Friday 19 January 2018

Radio: A lesson for our neighbours on identity politics

John Murray
John Murray
Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

So, after a shaky start, Leo wins the day in the Fine Gael leadership death match - I'd put it as a 3-1 or 4-1 victory, in soccer terms. And the most remarkable thing about it, in radio terms, was how little anyone remarked on the fact that he's the first Taoiseach who's gay and mixed-race.

Seriously, you'd have been hard-pressed to find much mention of either in the plentiful coverage of Varadkar's victory. I listened, borderline obsessively, to the action unfold from Friday through the weekend - John Murray chaired an especially good discussion on Drivetime (Radio 1, Mon-Fri 4.30pm).

And all analysts seemed to be most engaged with a) what did it mean that Simon Coveney won the members' vote, b) how much power will he now wield and c) who's for the chop when Leo reboots the Cabinet.

Of his parentage and sexuality, there was vanishingly little. Which is the way it should be, of course.

The man himself hasn't made a play of either of those things, or used identity politics to carve out a niche in actual politics. The opposite, if anything: Leo has explicitly stated that these are just parts of who he is, that he's not defined by them.

So much for conservative Ireland, then. (Though some UK newspaper, presumably gobsmacked that the backwards Oirish had done something "progressive" before them, ran articles on what a surprise/shock/game-changer this was. Yeah, to you maybe.)

And so much for the supposedly "right-wing" Fine Gael. Only in a country that's (happily) as wealthy, peaceful and democratic as this, would the mild conservatives of that party be regarded as anything more than centre-right, if even that. And no, conspiranoiacs, I'm not an FG voter.

In any case, these raging fascist Nazi blueshirts, etc, etc, etc. have now one-upped their right-on rivals in electing this - for want of a better word - non-traditional leader. Walking the walk is better than talking the talk.

There's a sort of similar theme with the UK general election, which wound to a close on Thursday. (By the time of you reading this, you'll know who won. Send me a text with the result, will you?)

Over there, the painfully PC Labour Party are presided over by a man. An old, white, straight man at that. Ugh, how regressive. Meanwhile the evil Tories are led by a woman, and not for the first time.

Personally, I'd like to see my fellow liberals actually do things for women in the real world, instead of just droning on about gender equality like an incredibly tedious skipped record. Anyway.

For a sideways look at the election, BBC Radio 4 threw on some decent comedy stuff. The Vote Now Show (Mon 10.30pm) was probably the pick of the bunch.

Hosts Steve Punt and Hugh Dennis are two old hands in British comedy - you may, but probably don't, remember them from the early 1990s TV show The Mary Whitehouse Experience. And while they're not the most sparklingly brilliant talents out there, you can't go too far wrong with material like this. Good, smart, smart-arsed fun.

Staying with politics, kind of, Arena (Radio 1, Mon-Fri 7pm) showed how skilfully this show straddles the line between art and entertainment with a piece on Laurent Binet's new novel, The 7th Function of Language. This is a post-modern, metatextual work of factual fiction, from quite a high-brow French writer, which satirises the absurdities of intellectualism and politics.

Yet Seán Rocks and his guest Declan Burke made it accessible and comprehensible - not always an easy thing to do. Declan's ultimate verdict was mixed, although Binet's last book, HHhH, was outstandingly good: he gets my Number 1 vote.

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