The Last Paper Column

This will read a little strangely. It’s unedited from the version as it appears in the paper.

Alas This is Fake
The Paper Gives Me A Decent Send-Off

This is the last Micro Cosmopolitan in the City Tribune. I’m leaving the paper. After sixteen years – can you believe it? So much has changed over that time. Why back then there was a Fine Gael/Labour government.

I’m going to miss it badly; in particular, being able to say “I write for a paper”. There was something grand about that. But the world is changing, rapidly. Instead of being a columnist, I’ll be a blogger. Instead of it appearing once a week it will be several times a day. Instead of writing on Wednesday for you to read on Friday, it’ll be instant comment on events as they happen. There will be cartoons too, and you’ll be able to have your own say.

I gave you the address before, but now there’s a new and much shorter one – “I doubt it”. Simply type I.doubt.it and you go straight there. Neat, no? Just dots between the words, no W’s or nothin’. And if you don’t like going to websites you can receive it by email for free. Those of you without computers may find that you can read it perfectly well on your phone.

Otherwise though, you’re stuck. This is the sad fact about the way things are going. You won’t have to buy a daily paper, but you’ll need a machine. In the time I’ve been at the Tribune, the publishing industry has changed out of all recognition. I am fortunate perhaps to have started back when we were still something you might recognise as a “classic” newspaper. I actually brought my column in on a piece of paper, held in my fist. Someone had to type it out again. That almost seems crazy now.

1995 wasn’t quite back in the age of typewriters though. The paper had Macs, and I had a primitive sort of word processor you would point and laugh at now. There was just no way these two computers could communicate with each other. Two years later, while doing volunteer work in South Africa, I started e-mailing my stories. I soon had a computer of my own, and though I couldn’t yet afford an Internet connection – and certainly, not a Mac – I was bringing my stories in on floppy disk. And now… Well, we’ve cut out the paper altogether.

I mean, the whole newspaper.

The business is going through a crisis. On one hand it’s being squeezed by new media; I get a large proportion of my news from blogs, from upstart online-only papers, even from Twitter. Now it’s the papers that can’t afford to buy Macs. The oldest mass medium can and will adapt, they have the core skills that are essential for gathering and recounting the news. But they have to find new ways to make it pay, and they need to do that now – right in the middle of the worst recession since the war.

You support those skills when you read the print version of the Tribune, so I hope you will continue to get it – even without me. And do tell all your friends who stopped buying it while I was here.

http://I.doubt.it – Think of me whenever you hear a politician speak.

Love and out,

Richard Chapman

Here Comes A Government, Just Like The Other One

It seems the election was just some sort of weird dream we had.

Ireland’s new government will stick to the fiscal targets laid down in an EU/IMF rescue package, a source familiar with the coalition deal agreed between the two main political parties said on Sunday. ~ Reuters

Taoiseach-in-waiting Enda Kenny has conceded that his government is unlikely to burn senior bondholders in the banks, despite Fine Gael’s pre-election promises. ~ Irish Examiner

So the parties decide to drop what most would consider the central planks of their campaigns, not only backing away from making the senior bondholders pay for their mistakes but agreeing to the original timetable rather than Labour’s (minor) blow-softening of an extra year. Two thirds of the fiscal adjustment will still come from cutbacks, rather than the 50/50 split with tax increases Labour wanted. Essentially, Labour are adopting FG’s manifesto – and Fine Gael are adopting Fianna Fáil’s.

Why, when it cannot work?

Because no plan can work – none at least that requires the exchequer to miraculously break even in just a few years. The only way we could make our income balance our expenditure that soon is by burning down the country for the insurance.

“the coalition agreement, clinched after midnight, seems designed to curry favor with the fiscally conservative Germans” ~ Reuters again

Ah. I get it. The CDU won our election.

So it’s a sort of masochism tactic. Look, we’re taking our medicine. Watch us whip ourselves bloody. They hope that by showing a snivelling level of victimhood they will eventually elicit the pity – and the funds – we need to stop the economy smashing into the landscape.

Bjørn Sigurdsøn, SCANPIX
Angela Merkel discusses Enda Kenny's Fiscal Rectitude with her girlfriends

TAOISEACH-in-waiting Enda Kenny has conceded that his government is unlikely to burn senior bondholders in the banks, despite Fine Gael’s pre-election promises.

