Monday 19 March 2018

Radio: The political pack always turns on their leader

Leo Varadkar - it's unusual for anyone to take over as Taoiseach from the Department of Social Protection.
Leo Varadkar - it's unusual for anyone to take over as Taoiseach from the Department of Social Protection.
Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

Farewell, Joan Burton. I always thought she was a sound enough old skin, and a capable operator, but what do I know about politics?

The voters almost unanimously reefed Joan's party out of office, and now the Labour leader has done the honourable thing and fallen on her sword. As Olivia O'Leary said in the opening to her Drivetime (Radio 1, Mon-Fri 4.30pm) column, "leaders don't last long in the modern Labour party". Joan had been there for less than two years.

And, O'Leary added, they always go in the wake of electoral defeat. I've never understood why smaller coalition parties get such a vicious kicking from us voters; it's as if we (stupidly and irrationally) heap all the sins and crimes and punishments on the smaller, thus probably less to blame, partner.

And I've never understood why party members automatically want shot of their leader, simply because the last election didn't go well. On the same Drivetime, journalist Alison O'Connor quoted a Fine Gael minister as saying: "My God, those Labour voters are so unforgiving" - though I suspect all the parties are broadly similar in this.

O'Leary concluded that being in Opposition "offers Labour a chance to restate its social democratic identity, reclaim political ground, make new alliances on the left… and choose a leader for the longer-term." In my humble opinion, they should have just kept Joan - but again, what do I know about politics?

One man who knows plenty about this stuff is Johnny Fallon, who popped up on Moncrieff (Newstalk, Mon-Fri 1.30pm) to run the rule over the new Cabinet. The Longford man is, for my money, one of the best political commentators in the country: very astute, huge bank of knowledge to draw on, non-ideological, sees the bigger picture.

I myself, being honest, am completely clueless about politics. But Fallon explains it clearly, and informatively, and very well. And nice to hear a proper regional accent on the radio too, in among (mostly) pinched and/or strangulated and/or fake accents.

It's bad news for Leo Varadkar, he reckons: "It's unusual for anyone to take over as Taoiseach from the Department of Social Protection…it's just not where the game is."

And Leo's rival as future Fine Gael leader, Simon Coveney, will "be very busy in Housing, and it's not easy to launch a leadership career when you're that busy. Enda Kenny has probably bought himself another year or 18 months, if he wants to stay on that long."

So why, asked Sean, has Enda taken steps against possible moves from these two heirs apparent? Why does he want to stay as leader?

"I think," Fallon said, "he'd have seen the election as a kind of personal defeat - and not want to bow out on the back of it."

BBC, meanwhile, broadcast the most surreal thing I've heard in ages. Yes, even more than Danny Healy-Rea's spiel on climate change.

My interest was piqued by a tweet sent out by Sunday (Radio 4, 7am), a "religious and ethical news programme". It asked: "Should Muslim women be allowed to travel more than 48 miles from home without a chaperone?"

It was inspired by some fundamentalist muttonheads in Blackburn stating this; a minister protested; other/similar statements were unearthed. So the show would now debate this "question".

See what I mean about surreal? Not only in what was originally said, but the fact that there's any sort of "discussion" at all.

If I wasn't aware of the existence of religious fundamentalism, and someone posed a question along those lines, I would honestly think, "Does this person have some kind of mental illness?" It's true what they say - religion poisons everything, even worse than money/greed. Nobody would countenance a "debate" on something so ignorant, nasty and plain weird if religion wasn't involved.

Imagine a comparable question: "Should black people be allowed own property? Should Chinese people have the vote? Should gay people be confined indoors?"

But add religion - and poor old women, who always get the worst of it - and this is a "provocative" statement worthy of "discussion".

And so it was, by Dr Shuruq Naguib (a lecturer in politics and philosophy) and Ibrahim Mogra, assistant general secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain.

Neither of them addressed the thing at all. Neither condemned it. Lots of hedging, fudging, waffling on about "safeguarding of women", gibberish about "the pre-modern tradition", quotes from Islamic scriptures, hair-splitting about "advice" being "non-binding"…

She quoted, at one point, something from the Dark Ages about how "there will come a time when women will be able to travel on their own to Mecca." What the what? How is this nonsense remotely relevant to anything?

Host Edward Stourton said, "Can you see how this can be seen as provocative?" Eh, that's underselling it. Cuckoo-bananas-wackadoodle crazy, more like.

BBC should be embarrassed for running this. More: they should feel ashamed. Finest broadcaster in the world? Not here.

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