Friday 17 January 2020

Declan Lynch: 'If Leo loses, it will just hasten his rise to a place at the top'

Cartoon by Jim Cogan
Cartoon by Jim Cogan
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

There is, of course, no meaningful difference between Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, but there is a significant difference between Leo Varadkar and Micheal Martin.

If Martin becomes Taoiseach this year, it will be the realisation of his life's ambition. If Varadkar stays Taoiseach, it will be nice for him, but it will not be the end of his ambitions, not when there are many "roles" in international politics for which he is a most plausible candidate.

And if he loses the election, these roles are still open to him, indeed a departure from the small stuff of Irish politics might even hasten his rise to higher things - if he sees his future outside politics too, there will doubtless be a position at the top of the world with his name on it, somewhat in the style of the former Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, who is now "head of global affairs" at Facebook.

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Ah Clegg, he must be the Politician of the Decade, a seemingly nice and reasonable fellow who helped the Tories inflict a decade of "austerity", and who most clearly represented this notion of public service as a kind of stepping stone - Clegg who once led a party which had been horribly done down by the injustices of the electoral system, now declaring that it would be "wholly inappropriate" for Facebook to be checking the accuracy of what politicians are claiming online.

Even at this time when democracy as we have known it is being battered by all sorts of bad actors, Facebook will not perform the kind of basic public service that would be expected of the most obscure provincial newspaper - nor will it be held to account by a class of politicians like Nick Clegg who can move so smoothly from the public to the private realm, because for them there is really only one realm.

There is just one career to be managed, one interest to be served - whereas once in Ireland, a political type might have done a bit of lawyering or run a few dancehalls before going into politics, now they are more likely to go straight into politics with the hope that if it doesn't work out, they can parlay it into something that might eventually "make a bit of money" - a politician's salary, of course, would not be "money" in this sense.

Not that human beings in general were somehow better or more public-spirited before the year 2010, it's more that an underlying disdain for the concept of the common good has become institutionalised - we've been hearing for decades the line that the State is essentially a drag on the bustling energies of those are trying to actually achieve things, so that when the Irish Government is presented with the notion of building houses purely in the public interest, for long periods they seem petrified. They just can't get their heads around it, this idea of the common good that seemingly used to be quite a thing in their grandfathers' time.

They seem more relaxed with the idea that public money should be devoured by the professional classes gorging themselves on projects such as the Children's Hospital - though they will at least argue that they are concerned with the greater good, whereas a Trump or a Johnson can hardly even be bothered pretending that they are engaged in anything but plunder.

Trump is proudly vandalising large tracts of the public services of the USA, while Johnson and his chums have long regarded bodies such as the NHS as great historical mistakes to be rectified - interestingly, Dominic Cummings is talking about some kind of mass slaughter of the moribund work practices of the British civil service.

Yet they got there with the votes of what they call the "working class" in the north of England, though in truth there is no "working class" any more, in the sense that we have known it. The unions, those powerful movements which forged that sense of solidarity, are so over - meanwhile, the bonds of solidarity which connect the elites of politics and money have never been tighter.

Indeed, the Irish Government will actually side with the Apple corporation in a legal dispute about tax, supposedly for the greater good, but you know…on balance, the taxation affairs of the tech gods tend to be for their own good, and that of nobody else, if they can possibly manage it.

And the technology which has made them billions, has contributed in its own way to the predicament of working people everywhere - it has done much to enable a culture in which there is almost no such thing any more as a proper job. So you just have a lot of individuals so demoralised they would consider voting for Boris Johnson, being bombarded on social media with sinister bullshit which Nick Clegg doesn't see as a problem - not a problem for him anyway.

Yes, it's Cleggy again, who realised that the politician who stays on the side of the little people, or even the medium-sized people, is as much an anachronism as the footballer who is a "one-club man". And in our present Taoiseach we have a man who is also deeply in synch with the spirit of the age, which goes something like this:

You're on your own, kid.

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