Parties Appeal For Food Aid From China

OK, they ordered takeout. Things aren’t quite that bad, yet. Fine Gael and Labour have been shut in negotiations all day. Outside meanwhile, look what happened to Pat Rabitte’s car. A rich vein there from which to dig metaphor and prognostication. Let’s just say that if Labour go into government, they’re liable to find themselves clamped firmly by the round bits.

I think I would prefer if they did however. Though in all probability it will be bad for them, without them on board it will be worse for humans.

But I want to lay down a marker here, otherwise in five years (or sooner), Fianna Fáil will be saying “Look, this government did even worse than we did.” In five years time we will be worse off than we are now – no matter who is in government. Though the foundations of the house-of-cards economy have been kicked out, it has yet to finish falling down.

Of course things are going to get worse. Right now nobody has any idea for a solution that won’t actually exacerbate the situation. Raise taxes, cut public spending, borrow at ruinous interest rates – these will all further depress the economy an already ravaged economy. That will accelerate emigration, further shrinking the tax base. And as fewer people want to live here, house values will fall further and mass mortgage default become more likely, destroying the value of assets that the public now hold. What they’re arguing over, right now, is exactly which combination of these ‘solutions’ will be least disastrous.

If in five years the place is not actually a burning wasteland patrolled by packs of feral horses, the next government won’t have done too badly.

The 360° Revolution

360 CartoonIt is finally, officially, over. And no more damning political verdict has ever been rendered in the history of this or many another country. Even the pro-union vote in 1918 was larger. It’s shocking that they got seventeen percent, that thousands were still ready to put their party before their country. This kind of unthinking loyalty is like a set of shackles on Irish politics. But perhaps it is broken now.

So I am torn between expressing relief at having thrown off the worse government we have ever had, and lamenting the fact that we have given a mandate to a party whose ideology and economic approach are so similar that it takes at least an hour to explain to interested foreigners why they are separate parties at all. It is a hell of an anticlimax, and frankly I am a little depressed. (Though the fact that I got about one night’s worth of sleep during the whole count probably isn’t helping there.) Was all that anger just for this, all that upheaval to deliver no change? Have we had a 360 degree revolution?

There is only one real advantage. The new administration will not have been busy sharing the good times with the rich and the powerful – well, not for fourteen years anyway. This will make them somewhat more disinterested and honest. But it’s not as if they’re chosen from a whole other class of innocent outsiders. Their interests are not the interests of the average person, and certainly not the interests of the poorer person. For Christ’s sake, the chairman of Anglo Irish is a former leader of Fine Gael. Didn’t anybody think that might be a bit of a bad sign?

But Kenny must get his one hundred days or whatever is the suitably polite interval, his chance to come up with a brilliant solution to escape the chains the last government left us in. Can he?

No. Sure he’s going to renegotiate the bailout deal. But by that he means begging for a slightly lower interest rate. That is not a negotiating position. A slightly lower interest rate on a debt we will never be able to pay back anyway, that is going to crush our economy back to 1940s levels? That is not an improvement of the situation. It’s an avoidance of reality.

What would I say to a meeting of Eurozone heads of state? What would you say?

“We cannot afford to borrow money to pay debts unjustly created for us by a previous, corrupt government. Indeed we cannot afford to borrow enough money for even the minimum necessary level of public expenditure, at this or any interest rate. Therefore we will pay ourselves in our own currency. In other words, we’re leaving the euro. This will be painful for us, what with soaring import prices, but the euro will almost certainly collapse so it will be even more painful for you. Sorry, but it’s that or we sacrifice the health, future, lives of our people in order to reward the selfish and greedy actions of a ludicrously wealthy banking industry.”

That is a negotiating position.

How The Hell Did We Get Here?

So the leaders of Fine Gael and Labour have begun the slow waltz that will lead, almost inevitably, to the closest thing to national government I believe the constitution allows. But is that what we need, or would an independent-supported Fine Gael minority administration be the best outcome for Ireland?

It is a faintly scary proposition. I argued earlier that Fine Gael was a more right-wing party even than Fianna Fáil, but I didn’t justify it. As German public radio’s correspondent said on Radio 1 yesterday, from abroad it’s hard to see any difference between [what until yesterday were] the two major parties. In what way is FG the further right?

It is very hard to nail these two parties to traditional axes. FF has – or rather, had – more of a working class vote, and seemed to be (or managed to cultivate the image of being) more generous with welfare. But many would call that populism rather than socialism, buying off the poorest so as to preserve privileges.

