Sunday 18 August 2019

Declan Lynch: 'Our leaders are managing their own careers just fine, thank you'

Cartoonist: Jim Cogan
Cartoonist: Jim Cogan
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

As the Dail rises for its summer holidays, signalling the official end of the silly season, I suppose there are some who will be disappointed in the performance of the Government, and of "Leo" in particular.

They will be speaking darkly of the way that the housing issue has reduced otherwise sensible people to tears of rage. They will point to these strange lapses of Leo into a kind of upper middle-class shallowness which drives those same sensible people into further states of fury.

And the majority of political commentators are not wrong about any of this, it's just that they are making the cardinal error of their trade, which is to concentrate on the completely obvious.

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Because another way of looking at it - a better way indeed - is that Leo and many of his kind are doing just fine. Indeed, all things considered, they could hardly be doing any finer.

For this higher insight, I return to a line in a recent Eoghan Harris column, about how Leo "seems to think like one of those corporate managers who mainly just manage their own careers".

Ah, it hit me with the force of a thousand suns, that line. Not only did it illuminate what is wrong with much of our political leadership, it seemed to take care of about 98pc of everything else that is wrong with the world.

Light and easy does it: Twink. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Light and easy does it: Twink. Photo: Gerry Mooney

It is the great curse of our time, this culture of corporate managers whose best energies are going into their own career moves - "leave that one with me", they say, and next thing anyone knows, they're "heading up" a different department, or moving on altogether to take up a new challenge.

So you'd be thinking that the HSE is in a shocking state altogether, but if perchance you are employed at some high level within the management of the HSE, like Leo and friends, you, too, are doing just fine.

There's an awful lot of fineness going on out there, when you look at it with the right kind of eyes. Where Leo and his crack team are headed, there will be no housing and no HSE to be annoying them - and where is that?

It's hard to tell, really - for Leo it could eventually be "Europe", And to give him his due, as we must, his devotion to the greater good, as distinct from his own good, is almost that of the conscientious civil servant of the 1950s, next to the extreme self-centredness of his prospective counterpart, Boris Johnson.

Last week, John Major went to the trouble of explaining that "national leaders must put the interests of the nation first, not themselves". So alarmed has he become at the pathological nature of Johnson's self-interest, he felt the need to say this thing which would generally be assumed, but unspoken.

After all, as a former prime minister himself, he would know that anyone fancying themselves for that position is already possessed of unnatural levels of personal ambition. But with Johnson, it is something more - it is a sickness.

Yes, it used to be the case in public life, and in most other forms of life, that the urge towards self-advancement could have beneficial side-effects for others who perhaps did not share your single-minded vision. In theory, at least, if the leader did well, it meant that everyone did well - though corporate culture has evolved so that the leader does well, no matter what happens.

Johnson represents this new strain in the culture: it really is all about him, and only about him.

And when he fails, the UK will be in the throes of some sort of catastrophe, but Johnson himself, well… Johnson will be fine. He'll be as fine as anyone still getting 50 grand a pop from the Pendulum Summits of this world, which would not be Leo's style. Leo is better than that.

But they are men of their time, a time when we laugh at the ancient notion of the "job for life", yet have quietly accepted the notion of the "job for three years and then bugger off before you get found out".

It is this evasiveness which most defines the corporate manager, and which is seen to startling effect in this country, where we are always denouncing various forms of ineptitude in the way the country is run, and thinking that it must logically follow that the people who run the country must be, well, inept.

But, of course, they are not inept at all - they are brilliant.

They are only inept at managing the stuff that affects other people. But in managing their own stuff, they have put together this repertoire of ass-covering manoeuvres that is truly impressive.

So it's like criticising an artist for his uselessness with a pneumatic drill. It's like criticising the Taoiseach for mismanaging the rental sector, when he has already put down a proverbial deposit on being Secretary- General of the United Nations - or something just as fine.

And what would be in it for us?

Just leave that one with me…

Drico and Pinoe: shoulder to shoulder for the common good

The forces of the far right have only one move - attack, attack, attack.

