Archive for the Politics Category

Fintan O’Toole on “Heroic Failure: Brexit and the Politics of Pain”

Posted in Literature, Maynooth, Politics with tags , , , on December 6, 2018 by telescoper

Time for a tea break and a quick post about a very interesting event this afternoon at Maynooth featuring renowned Irish journalist and author Fintan O’Toole (whose regular columns in the Irish Times I read with great interest).

This event saw John O’Brennan, Director of the Centre for European and Eurasian Studies in Maynooth in conversation with Fintan on his new book, Heroic Failure: Brexit and the Politics of Pain. The book deals with the Brexit referendum, the chaos it unleashed in British politics and the challenges posed to the island of Ireland by a ‘No Deal Brexit’. In particular the book examines how a country that once had colonies is redefining itself as an oppressed nation requiring liberation; the dreams of revolutionary deregulation and privatization that drive Arron Banks, Nigel Farage and Jacob Rees-Mogg; and the silent rise of English nationalism, the force that dare not speak its name. He also discusses the fatal attraction of heroic failure, once a self-deprecating cult in a hugely successful empire that could well afford the occasional disaster: the Charge of the Light Brigade, or Franklin lost in the Arctic. Now failure is no longer heroic – it is just failure, and its terrible costs will be paid by the most vulnerable of Brexit’s supporters, and by those who may suffer the consequences of a hard border in Ireland and the breakdown of a fragile peace.

The discussion was so interesting – and Fintan O’Toole was so eloquent and amusing –  that I bought the book. The author was kind enough to sign it for me too!

There’s an extract printed on the cover that will give you a taste, but if you want more you’ll have to buy the book:

Of all the pleasurable emotions, self-pity is the one that most makes us want to be on our own…Only alone can we surrender completely to it and immerse ourselves in the steaming bath of hurt, outrage and tender regard for our terribly wronged selves. Brexit therefore makes sense of a nation that feels sorry for itself. The mystery, though, is how Britain, or more precisely England, came not to just experience this delightful sentiment but to define itself through it.

I only bought the book today so haven’t read it yet, but I will endeavour to write a review when I have.

Now back to the writing of lecture notes…

Advertisements

The Final Shootout

Posted in Film, Music, Politics with tags , , , , on December 6, 2018 by telescoper

“Only connect” they say so I thought I’d connect two topical items with this video clip of one of my favourite movie scenes.

The first item is that on 15th February next year the legendary composer Ennio Morricone will be conducting a concert of his music in Dublin. Moricone’s 90th birthday was on 10th November 2018.

The other thing is that the UK Parliament is currently debating the terms of Brexit. It seems that there are now only three options: accept Theresa May’s ugly Withdrawal Agreement, reject it and suffer a bad `No Deal’ Brexit or take the sensible, good choice of withdrawing Article 50, admitting it was all a terrible idea in the first place, and remaining in the European Union.

So here we are then, the climactic final shoot-out from Sergio Leone’s famous Spaghetti Western The Good The Bad And The Ugly, featuring Clint Eastwood, Eli Wallach and Lee Van Cleef respectively, together with superb (and very complex) music on the soundtrack from Morricone. We all know who wins in the end, at least in the film.

P.S. Hats off to the guitarist Alessandro Alessandroni (who also did the whistling on the soundtrack) producing that unforgettable twangy sound with a hint of scordatura

Where Government Ministers Come From..

Posted in Politics on November 28, 2018 by telescoper

We and They

Posted in Biographical, Literature, Politics with tags , , , , , , on November 25, 2018 by telescoper

All good people agree,
And all good people say,
All nice people, like Us, are We
And every one else is They.

(from `We and They‘, by Rudyard Kipling.)

A few days ago one of my colleagues here in Maynooth mentioned that he found it amusing that, although I’ve been living and working here in Ireland for less than a year, I have already taken to referring to the British as `They’ rather than `We’. He went on to point out that he noticed this transformation from First Person to Third Person some months ago.

