Kathy Sheridan and the Modern Prince

Kathy Sheridan, Irish Times Liberal-about-town and crusader of the collapsing centre, responsible for gems like this, is reacting to the Grenfell tower disaster and the UK election. She has some thoughts.

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The hot take is quite simple: Corbyn and May, bemoans our Kathy, are two sides of the same coin. Given their clearly different political visions (as demonstrated by the fact that they both produced manifestos saying exactly what they intended to do) it’s unclear what exactly she means by ‘two sides of the same coin’. Indeed, the UK election may have seen some of the most clearly defined political and ideological battle-lines since the 80s. Let’s soldier on and see if she can make herself clearer.

The sub-headline reads: ‘Labour leader may have handled the Grenfell disaster better but he is flawed too.’ I don’t deny this is true but it’s sufficiently banal that the names and actions could be replaced with anything else conceivable and still more or less make sense:

  • Morris might have eaten more sausages than Seán but he is flawed too.
  • Sinéad O’Connor may be a better singer than former Finnish president Tarja Halonen but she is flawed too.
  • Cats may have more fur than Irish Times Columnists but they are flawed too.

Some light could possibly be shed on all this by examining her column from the previous week, in which she attributed May’s election disaster to her own personal failings. An element of truth in that certainly, but the defining feature of the election was policies not personalities. For a centrist who imagines politics simply to be a matter of following the rules and doing just enough to sell neo-liberalism to the great unwashed this may be unimaginable, but it is what happened. Tellingly, her post-election piece contained the following.

If your pig-headed, 14-year-old with the edgy boyfriend took the family car and crashed it into a wall, you would probably be teary eyed at her contrite apology and her promise to ditch the boyfriend and consult all round before indulging in any further japes with family property.

. . . May, a grown woman, did that to a country.

Not sure what to make of that but it’s telling that nowhere does Sheridan mention the Labour Party, manifestos or policies, the latter of which she likely considers ancillary unless they relate to EU membership.

Incidentally, if my pig-headed 14-year-old with the edgy boyfriend regularly wrote the sort of muck that Sheridan does she’d be sent off to boarding school. You’ve been warned Sorcha.

This week’s column comes out fighting, or at least shouting. The central claim being a (kinda) defence of May’s refusal to visit Grenfell residents and an attack on the comparably positive reaction to Corbyn’s handling of the disaster.

You can only admire the stamina of Jeremy Corbyn. By the weekend, the 68-year-old had surely hugged the entire populace of north Kensington and environs. His characteristically hangdog persona exuded humility, tears and empathy – and something new. Still jubilant from losing the general election to the Tories less catastrophically than expected, he walked among his people under showers of pixie dust, as the world’s media – the ones not busy struggling to decode the DUP’s DNA – scrambled for a look at the man who had defied all predictions of extinction. Zero to hero in a few weeks.

Perhaps reflecting on how the media (i.e you) were so utterly clueless with regard to what was going on in UK politics and society may prompt some self-examination, Kathy? Or maybe we just need a British Macron. Yeah, we need a British Macron. He’ll be called Mr Hamish Shirewood-Macronington and he’ll sort all this out.

By the way, notice how she dismisses an election which saw Corbyn’s Labour Party gain its biggest vote increase since Clement Atlee by using the (already-tired) trope of ‘Hate to break up the party guys, but he did lose’? Even the people employing this shite don’t really believe that the election was anything but a triumph for Corbynism. In Sheridan’s case the fact that just one week ago she wrote a column excoriating May for an electoral disaster would suggest that, on some level at least, she understands that it was the opposite of a disaster for the main opposition party. Or so one would hope.

Meanwhile, Corbyn’s lifelong avoidance of power has rendered him untouchable. The beauty of fashioning long, political careers out of protest and making the right noises while avoiding responsibility and consequences have nothing to fear from angry voters. So Corbyn can slug it out with the queen in the empathy stakes and bask in the contrast with scaredy cat May. Right now, he owns the hugs and tears territory because he seems sincere but also because he remains untested.

Lately Corbyn has been avoiding power through the unusual means of aggressively attempting to become Prime Minister. It’s also worth noting that to your average empty-headed centrist cliché-peddler, the very notion that articulating, arguing for and working towards a political vision consistently, and then refusing to compromise on that vision by stampeding to the Blairite centre (de-regulating banks, selling off the NHS and bombing Iraq along the way) can only be understood as a bizarre form of careerism. If anything, Corbyn’s consistency is precisely why people like him. They like his politics. They voted for those politics. They did so because the politics of the neo-liberal centre have been tried and they have failed spectacularly. Again, this is an idea utterly alien to someone like Sheridan who sees politics in fundamentally managerial terms. The neoliberal rules of the game are always the same. Until, of course, the rules get thrown out the window by the electorate.

