Friday 30 September 2016

Clowns to the left, jokers to the right

From Boris to Enda, from Brexit to Nama, clownish politicians are stitching us up, writes Gene Kerrigan

Published 03/07/2016 | 02:30

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Over the past 10 days, politicians on our neighbouring isle have reached heights of hilarity of which Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise couldn't have dared to dream.

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At the same time, our own politicians have maintained their richly deserved reputation for - as they would no doubt phrase it - punching above their weight in the entertainment department.

I cannot remember a time when the political cabaret has been so enjoyable, and at the same time so scary.

Boris Johnson is a classic comic creation. He's so obviously thick and incompetent that many assumed that underneath the bluster there had to be a clever operator. But what we saw in Boris was what we got - a classic fool who couldn't find his own arse with both hands and an Arse-finder app.

Michael Gove goes to such blatantly contrived lengths to inject a tone of sincerity into his voice that he's as convincing as a twelve-dollar note from the Bank of Swindletown.

Together, they created a memorable double act, with David Cameron as straight man. Whenever the comedy flagged, Nigel Farage would hoist a pint and put on that big clownish smile and the audience would wet its collective pants.

Consider this.

Arron Banks is a billionaire.

In recent decades, the global creation of a fabulously wealthy 1pc has seen an unprecedented concentration of spending power in the hands of a very small number of people. There are now over 100 billionaires in the UK, for instance.

Some buy yachts. And some of them are using their money to political effect.

Peter Hargreaves, for example, donated no less than £3.2m to the Brexit campaign. When the results came in the pound collapsed and Hargreaves lost £400m, but he shrugged it off.

Like the other billionaires who took a hit, Hargreaves could rest assured that there was lots more where that came from.

Billionaire Arron Banks used to fund the Tories, in 2014 he switched his support to Ukip.

Banks is a hardened right winger who wants to privatise the NHS. In 2014 he decided to give Ukip £100,000. When the media asked former Tory leader William Hague to comment, he said Banks was "somebody we haven't heard of".

Banks was annoyed at being thought of as a nobody. So, he announced he would instead give Ukip a million pounds.

Banks funded the recent Leave campaign to the tune of £5.6m. He brought in a US firm of consultants, Goddard Gunster. And they told him: "Facts don't work" at the ballot box.

The Guardian quoted Banks: "The Remain campaign featured fact, fact, fact, fact, fact. It just doesn't work. You have got to connect with people emotionally. It's the Trump success."

Out of this was born the "take back your country" slogan. Like Trump's "Make America great again", this slogan means whatever you want it to mean - words to stir emotions.

We'll take the country back from the EU, many thought, and therefore from the immigrants.

The notion that immigrants, rather than billionaires, have taken over the running of countries is perhaps the most comic concept in all of this. But it's a deeply felt belief, a simple notion, easily grasped, appealing to those who have indeed been lied to and manipulated by undemocratic forces.

Here you are - outsiders, blame them.

Depending on the circumstances, those chosen as the Root of the Problem can be black people, Jews, Irish, whatever.

After the results came in, all over the UK bigots were genuinely puzzled. Out in the streets, they were yelling at those with darker skin or foreign accents: "We voted you out, why aren't you gone?"

These people, convinced they'd found a way to "take back" their country, genuinely believed they now had a democratic mandate for their bigotry. There was a five-fold increase in racist incidents.

Something very serious is happening, but it came clothed in the clownish costumes of absurd Tory politicians, so we were entertained. Arron Banks now suggests he will fund a new right wing party to sweep up members of Ukip, the Labour right and those who see the Tories as dangerously lefty.

Brexit may eventually break up the UK and the EU, and cause economic chaos. It may lead to border posts the Continuity Cowboys can use for target practice.

As the political landscape changes swiftly, many in the media, historically illiterate, may miss the parallels with an earlier period of collapse and danger.

The shape of the EU, the shape of the UK, the shape of the global economy and the interests of all of us affected by these things, are being altered by clownish politicians, financed by billionaire right wingers, and the right wing of British Labour is still obsessed with dumping Corbyn.

Eager to show that they can be every bit as entertaining as Cameron, Boris and Farage, our own politicians have been trying to keep us laughing.

Concerned citizens ask what the hell is that truly foul smell from Nama?

The prankster politicians make great play of sniffing the air, then they shake their heads and say, "No, no, we don't smell anything".

Fianna Fail has for ages been demanding an inquiry into Nama's property deals. Last week, when Mick Wallace put down a motion to that effect, they voted against it.

No, no, they explained, we can't have an inquiry - sure, isn't the Comptroller and Auditor General looking into this?

Yes, the C&AG is looking at one aspect of it. Just as he was last time Fianna Fail demanded a full inquiry.

The thoroughness with which Fianna Fail has betrayed its own members and voters, and the interests of all of us, is impressive. It's doing a creditable job of helping Fine Gael keep the lid on the Nama scandal, while simultaneously posing as the main opposition party. As long as the political correspondents facilitate this deception, so long will duplicity prosper.

Again and again last week, Fianna Fail marched in to vote with Fine Gael. Smell? What smell?

The Nama deal is under investigation by the PSNI, the UK's National Crime Agency and the US Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The Garda, of course, are too busy keeping tabs on water charge protesters to spare a detective or two to check out the whiffy deals.

Fine Gael and Fianna Fail voted down an inquiry on the basis that any state scrutiny will somehow interfere with due process.

With exquisite comic reasoning, the very fact the PSNI, the NCA and the FBI are disturbed by the smell from Nama has become reason for the Irish establishment to ignore the smell. Question: what don't they want us to know? What is it makes them pretend they don't get a hint of a smell from the festering Cerberus deal?

Once upon a time, independents such as Shane Ross and Finian McGrath might have demanded an inquiry. Now, they voted with Fine Gael. Shane has become the Minister for Being Totally Incurious and Finian is the Junior Minister for Shrugging His Shoulders.

Meanwhile, Standards in Public Office has published details of the state money politicians receive. I'd explain why the State gives politicians this money, but I don't know.

Fine Gael spent €200,000 of our money on secret polls before the election, all the better to manipulate the voters. Happily for us, they spent more than that on very expensive genius "advisors", who made a pig's mickey of the campaign.

Now, this polling, paid for with our money, gives politicians an advantage over candidates who don't get a state subsidy. That sounds unconstitutional to me - perhaps under the ruling that prohibits one side in a referendum from using state funds to influence opinion.

(Maybe someone should ask the Attorney General what she thinks, I'm told she knows everything there is to know about unconstitutional matters.)

Next week sees the Chilcot report on the British Labour Party's war crimes. The comedy is endless.

Sunday Independent

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