Sunday 23 October 2016

Eoghan Harris: Enda of Arabia likely to get his majority, but it is not written

Published 12/01/2014 | 02:30

Cartoon: Jim Cogan
Cartoon: Jim Cogan

RECENT polls and solid signs of economic recovery reinforce my two basic convictions about the foreseeable future of Irish politics. First, barring events, dear boy, events -- and, of course, Lucinda Creighton -- the elusive majority that escaped Enda Kenny in 2011 is likely to be his in 2016.

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Second, Sinn Fein, playing the long game, will go on making gains among the group that matters most to our future: the 18-24 generation. Like the 1898 centenary of the '98 Rising and the 1966 half-centenary of the Easter Rising, 2016 will bring new recruits to the republican movement. Sinn Fein will benefit most.

Both these developments will leave Old Labour behind. But that will not bother Blue Labour, the rump of the Workers Party/ Democratic Left within the Labour Party, the reinforcing rod in the concrete of the Coalition, a rump far more loyal to Kenny than many of his backbenchers.

Pat Rabbitte, always first to defend Kenny, is the primary architect of Blue Labour. As the Kevin Cardiff affair revealed, Blue Labour will put up with any Fine Gael policy as long as public sector fat cats can continue in the comfort to which Bertie Ahern accustomed them.

Sinn Fein's rise will not bother Blue Labour too much either, judging by Rabbitte's readiness to do a deal which helped both Alex White and Pearse Doherty get elected to Seanad Eireann. Apart from all that, acting as the virtual arm of Fine Gael has brought Blue Labour many material gains.

By 2016, Blue Labour ministers will have qualified for munificent ministerial pensions. Pat Rabbitte will reap the reward of a career composed in equal parts of political cunning and media charisma. The latter may explain why so many pundits are loath to subject the origins of Blue Labour to any serious scrutiny.

Blue Labour is also helped by contemporary historians, who have so far followed the Wikipedia narrative on Democratic Left. This wrongly recounts De Rossa as leading the majority of the Workers Party away from Soviet-style communism in 1992. This is a travesty of the truth.

In 1988, as communism collapsed, I began a critique of communism within the Workers Party, which later became a pamphlet called The Necessity of Social Democracy. At first, De Rossa strongly supported my analysis. At the 1989 Ardfheis he subjected communism to a searing critique which also saved him from the fallout from the Chinese CP's Tianenmen Square massacre.

After the 1989 Ardfheis, however, a majority group, led by Rabbitte, Eamon Gilmore and Des Geraghty, whom I dubbed the 'Student Princes', pressurised De Rossa to recant his 1989 repudiation of statist socialism. My pamphlet on social democracy was suppressed. At the Ardfheis of 1990, De Rossa reversed his 1989 position and announced that socialism was not dead after all.

But two years later, De Rossa and the Student Princes reversed that. They broke with the Workers Party and set up Democratic Left. Without any acknowledgement they accepted my analysis. This included my belief -- which they had roundly denounced in 1989 -- that the Workers Party should make a historic compromise with Fine Gael in order to fight off Sinn Fein.

But like the late communist historian Eric Hobsbawn, the Student Princes never publicly admitted their past mistakes as I had done. They merely morphed from the communism of the Workers Party to the socialism of Democratic Left to the leftism of the Labour Party without ever confronting the collapse of socialism. They simply sidled away, hoping nobody would notice, and became Blue Labour.

Blue Labour has become politically obese in high office. The only remnant of its former socialism is a reflex to protect the fat cats of the public sector. From time to time, Fine Gael throws them a few baubles in the form of state sinecures for their friends and supporters.

In 2016 Blue Labour will collect its big pensions and waddle away without a backward glance. Meantime it will look after Enda Kenny. Even if this means looking away as assisted living allowances are cut and apprentices are asked to pay hefty college fees.

Blue Labour's betrayal of the working class will be poorly reported by the political pundits who confuse Rabbitte's ennui with a form of cool. The Irish Times has played down Rabbitte's role on the pylon issue, and did not report Rabbitte's RTE remark rejecting concerns about pylons as "the whim of some passing fashion".

The PC pundits who give Blue Labour a good press were also predictably muted about the moot aspects of the Taoiseach's trade mission to Saudi Arabia. And the politically correct bias against Bertie Ahern also helped Kenny hide out on the human rights issue.

That's because, as Christine Bohan pointed out in an astute column for the, Kenny's visit came precisely seven years after Bertie Ahern's visit as Taoiseach to Saudi Arabia. But back then Ahern was asked much more awkward questions than Enda Kenny.

Ironically, the chief asker was Pat Rabbitte. He pressed Ahern about the "shocking human rights situation" in Saudi Arabia. Ahern, unlike Kenny and Bruton, at least acknowledged there was a human rights problem. "The last time I was in Saudi Arabia was almost 20 years ago. Things have changed, but they have their own pace and way of doing things," Ahern said at the time.

This time round, Pat Rabbitte remained steadfastly silent. The awkward questions he addressed to Ahern were not addressed to Kenny of Arabia. Naturally the political pundits pretended not to notice. As Lawrence of Arabia might say: it is not written.

* * *

Last week I criticised what I saw as a lack of coherence in the documentary on Ronan O'Gara. RTE Sports says the programme had 600,000 viewers. But judging by an extraordinary email response, mostly agreeing with my analysis, I wonder how many viewers stayed the course.

The fundamental problem with the programme was that digital fosters spendthrift shooting and presents editors with a mountain of material. And few modern producers are willing to accept Sir Arthur Quiller Couch's advice: murder your darlings. A secondary problem is that sports producers are more comfortable with short sprints than with the marathon of a major documentary.

Last week, RTE showed The Summit, a stunning documentary which demonstrated how to deal with the digital mountain as well as with the killer mountain of K2, the dispassionate villain of its icy drama. As a sometimes documentary producer myself I suspect the makers of The Summit left many hours of fine footage on the virtual digital floor.

There has been controversy about some of The Summit's conclusions. But I do not doubt the correctness of one of its central beliefs: that Ger McDonnell gave his life trying to save another climber. Footage from previous climbs confirmed he had the character of a happy warrior, crackling with life, but willing to risk his own life, not foolishly, but with a rational calculation of all the consequences.

Ger McDonnell went back to help because being the man he was, he could do nothing else. That's what I call a national hero. Ar dheis De go raibh a anam uasal.

Irish Independent

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