We look at political leaders and fantasise about what a composite of them might be. Someone with dignity, energy and a well-stocked mind; someone who listens without ego; who has the moral authority to change course from a cherished goal, humble enough to admit it and to explain why; someone who does not pull moronically transparent strokes or patronise the people with simplistic narratives. Someone who is cunning, yet steadfast and decent; who instinctively recognises the boundary between building warm relationships with world leaders and licking their toes; who plays a long game and is incapable of putting party before country; someone who doesn’t feel the need to be a gas card, to have a quip for every lad up a ladder, or to have a pint with every voter. Someone who doesn’t want to be our new friend; someone who seeks not to divide but to appeal to our better selves; who engenders hope and a can-do spirit by fostering quality and fairness in everything they touch, beginning with housing, jobs, education, healthcare and laws that favour the greedy. How hard can it be?

Actually, most people don’t give a shit about any of that. In the UK, people voted en masse for policies and manifestos, not amorphous leadership qualities. They’re a lot smarter than you give them credit for, Kathy. It’s the commentariat who are fixated on managerial leadership and PR spinnery. Luckily, that commentariat looks increasingly sad, discredited and irrelevant.

Incidentally, I can imagine quite a few broadsheet columnists reading out that last quoted paragraph, looking at a Macron election poster and masturbating furiously.

We can dream. More realistically, maybe, the question is less about what we want or expect from our leaders than what we can do to protect ourselves from them when they turn bad. Checks and balances were supposed to protect America and Britain from autocratic leaders. How’s that working out?

Reasonably well.

It goes without saying that neither of Sheridan’s columns since the UK election are worth reading. They contain little in the way of analysis and are incoherent in their fury. They are also just incoherent. Indeed, as political developments take place that are just utterly beyond their already-frayed intellectual apparatus, the cretinous centre seem increasingly unable to respond with anything but inchoate dismay.

This isn’t so much an opinion piece as a temper tantrum by a liberal struggling to make sense of a world she simply can’t comprehend anymore (and never really did).

 

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The Amazing, Evolving Taoiseach

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Bit late to getting a Cork Irish Examiner membership so missed this moving piece from Alison O’Connor, another in the genre of ‘Area Man Becomes Taoiseach Before Onset of Middle Age‘. Once again, Varadkar’s simultaneously brash and introverted personality is to the fore.

I heard of someone meeting Varadkar at a function. To break the ice, the person said they were from near where some of Varadkar’s down-the-country relatives live. Now, this would be grasped as a golden opportunity for a typical Irish politician to break into a “seed, breed and generation” type of discussion. But the response from Leo? Dead air.

Now, this would be grasped as a rather tedious description of a man with poor social skills. Though one suspects Leo saves his more enthusiastic responses for King’s Hospital Old Boys.

Whereas Noel Whelan was aghast at the mere fact of Leo being young(ish), Alison O’Connor is also stunned by the fact that he actually continues to age.

That is the kernel of what is fascinating about him. He remains a work in progress. As he said himself, at his first Q&A with journalists, last Friday night, he is “evolving”.

Into a Charizard? Or just a slightly different, older version of himself? Like all humans everywhere since forever?

What is (especially) strange about O’Connor’s article is that she seems to be almost about to break into some sort of politically-informed criticisms of the new head of government but again and again is dragged back into her own silly trope of ‘maturity’. For example, Varadkar’s Iona-esque moralising against abortion is explained as an example of his childishness and underdeveloped political sophistication.

The conservative TD and medical doctor, as he was described at that time, in a report in this newspaper, went on to give a really good example of why his colleagues would have considered him immature.

Elaborating on the abortion question and the thousands of Irishwomen who travel to the UK for terminations each year, he resorted to the offensive flippancy that used to be one of his hallmarks. He essentially compared abortion to gambling and prostitution. It was rather a wow moment.

I’m not sure if this is immature or simply an unfiltered and accurate reflection of his own awful opinions. Moreover, O’Connor never states clearly whether her problem is with Leo being in favour of having Lucinda Creighton and Paul Bradford sit on the chests of pregnant women until their due date, or with expressing this opinion in an overly dismissive way. One would assume the former is worse than the latter, unless you’re a liberal whose primary concern is that politics remains a polite, convivial and orderly discussion between technocrats.

It’s always interesting to observe a new leader of the country, but it is impossible to say how anyone, despite their record, longevity, or even their consistency, will perform in that role.

This cretinous banality belongs in the introduction of an undergraduate essay.

The obvious question is whether there might be more maturing to be done, on the job.

The content of this ‘maturing’ is rather opaque. Though one suspects it consists of refining his rhetoric while maintaining and implementing his Thatcherite principles.

Of course, given the media enthusiasm for Leo Varadkar and his 21st Century Politics, we shouldn’t be surprised to find this same fervour reflected by the public.

Fine Gael 29% (+1)

Oh right yeah.