In some senses – certainly, in the American liberal sense – Fine Gael are on the left. They were far clearer about separating church and state, more keen to push for contraception, divorce and women’s rights. But then again, they are seen as the party of law and order, the favoured party of the Gardaí (police), by instinct ready – even eager – to introduce draconian measures.

Fine Gael were traditionally the party of business, the professions, farming. But in recent years Fianna Fáil have become closely identified with the finance industry and the property development and construction sectors. Who is the more lefty there?

It’s a conundrum, but an easily explained one. They don’t easily fit into a left-right mould because neither ever set out to. Unlike the Labour party, they weren’t founded to represent a segment of society. They were national movements. They wanted all of society. Or at least, that majority of society that did not identify with British administration.

Originally of course, the same national movement. To cut a very long story very short, it split over whether to compromise with the British and form a government, or to keep fighting. Almost inevitably therefore one faction would be characterised as more conservative and authoritarian, while the other managed to cling on to the mantle of national popular movement.

The seed of a left-right orientation can be seen there. However that very quickly became more a matter of image than ideology, as Fianna Fáil slipped into the dangerous role of ‘natural party of government’, and Fine Gael that of ‘only realistic alternative’. Though you – or an ancestor – may once have been on one side of a deep ideological divide, and though of course the rhetoric was still occasionally used, the predominant reason for voting for one over the other was that one was your crowd and the other was the other crowd.

Now that is a mould that this election seems to have broken. Traditional FF voters turned their back on their crowd’s politicos in unprecedented numbers. People are calling it the ‘end of Civil War politics’. But where are we now? Replacing a heavily pro-capitalist party that many will argue was actually too generous to the poor and influenced by the unions, with a heavily pro-capitalist party in partnership with a moderate socialist one. There seems to have been roughly zero change ideologically.

But what’s even worse is that we’re swapping a Fianna Fáil Taoiseach for a Fine Gael one, just as we have done every single time that we have changed administrations since these parties came into being, getting on for a century ago. Even in the direst of circumstances,. the election has changed nothing except the faces.

Will we ever change the “Your side is worse no your side is” political zero-sum game? Maybe the only way is for Labour to stay in opposition, until they are given the mandate to change it.

*          *          *

I’ll get back to this soon. Now though it’s time for the latest Galway West recount – the one we all hope will be the last count of the election.

Yeah, right.

How The Hell Did We Get Here?

So the leaders of Fine Gael and Labour have begun the slow waltz that will lead, almost inevitably, to the closest thing to national government I believe the constitution allows. But is that what we need, or would an independent-supported Fine Gael minority administration be the best outcome for Ireland?

It is a faintly scary proposition. I argued earlier that Fine Gael was a more right-wing party even than Fianna Fáil, but I didn’t justify it. As German public radio’s correspondent said on Radio 1 yesterday, from abroad it’s hard to see any difference between [what until yesterday were] the two major parties. In what way is FG the further right?

It is very hard to nail these two parties to traditional axes. FF has – or rather, had – more of a working class vote, and seemed to be (or managed to cultivate the image of being) more generous with welfare. But many would call that populism rather than socialism, buying off the poorest so as to preserve privileges.

In some senses – certainly, in the American liberal sense – Fine Gael are on the left. They were far clearer about separating church and state, more keen to push for contraception, divorce and women’s rights. But then again, they are seen as the party of law and order, the favoured party of the Gardaí (police), by instinct ready – even eager – to introduce draconian measures.

Fine Gael were traditionally the party of business, the professions, farming. But in recent years Fianna Fáil have become closely identified with the finance industry and the property development and construction sectors. Who is the more lefty there?

It’s a conundrum, but an easily explained one. They don’t easily fit into a left-right mould because neither ever set out to. Unlike the Labour party, they weren’t founded to represent a segment of society. They were national movements. They wanted all of society. Or at least, that majority of society that did not identify with British administration.

Originally of course, the same national movement. To cut a very long story very short, it split over whether to compromise with the British and form a government, or to keep fighting. Almost inevitably therefore one faction would be characterised as more conservative and authoritarian, while the other managed to cling on to the mantle of national popular movement.

The seed of a left-right orientation can be seen there. However that very quickly became more a matter of image than ideology, as Fianna Fáil slipped into the dangerous role of ‘natural party of government’, and Fine Gael that of ‘only realistic alternative’. Though you – or an ancestor – may once have been on one side of a deep ideological divide, and though of course the rhetoric was still occasionally used, the predominant reason for voting for one over the other was that one was your crowd and the other was the other crowd.

