Monday 24 October 2016

Taking Leave of our senses over Brexit and Brady

Published 26/06/2016 | 02:30

Cartoonist: Jim Cogan
Cartoonist: Jim Cogan

My late friend, Patricia Redlich, used to say that most trouble in the world was caused by weak people.

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David Cameron is a decent man. But he is also a weak man. Twice over.

First, he was weak when he called a referendum on Europe in a vain attempt to appease his right wing.

That decision will damage the British ship of state. But not all who sail in her will suffer equally.

A chart circulating on social media among younger Britons calculates how long, on average, each generation will have to live with this reactionary result.

The 18-24 age group, 75pc of whom voted to Remain, will, on average, have to live for a long 69 years with the regressive referendum decision.

But those over 65, some 61pc of whom voted Leave, will, again on average, only have to live with their selfish decision for 16 years.

Although I am in that same age category, I am tempted to add "and a good thing, too".

Because this bunch of fearful old farts has made the future of their grandchildren more fraught than it needed to be.

What are they fearful about? Immigration. The influx of workers who will staff the health service and look after them in old age.

Second, Cameron has shown further weakness by stepping down instead of stepping up to the plate.

The result of the referendum is not legally binding. Parliament is sovereign.

Cameron should have rejected the result as too close for a national consensus and put the matter to the House of Commons.

Meantime, we have our own house to mind. Here, I would make three points.

First, when Sinn Fein start stamping around looking for a border poll, the other three main parties should stamp on Sinn Fein.

They should tell that party of mischief-makers that when a house is on fire you don't throw cans of petrol on the blaze.

Second, the Government and Opposition should stop using referendums to dodge doing their duty on difficult issues like abortion.

Just because we got the right result on same-sex marriage does not mean that referendums are the right way to decide contentious matters in a parliamentary democracy.

Germany and South Africa have good reasons for banning referendums. We should follow their example and force the Dail to debate and decide what to do.


Last Sunday, I listened closely as Sir Roger Scruton gave us a preview of the immigration issues that lay behind the Leave vote at the Edmund Burke Conference at Bloomfield House, Mullingar.

Scruton, not a familiar face in Ireland, is probably the most important philosopher in Britain.

But the smell of sulphur that surrounds him in most liberal circles is because he's a combative, conservative philosopher.

Dr Mark Dooley, his Irish biographer, felt Scruton deserved a full week to expound his ideas.

Judging by the stimulation of his talk last Sunday, I doubt that anybody will be asking for their money back.

As a speaker, Scruton is a master of mordant irony. Sometimes he's so deadpan that he drives his liberal critics into making fools of themselves.

Guardian types freaked when Scruton said his son, Sam, would do a study course, and while he might not have a happy childhood he would be a wonderful companion as an adult.

Scruton was joking, but only just. In the same vein, he pinned down the PC intolerance of some modern students. "The latest purpose of a university seems to be to teach young people how to take offence."

But his main focus of attack was the liberal notion of "Islamophobia" which Scruton said had rampaged through the Western world like a disease after 9/11.

He has a point. But Islamophobia is increasingly losing quote marks to become a literal truth.

As we speak, demagogues all over Europe are daily stoking fears that hordes of Islamic immigrants will swamp European society.

The first result of that feckless fear-mongering is the UK referendum. And it bodes badly for the future.


Finally, a word about what's good about Europe. Especially our experience of Euro 2016.

Win or lose this weekend, Robbie Brady's goal will remain the most glorious moment in our collective memory. I want to ask, why?

George Orwell famously said that serious sport was war carried on by other means. But was he right?

Surely a suppressed instinct to go to war with Italy was not behind the emotion that erupted after Brady's head drove the ball into the back of the Italian net?

Erupted in my own house, too, so that I excitedly ran out to share my joy with neighbours - and returned to find my wife, Gwen, in tears. Gwen is a fanatical follower of most field sports, except football. Rugby is her game, and she knows a lot more about it than I do.

But her tears prompted me to ask her a question. How come she had never cried on the many occasions when the Irish rugby team had romped home against all the odds?

Why the sudden snuffling over soccer, a game of which she has never been greatly fond?

She told me to get lost. But the following day, without preamble, she said: "The reason I cried was because Brady's goal brought out the socialist side of me."

A bit taken aback, I asked her what the hell the socialist side of her had to do with her crying because Robbie Brady buried a ball in the back of the net?

Gwen gave me a hard look. "Because the football fans need it more than the rugby fans."

On reflection, I think there's a good grain of truth in Gwen's theory. Football fans come from all walks of life, but the hard core of supporters come from the working class.

By and large, rugby fans can fall back on present or future rich careers and the raft of pursuits and pleasures that go with a professional career.

But for many working-class fans, deprived by an accident of birth and class, Robbie Brady is a more realistic role model.

Naturally, their bourgeois critics claim that working-class fans spend far too freely in support of their favourite team.

But why should working-class fans practise deferred gratification? Statistics show the dice are loaded against them becoming solicitors or dentists.

Instead of investing in an impossible future of professional status, working-class football fans live for family, friends and, yes, football.

True, many fans will find it hard to pay off the credit unions or credit cards.

True, they will drag themselves out of bed on many a dreary morning to pay for their mayfly dances in Lille and Lyon.

But who is to say that these fans did not make a rational decision given the cards they were dealt by Irish society?

Many of the fans who glory in Brady's goal will not go to college, will not live as long as rugby fans, will not enjoy as healthy and well-pensioned an old age.

Deep down, we who got a better deal in life know that. We know our privileged status comes at the price of leaving others behind.

Football forces us to face these forgotten others on our television screens.

But sharing a moment in Lille with them is not the same as sharing a life, or a society. And that's a thought that lies too deep for tears.

Sunday Independent

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