I hadn’t realised that I was doing this, but I suppose it is a reflection of the fact that I have accepted that I will almost certainly be spending the rest of my working life in Ireland, and will probably end my days here too. It has taken relatively little time of observing Britain from the other side of the Irish Sea to recognize that it is changing into something grotesque and horrible. I want no part of what it is becoming, a squalid xenophobic rathole run by crooks, liars, and narrow-minded bigots. My new home is far from perfect, but it’s a damn sight better than Brexit Britain.

About a year ago I wrote (from Cardiff) about my reasons for moving to Maynooth. Here is a quote:

Because I’ve lived here all my life I thought I would find it difficult to leave Britain. I was quite traumatised by the Brexit referendum, as one would be by the death of a close relative, but it made me re-examine my life. There is a time when you have to move on, and that’s what I’m doing. I’m done here.

I haven’t changed my mind.

Not that I now consider myself fully Irish. Passport and citizenship notwithstanding, I still feel like a foreigner here and probably always will. I lived for over fifty years in Britain and do not have sufficient experience of Ireland to feel really part of it. Yet. That may come. But to appropriate the phrase Theresa May used in her Lancaster House speech last year I am proud to be for the time being, and perhaps forever, a `Citizen of Nowhere’. I don’t mind that, and a little bit of autobiography that might explain why I see things the way I do.

I was born in Wallsend (on Tyneside) in the North East of England. My parents were both born just before World War II started, also in the area where I was born. Of my four grandparents, one was born in England, one in Northern Ireland, one in Scotland, and one in Wales. I always smile when I had to put my nationality on a form, because I always put `United Kingdom’. Of course being born in England makes me English too, but I find that less defining than `UK’ or `British’ or even `Geordie’, and now of course there’s the Irish dimension. To be honest, my ancestry means that I generally find the whole concept of nationality fundamentally silly. I find nationalism silly too, except for those occasions – regrettably frequent nowadays – when nationalism takes on the guise of xenophobia. Then it is truly sinister. Nationalism is a tool by which unscrupulous individuals whip up hatred for political gain, regardless of the economic or social consequences. This is what lies behind Brexit.

Anyway, talking about Theresa May, it appears that the Prime Minister has written a letter to the British public asking for them to support her `deal’. I find it very curious that she has done this when, without another referendum or a General Election, the British public is denied any way of either expressing or withholding such support. Is this an admission that there will have to be another vote?

It appears from her letter that the PM is particularly happy about one aspect of the deal:

We will take back control of our borders, by putting an end to the free movement of people once and for all.

Apart from the fact that the UK always had control of its borders anyway, I find it absolutely astonishing that any politician could brag about removing from its own citizens the right to free movement across 27 countries. Freedom of movement was and is one of the great benefits of the European Union. Outside the EU, Theresa May’s `hostile environment’ in which all foreigners are viewed with suspicion and contempt will become even more hostile. It is just a matter of time before the unlawful deportations that the Home Office have inflicted on members of the Windrush generation will begin happening to Europeans currently living in the United Kingdom.

Towards the end of her awful letter, there is this:

We will then begin a new chapter in our national life. I want that to be a moment of renewal and reconciliation for our whole country. It must mark the point when we put aside the labels of ‘Leave’ and ‘Remain’ for good and we come together again as one people.

Excuse me, but the time for reconciliation was in the immediate aftermath of the 2016 Referendum result. Instead, Mrs May went out of her way to insult, denigrate and marginalize everyone who voted Remain; she never apologized for the `Citizens of Nowhere’ jibe and her pals in the right-wing added other pejoratives like ‘saboteur’ and ‘enemy of the people’. Like so many other things she says and does, Mrs May’s letter is so phony it is painful.

Worse, the Prime Minister has continued to insult European citizens working in the UK by accusing them of `jumping the queue’. It seems that the Prime Minister just can’t stop her deep-seated xenophobia showing itself from time to time. It’s her defining characteristic, and it is sure to be the defining characteristic of post-Brexit Britain.

Women-only Professorships in Ireland

Posted in Education, Politics with tags , , , , on November 16, 2018 by telescoper

Earlier this week the Irish Government made an announcement that has ruffled a few feathers: it aims to create a number of new senior positions at Professor level in Irish Universities that are open only to female candidates. I don’t know the details of how this scheme will work, but I understand that the positions will be targeted at subject (and perhaps geographical) areas in which there is a demonstrable gender imbalance and the scheme will cost about €6M.

