rogues.”  This is dangerous nonsense and SF etc. are clearly aware of its possibilities.

Secondly, to place blame exclusively on any group of politicians – even FF – is to suppress what really happened in Ireland and make the necessary degree of reform less likely. A very real danger is that far too few people will fall in the process of change. Look at it this way: What if most of the prominent FF TDs lose their seats and a banker or two goes to jail, and the Irish rest happy that sacrifice had been offered? Well, then the army of fools and rogues who created and contributed to this mess could hold on to their positions and inflict their stupidity on Ireland in the future. I am not saying this as a socialist advancing an alternative. I am saying that as liberal/capitalist policy goes the FF creation of a construction bubble was foolishness on a hitherto unimaginable scale, BUT they were far from alone in its creation.

Ireland is suffering the consequences of a global problem but is also suffering the consequences of a carefully considered, willfully created boom based on building. The problems have been plain for years. Anyone with an eye in their head could see the rash of houses in under-populated areas, the crazy number of furniture stores along major roads, the glut of hotels and the competition to buy “development” sites at virtually any price. Only a complete fool could have failed to see that this was unsustainable madness. Now, over those years it was possible for people with different degrees of public profile, power, influence etc. to speak out. (No, to scream out and repeatedly!) Why would those in such positions stay quiet? Well, if they didn’t see the problem, they’re too stupid for any position of responsibility; and if they did see it and remained silent – say, for a quiet life or career reasons – they lack the integrity necessary for any position of responsibility.

There should be a clear out well beyond the fall of a few FF politicians and the sacrificial jailing of a banker or two. I’m not talking about ordinary people who behaved foolishly and invested their savings in property and other scams, or bought houses at prices they could ill-afford. I’m talking about those who are PAID TO THINK. Let’s take the management of banks for example. It’s not unreasonable to demand that banks be run by people of moderate intelligence and integrity. We certainly should not tolerate anyone – from branch manager and upwards – who did not speak out. “Sensible people in the banking and finance industry must have felt intimidated by the tide of nonsense in support of the clearly unsustainable; they must have had to weigh good conduct against career prospects.” Oh, here’s the complete blog entry (it’s short, I promise): https://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2009/12/31/appointments-in-irish-banking-and-finance/

Let’s take journalists and broadcasters as another example. I recall the constant urging of young people towards ruin (to “get on the property ladder” as soon as possible) and the urging of ordinary people to try to acquire a property “portfolio” because it was a “no-brainer”. No, I’m not referring to the property supplements.

Similarly, it’s not unreasonable to demand that other categories be people of moderate intelligence and integrity. Make a list starting with senior civil servants, teachers, commentators, senior managers . . .

It’s possible to salvage a test from this Irish-made fiasco. Prominent people were tested for ability and integrity. Those who failed should leave the stage and live quietly in modest comfort – and have the decency to remain silent.

As the likelihood of Labour participation in government approaches certainty, old and divisive views resurface. We are back yet again to opposing coalition with liberals and conservatives. This time it is wrapped in a desire to make common cause with fringe leftists but this too has been seen before: remember the rise of the Workers Party. Let’s separate the two ( i. The question of coalition with FF or FG; and ii. the question of coalition with small leftist parties) and then finish with a proposal.

The question of coalition with FF or FG.

Yes, it is true that coalition has disappointed Irish socialists. Yes, it is true that coalition has underachieved. Yes, it is true that coalition did not significantly alter the structures of power and inequality in Ireland. BUT yes, it is also true that coalition is a tactic not a political perspective or even a programme. Two points need to be made. Firstly coalitions involving Labour have not been failures. Secondly, the extent to which they disappointed socialists may have been due to a lack of thought and imagination among socialists themselves.

The weakness of and danger to Labour in coalition has been the lack of a clear political ambition in preparing for coalition. The problem today on the left is the same as it was in the 70s/80s when Labour was tearing itself asunder over coalition: there is no coherent leftist objective. The best argument on offer is that leftist policies are more likely to restore the kind of prosperity which Ireland enjoyed before “the crisis”.

These arguments are compelling and deserve support. It is clear that familiar socialist approaches offer a better chance of recovery and have the added attraction that they give a degree of protection to the poor. The liberal arguments which stand against them are essentially daft and will not achieve the liberal goal of a prosperous society. In short, Labour retains its status as the political wing of St. Vincent DePaul and becomes the fount of Keynesian sense and decency. This is an honourable position but it is not enough.

Ok, following an extended period in which market fundamentalism became the religion of the chattering classes, it is relatively progressive to offer mildly distributive policies which will stimulate growth but – again and particularly in a time of unprecedented openness to ideas – it is not enough.

TASC’s open letter is an excellent example. It seeks to maintain and expand a functioning economy by way of avoiding cuts in public spending, and stimulating investment including public infrastructural projects. It calls for a measure of equality by way of taxing wealth and high income, and by way of fighting poverty/low income. Frankly, only a maniac would argue against this. It must be done but it is not enough for a party needing to be inspiring and unique. 

It is time to offer something imaginative, something progressive, a different social objective. This is a variation on Rosa’s view that the purpose of a socialist party is to advance the policy that no other party can: Let’s make increased equality and particularly greater equality of income the objective of all policies. In other words, unless a policy will SIGNIFICANTLY NARROW THE GAP between high and low incomes, let’s leave it to liberal or conservative parties.

Think about it. The reason for voting Labour and the price of coalition with Labour is real change: the measurable and significant flattening of income levels.

The question of coalition with small leftist parties.

There is a strange belief among some Labour members that small means socialist or at least in some sense progressive and that an alliance would somehow lead to a left of centre majority. This fantasy sits easily with a strong opposition to dealing with liberal and conservative parties and is encouraged by journalists who are essentially egalitarian but antipathetic to Labour. They are, however, aware that by far the largest bloc of progressive politics in Ireland is the Labour Party.

A basic problem is that even if there were a real meeting of minds within this group, the numbers don’t amount to anything like a majority.

There isn’t, however, a meeting of minds. Coalition with such groups is at least as daunting as with either FF or FG. The explicitly socialist groups dislike Labour and tend to cleave to doctrines and analysis which addresses earlier manifestations of capitalism than that which we now face. The media appearance of their arguments serves to deride socialism, making socialism appear silly and irrelevant. Other parties are simply not socialist or even predominantly leftist. They certainly have socialist members who have subordinated their leftist sentiments to another project, be it environmentalism or aggressive nationalism. Incidentally, the same could be said of members of the two major parties.

Radical or redundant

Forget fantasies about building a coalition of leftist splinters. Forget liberal and conservative policies and leave them to the parties to whom they belong. The sensible approach for Labour is to seek coalition NOT on the basis of anything like easily agreed policy but on the basis of policy that a liberal or conservative party could not possibly initiate.

A drive for greater equality and particularly equality of income would be popular and inspiring. In Britain even David Cameron is aware of public sentiment. He has called for a ceiling in public service pay of 20 times the lowest pay. Figures are up for debate but how about 10 times in the public sector, in companies in which the state has ownership and in companies awarded state contracts?