Now that is a mould that this election seems to have broken. Traditional FF voters turned their back on their crowd’s politicos in unprecedented numbers. People are calling it the ‘end of Civil War politics’. But where are we now? Replacing a heavily pro-capitalist party that many will argue was actually too generous to the poor and influenced by the unions, with a heavily pro-capitalist party in partnership with a moderate socialist one. There seems to have been roughly zero change ideologically.

But what’s even worse is that we’re swapping a Fianna Fáil Taoiseach for a Fine Gael one, just as we have done every single time that we have changed administrations since these parties came into being, getting on for a century ago. Even in the direst of circumstances,. the election has changed nothing except the faces.

Will we ever change the “Your side is worse no your side is” political zero-sum game? Maybe the only way is for Labour to stay in opposition, until they are given the mandate to change it.

*          *          *

I’ll get back to this soon. Now though it’s time for the latest Galway West recount – the one we all hope will be the last count of the election.

Yeah, right.

First Concrete Impressions

Exit polls are the snacks you shouldn’t eat between meals, but if you place any credence in them then Fianna Fáil are about to have the worst day in their party’s history.

The big winners will be… Independents. Independents would have overtaken the Fianna Fáil party to become the third-largest political grouping.

As the counts begin to come in, one very hopeful trend emerging: The fall of dynasties. Names like Haughey, like Flynn, will no longer be appearing in the Dáil. High time.

Major trends: In Dublin, Fianna Fáil voters switching to Labour, outside Dublin they’re switching to Fine Gael.

Left/right, urban/rural axis seems to be slowly taking place of old ‘civil war’ one?

Interesting-but-weird: Transfers from Sinn Féin going to Fine Gael. Again quite contrary to historical loyalty patterns.

Fun: A Christian Solidarity Party candidate (read: far right) very upset that his party logo didn’t appear on the ballot paper, and was replaced with what he describes as a ‘picture of nuts’.

Get Up and Vote

P45 CartoonWe should be having a revolution here. Instead, if polls are to be believed, we may be electing a government even further to the right, even more willing to elevate rich over poor, than the one we are throwing away.

Don’t believe the polls, it’s too easy for such prophecies to become self-fulfilling. There is everything to play for right to the end. Which is why I’m up at 3:00 writing this so you can read it before you leave in the morning. It isn’t too late to send a message to all the political parties, to their wealthy friends, to the other countries of the EU. We are in a hole that was not made by the ordinary people of Ireland, and certainly not by those who are going to suffer the most because of it. The message is that we will not put up with this shit.

Don’t vote for Fine Gael to punish Fianna Fáil. There are much better punishments. Vote for people who don’t mince words about repudiating the awful “bailout” arrangement. That’s there to save the Euro, not us. Remember we have a hostage.

This means voting for out-there parties like the United Left Alliance – or even Sinn Féin. Few things would give the establishment more pause than a substantial rise in the SF vote. It also means voting for Labour, even if I am disappointed on the stand they’ve taken. Or lack thereof. Essentially we need Labour in government if there is to be any hope of the next few years not turning into an orgy of punishment for the poor.

Please, get out there now and warn those who act like they own us. Remind them where power really comes from.

Meanwhile, back in Galway West

My own constituency is going to go to the wire. While there are some laudable independents running, I don’t personally think any of them have a chance – except the ones who are independent more in name than in outlook. These are Noel Grealish, the ‘last PD’, and Labour’s lost candidate Catherine Connolly. It seems very likely that the final seat will be between these two, and I hardly need to tell you which is the vastly preferable outcome.

Indeed I like Catherine Connolly better than Labour’s official candidate, Derek Nolan. I’ll be putting her ahead in my order, and I hope a lot of others do too. I believe Galway West can elect them both.

And there may be an extra trick that more daring voters can play, if Kernan Andrews in the Galway Advertiser is correct:

Senator Healy Eames needs to outpoll Deputy Grealish and stay ahead of him to ensure she takes the seat. If she does, she will knock Grealish out and this will free up the last two seats for the Galway Left – which means victories for Labour’s Derek Nolan and Independent Catherine Connolly.

So that’s my only FG vote – Senator Fidelma Healy-Eames. Remember that name. She may help us simultaneously finish off the last PD and elect, for the first time in the history of Galway West, a second TD on the left.

Which… would be nice.

Get Up and Vote

P45 CartoonWe should be having a revolution here. Instead, if polls are to be believed, we may be electing a government even further to the right, even more willing to elevate rich over poor, than the one we are throwing away.