Harry Potter Returns

JK Rowling, in a desperate bid to win young people back to Blairism, has written another thirteen titles in the Harry Potter series with a much more overt focus on the political and economic issues of the wizarding world.

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Harry Potter and the Triangulated Tax Scheme

Harry Potter and the Shower of Bastards

Harry Potter and the Passive Aggressive Unfollow

Harry Potter and the Blast of Reality

Harry Potter and the Barley of Winter

Harry Potter and the Intellectual Bankruptcy of Centrist Neoliberal Technocracy

Harry Potter and the Plate of Biscuits

Harry Potter and the Collected Works of Anthony Giddens

Harry Potter and the Flaff of Floom

Harry Potter and the Out-of-Touch Author

Harry Potter and the Devastating Twitter Takedown

Harry Potter and the Decline of the Potteries

Harry Potter and the Blairites’ Lament

Noel Whelan Pens Ode to Youth

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In a week where certain sections of the UK commentariat seem to have convinced themselves that their own offspring are on the verge of joining the red guards and destroying the four olds (old customs, old culture, old habits and Nick Cohen), it’s good to see at least one of our own is willing to celebrate how the yoofs are changing up politics.

The most remarkable thing about the fact that Leo Varadkar will be elected taoiseach next week is not that he is gay or the son of an immigrant but that he is so young and that he has reached the highest political office in our system just 10 years after he first entered parliament.

Yes, it’s astonishing how someone who started from the lowly beginnings of wealthy child was able to reach the highest political office in the land. No doubt Noel Whelan would be equally impressed by wunderkinds such as Puyi, who managed to go from mewling infant to Emperor of China in less than two years. Really though, Whelan just can’t quite seem to wrap his head around the fact that Varadkar is young(ish)

At 38, he will be our youngest taoiseach ever and is almost three decades younger than his predecessor. Varadkar was born three years after Enda Kenny was first elected to Dáil Éireann. He will be the first child of the 1970s to become taoiseach; in fact born as he was in January 1979, he is almost a child of the 1980s.

Moreover, he was born two years after the Six Pistols’ appearance on the Bill Grundy show and almost ten years before the death of Klaus Fuchs. Noel is clearly very excited by all this. I’m not entirely sure why though. Perhaps he will elaborate?

He is the first of our senior politicians to be formed by the politics of the 21st-century.

Ah, I see. Could you elaborate on what exactly those are Noel?

The manner and pace with which Varadkar has come to the top job suggests he is highly organised, politically astute and ambitious not only for himself but in what he wants to achieve.

Yes, at no point anywhere in the article are Varadkar’s policies or politics ever mentioned, these being rather ancillary to the amazing fact that he is (kind of) young and ambitious in what he wants to achieve, whatever that may be. Nevertheless, we do get an insight into Leo’s meteoric rise to power.

Varadkar’s first politically precocious act was to run in the 1999 local elections when he was just 20 years of age. It was quite an electoral blooding. He polled just 380 first preferences as the party’s only candidate in the Mulhuddart electoral area, which was – and still is – very unfriendly territory for Fine Gael.

Mmkay.

When the local elections next came around in 2004 he ran in the Castleknock electoral area which is significantly more middle class and which was also the catchment for his father’s local GP practice.

Ah, here are those lowly beginnings.

As a rising star in Young Fine Gael he attracted a lot of young campaigners and a lot of financial support. There were no limits on local election spending at the time and the Varadkar campaign was as lavish as a general election effort.

This, I will remind you, is an article about the amazing and unprecedented rise of a precocious child prodigy who succeeded in spite of enjoying every imaginable advantage.

Such luck was only a small part of the story of his steady progress. He showed considerable political skill in being able to articulate public concerns (even criticisms) of the government while still being a prominent member of it.

Which is different to opportunistic hypocrisy due to many reasons, none of which I feel the need to mention.

He was also politically sophisticated in the manner in which he came out as gay to the public in January 2015. He chose his timing well, with the marriage equality referendum on the horizon. He also chose his medium well by doing it on radio in a lengthy personal profile with Miriam O Callaghan and by treating it in a matter of fact way. It was a carefully planned moment which managed to come across as authentic and unforced.

And yet the way you describe it, it almost comes across as crassly opportunistic. Still, at least we get an insight into Leo’s personality, which can best be described as confusing. Leo is ‘brash, bullish and a magnate for media coverage’ as well as ‘extraordinarily shy’, ‘quiet’ and ‘introverted.’ This then, is that rarest of creatures; Schrödinger’s Taoiseach. What then does the future hold for our new premier, who was born two decades after the moon landing and fourteen years before the release of the film ‘Alive’?

The first phase of the Varadkar premiership is likely to be fresh, energetic, structured and dramatic. It will need to be.

Okay, great. Honestly, I’d feel a little more reassured if he was also ‘in your face’, holistic and dynamic, but the poor kid’s barely out of nappies so I guess he still has plenty of time to develop those characteristics.