Reactions to this among people I know have been very varied, so it seems a good topic on which to have a  simplistically binary poll:

For the record, I should state that I am broadly in favour of the idea, but I’d like to know more about how these positions will be allocated to institutions, how they will be advertised and how the recruitment will be done. I’ll also add that my main worry about this initiative is that it might distract attention away from the need for Irish higher education institutions to have much better promotion procedures; see, e.g. here. There are plenty of female lecturers in Irish universities, but they seem to face ridiculous difficulties getting promoted to Professorships.

 

 

What are we going to do now?

Posted in Politics, Television with tags , on November 15, 2018 by telescoper

On this tumultuous day in British politics, this blog is proud to be able to show exclusive behind-the-scenes footage of the Cabinet discussions at Number 10 Downing Street:

A Suspension of Hostilities

Posted in History, Politics with tags , , , , on November 11, 2018 by telescoper

Among all the images produced during this weekend’s commemorations of the centenary of Armistice Day, this image of Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron struck me as particularly moving.

Part of the reasons is that it reminded me of this photograph, of President Mitterand and Chancellor Kohl, taken in 1984:

Exactly one hundred years after the truce that effectively ended the First World War, these images remind us how much suffering took place before Europe reached a point at which war between France and Germany became unthinkable. That peace now looks increasingly fragile as the forces of nationalism, spurred on by populist demagogues, and funded by greedy disaster capitalists, threaten to tear apart the institutions that have brought Europe together in a spirit of mutual cooperation for so long. All that has been achieved could so easily be lost.

As Fintan O’Toole has written in a long article in this weekend’s Irish Times, the First World War is, in many ways, still being fought. The Second World War was certainly very much a continuation of the First, after a break of just over twenty years, to which the short-sightedness of Western governments in their treatment of Germany was a contributing factor. The end of the First World War saw not only the disintegration of the German Empire (and the abdication of the Kaiser), but also the collapse of Tsarist Russia, and the end of the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires to boot. We are still living with the consequences of that upheaval.

All this reminds us – or should remind us – that the word `armistice’ means `a truce’ or `a suspension of hostilities’ rather than a lasting peace, and it is by no means impossible we could be sleepwalking to disaster once more. As President Macron put it in his speech today

Les démons anciens resurgissent : des idéologies nouvelles manipulent des religions, l’Histoire menace de reprendre son cours tragique. Faisons une fois de plus ce serment des Nations de placer la paix plus haut que tout, car nous en connaissons le prix.

Frankly, I fear very much for the future and take solace only in the fact that I am no longer young.

I have found the pomp and ceremony of this year’s official Armistice commemorations very difficult to endure. Perhaps there are some people, including some in high places, who have learned the lessons of history, but it is also clear that there are very many who have not.

Which brings me to the poppy. I have written quite a few pieces on this blog, around the time of Remembrance Sunday, about the wearing of a poppy, the last being in 2016. I have worn a poppy at this time of year for most of my adult life, but I decided last year to stop.

For one thing, there is no pressure to wear a poppy here in Ireland. Indeed, many Irish people see the poppy mainly as a symbol of British militarism and colonial oppression. Even at Friday’s concert to mark the Armistice I saw only a few audience members wearing a poppy, and most of them were the shamrock version commemorating the sacrifice of Irish soldiers during the Great War.

But I don’t think I’ve ever really been that susceptible to peer pressure, so that’s not the main reason for my not wearing a poppy. The main reason is that over the past couple of years the poppy has been appropriated by the likes of racist thug, career criminal and founder-member of the EDL, Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (also known as Tommy Robinson):

I simply cannot bring myself to wear the same badge as this creature, nor can I stand the hypocrisy of those politicians who make a show of wearing it while happily encouraging the rise of nationalism. Enough is enough. The message of the poppy is supposed to be `Lest We Forget’. I’m afraid far too many have already forgotten.