Don’t believe the polls, it’s too easy for such prophecies to become self-fulfilling. There is everything to play for right to the end. Which is why I’m up at 3:00 writing this so you can read it before you leave in the morning. It isn’t too late to send a message to all the political parties, to their wealthy friends, to the other countries of the EU. We are in a hole that was not made by the ordinary people of Ireland, and certainly not by those who are going to suffer the most because of it. The message is that we will not put up with this shit.

Don’t vote for Fine Gael to punish Fianna Fáil. There are much better punishments. Vote for people who don’t mince words about repudiating the awful “bailout” arrangement. That’s there to save the Euro, not us. Remember we have a hostage.

This means voting for out-there parties like the United Left Alliance – or even Sinn Féin. Few things would give the establishment more pause than a substantial rise in the SF vote. It also means voting for Labour, even if I am disappointed on the stand they’ve taken. Or lack thereof. Essentially we need Labour in government if there is to be any hope of the next few years not turning into an orgy of punishment for the poor.

Please, get out there now and warn those who act like they own us. Remind them where power really comes from.

Meanwhile, back in Galway West

My own constituency is going to go to the wire. While there are some laudable independents running, I don’t personally think any of them have a chance – except the ones who are independent more in name than in outlook. These are Noel Grealish, the ‘last PD’, and Labour’s lost candidate Catherine Connolly. It seems very likely that the final seat will be between these two, and I hardly need to tell you which is the vastly preferable outcome.

Indeed I like Catherine Connolly better than Labour’s official candidate, Derek Nolan. I’ll be putting her ahead in my order, and I hope a lot of others do too. I believe Galway West can elect them both.

And there may be an extra trick that more daring voters can play, if Kernan Andrews in the Galway Advertiser is correct:

Senator Healy Eames needs to outpoll Deputy Grealish and stay ahead of him to ensure she takes the seat. If she does, she will knock Grealish out and this will free up the last two seats for the Galway Left – which means victories for Labour’s Derek Nolan and Independent Catherine Connolly.

So that’s my only FG vote – Senator Fidelma Healy-Eames. Remember that name. She may help us simultaneously finish off the last PD and elect, for the first time in the history of Galway West, a second TD on the left.

Which… would be nice.

Ireland – Read This And Pass It On

Rightwards CartoonDammit, I am not looking forward to life under Enda. The reason Fianna Fáil went so wrong is that they were far too involved on a personal basis with business, banking and property. Fine Gael are meant to be the cure for that? Hmm.

Over the last ten years or so, the idea prevailed that if you let banks go crazy they’d magic up enough money for everyone. Since this failed so disastrously, you might think we’d consider voting for the sole major party that wasn’t in favour of it. Yet instead we’re going from one lot of laissez-faire capitalists to another. This is like voting for five more years of British rule after the Great Famine.

For the first time in our entire history, Ireland had a real chance of returning a mildly socialist government. Not a Labour overall majority, but at least a government led by the left. Yet even after the parties of the right destroyed the country, we still do not. Incredibly, there’s even a small danger of electing the furthest-right government we’ve ever had – a single-party Fine Gael administration. I almost wish that on the electorate. Go on, do it. Find out for yourselves just how right-wing Fine Gael can be without the moderating influence of Labour.

(God no, don’t. It would be like staring into the unmasked face of the national id.)

Why, even when kicked and spat on, are we incapable of voting for real change? It’s true Labour failed to present themselves as well as they might, and I don’t think Gilmore is their most impressive leader ever. But Christ, look at Kenny. There has to be more to it. Labour started dropping in the polls when voters decided that Kenny was the clear favourite in the race to be Taoiseach. They chose him like punters choose a horse. In other words, a substantial number of people out there vote not for what seems just, or even for what they think is necessary. They vote for who they think is going to win.

It’s insane, it’s stupid, but people do it anyway because it gives them a sense of being on the winning side. Like Man United supporters – only they get to decide our laws. As soon as it became clear that Enda Kenny was most fancied, people started clustering around him. The media unconsciously give him a softer ride (as they did with Brian, and Bertie, and…), suddenly he no longer looks like an uptight, ineffectual bumbler. Well actually he still does, but he’s going to be Emperor now so shut up about his nakedness.

People who vote like that deserve bad government, deserve to have their money stolen by laughing rich people. But they are not all of us. Don’t live in a country where that kind of person decides your fate. If you’re reading this on Friday and you haven’t voted yet, get up from the computer and run. Run to the polling station.

Or just keep on running. Let’s face it, the place is going to shite.