But it is a good move, because it keeps everyone else off balance, still holding to that older belief-system of right and wrong. The far right is never wrong, so that the Brexiteers can bring an ancient civilisation to the brink of destruction with their astoundingly terrible ideas, yet they continue to blame others - attack, attack, attack.

They can take advantage of a media which is either openly degenerate, or playing by rules of "balance" which no longer work. And from the leadership of UK Labour, there is no meaningful opposition either.

Along with their spiritual leader Trump, they saw off an ambassador last week, showing how easy it is for simple delinquency to defeat the usual niceties.

And you can see 10,000 tweets excoriating this, and still you know that it makes no difference, that the far right has exposed this weakness in our democracies, opening up this front in which they are always attacking and always winning.

Well, nearly always.

The stance of Megan Rapinoe last week, in which she repeated her insistence that she and the US football team would not be going to the White House, may not have been much different in substance to many other critiques of Trump - yet it felt essentially different.

First of all, she had actually stuck to her original line - strong though she had been, you felt deep down that these things are eventually finessed by the "blazers", that words don't mean much any more, that some compromise would be reached which would give Trump at least a draw. Which he would then parlay into a win.

But Rapinoe, knowing her enemy, continued to attack, telling Trump that "your message is excluding people. You're excluding me, you're excluding people that look like me, you're excluding people of colour, you're excluding Americans that maybe support you"…

She was saying this from a position of real power in the culture, she and her team were winners in the classic American sense - at the World Cup they had looked like Yanks of the old school, delighting in their superiority to the weaker peoples. They were badasses.

Indeed, by taking the fight to Trump, 'Pinoe' was showing how they had done it - she was showing moral courage, that rare quality identified by John Giles as non-negotiable for any serious sports person.

And strangely last week we got two large helpings of it, first from 'Pinoe' and then from 'Drico'. With his Shoulder To Shoulder documentary on RTE1, Brian O'Driscoll made a powerful statement about the traditions of the Ireland rugby team, how it has maintained its all-island nature even in times of apparently irretrievable madness.

This was not some corporate video about Irish rugby, it was a visceral engagement with a complicated history - but the Orangemen were able to accept him banging their Lambeg drum because he is, after all, the great Brian O'Driscoll. And his own tribe could accept it because he is, after all, the great Brian O'Driscoll.

So we had 'Drico' and 'Pinoe', knowing their power and using it for the common good - wouldn't it be great if it was like this all of the time?

Light entertainment is true test of nation's struggle for freedom

In the struggle of Twink, we see the struggle of our nation for the rarest of all kinds of freedom - one in which there is a viable culture of light entertainment.

Any two-bit country can do tragedy, or mournfulness in general, it is only the truly advanced nations such as Britain and America who could show us what light entertainment looked like when it was done right - and in passing, it should be said that they could do all the other stuff too, the relatively easy stuff like experimental fiction and avant garde theatre.

But the light entertainment was the true test, and you only had to have access to their superior TV stations to know that they were all over it.

How did they do it?

We had no idea, and this was the whole point - looking at Twinkling Through The Years on RTE1, you felt there is no simple explanation for the fact that there were about 40 Twinks on the BBC or on ITV, doing whatever Twink was doing, but doing it for audiences of 23m on a Saturday night, and living in mansions with 23 Rolls-Royces parked in front of them.

That kind of thing just didn't happen in less developed countries like Ireland or Romania - RTE never really loved light entertainment, always it approached these things in the style of unhappy teachers supervising a school concert at the end of term. Always you felt the presence of the dead hand.

I myself do not love light entertainment. Yet I know that without it, we can never have a fully-functioning culture which in time can give us a line like this, from Rip Torn, who checked out last week, playing Artie in The Larry Sanders Show: "This is scotch whisky, Glenlivet: single malt. When you die, you'll go to heaven. You say 'hello' to God, and when God says 'hello' to you, this is what you'll smell on his breath."

That's the dream.

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